William Henry Green (1825-1900) held the chair of Biblical and Oriental Literature at Princeton Theological Seminary from 1851 until his death. As one of America’s foremost linguists and an outstanding Old Testament scholar, he opposed the conclusions of the higher-critical movement and ‘did more than any one man of his time to rally and steady . . . the Church under the shock of a sudden and mighty assault on the trustworthiness of the Scriptures’ (John D. Davis).
Green was born in Groveville, near Bordentown, New Jersey, in January 1825. Despite his family’s many Princeton connections, he went to Easton, Pennsylvania, where he lived with his grandparents and attended Lafayette College, graduating in 1840 before he was sixteen. He then served as a tutor in mathematics at Lafayette for two years, joining the First Presbyterian Church in Easton, under the ministry of John Gray, a Scotch Irish immigrant. Green spent a year at Princeton Seminary, where he became at once the foremost scholar. He spent another year at Lafayette as professor of mathematics and then returned to Princeton.
In 1849, at twenty-four years of age, Green accepted a call to one of the most influential churches of Philadelphia, Central Presbyterian Church. His installation sermon was given by J. A. Alexander. His congregation found him to be ‘one of the ablest and most acceptable preachers in Philadelphia’ and ‘a laborious, faithful and sympathetic pastor.’ Here he began a life-long interest and ministry as an effective speaker to children.
In 1851, William Henry Green was elected by the General Assembly meeting in St. Louis to the chair of Biblical and Oriental Literature at Princeton. One of America’s foremost linguists, he taught Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic; and he added Sanskrit after a delegation of students requested classes in that language in 1860. His Grammar of the Hebrew Language, published in 1861, was reputed to be the finest such work produced by an American scholar.
In 1868 he was elected president of Princeton University but declined to accept. In 1891 he served as the moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. In his commemorative address on Green’s death, John D. Davis said,
There is every reason to believe that from the day when he, a boy of fifteen years, professed his faith in Christ at the church in Easton, until February 10, 1900, when he departed from the body to be at home with the Lord, a period of sixty years, his life was actuated by those motives which spring from the apprehension of personal salvation through Jesus Christ alone.