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MACKNIGHT, JAMES, D.D. (1721–1800), biblical critic, son of William Mackneight (d. 13 April 1750), a native of Ireland, and minister of Irvine, Ayrshire, was born at Irvine on 17 Sept. 1721. His mother was Elizabeth Gemmill of Dalraith (d. 6 April 1753). After going through the arts and divinity courses at Glasgow (he held, 7 July 1743, a theological bursary from the exchequer), he studied at Leyden. Having been licensed by the Irvine presbytery, he officiated for a short time at the chapel of ease, Gorbals, Renfrewshire, and subsequently acted as assistant to Alexander Ferguson, minister of Kilwinning, Ayrshire. On 22 Feb. 1753 he was called to Maybole, Ayrshire, and ordained there on 10 May.

Three years after his settlement in Maybole his publication of a 'Harmony of the Gospels' gave Macknight a name among the learned. He adopts, with Sir Isaac Newton, Whiston, and Stillingfleet, the view which lengthens our Lord's ministry so as to include five passovers. This, he thinks, enables him to combine the contents of the four gospels, preserving 'the natural order' of each. On the appearance (1763) of his second and amended edition, Nathaniel Lardner [q. v.], who characterises Macknight as 'learned and laborious,' published some 'Observations' (1764) on the latter portion of it. He criticises Macknight's over-use of the harmonistic expedient whereby parallel accounts of the same incident are treated as narratives of different events, an expedient to which Lardner himself resorts on occasion. Almost coincidently with his second edition, Macknight produced a vindication of the gospel history, a work which considerably enhanced his reputation for learning, though it did not escape some criticism from Lardner (Lardner, Works, 1815, iv. 238).

The Edinburgh University on 13 March 1759 made Macknight a D.D. On 25 Jan. 1769 the crown presented him to the charge of Jedburgh; he was translated from Maybole on 21 Sept., and admitted on 30 Nov. During the progress of this transfer he was elected moderator of the general assembly on 18 May 1769. From Jedburgh he was called, on 28 Nov. 1771, to the charge of Lady Tester's Church, Edinburgh (then a district church, now a quoad sacra parish), was translated thither on 29 May 1772, and was admitted on 1 July. He was translated on 29 July 1778 (admitted 26 Nov.) to the collegiate charge of the Old Church, occupying the southern transept of St. Giles's, Edinburgh, as a separate parish church. Robert Henry [q. v.], the historian, was his colleague. He was the main promoter of the declaratory act of assembly (1782), confirming the constitutional practice of the Scottish Church, by requiring a call from the parishioners in addition to a patron's presentation. On 17 Feb. 1784 he was made joint collector of the ministers' widows' fund. His preaching was earnest and solid, but without eloquence.

Macknight in 1787 issued a translation of two epistles of St. Paul, as a specimen of a version of all the apostolic epistles, which by 1795 (when he completed the work) had cost him nearly thirty years of labour, working at the rate of over ten hours a day. As a translator Macknight has substantial merits; his commentary lacks thoroughness, when judged by modern standards of research, but it added to his reputation, and he was urged to deal in a similar way with the Acts of the Apostles.

His faculties, however, began to fail. He died on 13 Jan. 1800. He married, on 30 April 1754, Elizabeth (d. 10 March 1813}, eldest daughter of Samuel McCormick, and and four sons. His fourth son, Thomas Macknight, D.D. (d. 21 Jan. 1836, aged 73), was successively minister of South Leith (1791), Trinity College Church, Edinburgh (1804), and the Old Church, Edinburgh (1810), and was the presbyterian divine who baptised Archibald Campbell Tait [q. v.], afterwards archbishop of Canterbury.

He published: 1. 'A Harmony of the Four Gospels, in which the Natural Order of each is preserved, with a Paraphrase and Notes,' &c., 1756, 4to; 2nd edit. 1763, 4to (has appended 'Six Discourses on Jewish Antiquities'); 5th edit. 1819, 8vo, 2 vols.; translated into Latin by Ruckersfelder, Bremen, and Deventer, 1772, 8vo, 3 vols.; into Hindustani, Calcutta, 1823, 8vo. 2. 'The Truth of the Gospel History showed, in three Books,' &c, 1763, 4to; portions are reprinted in Bishop Watson's 'Theological Tracts,' 1785, 8vo. 3. 'The Translation of the . . . Epistles to the Thessalonians,' &c, 1787, 4to. 4. 'A new Literal Translation of all the Apostolical Epistles ... the Greek Text, and the old Translation . . . with a Commentary and Notes. ... To which is added . . . the Life of the Apostle Paul,' &c, Edinburgh, 1795,' 4to, 4 vols.; 2nd edit. London, 1806, 8vo, 6 vols, (with 'Account ' of his life by his son); another edit. 1843, 8vo (without the Greek).

[Account, by Thomas Macknight, 1806; Hew Scott's Fasti Eccles. Scoticanæ; Cat. of Edinburgh Graduates, 1858, p. 242; Anderson's Scottish Nation, 1872, iii. 34.]

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