Remembering James D.G. Dunn (1939-2020): Scholar, Mentor, Friend

Remembering James D.G. Dunn (1939-2020): Scholar, Mentor, Friend June 26, 2020

SBL 2013 Students and Friends of Jimmy and Meta Dunn


There were several good reasons for me to study at the University of Durham for my PhD (2006-2009), but one of the prominent attractions was getting a chance to meet James D.G. Dunn (aka “Jimmy”). He was retired by the time I arrived in Durham, but he would present in the NT seminar once in a while. At one point in my second year, a request was put out for some students to help Jimmy move some heavy items in his house. I jumped at the chance! Not long after that, I asked Jimmy if we could meet up regularly to talk scholarship. He said “yes.” I was beyond delighted and we had many coffees at Caffe Nero in city centre Durham, chatting about Romans, the New Perspective, and the world of biblical studies. He was gregarious and jovial, though he always chose his words carefully (just as he did in his books and articles).

About ten years later, I published my book Paul and the Language of Faith. For that project, I had one publisher in mind—Eerdmans—and in some ways I wrote it as an homage to Jimmy’s influence on me and his impact on Pauline theology in general. I have long wanted to emulate his scholarship, and publishing with Eerdmans was one key step in that direction. But it was also a very special honor for Jimmy to write the foreword for the book, something I will cherish for a lifetime.

I can honestly say that Jimmy has impacted the way I approach NT scholarship m0re than any other scholar. He was a passionate writer, a beloved colleague to his Durham staff, and a true gentleman. I will always remember his punctuated way of speaking, his love for his family (Meta and his kids and grandkids), and his classic Jimmy grin.

If you haven’t read his work, now is the right time. I encourage you to pick up his Theology of Paul the Apostle, The New Perspective on Paul, or Beginning from Jerusalem. If you are looking for a good commentary, he wrote on Acts (Eerdmans), Romans (WBC), Galatians (BNTC), Colossians (NIGTC), and the Pastoral Epistles (NIB). If you want to check out something more lay-friendly or devotional, pick up his Jesus according to the New Testament. (I haven’t read everything Jimmy wrote, but I have read a lot of Dunn.)

Thank you, Jimmy and Meta, for modeling an academic’s life full of friendship, laughter, ambition, and grace.

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