SAPHIR, ADOLPH (1831–1891), theologian, born at Pesth in 1831, was the son of Israel Saphir, a Jewish merchant. His father’s brother, Moritz Gottlieb Saphir, was well known as an Hungarian poet and satirist. His mother was Henrietta Bondij, his father’s second wife. In 1843 the Saphir family, including Adolph, were converted to Christianity by the Jewish mission of the church of Scotland. [from Mighty in the Scriptures, a Memoir of the Rev. Adolph Saphir, D.D., by the Rev. G. Carlyle, 2nd ed. 1894; Brit. Mus. Cat.]
At the close of the same year his father sent him to Edinburgh that he might be trained for the free church ministry. Thence in the following year he proceeded to Berlin, where he attended the Gymnasium until 1848. In the autumn of that year he entered Glasgow University, graduating M.A. in 1854. In 1849 he proceeded to Marischal College, Aberdeen, and in 1851 became a student of theology in the Free Church College, Edinburgh. In 1854 he was licensed by the Belfast presbytery, and appointed a missionary to the Jews. His first post was at Hamburg, but, as the Austrian government was desirous of obtaining his extradition for non-performance of military service, he resigned his appointment, and, returning to Great Britain, settled in South Shields in 1856.
After five years he removed to Greenwich, and thence in 1872 to Notting Hill. In 1878 he received the honorary degree of D.D. from the university of Edinburgh. In 1880 he left Notting Hill, and two years later accepted a call from the Belgrave presbyterian church, where he remained till 1888. He died of angina pectoris on 3 April 1891. His wife, Sara Owen, of a Dublin family, whom he married in 1854, died four days before him. By her he had one daughter, Asra, who died young at South Shields.
Like his friend, Dr. Alfred Edersheim, Saphir threw much light on biblical study by his intimate knowledge of Jewish manners and literature. As early as 1852 Charles Kingsley wrote to him: ‘To teach us the real meaning of the Old Testament and its absolute unity with the New, we want not mere Hebrew scholars, but Hebrew spirits—Hebrew men.’ In later life Saphir took much interest in the endeavour of Rabbis Lichtenstein and Rabinowich to convert to Christianity the Jews of Hungary and southern Russia; and in 1887 he was chosen president of an association formed in London to assist them, under the title of the ‘Rabinowich Council.’ Saphir was a theologian of the evangelical school, and many of his pamphlets and lectures were intended to controvert the rationalistic theories of German critics.
His chief publications were: 1. ‘From Death to Life: Bible Records of Remarkable Conversions,’ Edinburgh, 1861, 8vo; 10th edit. London, 1880, 8vo. 2. ‘Christ and the Scriptures,’ London, 1867, 8vo. 3. ‘Lectures on the Lord’s Prayer,’ London, 1870, 8vo. 4. ‘Christ Crucified: lectures on 1 Corinthians ii.,’ London, 1873, 8vo. 5. ‘Expository Lectures on the Epistle to the Hebrews,’ London, 1874–6, 8vo. 6. ‘Rabinowich and his Mission to Israel,’ London, 1888, 8vo. 7. ‘The Divine Unity of Scripture,’ ed. Gavin Carlyle, London, 1892, 8vo.
[Mighty in the Scriptures, a Memoir of the Rev. Adolph Saphir, D.D., by the Rev. G. Carlyle, 2nd ed. 1894; Brit. Mus. Cat.]
Reflection and Prayer: Adolph Saphir typifies the Hebrew Christian preacher of the 19th century. A young man becomes a believer in Jesus through the influence of a mission agency, trains for ministry and develops into a much loved and widely read evangelical preacher. Sapphir always had an interest in his own people, supported the Hebrew Christian Alliance, and the nascent Messianic movement pioneered by Rabinowitz in Kishinev. But this was not something he actively participated in. Like Edersheim, his own identity construction and theological development placed him in a different environment. Whilst I have the utmost respect for this generation of Jewish believers in Yeshua, I also regret that they did not have the options open to the Messianic movement of today, which faces similar challenges of authenticity, coherence, community acceptance and contemporaneity in its theology and practice.
Lord, thank you for the life, ministry and teaching of Adolph Saphir. May our generation of Messianic Jewish teachers and leaders follow in his example of devotion to you and your word, and live our lives with similar character and commitment. In Yeshua’s name we pray. Amen.
Saphir, Rev. Adolph, D.D. We learn from him the story of his conversion in one short sentence: “I, at that time, a lad in my twelfth year, was the first of our family to accept the Gospel.” Mr. Wingate,  who gives an account of the event, says that the Jews testified to Adolph’s being born again from on high. “We heard that the Jews were saying that the Holy Ghost had fallen on Saphir’s son, and that he expounded the Scripture as they had never heard it before.”
In the autumn of 1843, Adolph went to Dr. Duncan in Edinburgh, that he might perfect his knowledge of English, where he remained six months, and then went to Berlin, and studied at the Gymnasium from 1844 to 1848, acquiring a thorough knowledge not only of German literature, but also of German philosophy. In 1848-49, he was tutor in the family of Mr. William Brown in Aberdeen. In 1854, after finishing his theological studies, he was ordained to the Presbyterian ministry, and licensed as a preacher in Belfast.
He then laboured as a missionary to the Jews in Hamburg for one year. Then he had the charge of a church in South Shields, and in 1861 he received a call to Greenwich, where people from various churches flocked to hear him. In 1872 a church was purchased for him at Notting Hill, where his ministry was always attended by all sorts of earnest Christians, especially his Thursday morning lectures. This was also the case wherever he went to preach. Saphir’s love and devotion to his people and to the cause of missions was boundless. He died April 4, 1891, a few days after his wife. His last sermon was on the text, “And Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.”
The following are some of Saphir’s works: (1) “Who is a Jew?”; (2) “Who is an Apostate?”; (3) “Expository  Lectures on the Epistle to the Hebrews”; (4) “The Hidden Life”; (5) “Our Life Day”; (6) “Found by the Good Shepherd”; (7) “Life of Faith”; (8) “The Compassion of Jesus”; (9) “The Everlasting Nation”; (10) “Christian Perfection”; (11) “The Unity of the Scriptures”; (12) “Christ and the Scriptures”; (13) “The Lord’s Prayer”; (14) “Israel’s Present and Future”; and (15) “All Israel shall be Saved.”