Charles Augustus Briggs

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Charles Augustus Briggs.

Charles Augustus Briggs (January 15, 1841 – June 8, 1913[1]), American Presbyterian (and later Episcopalian) scholar and theologian, was born in New York City, the son of Alanson Briggs and Sarah Mead Berrian. He was excommunicated from the Presbyterian Church because of his liberal theology regarding the Bible.[2]

Life and thought[edit]

He was educated at the University of Virginia (1857–60), graduated at the Union Theological Seminary in 1863, and studied further at the University of Berlin. He was pastor of the First Presbyterian Church[3] of Roselle, New Jersey from 1869 to 1874, and professor of Hebrew and cognate languages in Union Theological Seminary from 1874 to 1891, and of Biblical theology there from 1891 to 1904, when he became professor of theological encyclopaedia and symbolics. From 1880 to 1890 he was an editor of the Presbyterian Review.

In 1892 he was tried for heresy by the presbytery of New York, including James McCook, and acquitted. The charges were based upon his inaugural address of the preceding year. In brief they were as follows:

  • that he had taught that reason and the Church are each a fountain of divine authority which apart from Holy Scripture may and does savingly enlighten men
  • that errors may have existed in the original text of the Holy Scripture
  • that many of the Old Testament predictions have been reversed by history and that the great body of Messianic prediction has not and cannot be fulfilled
  • that Moses is not the author of the Pentateuch, and that Isaiah is not the author of half of the book which bears his name
  • that the processes of redemption extend to the world to come (he had considered it a fault of Protestant theology that it limits redemption to this world and that sanctification is not complete at death).

After much posturing, maneuvering and publicity-seeking by Briggs, The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, to which the case was appealed, defrocked and excommunicated (expelled) Briggs from the Presbyterian church in 1893 at Washington DC. [4]

He was ordained a priest of the Protestant Episcopal Church in 1899. His scholarship procured for him the honorary degree of D.D. from the University of Edinburgh (1884) and from the University of Glasgow (1901),[5] and that of D.Litt., from the University of Oxford (1901).[6] With Francis Brown and S. R. Driver he prepared a revised Hebrew and English Lexicon (1891–1905, commonly known as Brown Driver Briggs or BDB) based on the lexicon of Wilhelm Gesenius, and with Driver edited the International Critical Commentary series.[7] His publications include:

  • Biblical Study: Its Principles, Methods and History (1883)
  • Hebrew Poems of the Creation (1884)
  • American Presbyterianism: Its Origin and Early History (1885)
  • Messianic Prophecy (1886)
  • Biblical history (PDF),, 1889 
  • vWhither? A Theological Question for the Times (1889)
  • vThe Authority of the Holy Scripture (1891)
  • The Bible, the Church and the Reason (1892)
  • vThe Higher Criticism of the Hexateuch (1893)
  • The Messiah of the Gospels (1894)
  • The Messiah of the Apostles (1894)
  • General introduction to the study of Holy Scripture (1899)
  • New Light on the Life of Jesus (1904)
  • The Ethical Teaching of Jesus (1904)
  • A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Psalms (2 vols., 1906–7), in which he was assisted by his daughter
  • The Virgin Birth of Our Lord (1909)
  • Theological Symbolics (1914, posthumous)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Who's Who 1914, p. xxi
  2. ^ Family Group Record at
  3. ^ First Presbyterian Church, Roselle, NJ .
  4. ^ The Presbyterian Church in the United States of America Against the Rev. Charles A Briggs, DD, Washington, DC: Archive, 1893 .
  5. ^ "Glasgow University jubilee" The Times (London). Friday, 14 June 1901. (36481), p. 10.
  6. ^ "University intelligence" The Times (London). Friday, 21 June 1901. (36487), p. 11.
  7. ^