J. B. Lightfoot

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Joseph Lightfoot

Bishop of Durham
Elected15 March 1879
In office10 April 1879 (conf.)–[1] 1889 (died)
PredecessorCharles Baring
SuccessorBrooke Foss Westcott
Other post(s)Hulsean Professor of Divinity (1861–1875)
Lady Margaret's Professor of Divinity (1875–1879)
Deputy Clerk of the Closet (1875–?)
Personal details
Born(1828-04-13)13 April 1828
Died21 December 1889(1889-12-21) (aged 61)
Bournemouth, Hampshire, UK
BuriedAuckland Castle chapel
ResidenceAuckland Castle (as Bishop of Durham)
ParentsJohn Lightfoot & Ann Lightfoot (née Barber)
Spousenever married
Professionacademic; biblical scholar; bible translator; theologian; tutor
EducationKing Edward's School, Birmingham
Alma materTrinity College, Cambridge
Ordination history of
J. B. Lightfoot
Diaconal ordination
Ordained byJames Prince Lee, Bishop of Manchester
Priestly ordination
Ordained byPrince Lee
Episcopal consecration
Principal consecratorWilliam Thomson, Archbishop of York
Co-consecrators7 others
Date25 April 1879
PlaceWestminster Abbey
The grave of Bishop Joseph Barber Lightfoot, Durham Cathedral

Joseph Barber Lightfoot (13 April 1828 – 21 December 1889), known as J. B. Lightfoot, was an English theologian and Bishop of Durham.


Lightfoot was born in Liverpool, where his father John Jackson Lightfoot was an accountant. His mother, Ann Matilda Barber, was from a family of Birmingham artists. He was educated at King Edward's School, Birmingham, under James Prince Lee. His contemporaries included Brooke Foss Westcott and Edward White Benson. In 1847, Lightfoot went to Trinity College, Cambridge, and read for his degree along with Westcott. He graduated senior classic and 30th wrangler, and was elected a fellow of his college.[2] From 1854 to 1859 he edited the Journal of Classical and Sacred Philology. In 1857, he became tutor and his fame as a scholar grew. He was made Hulsean professor in 1861, and shortly afterwards chaplain to the Prince Consort and honorary chaplain in ordinary to Queen Victoria.

In 1866, he was Whitehall preacher, and in 1871 he became canon of St Paul's Cathedral. The Times wrote after his death that

It was always patent that what he was chiefly concerned with was the substance and the life of Christian truth, and that his whole energies were employed in this inquiry because his whole heart was engaged in the truths and facts which were at stake.

In 1875, Lightfoot became Lady Margaret's Professor of Divinity in succession to William Selwyn. In 1879, he was consecrated bishop of Durham in succession to Charles Baring; he was enthroned at Durham Cathedral on 15 May. He soon surrounded himself with a band of scholarly young men.

Lightfoot was never married. He died at Bournemouth and was succeeded in the episcopate by Westcott, his schoolfellow and lifelong friend. He served as President of the first day of the 1880 Co-operative Congress.[3]

He is buried in Auckland Castle Chapel, with a memorial in Durham Cathedral close to the choir stalls.


Lightfoot wrote commentaries on the Epistle to the Galatians (1865), Epistle to Philippians (1868) and Epistle to the Colossians (1875). In 1874, the anonymous publication of Supernatural Religion, a skeptical work by Walter Richard Cassels, attracted much attention. In a series of rebuttals published in the Contemporary Review, between December 1874 and May 1877, Lightfoot undertook the defense of the New Testament canon. The articles were published in collected form in 1889. About the same time he was engaged in contributions to William Smith's Dictionary of Christian Biography and Dictionary of the Bible, and he also joined the committee for revising the translation of the New Testament.

The corpus of Lightfoot's writings include essays on biblical and historical subject matter, commentaries on Pauline epistles, and studies on the Apostolic Fathers. His sermons were posthumously published in four official volumes, and additionally in the Contemporary Pulpit Library series. At Durham he continued to work at his editions of the Apostolic Fathers, and in 1885 published an edition of the Epistles of Ignatius and Polycarp, collecting also materials for a second edition of Clement of Rome, which was published after his death (1st ed., 1869). He defended the authenticity of the Epistles of Ignatius.

Lightfoot had said that he was open to the idea of a diaconate that included women and in 1899 Emily Marshall wrote A Suggestion for our Times on this theme. Marshall said she was told by Lightfoot to give her idea of training women in his diocese, to take on this role, "a practical form". Lightfoot's death resulted in her idea being shut down. Marshall created a new religious order within the church based on Lightfoot's discussion of the Third Order of Saint Francis who had historically consisted of men and women who did not live in monasteries or wear cowls. Marshall however regretted that diaconate idea had been lost due to his death.[4]

In 2014, it was announced that InterVarsity Press had agreed to publish about 1500 pages of previously unpublished biblical commentaries and essays by Lightfoot found in Durham Cathedral.[5] The first of the three volume set covers the Acts of the Apostles,[6] the second is a commentary on the Gospel of John[7] and the third is on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians and the First Epistle of Peter.[8]


Lightfoot was the nephew of the artists Joseph Vincent Barber and Charles Vincent Barber and grandson of the artist and founding member of the Birmingham School of Art, Joseph Barber and great-grandson of the founder of Newcastle's first library, Joseph Barber whose tomb is in Newcastle Cathedral.[9]


  • Apostolic Fathers. Part I. (two vols). London: MacMillan and Co. 1890.
  • Apostolic Fathers. Part II. (three vols). London: MacMillan and Co. 1885–89.
  • Apostolic Fathers Abridged. London: MacMillan and Co. 1891.
  • Biblical Essays. London: MacMillan and Co. 1893.
  • Cambridge Sermons. London: MacMillan and Co. 1890.
  • Dissertations on the Apostolic Age. London: MacMillan and Co. 1892.
  • Essays on Supernatural Religion. London: MacMillan and Co. 1889.
  • Fresh Revision of the English New Testament. London: MacMillan and Co. 1871.
  • Leaders in the Northern Church. London: MacMillan and Co. 1890.
  • Historical Essays. London: MacMillan and Co. 1895.
  • Notes on the Epistles of St. Paul from Unpublished Commentaries. London: MacMillan and Co. 1895.
  • Ordination Addresses. London: MacMillan and Co. 1890.
  • Primary Charge. London: MacMillan and Co. 1882.
  • St. Clement of Rome. London: MacMillan and Co. 1869.
  • Saint Paul's Epistle to the Galatians. London: MacMillan and Co. 1865.
  • Saint Paul's Epistles to the Colossians and Philemon. London: MacMillan and Co. 1875.
  • Saint Paul's Epistle to the Philippians. London: MacMillan and Co. 1868.
  • The Christian Ministry. 1868.
  • Sermons preached in St. Paul's. London: MacMillan and Co. 1891.
  • Special Sermons. London: MacMillan and Co. 1891.
  • The Contemporary Pulpit Library: Sermons by Bishop Lightfoot. London: Swan Sonnenschein. 1892.


  1. ^ "col. A". Church Times. No. 847. 18 April 1879. p. 253. ISSN 0009-658X. Retrieved 4 January 2021 – via UK Press Online archives.
  2. ^ "Lightfoot, Joseph Barber (LTFT847JB)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  3. ^ "Congress Presidents 1869-2002" (PDF). February 2002. Archived from the original (PDF) on 28 May 2008. Retrieved 10 May 2008.
  4. ^ Matthew, H. C. G.; Harrison, B., eds. (23 September 2004). "The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. ref:odnb/42195. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/42195. Retrieved 10 January 2023. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  5. ^ Ben Witherington III, "Text Archaeology: The Finding of Lightfoot's Lost Manuscripts," Biblical Archaeology Review, Vol. 40, No. 2 (March/April 2014), pp. 28, 71.
  6. ^ Lightfoot, J. B. (2014). The Acts of the Apostles: A Newly Discovered Commentary. InterVarsity Press. ISBN 978-0-8308-9673-8.
  7. ^ Lightfoot, J. B. (2015). The Gospel of St. John: A Newly Discovered Commentary. InterVarsity Press. ISBN 978-0-8308-2945-3
  8. ^ Lightfoot, J. B. (2016). The Epistles of 2 Corinthians and 1 Peter: A Newly Discovered Commentary. InterVarsity Press. ISBN 978-0-8308-2946-0
  9. ^ Chrystal & Laundon 2015, p. 120.


External links[edit]

Church of England titles
Preceded by Bishop of Durham
Succeeded by