JOHN BROWN OF HADDINGTON: Motivational Story for Christians

The Reading Culture of Early Christianity From Spoken Words to Sacred Texts 400,000 Textual Variants 02

Please Help Us Keep These Thousands of Blog Posts Growing and Free for All


A. T. Robertson, the great Greek grammarian as well as a textual critic and general student of the New Testament, tells the following story about John Brown of Haddington, Scotland. Born in 1722, John Brown was the son of common and ordinary parents, although they had an interest in learning. His father, a weaver by winter and a salmon fisherman during the summer, taught himself to read so that he could read Christian books. In the area where John grew up, local schooling was not always available, so he accumulated only a few months of formal education. Nevertheless, these rare experiences excited his interest in learning, and he read whatever he could, even starting to learn Latin. Unfortunately, John’s father died when the boy was eleven, as did his mother not long after. The orphaned John, however, was soon adopted by a Christian family. A sickly child, he was converted to Christian faith when he was twelve years old, and he became a shepherd. His adoptive father could not read, so John spent many days reading to his new parent. John also borrowed Latin books and spent time improving his Latin, and during his two-hour lunch break, he often visited his local minister, who gave him Latin exercises. John graduated to Greek next. Greek was not as well known as Latin, and so he tackled this language on his own. He borrowed a Greek New Testament and, using his Latin grammar book and a copy of the works of the Roman poet Ovid, figured out the Greek alphabet and its sounds. John then started to learn Greek vocabulary by comparing short words to those in his English Bible. He began learning Greek grammar by comparing the Greek endings with those in Latin.


One day, at the age of sixteen, John Brown heard that a bookstore in St. Andrews, Scotland, twenty-four miles away, had a copy of the Greek New Testament for sale. He very much wanted to have one of his own. He left his sheep with a friend and made the trek by foot to the city, walking throughout the entire night, so that he arrived the next morning in St. Andrews, where he found the bookstore of one Alexander McCulloch. He entered the shop, likely with some trepidation, and asked the no-doubt surprised shopkeeper for a Greek New Testament. Here was this slight, roughly clothed, barefoot young man asking for a Greek New Testament. “What would you do wi’ that book? You’ll no can read it,” the bookstore owner said. “I’ll try to read it,” John humbly replied. There happened to be some professors who had entered the shop, and they heard this short conversation. One of the professors, probably Francis Pringle, professor of Greek at the university, asked the bookstore owner to fetch the Greek New Testament. Tossing it on the counter, he said, “Boy, if you can read that book, you shall have it for nothing.”

4th ed. MISREPRESENTING JESUS The Complete Guide to Bible Translation-2

No doubt there was a lightness in John Brown’s step as he walked all the way back from St. Andrews that day, new Greek New Testament tucked under his arm. He had eagerly taken up the book, read out a passage to the amazement of everyone there, including Pringle, and turned and walked out the door, his prize firmly in his grasp. By the afternoon of the same day, John was back tending his flock while reading from his Greek New Testament. However, the story does not end there.


Some other young men became jealous of this shepherd who was becoming an accomplished scholar. These young men were studying for the ministry in the area, and one of them accused John of having gotten his knowledge from the devil. John treated such accusations as a joke because, after all, he knew what hard work had gone into gaining such knowledge. Not only did he know Latin and Greek, but he also taught himself Hebrew. His increased knowledge led to increased suspicion, with even his own pastor agreeing that witchcraft explained John’s knowledge. After five years of such unfounded accusations, the elders of his church unanimously voted a certificate of full membership for John, although his pastor refused to sign it. John continued to learn while supporting himself as a peddler, soldier, schoolmaster, and then preacher and divinity student, and eventually as a pastor, professor of theology, and scholar. John Brown published in 1769 A Dictionary of the Holy Bible, only the second Bible dictionary ever published, and one that stayed in print until 1868. Brown’s The Self-Interpreting Bible, first published in 1778, was last published in 1919.


As Robertson states in his mammoth grammar of the Greek New Testament,

There is nothing like the Greek New Testament to rejuvenate the world, which came out of the Dark Ages with the Greek Testament in its hand. Erasmus wrote in the Preface to his Greek Testament about his own thrill of delight: “These holy pages will summon up the living image of His mind. They will give you Christ Himself, talking, healing, dying, rising, the whole Christ in a word; they will give Him to you in an intimacy so close that He would be less visible to you if He stood before your eyes.” The Greek New Testament is the New Testament. All else is translation.

Robertson eloquently expresses the centrality of the Greek New Testament for all New Testament study and appreciation. – Porter, Stanley E.. How We Got the New Testament (Acadia Studies in Bible and Theology) (p. 9-11). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.



Throughout his life, Brown was an eager student, and his attainments were considerable. He knew most of the European and several oriental languages. He was well-read in history and divinity; his acquaintance with the Bible was of the most minute description. Although he says that ‘few plays or romances are safely read, as they tickle the imagination, and are apt to infect with their defilement,’ so that ‘even the most pure, as Young, Thomson, Addison, Richardson, bewitch the soul, and are apt to indispose for holy meditation and other religious exercises,’ and although he eagerly opposed the relaxation of the penal statutes against Roman Catholics, he was, in regard to many things, not at all a narrow-minded man. His creed was to him a matter of such intense conviction, that nothing seemed allowable that tended in any way to oppose it or distract attention from its solemn doctrines. His preaching was earnest, simple, and direct as if I had never read a book but the Bible.’ His delivery was ‘sing-song,’ yet ‘this in him was singularly melting to serious minds.’ A widely current story affirms that David Hume heard him preach, and the ‘sceptic’ was so impressed that he said, ‘That old man speaks as if the Son of God stood at his elbow.’ The anecdote, though undoubtedly mythical, shows the popular impression as to his preaching. – Brown, John Croumbie (1887). Centenary Memorial of the Rev. John Brown, Haddington. Edinburgh: Andrew Elliot. Retrieved 24 July 2019.

Please Help Us Keep These Thousands of Blog Posts Growing and Free for All


Leave a Reply

Powered by

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: