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Who Is Walter C. Kaiser, Jr? John Knapp II

First, he was the Old Testament professor at Wheaton College 50 years ago who gave me a B+ on a paper I wrote under which he added in large letters, “FOOLISHNESS!” 

When I was in Walter Kaiser’s class (his second year of teaching I believe) a Q and A exchange began between him and his students where I kept my mouth shut and my ears open wide.  The questions were tough and I sat there spell-bound, a country boy from Tennessee, hungry to get answers to things that puzzled me.

Then came the lecture that changed my life.

A student asked a technical question that was so clever I wouldn’t have thought of it.  I sat, pen poised for another answer to carry back home to use in defending the faith.

Kaiser paused…gave that pensive look some professors use when on the verge of a significant pronouncement, and said, “I just don’t know.  That’s a question I have on the back burner for now.”

That class, the highlight of my semester, opened me up to the Old Testament. And he’d taught me the importance of honesty, not with an underlineable explanation, but by example.

Let me quickly add: Kaiser then was by no means a destructive critic who relished finding holes that naïve traditionalists had overlooked for years.  He simply had a reasonable faith.  The puzzle of what he saw before him had been more than enough to compel him to trust and commit to the God of the Bible, even though some pieces that showed up from closer inspection hadn’t snapped neatly into place.  (The “puzzle” metaphor here is mine.  If you brand it “foolish,” please use lower case…)

Just last October Kaiser and I both happened to be guests at a dinner at my daughter-in-law’s parents’ house.  So, at a pause in conversation, I pulled out my old paper and asked if he’d take another look at it.  (College professors can get away with doing things like that to each other.)

No pensive look from the teacher this time.  He just stared in amazement and laughed.  (That’s a rare vote for saving everything!)

Dr. Kaiser, who wrote the last feature article, is a world class Old Testament scholar.  He’s passionate about the Old Testament and the New, and has been a country boy (though northern) himself in high school.  When disturbed by the debunking of Genesis in his biology class (circa 1948), he dared voice another opinion to his teacher, who let him produce a 40-page paper complete with anthropological drawings and bibliography.

This triggered a lifelong interest in God’s Word, particularly the Old Testament (while most fellow classmates were focusing on the New Testament), that led to his teaching at Wheaton College (his alma mater), Trinity Evangelical School (where he later became Vice President and Academic Dean), and Gordon-Conwell (where he became a Distinguished Teaching Professor and later President).

He has worked with Biblical (and related) languages: Hebrew, Akkadian, Ugaritic, Middle and Late Egyptian Cuniform and Assyrian Cuniform, and Greek.  He understands ancient history and has skillfully debated alongside scientists who share his faith in inerrant Scripture.

Among his 346 (to date) publications, Torah Class readers should especially enjoy these books:

Preaching and Teaching from the Old Testament

The Hard Sayings of the Bible

The Archaeological Study Bible (Kaiser, the editor).  (My wife and I have read aloud through this thick book twice—notes and all.  A real feast!)

The Promise-Plan of God: A Biblical Theology of Old and New Testaments

Revive Us Again: Biblical Principles for Revival Today

To learn more, visit www.walterckaiserjr.com and watch for more articles here.

A closing comment: A day after my dinner conversation with Dr. Kaiser I had the privilege of sitting under his teaching again (at age 77) as he subbed for a sick teacher at Houghton College (where he was leading several days of Christian emphasis meetings—see the last book listed above).  Patiently, he engaged student after student one-on-one, tracing God’s promise-plan of salvation beginning with Adam and moving out to others, down through the seed of Abraham and the Jews to the gentiles (where I fit in), showing the big picture, careful not to employ “eisegesis,” or reading into the text things never intended to be there.

Beginning, of course, with Genesis, which New Testament believers should never ever forget.

Author: John Knapp II, PhD

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