Albert Barnes
Albert Barnes (cropped).jpg
Engraving of Barnes by George E. Perine
BornDecember 1, 1798
DiedDecember 24, 1870 (aged 72)
Occupation(s)theologian, author

Albert Barnes (December 1, 1798 – December 24, 1870)[1] was an American theologian, clergyman, abolitionist, temperance advocate, and author. Barnes is best known for his extensive Bible commentary and notes on the Old and New Testaments, published in a total of 14 volumes in the 1830s.


Barnes was born in Rome, New York. He graduated from Hamilton College in Clinton, New York in 1820, and from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1823. Barnes was ordained as a Presbyterian minister by the presbytery of Elizabethtown, New Jersey, in 1825, and was the pastor successively of the Presbyterian Church in Morristown, New Jersey (1825–1830), and of the First Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia (1830–1868).[2]

Albert Barnes (by James Neagle)
Albert Barnes (by James Neagle)

Barnes held a prominent place in the New School branch of the Presbyterians during the Old School-New School Controversy, to which he adhered on the division of the denomination in 1837. He had been tried (but not convicted) for heresy in 1836, mostly due to the views he expressed in Notes, Explanatory and Practical, on the Epistle to the Romans (1834) of the imputation of the sin of Adam, original sin and the atonement; the bitterness stirred up by this trial contributed towards widening the breach between the conservative and the progressive elements in the church.[2][a]

During the Old School-New School split in the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, Barnes allied himself with the New School Branch. He served as moderator of the General Assembly to the New School branch in 1851.[3] According to the Encyclopædia Britannica: "He was an eloquent preacher, but his reputation rests chiefly on his expository works, which are said to have had a larger circulation both in Europe and America than any others of their class."[2]

Of the well-known Notes on the New Testament, it is said that more than a million volumes had been issued by 1870. The Notes on Job, the Psalms, Isaiah and Daniel were also popularly distributed. The popularity of these works rested on how Barnes simplified Biblical criticism so that new developments in the field were made accessible to the general public. Barnes was the author of several other works, including Scriptural Views of Slavery (1846) and The Way of Salvation (1863). A collection of his theological works was published in Philadelphia in 1875.

Barnes was an abolitionist.[4] In his book The Church and Slavery (1857), Barnes excoriates slavery as evil and immoral, and calls for it to be dealt with from the pulpit "as other sins and wrongs are" (most pointedly in chapter VII, "The Duty of the Church at Large on the Subject of Slavery").[original research?] In his famous 1852 oratory, "What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?", Frederick Douglass quoted Barnes as saying: "There is no power out of the church that could sustain slavery an hour, if it were not sustained in it."[5][6][b]

Barnes was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 1855.[7] While serving as pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia, Barnes became the President of the Pennsylvania Bible Society[8] (located at 7th and Walnut) in 1858 – a position he served until his death in 1870. He served at First Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia until 1868. He was then granted the title Pastor Emeritus.[3]


Barnes died in Philadelphia on December 24, 1870, of natural causes, 23 days after his 72nd birthday. His widow wrote,

"His death was sudden and entirely unexpected. His health, with the exception of his eyesight, seemed to be perfect, -- mind and body active and full of energy. The day he died, he spent the morning in the city, dined with us cheerfully as usual, and afterwards walked with my daughter about a mile and a quarter into the country, to visit some friends in deep affliction. They reached the house, and he conversed for a few minutes, when he threw back his head, breathed rather heavily, and before the physician, who was immediately summoned, could arrive, he had passed away. In an instant, as it seemed, without pain or any consciousness of entering the 'dark valley,' he was with his Saviour."[9]


Archival Collections

The Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, has a collection of Barnes’ original manuscripts, notes, sermons and lectures.[3] The Burke Library Archives of the Union Theological Seminary in New York City, New York also has a collection of Barnes' sermons.[10]



  1. ^ For the views he expressed, see: Barnes, Albert (1834). Notes, Explanatory and Practical, on the Epistle to the Romans. New York City: Leavitt, Lord & Company. p. 1. Selectable text:
  2. ^ For Douglass's speech, see: Douglass, Frederick (July 5, 1852). What to the Slave is the Fourth of July? (Speech). Ladies Antislavery Society of Rochester. Corinthian Hall, Rochester, New York.


  1. ^ Olbricht, Thomas H. (November 12, 2007). "BARNES, ALBERT". In McKim, Donald K. (ed.). Dictionary of Major Biblical Interpreters (2nd ed.). InterVarsity Press. p. 147. ISBN 978-0-8308-2927-9.
  2. ^ a b c Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Barnes, Albert" . Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  3. ^ a b c "Guide to the Albert Barnes Papers - Presbyterian Historical Society". Presbyterian Historical Society. May 5, 2014.
  4. ^ Curley, Carmen. "Emancipation: The Caribbean Experience". Miami - School of Education and Human Development. Retrieved February 5, 2021.
  5. ^ Foner, Philip Sheldon; Branham, Robert J., eds. (1998). Lift Every Voice: African American Oratory, 1787-1900. University of Alabama Press. p. 263. ISBN 9780817309060. Albert Barnes but uttered what the common sense of every man at all observant of the actual state of the case will receive as truth, when he declared that 'There is no power out of the church that could sustain slavery an hour, if it were not sustained in it.'
  6. ^ Barnes, Albert (1857) [1846]. An inquiry into the Scriptural views of slavery. Philadelphia: Parry & McMillan. p. 383. editions:kwlReKlBg-8C.
  7. ^ "APS Member History". Retrieved December 15, 2020.
  8. ^ "Pennsylvania Bible Society".
  9. ^ Threescore and Ten: A Memorial of the Late Albert Barnes. London: Hamilton, Adams, & Co. 1871. p. 93.
  10. ^ Lisa Fishman (1997). "Albert Barnes Papers, 1840 – 1859" (PDF). The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary. Retrieved May 12, 2023.