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Gifted Author, Lecturer, and Scholar Kenneth E. Bailey Dies


Alisse Wissman | 630.734.4059 |

May 24, 2016— Kenneth E. Bailey, respected author, lecturer, and one of our most gifted Middle Eastern New Testament studies scholars, passed away Monday evening, May 23, 2016, at the age of 85.

“I first came across Ken Bailey’s The Cross and the Prodigal in the 1970s and it transformed my understanding of how to read the New Testament,” said Andy Le Peau, former editorial director for InterVarsity Press and longtime personal editor for Bailey. “When I found out the book had gone out of print in the US, I contacted Ken about publishing a new edition, which he was very happy to do. This led to IVP being privileged to publish several other books by Ken, including Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes and his last book The Good Shepherd.”

Bailey, known for his brilliant scholarship surrounding New Testament studies and the Middle Eastern church, authored more than 150 articles in English and in Arabic during his lifetime­. His books include Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, The Cross and the Prodigal, Open Hearts in Bethlehem (A Christmas Musical), Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes, and The Good Shepherd. 

“Kenneth Bailey played a unique role as a biblical scholar,” said Dan Reid, editorial director for IVP Academic. “Having spent over sixty years of his life in the Middle East, he was deeply familiar with Middle Eastern culture, from its peasant life to its ancient texts in their original languages. All of this and more he brought to his reading of the Bible. His work on the nature of the oral tradition behind the Gospels has informed recent scholarly debate. And his illumination of the parables of Jesus against their background was an exceptional gift to the church, transforming our reading of the Gospels in a way few interpreters have done.”

Bailey’s publishing history with InterVarsity Press is extensive, and his scholarship directly impacted both IVP’s publishing program and several generations of employees.

Cindy Bunch, editorial director for InterVarsity Press, said, “Ken Bailey had a fascinating and informative perspective on studying Scripture ‘through Middle Eastern eyes.’ His work penetrated deep into our office culture, and we even found ourselves performing his Christmas drama Open Hearts in Bethlehem one year.”

“One of the distinct privileges I had during my time at IVP Academic was working with Ken on his massive book, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes,” adds Michael Gibson, acquisitions editor with Fortress Press. “I will count that always as one of the rare honors. I came away from that struck by Ken’s passion, erudition, care, attention to detail, and zeal for honoring Scripture, history, culture, and people. He was not only a teacher but a continuous learner.”

Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes was awarded the 2012 Book of the Year in Biblical Studies by Christianity Today, with the magazine praising it as “the fruit of decades of rhetorical analysis and cross-cultural anthropological work. We often hear Paul’s answers without knowing the questions. Bailey comes to our aid by explaining what life would be like in Paul’s Roman Mediterranean world.”

Bailey was born November 24, 1930, in Bloomington, IL, but spent much of his childhood in Egypt, where his parents, Ewing and Annette, served as Presbyterian missionaries. His upbringing gave him background knowledge of the Middle East, helped him learn to speak fluent Arabic, and paved the way for him to be welcomed in later years to countries throughout the region as a New Testament professor.

He received his bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Monmouth College (IL) in 1952, marrying Ethel, his wife of nearly sixty-four years, shortly after receiving his diploma. He went on to receive his masters of divinity in 1955 and masters in theology in 1961, both from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. He began his work in the Middle East during this time, studying Arabic studies with the School of Oriental Studies at the American University in Cairo from 1955–1957. He later graduated from Concordia Theological Seminary in St. Louis in 1972 with his doctorate of theology.

A beloved teacher, Bailey spoke in theological colleges and seminaries in England (Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol) Ireland, Canada, Egypt, Finland, Latvia, Denmark, New Zealand, Australia, and Jerusalem. He was active as a Bible teacher for conferences and continuing education events in the Middle East, Europe, and North America, and he taught at Columbia, Princeton, and Fuller Seminary. Bailey was also an ordained Presbyterian minister, serving as Canon Theologian of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Much of Bailey’s career was spent travelling the globe to lecture and continue his research, living and teaching for forty years in seminaries and institutes in Egypt, Lebanon, Jerusalem, and Cyprus. For twenty of those years he was professor of New Testament and head of the Biblical Department of the Near East School of Theology in Beirut, where he also founded and directed the Institute for Middle Eastern New Testament Studies. Bailey was also on the faculty of the Ecumenical Institute for Theological Research in Jerusalem.

Overwhelmingly, the theme of Bailey’s books, articles, and lectures was on the importance of context when examining Scripture. Gary Burge, professor of New Testament at Wheaton College and Graduate School, said, “(Bailey) once told me: ‘The question is never if cultural assumptions will shape our exegesis—the question is: whose cultural assumptions will shape exegesis.’ In book after book he modeled what he called ‘Oriental Exegesis,’ meaning that insights gleaned from an understanding of ancient eastern Mediterranean culture will change how we read our texts. And he was right. Thousands of pastors today and countless commentary writers are explaining the gospels thanks to Dr. Bailey’s deep well of cultural understanding. . . . Ken Bailey was a good man, a devoted father and husband, a faithful follower of Jesus, and one who loved the Middle East for the duration of his life.”

Jeff Crosby, associate publisher and director of sales and marketing at IVP said, “Ken Bailey’s insightful work has nourished and challenged the church and the academy for years. It was a pleasure to bring his wise reading of Scripture in cultural contexts to readers for the better part of the past two decades. His is a voice that will be missed.”

In one of his final lectures in January of 2016, Bailey reiterated this message: “The Church, living under the authority of Scripture, is not a snowman in grave danger of melting away because of the burning rays of a hot secular sun that is beating down upon it. Rather, it is the flock of God, saved by the Divine Shepherd who safely leads his sheep through angry waters to quiet inlets where the sheep can drink and be renewed to go in and out as they live their lives and fulfill their ministries having received amazing grace sufficient to overcome ‘many dangers, toils, and snares.’ May it so be with us, today.”

View IVP’s tribute to Bailey at bailey.

Founded in 1947 as an extension of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA, InterVarsity Press serves those in the university, the church and the world by publishing thoughtful Christian books that equip and encourage people to follow Jesus as Savior and Lord in all of life.