Walter Harrelson, 92;
ecumenist and bible scholar
13, 2012, Winston-Salem, N.C. - The Rev. Dr. Walter Harrelson, 92, Professor
Emeritus at Wake Forest University Divinity School and Vanderbilt University
and editor of the New Interpreter's Study Bible for the New Revised Standard Version, died September 5.
Harrelson, the author of several
books and articles on the Hebrew scriptures,
Ten Commandments and Human Rights (Fortress
Press, 1980) and Interpreting
the Old Testament (Holt,
Rinehart & Winston, 1964).
He was one of
the last living members of the translation team of the New Revised Standard
Version of the bible. The NRSV, developed ecumenically under the auspices of
the National Council of Churches, was published in 1989. Since then, it has
received the widest acclaim and support from academics and church leaders of
any modern English translation.
Harrelson's participation in the translation of the NRSV was cited when he
became the 2005 recipient of the National Council of Churches and
Church World Service Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Award. The award was
presented to Harrelson in 2006.
The award is presented annually to a clergy person whose life and work have
significantly advanced the cause of unity among the churches in the U.S.A.
and internationally by: fostering dialogue and understanding among the
Christian churches; demonstrating a commitment to other churches for common
service, witness, worship, and study; challenging churches to give visible
witness to their covenant with one another to manifest ever more fully the
unity of the church; and offering a strong prophetic voice to the Christian
Clare Chapman, National Council
of Churches deputy general secretary, said Harrelson was "a towering figure
in ecumenical and academic circles. His contributions to the New Revised
Standard Version of the bible helped make it the widely used and respected
translation it is today. Moreover, his intricate knowledge of scripture not
only made him an extraordinary teacher; it also motivated him as a leader of
the church unity movement."
Chapman added, “It was my personal privilege to know and
work with Walter who was as humble and generous as he was intellectually
gifted. He will be greatly missed by the leadership of the National Council
of Churches and all who knew him.”
Dean Gail R. O'Day of the Wake Forest University Divinity School said the
school owes much to Harrelson and his work.
“He was an incredibly important bridge person between the board’s approval
(of a divinity school) and the first dean,
O'Day said. "He helped Wake Forest conceptualize what a divinity school for
the late 20th century should be.”
From 1994 until 1996, Harrelson brought the vision for a divinity school
closer to reality — articulating the need, developing the first curriculum,
reaching out to churches, and raising funds and support.
In an email to the School of Divinity community on September 5, O’Day wrote,
“All of us here today are in Walter Harrelson’s debt for the work he did
from which we, Wake Forest University, and the church now benefit. We give
thanks for his life.”
Before coming to Wake Forest Harrelson taught at Andover Newton Theological
School and was named dean of the University of Chicago Divinity School in
1955. He taught at Vanderbilt from 1960 until retiring in 1990; he was dean
of Vanderbilt’s divinity school from 1967 until 1975.
A memorial service will be held Sunday, September 23, at 3 p.m. in the
Divinity School's Wait Chapel.
See related stories:
Since its founding in 1950, the National Council of
the Churches of Christ in the USA has been the leading force for
shared ecumenical witness among Christians in the United States. The NCC's
37 member communions -- from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican,
Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African American and Living Peace
churches -- include 40 million persons in more than 100,000 local
congregations in communities across the nation.
NCC News contact:
Philip E. Jenks, 646-853-4212 (cell),