“Lost” Manuscripts of J.B. Lightfoot Found!

Ben Witherington III discovers manuscripts by 19th-century New Testament scholar

Ben Witherington III

Ben Witherington III

New Testament scholar by day, text archaeologist by night? Ben Witherington III, the Amos Professor of New Testament for Doctoral Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky, has uncovered the lost manuscripts of J.B. Lightfoot. The Bishop of Durham in England, J.B. Lightfoot was the most famous New Testament scholar of the 19th century in the English-speaking world. His commentaries on Paul’s letters in the New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers are especially well-known. In “Text Archaeology: The Finding of Lightfoot’s Lost Manuscripts” in the March/April 2014 issue of BAR, Ben Witherington III details his discovery of the lost manuscripts of J.B. Lightfoot.

Spanning four decades, his search was not simple. Ben Witherington III first came across some of Lightfoot’s notes in 1978 in a display case full of manuscripts in the Monk’s Dormitory of Durham Cathedral in England. Leafing through an old notebook, he found a detailed analysis of Acts 15 that dated to 1855—written by none other than J.B. Lightfoot!

Witherington concluded that there must be more manuscripts. Thus, he began his quest for the lost manuscripts of J.B. Lightfoot.

Ben Witherington III’s full article “Mary, Simeon or Anna: Who First Recognized Jesus as Messiah?” is available online for free. Want to learn more about his research? Read “Understanding Revelations in the Bible,” “God Language in the New Testament” and “The Göbekli Tepe Ruins and the Origins of Neolithic Religion,” three Bible History Daily articles discussing his scholarship.

The details of his hunt are interesting, but in this space we will just focus on its conclusion. While on sabbatical in 2013, Ben Witherington III had the chance to return to Durham Cathedral and do a full search of the J.B. Lightfoot cabinet. He discovered numerous unpublished (also unfinished) Biblical commentaries on several books of the New Testament by J.B. Lightfoot. Witherington sifted through and deciphered these no-longer-lost manuscripts—preparing them for publication. For the full story, see “Text Archaeology: The Finding of Lightfoot’s Lost Manuscripts” by Ben Witherington III in the March/April 2014 issue of BAR.

Interested in reading Lightfoot’s lost manuscripts? You won’t have to wait long. Slated for the fall of 2014, The Lightfoot Legacy will be published by InterVarsity Press in three volumes—containing pictures of 1,500 pages of Lightfoot’s original manuscripts. These volumes are sure to be an important contribution to New Testament studies.

BAS Library Members: Read the full column “Text Archaeology: The Finding of Lightfoot’s Lost Manuscripts” by Ben Witherington III in the March/April 2014 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Sign up today.


BAS Library Members, learn more about J.B. Lightfoot. Read W.D. Davies, “My Odyssey in New Testament Interpretation” as it appeared in Bible Review, June 1989.

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  • Kai says

    Agree BHD. The trouble with a lot of these modern thinkers, scholars etc, is that they seem to think of themselves more highly than they really should. Leaving Lightfoot out, the ancients were no fools, and many were closer to the truth than smugs will ever be.

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