Southwestern Seminary honors leading NT scholar

FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary opened a display in its A. Webb Roberts Library in honor of world-renowned New Testament scholar E. Earle Ellis, research professor of theology emeritus at the seminary.

“With Dr. Ellis’ rich theological legacy in mind, Dr. and Mrs. Patterson thought it expedient to remember him in this manner – by displaying his portrait at the entranceway to Roberts Library’s second-floor commentary collection,” said Berry Driver, Jr., dean of libraries at Southwestern Seminary. Driver called Ellis an “accomplished New Testament exegete and biblical theologian.” He added that Ellis’ more than 50 years of teaching experience, 23 of them at Southwestern, have “left their mark on many pastor-theologians and biblical scholars who studied with him.”

Driver pointed out that in the portrait hanging above the library’s display, Ellis dons his “Edinburgh doctoral regalia,” placed over “the burgundy attire” of clergy. He said, “This is important to Dr. Ellis, since he is an ordained Baptist minister, and he seeks to convey the New Testament principle of pastor, elder and bishop, which constitutes one singular New Testament office in a local church.”

The library display also holds a dozen of Ellis’ 157 published books and articles, alongside three well-worn critical editions of the Greek New Testament that he has used over the years. This collection of books, taken from Ellis’ personal library, also contains a photocopy of the cover and copyright page of his forthcoming book, The Sovereignty of God in Salvation: Biblical Essays. Ellis said the book, which is due to be released in 2009, discusses the sovereignty of God not only in the salvation of individuals but also His sovereignty over the writing and transmission of the Hebrew and Greek texts of Scripture.

“I feel quite honored to have the seminary hang my painting so prominently,” Ellis said concerning the display, “and Berry Driver and Paige Patterson and Mrs. Patterson have been very gracious in this and many other respects.”

Ellis was born to Lindsey Thornton and Lois Belle McBride Ellis on March 18, 1926, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and was raised in the nearby town of Dania. After serving in the United States Army from 1944 to 1946, Ellis began to show his academic capabilities as he completed his pre-law Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Virginia (UVa) in 1950, with concentrations in law, economics, political science and history. Although Ellis spent a year in the University of Virginia School of Law and intended to enter into a career in law, he began to develop a God-given thirst for Scripture that supplanted his desire to study law. He then studied for a time at Faith Seminary in Wilmington, Del., but soon moved to the Wheaton Graduate School in Wheaton, Ill., where he received his M.A and B.D. degrees by 1953. Two years later, he was awarded with a Ph.D. from the University of Edinburgh.

According to Paul Wolfe, associate professor of New Testament at the seminary, Ellis’ doctoral dissertation, Paul’s Use of the Old Testament, “had a significant impact on that very important area of New Testament studies.” Published in 1957, it remains in print today. Both Driver and Wolfe also emphasized the importance of Ellis’ 1999 magnum opus, The Making of the New Testament Documents. Wolfe expressed his hope that it would “have a wide and lasting” impact. Ellis himself called this his “most comprehensive work.”

“Dr. Ellis represents classical biblical scholarship in its truest form,” Wolfe said. “His work is permeated with a commitment to thoroughgoing historical interpretation on the basis of Christian confession. He has very little tolerance for interpretive fads which jettison history or Christian confession.”

Both Driver and Wolfe pointed out that Ellis has been active in challenging the skepticism of much modern biblical scholarship. According to Wolfe, Ellis sees the New Testament as “a salvation-historical revelation which is confirmed by careful and judicious historical inquiry, and which makes known the apostolic message in a faithful, coherent and compelling manner.”

Ellis has made significant written contributions to New Testament scholarship, specifically in the areas of Pauline studies, the history of the apostolic church, and the formation of the New Testament. But he also founded the Institute for Biblical Research and the International Reference Library for Biblical Research. According to Wolfe, the former organization is already well known among biblical scholars, and the latter “is growing toward a positive impact on scholarship with faith.”

The impact of Ellis’ scholarship is portrayed by the two festschrifts that have been written in his honor. The first, published in 1987, is titled Tradition and Interpretation in the New Testament: Essays in Honor of E. Earle Ellis for his 60th Birthday. A more recent festschrift, titled History and Exegesis: New Testament essays in honor of Dr. E. Earle Ellis for his 80th Birthday, was edited by Sang-Won “Aaron” Son, one of Ellis’ former Ph.D. students and now professor of New Testament at Southwestern Seminary. High-profile New Testament scholars from across the world, including F.F. Bruce, I.H. Marshall, Seyoon Kim, N.T. Wright, Richard Bauckham and Gordon Fee, also contributed to these volumes.

Dr. Ellis is not just a well-known biblical scholar; he is an evangelical scholar who is known worldwide,” says Son.  “Dr. Ellis firmly believes in God and His Word and never yields his faith (commitment) to anyone, even to the most eminent of scholars or to the most vocal of power-groups, just to gain professional acceptability or respectability.  Yet, he has earned both.”

Having studied under Ellis, Son says his mentor “stands as a great model for and encouragement to me and to many other young evangelical scholars.  He has successfully demonstrated to us how we should compete with the best, yet without yielding our evangelical faith.”

Currently, Ellis is laboring on his anticipated commentary on 1 Corinthians, which will be published in the New International Critical Commentary series.

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