Wetstein, John James

, a very learned divine of Germany, was descended from an ancient and distinguished family, and born at Basil in 1693. He was trained with great care, and had early made such a progress in the Greek and Latin tongues as to be thought fit for higher pursuits. At fourteen he applied himself to divinity under his uncle John Rodolph Wetstein, a professor at Basil, and learned Hebrew and the Oriental languages from Buxtorf. At sixteen, he took the degree of doctor in philosophy, and four years after was admitted into the ministry; on which occasion he publicly defended a thesis, " De variis Novi Testament! Leetionibus,' in which he demonstrated that the vast variety of readings in the New Testament are no argument against the genuineness and authenticity of the text. These various readings he had for some time made the object of his attention and, while he was studying the ancient Greek authors, as well sacred as profane, kept this point constantly in view. He was also very desirous of examining all the manuscripts he could come at; and his curiosity in this particular was the chief motive of his travelling to foreign countries. In 1714 he went to Geneva, and, after some stay there, to Paris; thence to England; in which last place he had many conferences with Dr. Bentley relating to the prime object of his journey. Passing through Holland, he arrived at Basil in July 1717, and applied himself to the business of the ministry for several | years. Still he went on with his critical disquisitions and animadversions upon the various readings of the New Testament; and kept a constant correspondence with Dr. Befntley, who was at the same time busy in preparing an edition of it, yet did not propose to make use of any manuscripts less than a thousand years old, which are not easy to be met with.

In 1730 Wetstein published, in 4to, “Prolegomena ad Novi Testamenti Grseci editionem accuratissimam e vetustissimis Codd. Mss. denuo procurandam.” Before the publication of these- “Prolegomena,” some divines, from a dread of having the present text unsettled, had procured a decree from the senate of Basil, that Mr. Wetstein’s “undertaking was both trifling and unnecessary, and also dangerous;” they added too, but it does not appear upon what foundation, that his “New Testament savoured of Socinianism.” They now proceeded farther, and, by various means procured his being prohibited from officiating as a minister. Upon this, he went into Holland, being invited by the booksellers Wetsteins, who were his relations; and had not been long at Amsterdam before the remonstrants, or Arminians, named him to succeed Le Clerc, now superannuated and incapable, in the professorship of philosophy and history. But though they were perfectly satisfied of his innocence, yet they thought it necessary that he should clear himself in form before they admitted him and for this purpose he went to Basil, made a public apology, got the decree against him reversed, and returned to Amsterdam in May 1733. Here he went ardently on with his edition of the New Testament, sparing nothing to bring it to perfection, neither labour, nor expence, nor even journeys; for he came over a second time to England in 1746, when Mr. Gloster Ridley accommodated him with his manuscript of the Syriac version of the New Testament. At last he published it; the first volume in 1751, the second in 1752, folio. The text he left entirely as he found it; the various readings, of whwch he had collected more than any one before him, or all of them ^together, he placed under the text. Under these various readings he subjoined a critical commentary, containing observations which he had collected from an infinite number of Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, writers. At the end of his New Testament he published two epistles of Clemens Romanus, with a Latin version and preface, in which he | endeavours to establish their genuineness. These epistles were never published before, nor even known to the learned, but were discovered by him in a Syriac manuscript of the New Testament.

This work established his reputation over all Europe; and he received marks of honour and distinction from several illustrious bodies of men. He was elected into the royal academy of Prussia in June 1752; into the English society for propagating the gospel in foreign parts, in Feb. 1752-3, and into the royal society of London in April following. He died at Amsterdam, of a mortification, March 24, 1754. Besides his edition of the New Testament, he published some things of a small kind; among the rest, a funeral oration upon Mr. Le Clerc. He is represented not only as having been an universal scholar, and of consummate skill in all languages, but as a man abounding in good and amiable qualities.1