ACU Remembers: Dr. Neil Lightfoot

Dr. Neil R. Lightfoot, Abilene Christian University’s Frank and Della Pack Distinguished Professor Emeritus of New Testament, died Monday in Abilene, three days short of his 83rd birthday.

Born Sept. 22, 1929, in Waco, Texas, he earned a B.A. in philosophy (1952) and a M.A. in philosophy (1955) from Baylor University, and a Ph.D. in religion (1958) from Duke University. He joined the ACU Bible faculty in 1958 and retired in 2004.

He married Ollie Robinson April 7, 1951, and she died in 2003. Lightfoot married Marjorie Floyd (’65) in May 21, 2005.

Lightfoot was ACU’s Teacher of the Year in 1978, a Piper Professor nominee for 1979-80, and a senior associate and distinguished scholar-in-residence at Cambridge University’s Westminster College in 1986. He preached in gospel meetings around the world, and was minister of churches in Waco (Lakeview Church of Christ); Winston-Salem, N.C. (Central Church of Christ); Burlington, N.C. (Vaughn Road Church of Christ) and Abilene (11th and Willis Church of Christ).

His books include How We Got the Bible, Lessons From the Parables, Jesus Christ Today: A Commentary on the Book of Hebrews, The Role of Women: New Testament Perspectives, and Everyone’s Guide to the Book of Hebrews.

Dr. Tony Ash (’59) remembered Lightfoot’s house near campus as a second home for graduate theology students such as classmates Dr. Paul Faulkner (’52) and Dr. Gary Colvin (’62).

“He would talk to us about his days of doctoral work at Duke, and he had a way of making it sound almost romantic,” said Ash. “He loved to talk about his professors there and the process of learning and earning his Ph.D. A certain sparkle came to his eyes. You couldn’t help but be influenced by him.”

Lightfoot was “a very diligent student of the Bible,” Ash said, “the kind of person who chased small details” with dogged determination. “As a researcher, he was not a fast worker but extremely thorough and careful in his study.” He was Greek text editor and a translator for International Children’s Version, New Testament; The Word: The New Century Version; and The Everyday Bible.

“Neil was an inspiring classroom teacher, a thoughtful writer, and above all, a scholar who was deeply committed to accurate translation and interpretation of the New Testament text,” said Dr. Royce Money (’64), executive director of the Siburt Institute for Church Ministry and ACU chancellor. “His most popular book, How We Got the Bible, sold more than a million copies. Despite chronic health challenges throughout his adult life, Neil was deeply committed to his calling of teaching and scholarly research. He saw his ministry as serving the body of Christ, and as such, he was a faithful preacher, teacher and elder whose influence will be felt for generations to come.”

Dr. Ian A. Fair (’68) was professor and dean of the College of Biblical Studies during part of Lightfoot’s career, and a fellow elder at South 11th and Willis Church of Christ. “No friend or brother has made a deeper influence on me as a Bible scholar, minister, elder and churchman than Neil. I and hundreds of other ministers owe him more than we can ever repay,” Fair said. “I know of few, if any, Bible professors who have prepared and influenced more ministers and missionaries than Neil. He has for more than 50 years been a mentor and role model for all of us.”

Survivors include a sister, Rita Struessel; his wife, Marjorie; three daughters, Donna (Lightfoot ’75) Thompson, Lu Anne (Lightfoot ’78) Bourland and Michelle (Lightfoot ’84) McElroy; stepdaughters Marilyn (Dodson ’74) Lepard and Andrea (Dodson ’77) Cobb; 13 grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.

Visitation is tonight from 6-8 p.m. at Piersall-Benton Funeral Home in Abilene (733 Butternut), and a memorial service is 1 p.m. Friday at University Church of Christ, with burial to follow at Elliot Hamil Garden of Memories.

Memorials can be made to the South 11th and Willis Church of Christ Missions Fund (3309 South 11th Street, Abilene, Texas 79605), Christian Service Center (901 Mesquite St., Abilene, Texas 79601) and the ACU Library Fund.


14 Comments

  1. Posted September 20, 2012 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    This is a bitter day for me. Dr. Lightfoot was an inspiration. He was so much more than a professor. He guided me through Thessalonians, Hebrews, and a study of the text and canon of the New Testament. He also challenged me to set the highest goals and then to reach them. The church owes so much to Dr. Lightfoot. His legacy will live on and follow him.

  2. Jimmy Moffett
    Posted September 20, 2012 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    My sympathy to the family! Neil and I were friends at FHU, but he was so far beyond the rest of us; when Dr. Cope or Dr. Hardeman were away, Neil taught their classes. What a privilege to have known him!

  3. David P Himes
    Posted September 20, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    I’m pleased I was able to study under him, if only for a little while … way back in 1969.

  4. Marty Hollis
    Posted September 20, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    I particularly remember having my first real experience with Biblical interpretation in his Thessalonians class, as we wrestled with the proper meaning of “vessel” (skeuos) in I Thess. 4:4. Wonderful teacher and Christian gentleman.

  5. Posted September 20, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    Dr. Lightfoot was a passionate teacher, clear communicator and consummate encourager. He took the time to answer questions from clueless students, never showed up to class unprepared and taught every passage with a depth and breadth of scholarship that both informed and astounded us his students. When I left for a ministry after graduation and sent letters for support and report, I never expected my former professors to read them. Dr. Lightfoot did and after I returned, commented on them to me more than once. What a legacy he passes on … I am who I am in front of people because of the sacrifice and investment from folks like him. On to your reward Doc … you long dreamed and anticipated it.

  6. Posted September 20, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

    Dr. Lightfoot was a big inspiration for me to dig deeper into the Word of God. I remember my Hebrew class with him and all that we gleaned out of the text. I use his book “How We Got the Bible” to give to those wondering how the Bible came to be 66 Books. I know he is enjoying being in the Presence of the King now.

  7. Paul White
    Posted September 20, 2012 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

    Neil will always hold a special place in my heart as my teacher, fellow elder and friend.

  8. Posted September 20, 2012 at 11:58 pm | Permalink

    Dr. Lightfoot was an amazing man and a great professor of Bible. He taught you how to fall in love with the text and how to read it so that it was as if you were witnesssing the story itself. He once told me, “Read the verbs and let them make the text come alive for you.” As students we never say “thank you” enough to those who deserve credit for molding us, his passing serves to remind us the debt we owe to those who labor in love to teach us. My gratitude as well as my prayers are offered to his family. What a great man of God! What a privilege to sit at his feet and study the Bible from him!

  9. Bobby Wheat
    Posted September 21, 2012 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    No single teacher had as significant an impact on my study of the Bible as Neil. He made himself a friend to every student who was willing. Nancy and I treasure our days as students in his classrooms and as fellow members at 11th & Willis.

  10. Posted September 26, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    Dr. Lightfoot was a special man to those of us who were his students. One of his greatest influences on me was listening to him preach regularly at South 11th and Willis. I learned much from him and hold him in the highest esteem as a friend, scholar and writer. I can only say thanks for all he did and was. May God comfort his family.

  11. Gary Hill
    Posted September 26, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    I was a graduate student in 1979 and Neil was very gracious to accommodate my unpreparedness for graduate work! I’ll never forget the little man with Coke bottle glasses, up on his toes lecturing in a manner most impressive. I am forever indebted!

  12. Terrell Freeman
    Posted September 26, 2012 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    I knew Neil at FHU where he was considered a studious intellectual, which he was. By his picture in the yearbook was written “In whose little body lodgest a mighty mind.” So true.

  13. Jim Gattis
    Posted September 26, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    As a part-time student, I was in his Gospel of John class. Even after 40 years, the inspiration from his teaching and demeanor is still with me.

  14. Alan Miller
    Posted September 26, 2012 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

    I only met him once when he came to Huntsville, Ala., to present an overview of the letter to the Hebrews. My wife and I were asked to join him and his friends, Dr. and Mrs. Perry Greene, to eat at a local restaurant. He made the letter seem much clearer and so fresh without trying to sensationalize it. I bought two of his books and have used them for reference in teaching. I can imagine the impression he must have left on his students at ACU.

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