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.