Abner Kneeland

Steven Avery

Abner Kneeland, Forgotten American Translator (and Apostate)

And that is that. But before all the controversy about Kneeland’s departure from Unitarianism, he made an English translation in 1823, based on the text compiled by Johann Jakob Griesbach. Kneeland used as his model the “Improved Version” made by Thomas Belsham in 1808, which was largely dependent on the 1796 work of Anglican Archbishop William Newcome, An Attempt Toward Revising Our English Translation of the Greek Scriptures.

In this translation, Kneeland demonstrated how the adoption of specific variants, combined with his own translational preferences, could yield a New Testament with doctrinal content significantly different from the King James Version, so as to fit his denial of the virgin birth, his denial of the existence of demons and hell, and so forth. In a brief preface, Kneeland relegated the books of Hebrews, James, Second Peter, Second John, Third John, Jude, and Revelation to a secondary status, calling them “Disputed Books” which are “not to be alleged as affording along sufficient proof of any doctrine.”


When one looks over the criticisms that some individuals have made against the NIV and other modern versions, one can very frequently interchange “NIV” and “Abner Kneeland’s 1823 translation” and the sentences will make perfect sense. This ought to make it perfectly clear that the text-critical issues surrounding this cluster of 45 textual contests (and more in the Epistles) did not suddenly arise when Egyptian papyri were unearthed, or when Westcott and Hort produced their 1881 revision, or when Codex Sinaiticus was discovered. All these changes to the text were already being proposed in Greek compilations, and were already adopted in Abner Kneeland’s translation in 1823.

Likewise, some criticisms made against the Watchtower Society’s New World Translation also apply to some of Kneeland’s renderings; most notably in John 1:1, which Kneeland rendered, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a God,” and in Hebrews 1:8a, which Kneeland rendered, “But to the Son he saith, “God is thy throne.” When we look at Kneeland’s systematic avoidance of the term “hell” in his translation, we see in the New World Translation (and in the NIV to a large extent) the same avoidance.

As a simple point of history, deviations from the Textus Receptus and deviations from orthodoxy have gone hand in hand; let anyone who says otherwise take a close look at the Unitarian texts, and Unitarian teachings, of the early 1800s in New England, as exemplified by Abner Kneeland’s translation, and his subsequent total apostasy.

Steven Avery


By the early 1820s Kneeland had been drawn to the teachings of the utopian communitarian Robert Owen and the political philosophy of William Lloyd Garrison.


Though he had only one year of formal education, he taught himself Latin, Greek and Hebrew, and published his own translation of the New Testament. He also wrote a book that proposed the elimination of silent letters and other improvements to the English language.

By the early 1820s Kneeland had been drawn to the teachings of the utopian communitarian Robert Owen and the political philosophy of William Lloyd Garrison. By the end of that decade his beliefs and teachings had moved so far from the Universalists that he was asked to again resign his ministry and "disfellowshipped" from the church. His radicalization continued, and over subsequent years he called for freedom for slaves, legally equal rights for women and blacks, and legalization of birth control, divorce, and miscegenation (interracial marriage).

Author of books:
The Columbian Miscellany (1804)
The Child's Spelling Book Containing Easy Words from One to Four Syllables (1808)
The American Definition Spelling Book (1814)
A Series of Letters, in Defence of Divine Revelation (1816, with Hosea Ballou)
A Series of Lectures on the Doctrine of Universal Benevolence (1818)
The Philadelphia Hymn Book, or, A Selection of Sacred Poetry consisting of Psalms and Hymns (1819)
A Greek and English Testament with Notes (1822)
The Deist (1822)
Lectures on Universal Benevolence (1824)
Lectures of the Doctrine of Universal Salvation (1824, collected sermons)
Key to the new System of Orthography (1827)
A Review of the Evidences of Christianity (1829)
Philosophical Creed (1833)