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Professor Francis Watson


Professor in the Department of Theology and Religion+44 (0) 191 33 43694


I joined the Department of Theology and Religion in September 2007, after eight years as holder of the Kirby Laing Chair of New Testament Exegesis in the University of Aberdeen (1999-2007) and fifteen years at King’s College London (1984-99), latterly as Reader in Biblical Theology. My primary academic field is New Testament/early Christian studies, with closely related interests in theological hermeneutics and in reception-history (especially during the patristic period and in modern protestant theology).

During my time in Aberdeen, my research was focused in the field of Pauline studies and produced two major publications: Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith (2004) and Paul, Judaism and the Gentiles: Beyond the New Perspective (Revised and Expanded Edition, 2007). Both books are concerned with the relationship between Pauline Christian communities and their matrix within Second Temple Judaism, one focusing on intra-communal relations, the other on the shared but contested scriptural heritage. These books have, I hope, made a significant contribution to recent scholarship's attempts to rethink early Christianity's Jewish scriptural roots and identity.

My move to Durham coincided with the start of a new project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust and entitled "Gospels Canonical and Non-canonical" and with a particular interest in the formation and significance of the four gospel collection. This has now resulted in a book entitled Gospel Writing: A Canonical Perspective (Eerdmans 2013, 670 pp), which brings historical, hermeneutical and theological perspectives to bear on the question what it means for a gospel to be “canonical” or "noncanonical". The book proposes a new and broader paradigm for the study of the gospels which includes their early reception not only in theological writing but also in art. It has attracted widespread attention, not least for its criticism of the "Q hypothesis" and its analysis of the Lukan evangelist's compositional practice on the assumption that he had access to the Gospel of Matthew as well as Mark.

September 2012 marked the started of a research project following on from Gospel Writing and entitled, "The Fourfold Gospel and its Rivals" (2012-16). The project is supported by the AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council), and has provided funding for a postdoctoral researcher (Dr Matt Crawford, now of the Australian Catholic University, Melbourne) and continues to fund a research studentship (Sarah Parkhouse). I have worked with Dr Crawford on the (so-called) "Diatessaron" attributed to Tatian, on the "Eusebian canons", and on ancient illustrated gospel books such as the locally produced "Lindisfarne Gospels" and the "Garima Gospels" from Ethiopia. The aim of this research is to establish the fourfold canonical gospel as an object of research in its own right - necessitating a focus on what is excluded as well as what is included. My commitment to working with gospel texts on both sides of the canonical boundary is further illustrated by a new book entitled The Fourfold Gospel: A Theological Reading of the New Testament Portraits of Jesus (Baker, May 2016, c. 200 pp) and by my ongoing work on the Epistula Apostolorum, an early and little-studied post-resurrection dialogue that has survived only in Coptic and Ge'ez (ancient Ethiopic).

Alongside this gospel-related work, I have continued to develop a broader range of research interests. In the field of Pauline studies and Second Temple Judaism, I have produced a second edition of Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith (2015) which contains an extensive response to high profile reviewers of the first edition and two additional chapters. I have recently worked and written on two Second Temple texts accessible primarily in Ge'ez versions: 1 Enoch and Jubilees. Modern theological interests are reflected in articles on the reception of Albert Schweitzer in English-language scholarship, Karl Barth's early biblical interpretation, Rudolf Bultmann's New Testament theology, and the debate between the "theological interpretation of scripture" and the so-called "historical-critical method".

Alongside my own research, supervision of research student is at the heart of my work here in Durham as it was in Aberdeen. Among PhD topics I have supervised (or am still supervising) are the following:

  • Historical Jesus and hermeneutics
  • Intertextuality in Matthew
  • The Markan view of God
  • Discipleship in Luke
  • Johannine ecclesiology
  • Genesis 1-3 in Paul and Philo
  • Individual and community in Pauline theology
  • Paul and the exalted Christ
  • Ephesians and Colossians in canonical perspective
  • Word-of-God language in 1 Thessalonians
  • Pauline God-language and trinitarian theology
  • Divine and human agency in Paul and Second Temple Judaism
  • Reintegrating the Haustafeln into Colossians and Ephesians
  • Hebrews, Barnabas, and scripture
  • Trinitarian conceptuality in Hebrews
  • The Epistle of James and the formation of the Catholic Epistles collection
  • The Didache and Matthean Christianity
  • Irenaeus and Genesis 1-2
  • The Gospel of John in the controversy between modalists and proto-trinitarians
  • Augustine’s De Doctrina Christiana and its relevance for contemporary theological hermeneutics
  • Scripture, hermeneutics and the doctrine of election in Calvin and Barth
  • Theological hermeneutics in Schleiermacher, Gadamer and Barth
  • Hermeneutics and homiletics

Many of these PhD theses were subsequently published, including most recently James A. Andrews, Hermeneutics and the Church: In Dialogue with Augustine (Notre Dame 2012), Ben Dunson, Individual and Community in Paul's Letter to the Romans (Mohr Siebeck 2012), David Gibson, Reading the Decree: Exegesis, Election and Christology in Calvin and Barth (T. & T. Clark 2009), Abe Kuruvilla, Text to Praxis: Hermeneutics and Homiletics in Dialogue (T. & T. Clark, 2009), Jason Maston, Divine and Human Agency in Second Temple Judaism and Paul (Mohr Siebeck 2010), Peter Orr, Christ Absent and Present: A Study in Pauline Christology (Mohr Siebeck, 2014), Michael Thate, Remembrance of Things Past? Albert Schweitzer, the Anxiety of Influence, and the Untidy Jesus of Markan Memory (Mohr Siebeck 2012), and Jonathan D. Worthington, Creation in Paul and Philo (Mohr Siebeck 2011).

I am always happy to enter into email correspondence with prospective postgraduate students, especially about possible research topics. For students from north America, there is also the possibility of meeting in person at the annual meetings of the SBL.


Authored book

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Supervision students