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Saturday, September 6, 2008

Adam Clarke's Racist Remarks

Methodist scholar Adam Clarke, along with the Presbyterian exegete Matthew Henry (available online @ Study Light), was one of my favorite Bible commentators in Bible school.  I had thought I knew enough of Clarke's commentary until Anthony Herron sent me this quote from this noted scholar's notes on Genesis 12.11 (lifted from this site):

Verse 11. Thou art a fair woman to look upon
Widely differing in her complexion from the swarthy Egyptians, and consequently more likely to be coveted by them. It appears that Abram supposed they would not scruple to take away the life of the husband in order to have the undisturbed possession of the wife. The age of Sarai at this time is not well agreed on by commentators, some making her ninety, while others make her only sixty-five. From Genesis 17:17, we learn that Sarai was ten years younger than Abram, for she was but ninety when he was one hundred. And from Genesis 12:4, we find that Abram was seventy-five when he was called to leave Haran and go to Canaan, at which time Sarai could be only sixty-five; and if the transactions recorded in the preceding verses took
place in the course of that year, which I think possible, consequently Sarai was but sixty-five; and as in those times people lived much longer, and disease seems to have had but a very contracted influence, women and men would necessarily arrive more slowly at a state of perfection, and retain their vigour and complexion much longer, than in later times. We may add to these considerations that strangers and foreigners are more coveted by the licentious than those who are natives. This has been amply illustrated in the West Indies and in America, where the jetty, monkey-faced African women are preferred to the elegant and beautiful Europeans! To this subject a learned British traveller elegantly applied those words of Virgil, Ecl. ii., ver. 18:-

Alba ligustra cadunt, vaccinia nigra leguntur.

White lilies lie neglected on the plain, While dusky hyacinths for use remain. DRYDEN.

Pair this racist slur with his jaundiced comment on the Jews being the earth's "most puerile, absurd, and ridiculous reasoners" and you can get an idea of how fallible a widely read Bible scholar can be, or how even a sage's thoughts on other people can be circumscribed by his time.

Good reminder to all Bible students and preachers out there about not anchoring their positions on certain doctrinal issues on the works of their favorite scholars.

As a naive, overzealous preacher over a decade ago, I tended to swallow hook, line and sinker what our scholars wrote or said about a particular Bible topic.  For after all, I equated our church as the church and regarded our acknowledged champions of the faith as gospel truth advocates.  I joined many in my group in "othering" neighboring Christians by pigeonholing them as "denominationalists" whose teachings, as a rule, were suspect.

Now I know better, I think.  I have come to realize that the ideology - and I use this term in the sense of an umbrella of ideas -- that informs my former church's doctrinal pronouncements is not totally divinely packaged, after all.


Anthony Herron said...

I concur with your observations and your former "predicament" in that I too was in this error. Here's something for you to consider, brother: I hear CofC brethren say, so many times, that we should not read religious materials from "other" authors. You know as well as I do (probably better) that this is hypocrisy of the highest order. At the same time that they are deriding Baptist, Methodist (and other) authors, they use W. E. Vine "RELIGIOUSLY", literally. They use his Expository Dictionary of NT Words probably second only to their Bible. I think that Vine, Adam Clarke, et al have very good materials and are great sources for information -- but still, many of their views or beliefs are diametrically opposed to the CofC. For instance, Vine does NOT believe that baptism is for the forgiveness of sins. (Upon request, I can readily give the link to support this.) You know as well as I that not one preacher in the CofC (mainstream; one-cup or otherwise) will repudiate Vine/discontinue use of his dictionary based on his belief about the "baptism issue" and whether or not it is salvific. As I said, hypocrisy of the highest order.

scott saboy said...

Exactly, brother. I have also heard CofC preachers quoting Thayer and Robertson countless of times, acknowledging them as among the "ripest" exegetes but at the same time believing that these scholars were not "true Christians" because the Anglican scholar was not an immersionist while the Baptist sage was not a "for-the-remission-of-sin-ist." Once did I project Max Lucado's quotes in one of my powerpoint presentations (with Max's picture in it, of course), and that got the goat of a very zealous American preacher/Bible student in my audience so much so that he stood up from his seat, grabbed his wife by the arm and walked out of the auditorium. In all my preaching years with the Baptists and Churches of Christ, that was the only time somebody walked out during my sermon. Well, I somehow deserved that, didn't I? For after all, the moment I started quoting from "false teachers," I became a child of the Devil. :)