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Professor John Barclay

Lightfoot Professor of Divinity


Lightfoot Professor of Divinity in the Department of Theology and Religion+44 (0) 191 33 43951
Member of the Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 


After undergraduate studies (at Queens' College, Cambridge) in Classics and Theology, I studied for my PhD (on Galatians) at Cambridge, before becoming Lecturer, then Senior Lecturer and then Professor at Glasgow University (1984-2003). I have been at Durham as Lightfoot Professor of Divinity since 2003, delighted to be part of a very strong team of scholars in New Testament and early Judaism, and a lively research community of postgraduate students. During my Glasgow years, I worked on the social history of early Christianity (especially in Pauline churches) and researched and published on Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora (1996). From that I moved to a translation and commentary on one of Josephus' most interesting texts, his defence of Judaism called Against Apion (2007), which involved me in study of Judaism in the Roman world and some elements of post-colonial theory.

I have put together a collection of essays on Pauline Christians and Diaspora Judaism called Pauline Churches and Diaspora Jews (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2011), since published in paperback in 2016 by Eerdmans. This includes some hitherto inaccessible pieces and some new ones, including a revised version of my response to N.T. Wright on Paul and the Roman empire ('Why the Roman empire was insignificant to Paul').

My most recent major book is a study of Pauline theology from the perspective of his theology of grace, called Paul and the Gift (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015). If we read Paul's theology of grace in the light of ancient notions of gift, I believe we can understand in a new way his relationship to Judaism, his theology of the Christ-event and his ethic of reciprocal generosity. Paul and the Gift explores the theological and social significance of the incongruity of grace in the formation of innovative communities, going beyond Sanders and the current antithesis between old and new perspectives on Paul. This book, focusing on divine gift/grace, is the first of a two-part series. The second (currently in the research stage) will be on human gift-reciprocity and the construction of community in Paul's letters, in the context of social reciprocity in antiquity and as a challenge to some (in my view problematic) notions of 'altruism' that have taken root in the modern world. Meanwhile, I have written a short version of Paul and the Gift entitled Paul and the Power of Grace (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2020).

I have also published a very short introduction to Paul and his legacy called Paul: A Very Brief History (London: SPCK, 2017).

At undergraduate and Masters levels I teach a number of topics in the New Testament and early Christianity: gospel passion narratives, Pauline theology, the social formation of the early church, and (at Masters level) the history of interpretation of Paul (from the beginning to today).

I have had a long history of supervising postgraduate (MA and PhD) students, bringing 60 doctoral students thus far to successful completion. I am currently supervising doctoral students on a range of topics including: cognition in Pauline theology; Paul and gift-exchange among the poor; the rationale for celibacy in 1 Corinthians 7; Mark and the radical break with family ties; the emotion of being loved in Pauline theology and rhetoric.

 As I am due to retire in August 2024 I am no longer taking on new PhD students. I have recently served as President of SNTS (2022-23) and was elected as a Fellow of the British Academy in 2020. Out of the study I enjoy my family, cycling, music, and watching rugby. Having spent three sabbatical periods in New Zealand (University of Otago, Dunedin), I am a fan of the All Blacks!


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