New College, University of Edinburgh
Profs H. A. A. Kennedy and David Wright

Profs H. A. A. Kennedy and David Wright

(Helen Bond) At the start of our lecture last week (see earlier post), two colleagues offered short reflections on the lives of our two honorees –  Profs Kennedy and Wright. Both did an excellent job of sketching their interests and acheivements, and just in case anyone would like to read them, I’ve attached them here:

Prof Kennedy (by Larry Hurtado)

Born in 1866 (in Dornoch, Sutherland), the son of a minister, Harry Angus Alexander Kennedy graduated with a first in Classics in the University of Edinburgh (1888) and then entered New College to study theology.  He also studied theology in the universities in Halle and Berlin.  Ordained minister in Callander in 1893, two years later his first book appeared, Sources of New Testament Greek.  It had been asserted by some that the New Testament was written in a kind of special “holy” Greek.  But in a careful analysis Kennedy argued that in much of its key vocabulary and also in the basic kind of Greek in which it is written the New Testament is indebted to the Septuagint (the Greek OT), and that both are “children of the same parent, namely the colloquial Greek of the time.” In this latter point, Kennedy anticipated remarkably the basic conclusion that would emerge from papyri that began to appear from the sands of Egypt within only a few years.  Subsequently, this recognition that the Greek of the New Testament was basically the Koinē Greek of the first century became well established through figures such as Adolf Deissmann (in publications appearing from 1895 and thereafter), and the influential lexicon prepared by J. H. Moulton and George Milligan (1930).  But, in essence, Kennedy’s work made the basic point first.

In 1904, he published his Cunningham Lectures, St. Paul’s Conception of the Last Things, probing Paul’s eschatological beliefs, and the following year was appointed Professor New Testament Literature & Exegesis in Knox College, Toronto.   In 1909 he was called to the Chair of New Testament Language, Literature & Theology in New College, the post that he held until 1925, when his ill-health forced him to retire.

In his time in New College, Kennedy went on to produce several more impressive studies, the most well-known, St. Paul and the Mystery Religions (1913), informed by and critically engaging especially the influential scholarly works of the time emanating from Germany, remained on reading lists and bibliographies on Paul for many decades.  In 1919, two more books appeared, The Theology of the Epistles (in the Duckworth series, “Studies in Theology”), and Philo’s Contribution to Religion, the latter a sensitive and appreciative study of the famous Jewish figure of Alexandria.  His last book, The Vital Forces of the Early Church, appeared in 1920.  It is interesting to note that all of his books, and also a six-volume collected edition of them, are still in print (Logos Publishers), indicative of the continuing high regard in they and he are held.

Kennedy’s works show a remarkable combination of expertise and interests.  He was thoroughly committed to historical analysis, entirely comfortable in situating the New Testament in its ancient context, taking account of the pagan and Jewish dimensions of that context.  But he was also keenly concerned to probe and emphasize the nature of the religious ideas and practices reflected in the texts that he studied.  This breadth of Kennedy’s scholarly expertise and interests, and the combination of historical skills and an appreciation of the religious phenomena made him an impressive scholar in his own time and a model for our time.  In these things, he anticipated something of the scope and vision that is represented in the Centre for the Study of Christian Origins, and this also makes him a fitting figure to memorialize in these lectures.


Professor Wright (by Jay Brown, Head of School and Prof of Ecclesiastical History)

I have been invited to say a few words about my colleague and friend, Professor David Wright.  It is an honour to do so, especially as we have Mrs Anne-Marie Wright with us this evening.  David Wright was educated at Cambridge University and Oxford University, where he had a distinguished student career.  He was recruited in 1964 to a lecturership in early Church history at the University of Edinburgh, where Professor Alec Cheyne was in the process of creating a department of Ecclesiastical History of great distinction, one that would shape the modern discipline of the history of Christianity in the United Kingdom. 

David Wright was for over four decades a highly respected figure within the University of Edinburgh.  He served on numerous University committees, and was Convener of the Senatus Postgraduate Studies Committee from 1981 to 1985, with oversight over postgraduate studies for the whole university.  He was Dean of the Faculty of Divinity from 1988 to 1992, and curator of New College Library from 1994 to 2003.  The list could go on.  He was a well-loved teacher, intellectually demanding, deeply learned, and with a wonderful sense of humour.  He taught widely across a number of disciplines within the School of Divinity.  For many years, he had the largest number of doctoral students in the School of Divinity, and very probably the University, attracting students from throughout the world, and helping to train a generation of historians of Christianity, including Dr Sara Parvis, our Senior Lecturer in Patristics.

As a scholar, Professor Wright was internationally distinguished for his contributions in three main fields.  First, he was highly respected as a scholar of the Latin Church Fathers, and especially of Augustine’s exegetical and theological writings.  His many writings on the Latin Fathers include his edition of the rediscovered Divjak letters of Augustine, which is the definitive work on this subject. He also made major contributions to our understanding of Marion devotion and baptism in the early Church.  Second, he made major contributions to the field of Reformation studies, with numerous learned articles and contributed book chapters on the major shapers of the Reformed theological tradition, and especially Martin Bucer and John Calvin.  In the case of Bucer, his work focused on the theme of infant baptism, demonstrating how Bucer defended, but in the process subtly changed, the baptismal practices of the early Latin Church.  His studies of Calvin did much to elucidate the theme of accommodation in Calvin’s writings, or in other words, Calvin’s views on the adaptation of a Scriptural text or doctrine to altered historical circumstances.  Finally, Professor Wright’s scholarship explored the influence of the Church Fathers on the Protestant Reformation.  In a series of seminal articles and chapters, he not only examined the ways in which the Reformers were profoundly influenced by the Church Fathers in such areas as the use of Scripture or infant baptism.  He also demonstrated how the Reformers often subtly changed the writings of the Fathers for their polemical purposes, or in their efforts to adapt those writings to different historical circumstances.

I could go on all evening reflecting on David Wright’s many achievements.  Suffice it to say in closing that our Inaugural Kennedy-Wright lecture this evening beautifully reflects the major theme of Professor Wright’s life work, the engagement of the Reformers with the Church Fathers.

  • CSCO Team,
  • 15th October 2012


  • Ji Werden, 4th December 2020 at 12:38 pm | Reply

    We would be delighted to see the dates/circumstances of these speeches made by Profs Jay Brown and Helen Bond, as well as some further detail on these speakers, as citations and links alongside the transcripts shown. The interest is in finding the historical conections between these theologians as witnessed also by the speakers especially at the cusp of the modern era., and their role in the develoment of theological thinking.

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