Johannes van der Palm

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Johannes Hendricus van der Palm
Van der palm.jpeg
Born (1763-06-17)17 June 1763
Died 11 September 1840(1840-09-11) (aged 77)
Nationality Dutch
Occupation Poet, theologian, politician, professor
Known for first Dutch Minister of Education and Bible translator
Political party Patriot (Moderate faction)
Partner(s) Alida Bussingh (m. 1786, d. 1835)
Children Eight, only four reached adulthood

Johannes Hendricus van der Palm (17 July 1763 – 8 September 1840) was a Dutch poet, theologian, politician and professor.


Van der Palm was the son of Cornelis van der Palm, a Rotterdam school-head and co-founder of the Rotterdam poets' society Studium scientiarum genetrix (IJver is the mother of the sciences). From 17 years old Van der Palm was also a member of this society and six years later was appointed a member on merit. In 1783 his father awarded him the gold 'erepenning' (medal) for his poem Het Oorlog (The War). By then he was studying at the University of Leiden and writing many poems – his 1784 poem de verheerlijking van Christus op den berg (To the glory of Christ on the mountain) won the gold award of the Hague poets' society Kunstliefde spaart geen vlijt, of which Van der Palm was a member.

In 1784 Van der Palm became a predikant at Maartensdijk. He was a member of the Patriottentijd (Patriot movement) and in 1787 had to flee to Bunschoten when Orangism was in the ascendency. He was scientific advisor to Middelburg (1788) before becoming a member of the Provisional Board of Zeeland (1795), planting a Liberty Tree. In 1796 he became professor of oriental languages at the University of Leiden. From 1799 to 1805 Van der Palm succeeded Theodorus van Kooten as minister of education ("agent for National Education") in the Batavian Republic and Batavian Commonwealth, at first as minister for primary education then for schools too from 1806. Van der Palm called on the Leiden professor Matthijs Siegenbeek to establish a uniform system of Dutch spelling, that was officially introduced on 18 December 1804. In 1801 Van der Palm was also for a time the interim minister of economic affairs ("agent for the National Economy"). From 1805 he was a professor, this time in sacred poetry and rhetoric. In 1812 he was called to account for not paying tribute to emperor Napoleon in his speech at the start of the academic year.

Van der Palm was famous in his time as a writer and orator (see below). On December 6, 1813 King William I of the Netherlands appointed him secretary of the fully restored university, and when the University of Leiden alumni class of 1790 needed a speaker at their July 1828 reunion Van der Palm was the obvious choice.[1] In 1815 won a prize of 700 guilders, awarded by Jan van Kinsbergen. In 1818 he began a new Bible translation (see below), completing it in 1830. He died in 1840 aged 77. Nicolaas Beets, who in 1840 married Van der Palm's granddaughter Aleide van Foreest, wrote a biography of van der Palm in 1842 entitled Leven en karakter van [Life and Character of] J.H. v.d. Palm.

Theological conceptions[edit]

Johannes van der Palm (c. 1820)

Van der Palm was not favourable of Dogmatics. Although he never denied the central themes of Reformed Christianity like Predestination or the Holy Trinity, he showed no real interest in them. As a Professor he thought that it was his main job to explain the Bible, instead of defending Dogmas and teaching of the Church. Like most of his contemporaries Van der Palm's main interest was the study of the languages of the Bible, or those ancient languages that could contribute to a better explanation of the Scripture. As a Professor of Oriental Languages he knew most of the Oriental languages like Biblical Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic. He was a keen promotor of the Arab language. He thought that some ancient Arab fragments of the Old Testament that were discovered recently could help to explain some fallacies in the Hebrew text. It's interesting that Van der Palm didn't value the Latin translations of the Bible nor the Septuagint (Greek translation of the O.T.) very much.

Theologically, Van der Palm was a moderate Supranaturalist. As a Supranaturalists he opposed both the Orthodoxy and Liberal Protestantism - although he frequently cited the works of Calvin and the Dutch Reformers, believing that they were far ahead of their times. In his eyes, Liberal Protestants went to far in their criticism. Van der Palm was a religious moderate.

Van der Palm was negative about Roman Catholicism, which was common among Dutch Reformed Christians of his age.

Famous orator[edit]

Van der Palm was a most famous orator. His orations - and as a matter of fact his preaches - were well received, but strongly reflected the thinkings of the late 18th and early 19th Century.

Bible translator[edit]

In the 1810s Van der Palm started a new translation of the Bible. He hoped it would replace the old Statenvertaling ("Translation by the States"). The Statenvertaling or Statenbijbel was revered as sacred and almost divine by some of orthodox Calvinists. Van der Palm didn't share that opinion, he revered the work of the translators of the 17th century, but did not believe they were infallible. He used the Masoretic Text - although he knew that other Hebrew texts were more reliable - for his translation of the Old Testament, but sometimes made use of the Samaritan Pentateuch (which was considered very reliable in those days) and the Received Text (Textus Receptus) for the New Testament, but seldom departed from the T.R. He made extensive use of footnotes to explain his translational decisions. He also wrote introductions to all the Bible books. His three volums translation with footnotes (completed in 1830) was quite popular among the higher educated and middle classes. It became commonly known as the Palmbijbel, although Van der Palm just considered it to be a revision of the Statenvertaling. It never became the official Bible of the Dutch Reformed Church. The Church sticked to the Statenvertaling till 1951, although it did update the Statenvertaling several times after the publication of the Palmbijbel.

Van der Palm was somewhat of a prude: Verses concerning to sexual intercourse were - contrary to the translators of the Statenvertaling - not translated literally, "to avoid shocking people".

Besides his translation of the Holy Scriptures, he also wrote the "Bijbel voor de Jeugd" or Youth Bible. His Youth Bible is written very vividly and was frequently recommended by parents to their children. Its content is very moralistic and apologetic. Jesus is depicted as the true man, a teacher of a new moral, and example. At the same time Van der Palm stressed, Jesus was also Divine and reconciliation through His blood of Jesus is the central message of the whole Bible. Van der Palm never deviated from his moderate roots as theologian.


One of his daughters was married with Pieter Loopuyt, a wealthy banker and member of the Eerste Kamer (Senate), another daughter with jonkheer Dirk van Foreest, a squire and member of the Tweede Kamer (Lower house).


  • Groot, Aart de: Leven en Arbeid van J.H. van der Palm, H. Veenman en Zonen N.V. - Wageningen, 1960 (academic thesis)


  1. ^ Gerrit J. Tenzythoff, Sources of Secession: The Netherlands Hervormde Kerk on the Eve of the Dutch Immigration to the Midwest. Historical Series of the Reformed Church in America, No. 17, Donald J. Bruggink (editor), (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 30–31.