Aaron Adolph Saphir 1831-1891
Adolph was born in 1831 in Hungary to a Jewish family that was well known in Hungary and well respected in the Jewish community. The grandfather of Adolph had been well learned, and of his three sons one became famous as a wit and a poet in Germany (Moritz/Moses Gottlieb Saphir) and is recognised as one of the literary giants of his time.Adolph’s father, Israel, was the eldest son, and a merchant, an educator and well looked up to by the community. He founded a Jewish school in Budapest, where the Saphirs lived.
Adolph was a brilliant child. At the age of four he was sent to school to keep him occupied, and it soon became apparent to all that he was not only amusing himself but taking in all that was taught! He finished that first school at the age of nine years, and was given a private teacher for two years, after which time he passed the examination to the Gymnasium of Budapest startlingly well. The professors, writes his sister Johanna were “startled with his knowledge, at so early an age, and could not say enough in regard to his abilities, uncommon intelligence, and impressiveness for everything good and noble.””The most striking features in his character”, she continues, “were his gentleness and humility, and his strong affection for his parents, especially for his mother….He was of such a refined and delicate mind that anything which was in the least contrary to his impression of right, young as he was, made him feel quite miserable and sad.”
As a child of eleven, Adolph came to believe that Yeshua is the Messiah, at about the same time that his father came to faith – at the age of sixty-three! Subsequently, a Mr Smith wrote of him that “I feel confident that this child, if he is not being prepared for speedy removal to another world, is being prepared for much good in this. he seems to have a peculiar delight in prayer. He and his sister have little prayer-meetings together, on behalf of the other members of the family….”
Shortly after, at the age of twelve, Adolph’s father resolved to send him to England to train for the ministry. The separation was wrenching for father and son, indeed for the entire family. But they believed this was right, and so Adolph took the opportunity to leave with two others, Alfred Edersheim (then 17)and Alexander Tomory, with Dr. John Wilson of Bombay who was able to take the three from Budapest as his secretaries. Adolph was never able to return to Hungary again, lest he be drafted into the army, and only saw his parents once after that parting, when visiting his sister in Berlin.
Adolph spent half a year with Dr. and Mrs Duncan in Edinburgh, together with Edersheim and Tomory, learning English. After this he traveled to his sister’s home in Berlin, where her husband, Charles Schwartz, was serving as a missionary for the Free Church of Scotland. Here he continued education in his mother tongue. He stayed there for three years and a half, learning German literature and philosophy. While there, his faith was sorely tested by the rationalistic atmosphere and Pantheistic, or Hegelian influences of the school. At this time he met Theodore Meyer, who had been a rabbi in Mecklenburg at Schwerin Buetzow, and who became his Hebrew teacher and closest friend. Meyer was a great help to him at this time and Adolph came through these years triumphant, strengthened in his faith and with new ability to understand the intellectual position and attractions of rationalism and counter it with true, knowledge-based faith.
Adolph went on to study at the University of Glasgow towards a degree in theology, which he eventually completed at the Free Church College in Edinburgh. He finished his studies in 1854 and was strongly recommended to the Irish Presbyterian Church as a missionary to the Jews. He desired to devote his life to Jewish mission wwork, and gladly accepted the position. Shortly after, he married Sara Owen, of a respected Dublin family. Their marriage from start to end was very happy, and it is thought that it is thanks to Sara’s devoted care of him and watchfulness over his health, that he lived for as long as he did despite his frail health. Their life together was an extremely happy one, but not devoid of care. Their only child, Asra, a little girl, died at the age of one and a half. They were never to be blessed with more children.
The Saphirs ministered for a time in Hamburg, but when Adolph found that the methods he wanted to use to evangelise the Jews were not approved, he resigned his position and his salary. In 1855 they went to Glasgow and stayed there for more than 6 months, until he was called to the ministry at Laygate presbyterian Church, South shields. Here he continued for five years.
From 1861 – 1872 Saphir served as minister at St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church, in Greenwich, England, a church that increased by tenfold in size during his tenure. People flocked to hear him, during the week as well as at the Sunday services. Later, as minister of Trinity Presbyterian in Notting Hill, Dr. Saphir gave a series of very popular lectures which were later transcribed into a series of books. Dr. Saphir enjoyed many productive years as pastor, preacher and writer serving both as a shepherd to the flock, and striving for evangelism to his own people, the Jews.
In 1890, Sara Saphir came down with influenza, and rapidly declined. She died – and Dr. Saphir was himself so ill that he was unable to attend her funeral. He died only four days after his dear wife.
Several of Adolph Saphir’s books have been published in Israel by Keren Ahvah Meschichit. Among his writings are ‘The Divine Unity of Scripture’, ‘The Lord’s Prayer’, and Expository Lectures on the Epistle to the Hebrews (2 vols).
- The Divine Unity of Scripture
- The hidden life: Thoughts on communion with God
- Life of Faith, Its nature and Power as Illustrated in Hebrews XI
- Christ and the Scriptures
- Christ and the Church: the apostolic commission
- Christ and Israel;: Lectures and addresses on the Jews
- The Lord’s prayer: Lectures
- The Epistle to the Hebrews an exposition Vol. One
- The Epistle to the Hebrews an exposition Vol. Two
- The Epistle to the Hebrews – Volume 1
- The Perfect Harmony of the Old and New Testaments
- Our Life Day: thoughts on John IX:4
- The Deep Spiritual Meaning of the Decalogue and the Whole Law
- Israel and the Dispersion: an evidence of the truth of prophecy
- The Jews as Custodians and Witnesses
- Objections to Miracles have no Basis in Reason
- Jesus and the Sinner: gospel records of conversion
Bernstein, A. Jewish Witnesses for Christ. Keren Ahvah Meschichit, Jerusalem. New edition, 1999.
Carlyle, Gavin. Mighty in the Scriptures: A Memoir of Adolph Saphir, 1893. London: John F Shaw and Co
Gartenhaus, Jacob. Famous Hebrew Christians. Baker Book House, 1979