“Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that need not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” 2 Tim. 2:15
Robert Dick Wilson was born in 1856 in Pennsylvania, and received his doctorate at the age of 20 from Princeton. He attended Western Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh for two more years then decided to pursue his studies in Germany at the University of Berlin. He was gifted with a natural ability in language, and long before he graduated from college, he was reading the New Testament in nine different languages. One of the translations was in Hebrew which he had memorized by syllables from cover to cover.
The timing of his arrival in Germany is interesting, because he arrived at the height of the popularity of German Higher Criticism, a group of radical but highly respected scholars who had convinced the world that the Old Testament Scriptures were unreliable and written much later in history than what had been previously believed.
He was 25 then, and noticed that American students that went to Germany were taught by professors who lectured based on their own authority and study. Wilson noted that the students took everything the professors said, verbatim, because the professors said it. He realized the students did not have the skills or the tools to challenge the doctors.
This troubled him, in part because so much of what they taught was detrimental to the students respect for Scripture. He wasn’t wrong in this and the prevalence of higher criticism had a devastating effect on the Christian faith in Germany and around the world, and along with Darwin’s theory played a role in the rise of the fascist movement and the holocaust. Apprising the situation, Wilson made a decision;
“I went there to study so that no professor on earth could lay down the law for me, or say anything without my being able to investigate the evidence on which he said it”
He then determined to learn all the languages that touched upon the bible and all the languages that the bible had been translated into up to 600 AD. He was 25 when he made that decision, and since most men in his family died at 70, he figured he had 45 years to complete his life’s work. He decided he would give the first 15 years in continuing to learn all the languages he needed. Then he would give 15 to studying the Hebrew, Aramaic and all the other texts available. He would spend the last 15 years in writing and using his knowledge for the defense of the Old Testament text.
In the process Robert Dick Wilson learned over 45 languages and dialects, of both living and dead languages. As a result no archaeological find that had writing or cuneiform on it could be found that he couldn’t read. No German Radical Critic could touch his level of scholarship, and he continually refuted their attacks on scripture, showing them to be guided far more by anti-supernatural or atheistic presuppositions then by the actual evidence.
He said his aim was to give his students, “such an intelligent faith in the Old Testament Scriptures that they will never doubt them as long as they live.”
Robert Dick Wilson did much to preserve the faith of thousands of believers during a period when people were turning away from a reliance in Scripture in droves. And at a time when it was very unpopular to do so, he fulfilled Paul the Apostle’s admonition to “study to show yourself approved.”
There are hundreds of ways to serve the Lord and hundreds of callings. But if we separate these works from their basis in Scripture, then the works we do will not be of as lasting value as we might like. Without a lively faith in the Scripture what we pass on may feel good and have temporal value, but will fail in eternal value.
Robert Dick Wilson and others have labored so that we can have and defend a faith based on the Judeo/Christian Scriptures and so need not seek a disconnect from them in order to do those works we feel called to do.
Have a great day