I first met John R. Kohlenberger III, an eminent scholar and quite possibly the most talented individual I have ever known, at the annual Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) convention. Of course, John’s name was already well-known to me, having completed my degree at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. John’s books lined all three levels of the north and west walls of the seminary bookstore. I remember feeling rather proud of the fact that his wife was a CBE member. She and I shared several exciting conversations prior to when I met John for the first time at ETS.
At ETS, I was accustomed to engaging with male members who seemed uncomfortable around women, so I was surprised when a young man walked up to CBE’s exhibitor booth and asked if he could speak with me.
He said, “I want to tell you why I’m an egalitarian. My name is John Kohlenberger and I think you know my wife, Carolyn.”
For the next four hours, John and I covered many topics, both personal and professional. He explained why his wife and his close colleague, Stan Gundry were both egalitarians. I soon discovered that John was personally driven by his concern for accurate Bible translation–and his deep commitment to help people understand God’s word, particularly as it addressed gender and power.
In all of my encounters at ETS and in the greater evangelical academy, I have rarely witnessed such a deep commitment to responsible scholarship as a means of serving the church. John possessed an extraordinary sense of accountability for the gifts and opportunities afforded to him. It was his great passion in life to equip readers to understand God’s message of love bursting through the pages of Scripture.
Near the end of our first conversation, I asked John to consider writing and speaking about these concerns for CBE, which he did. Within a few years, John joined CBE’s board of directors where he shaped the language of our statements and the vision of our organization for over fifteen years. In 2002, we scheduled our international conference in Portland and John agreed to share his extensive scholarship with the CBE community. However, the week of the conference, John was diagnosed with stage four prostate cancer. Treatment began on the opening day of CBE’s conference.
Cancer met a formidable foe in John and in the community that loved him so dearly. As he underwent treatment, John continued his scholarly work, especially his writing and speaking on gender and faith.
One of John’s top egalitarian priorities was the use of exclusively masculine language in the church. He often recalled the significance of the moment when his eight year-old daughter asked if God preferred boys to girls, given that some translations of the Bible speak about God wanting all men to be saved. John assured Sarah that God loves girls as much as boys. From that conversation onward, John was intentional about using gender inclusive language so that both males and females knew they were equally included and loved by God.
In a world obsessed with power and titles, John stood with the marginalized. He was quick to observe that leadership in Scripture is centered on service. As John would say, “anyone can and everyone should serve.” Laughing, he would ask, “Have you ever read a best-seller, or attended a conference on becoming a servant, even a slave for Christ?” John believed that sacrificial service is at the heart of the New Testament, and that its practice is the best way to emulate the life and teachings of Christ.
Paul encouraged Christians to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Eph. 5:21) and likewise, John firmly believed that all Christians should submit to the biblical text, serving its intention and true meaning faithfully. John was convinced that Christians are called to the daily work of removing the presumption and bias that distorts God’s message and marginalizes women. For this reason, John was happy to promote the NIV 2011 translation and gave it his endorsement.
From his diagnosis in 2002 until his death in September, 2015, John devoted himself to producing resources to help Christians to discern the moral teachings of the Bible from the cultural assumptions of Bible culture.
Just this year, John completed the two major works: The NIV Exhaustive Bible Concordance, 3rd Edition, and The Greek-English New Testament: UBS 5th Revised Edition and New International Version, a joint publication of the German Bible Society and Zondervan scheduled for release in October, 2015. John published these and more than sixty study Bibles and biblical reference books that line Christian bookshelves around the globe.
John’s other “unpublished works” include his many blogs and his consulting with CBE’s board as we refined our mission statement to challenge the assumptions of patriarchy as a biblical ideal. Though our work is often challenging, and while John was serious about that work, he always kept us laughing, reminding us not to take ourselves too seriously. I am so grateful that he lavished his many spiritual gifts on CBE.
In John R. Kohlenberger III, we had a brilliant mind, servant heart, and true friend. His many talents were surpassed only by his humility and sense of responsibility in serving the church–especially the marginalized. He inspired and equipped Christians around the globe with his biblical and linguistic genius. We are deeply grateful for the biblical clarity John bestowed on the church in support of women’s leadership.
Words cannot express my thankfulness for the privilege of knowing John as a colleague and beloved friend.
A memorial service will be held at 2 pm on Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015, at Eastridge Covenant Church, 14100 SE Sunnyside Road, Clackamas, OR 97015.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggestions donations to Providence Cancer Center, Christians for Biblical Equality, or Cascade View Covenant Church in Vancouver, Washington.
“A Tribute to John R.Kohlenberger III”
“Patient stories: The scholar becomes the student”
“Remembering John Kohlenberger III”
John R. Kohlenberger III Obituary
CBE Articles by John Kohlenberger III
“…But Words Can Never Hurt Me”
“Co-Workers with Christ”
“Destined to Cause the Falling and Rising of Many”
“From Male Superiority to Mutual Submission”
“Gender Accuracy in Bible Translation”
“The New NIV 2011”
“Presumption and Bias in Bible Translation”
“Reading with Blinders On”
“What About the ‘Gender Accurate’ TNIV?“