Greek Among Laymen in 18th Century America

I am currently reading and enjoying Kevin J. Hayes’ recent book, The Mind of a Patriot: Patrick Henry and the World of Ideas (Univ. of Virginia Press, 2008). I like Patrick Henry, and there are many fascinating aspects to the book. One aspect just jumped out to me the other day.

In discussing Patrick Henry’s family background Hayes refers to a letter by John Henry, Patrick’s father.

“One of John Henry’s known letters amply illustrates his extensive interest in biblical scholarship. John informed his brother that he had been in contact with two of the most learned men in Virginia, Commissary James Blair and Colonel Richard Bland. Debating the doctrine of eternal punishments, all three had turned to their Greek testaments for support, but none could agree upon the connotations of some Greek terms. John asked his brother’s thoughts on the matter.” (19)

John Henry was a surveyor had held several civil posts. Richard Bland served in various civil and military posts. James Blair was a pastor as was John Henry’s brother to whom the letter was addressed. What is particularly interesting to me, then, is that in a debate about theology these three men, only one of whom was a pastor, “turned to their Greek testaments”! Each of them own a Greek New Testament and apparently have them at hand. Then each of them is familiar enough with the Greek text to carry on a debate. The two laymen are confident enough to engage in debate this leading clergyman who held a Doctor of Divinity and was the founder of the College of William and Mary.

This is another good encouragement to those of us who lead the people of God to know the NT in its original language.

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