Norway during the nineteenth century found her most pre-eminent witness for Christ and defender of Christianity in that son of Israel whose name is mentioned above. Carl Paul Caspari was born at Dessau 1814. His parents were orthodox Jews, and his father was a merchant there. In this city, which through Moses Mendelssohn has become so celebrated, the Jewish community influenced many of its citizens in a remarkable manner, on account of their ability and intelligence. They established a Jewish seminary, which was called after Prince Francis, “The Francis School.” It gained a great reputation, and even attracted Christian pupils. German services were held in the synagogue, at that period of unheard-of innovation. The religious instruction in the school was given in an enlightened spirit.
Caspari imbibed this influence, and when he attended the Gymnasium it obtained complete control over him. In 1834, he went to Leipsig, in order to study Oriental languages. Here he read the Old Testament diligently, but he found in it only the teaching he had formerly received. The New Testament he could not accept. However, he was animated by a strong sense of duty, and he inscribed on his desk the motto, “Thou canst, therefore thou oughtest.” Yet he soon became convinced that his will was a very feeble instrument. At this period, Granel, who had formerly been his schoolmate at Dessau, and who afterwards was so well known as the Superintendent of the Saxon Foreign Missions, became Caspari’s faithful friend and wise counselor. Granel persuaded him to carefully read the New Testament.
He opened the book at the Acts of the Apostles and read of Paul’s persecution by the Jews. He was impressed with the truthfulness of the narrative, and so he concluded to continue his reading. When he reached the Gospels, the words of Christ and the accounts of His wonderful miracles greatly affected him. The thought came to him. “Perhaps Jesus can also help me out of all this misery which I find in my soul,” and, as he a year before his death said, “I came to Him as to my living Saviour – just as in the days of His flesh men sought comfort from Him.”
Pastor Wolf, of Leipsig, and the young theologian, Franz Delitzsch, afterwards the celebrated professor, together with Granel, dealt with him faithfully in this time of struggle, and because the young man was sincere the conflict ended in his victory. At Pentecost, in 1838, he received from the same Pastor Zehme, in Leipsig, who had previously baptized Freidrich Adolph Philippi, Holy Baptism. He now discontinued his former studies and devoted himself to the study of theology, giving especial attention to the Old Testament.
After leaving the university he was at first a private scholar, and as such wrote an exposition of the prophecy of Obadiah, and also the first volume of an Arabic grammar, which was translated into several languages, and is in use to-day. He declined a call to the Königsberg university, because he wished to work only in a Lutheran institution. He received a call to such an one in 1847, namely, to the Norwegian university at Christiania, where he displayed his great powers as a theologian. He wrote expositions of many books of the Old Testament, and performed especial service in editing the newly revised Bible in Norwegian, which is now used in the churches of that country.
The question of the signification of the Apostles’ Creed, which through Grundtvig, had greatly agitated the Northern Evangelical churches, led him in 1858 to a thorough investigation of this ancient Confession of Faith. He decided that the Creed undoubtedly had its formation in the times of the Apostles, that it had become part of the life of the Church, but that the Holy Scriptures alone had been and must remain the standard of belief, and to which all the teachers of the Church from its foundation until Grundtvig had adhered. The Apostles’ Creed had not always had this authority, nor is it the direct word of Jesus Christ, but it stands for an expression of the primitive faith, and he who disputes its truth should not be considered a Christian. Caspari received abundant thanks for his labours. The city of Erlangen bestowed upon him the title of “Doctor of Theology.” Many philosophical societies elected him to their membership, and Swedish and Norwegian Orders gave him honours.
He ever retained true affection for his own Jewish people, and often spoke eloquently in behalf of Jewish missions. In 1865 he became President of the Norwegian Central Committee for Jewish missions, and later a Director of the Lutheran Central Societies at Leipsic. He served with especial diligence at the Students’ Missionary Association at Christiania, where a conference was held over Jewish missions. He divided his discourse into four points, including the following questions and answers:
- Is Jewish mission work necessary? Yes; because without it the majority of the Jews would never be reached by the preaching of the Gospel.
- How shall they be converted? By establishing in every Church societies of earnest Christians, who shall support proselytes from Judaism as missionaries among their own people.
- How shall these missionaries carry on their work? Not by dispute and argument, which create only intellectual knowledge, but through the promulgation of the way of salvation, must the Jews embrace the truths of Christianity, through which Christians also are converted.
- How are the converts to be treated? Possibly they might primarily be organized into circled, in order to serve as leaven among their friends, but much depends upon their various former environments.
The idea of a Jewish national existence greatly impressed him, and he clung firmly to this hope for Israel’s future. In 1891 he had the pleasure of appointing the first Norwegian Jewish missionary. After a remarkable, important and richly blessed activity for the Church of Christ, he fell asleep in 1892. Professor Bang called him “the Teacher of all Scandinavia,” and testified that his death should be considered as an historical Church calamity. Caspari himself cherished but one ambition, to live and die in favour with Christ Jesus, and depended to the last on the Saviour’s word, “Him that cometh unto Me, I will in no wise cast out.”
Some of Caspari’s works are as follows: (1) “Commentar über Obadja,” Leipzig, 1842, followed by (2) “Beiträge zur Einleitung in das Buch Jesaia.” (3) “Untersuchungen über den Syrisch Ephraimitischen Krieg unter Jotham und Ahas,” Christiania, 1849. (4) “Commentar zu Micha,” ib., 1852. (5) “Theile des Jesaia seit 1853.” (6) “Zur Einführung in das Buch Daniel,” Leipzig, 1869. (7) “Quellen des Geschichte des Taufsymbols und der Glaubensregel,” Christiania, 1868-9. (8) “Grammatica Arabica,” Leipzig, 1842-48; a second edition appeared in 1866.
Bernstein, A. 1999. Jewish Witnesses for Christ. Jerusalem: Keren Ahvah Meshihit.