Joseph Henry Thayer

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Joseph Henry Thayer (November 7, 1828—November 26, 1901), an American biblical scholar, was born in Boston, Massachusetts.


He studied at the Boston Latin School, and graduated from Harvard in 1850. Subsequently he studied theology at the Harvard Divinity School, and graduated from Andover Theological Seminary in 1857.[1]

He served as a minister in Quincy, in 1859–64 in Salem, Massachusetts, and in 1862–63 was chaplain of the 40th Massachusetts Volunteers during the American Civil War. He was professor of sacred literature at Andover Seminary in 1864–82, and in 1884 succeeded Ezra Abbot as Bussey Professor of New Testament Criticism and Interpretation at Harvard Divinity School. He died soon after his resignation from the Bussey professorship.[1]

Beginning in 1870, Thayer was a member of the American Bible Revision Committee and recording secretary of the New Testament company (working on the Revised Version). Thayer's chief works were his translation of Grimm's Wilke's Clavis Novi Testamenti (1886; revised 1889) as A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, and his New Testament Bibliography (1890).[1] Thayer spent 25 years working on his Lexicon, and made thousands of revisions from Grimm's Wilke's Clavis.[2]

Rather unfortunately, Thayer's Lexicon became obsolete quickly as Gustav Adolf Deissmann's work with the Egyptian papyri was soon to revolutionize New Testament and Koine Greek Lexicography with the publication of his Bible Studies: Contributions Chiefly from Papyri and Inscriptions to the History of the Language, the Literature, and the Religion of Hellenistic Judaism and Primitive Christianity published in 1901 (2nd edition 1909) and also Light from the Ancient East: the New Testament Illustrated by Recently Discovered Texts of the Graeco-Roman World London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1910. These books and similar ones that followed helped confirm and sometimes correct inadequate definitions of many words in the Greek New Testament. With this new and valuable information for studying the Greek of the New Testament, Thayer's Lexicon became a victim of history, being published less than a decade before this papyri revolution.[3]

In February 1891 Thayer published a lecture in which he expressed disagreement with the position of Biblical inerrancy, asserting that his own acceptance of various errors of history and science in the Bible did not materially detract from his belief in the overall soundness of Christianity.[4]

Thayer was president of the Society of Biblical Literature and Exegesis for 1894 and 1895. In his 1895 presidential address, he called for the creation of an "American School for Oriental Study and Research" in Palestine.[5] Over the next five years, the Society was involved in the establishment of the American School of Oriental Research in Jerusalem. A plaque commemorating Thayer's role in its foundation was placed at the American School in 1933.[6]


  1. ^ a b c Chisholm 1911.
  2. ^ Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament electronic version
  3. ^ Frederick W. Danker, Multipurpose Tools for Bible Study (Rev. and expanded ed.; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 111-13.
  4. ^ Joseph Henry Thayer (1891). The change of attitude toward the Bible. 
  5. ^ Joseph Henry Thayer, "The Historical Element in the New Testament" in The Journal of Biblical Literature 14 (1895), 16-18.
  6. ^ Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 51 (1933), 1.


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