The Obituary of Dr. Kenneth E. Bailey
Kenneth E. Bailey, renowned New Testament scholar, seminary professor, author, Presbyterian career missionary, and international lecturer, died on Monday, May 23, 2016, at age eighty-five after a short illness involving some weeks of hospitalization and a brief period of palliative care.
Born to career missionary parents who served in Egypt, the Sudan and Ethiopia, Kenneth was introduced to Arabic and Arab cultures in early childhood. Upon completion of his university education, majoring in Philosophy, at Monmouth College in Illinois, he married Ethel Jean Milligan, before attending Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in Pemisylvania. The couple then went to Egypt (1955) where they began their own missionary vocation, serving until 1965 with the Egyptian Evangelical (Presbyterian) Church, first in village evangelism, literacy work and Bible teaching, then at the Pre- theological Program of Cairo’s Evangelical Seminary based in the southern city of Assiut —all while studying Arabic, absorbing folk culture and learning common sayings and proverbs. These experiences led Kenneth on a path of re-reading the Scriptures—and particularly the teachings and parables of Jesus—in their cultural context.
In 1965, the Baileys were reassigned to the Near East School of Theology (NEST) in Beirut, Lebanon. In 1970, they returned to the United States where Kemieth enrolled in an academic doctoral program at Concordia Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. There he subjected himself to a rigorous discipline of in-depth study of other biblical languages — Hebrew, Aramaic and Syriac. Besides a newly acquired skill of reading biblical literature, the Talmud and other Judaic commentaries in those languages, and enriched by his near-native Middle Eastern culture and his knowledge of Arabic, his attention turned to reading biblical literature through those lenses. Combining his access to those resources with the background of his study of the gospels in Greek, he searched the Scriptures as one who could hear Jesus speaking in his native milieu with the fullness of its cultural nuances echoing in that part of the Greco-Roman Empire.
In 1972, the Baileys resumed their missionary service in Beirut. There, they remained for much of Lebanon’s 17-year civil war. His students at the NEST were Arab and Armenian Lebanese, Syrians, some Americans and Europeans, and others who came from the Sudan, Kenya and Nigeria where wars were also raging. A new chapter in his missionary calling and teaching vocation took him simultaneously to Nicosia and Jerusalem. In Cyprus, he was inducted as Canon Theologian of the Anglican Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf, while in Jerusalem, he became part of the resident faculty of the Tantur Ecumenical Institute, until his retirement, in 1995, to New Wilmington, Pennsylvania.
In the course of his ministry and throughout his retirement, Dr. Bailey wrote ten volumes on distinctive biblical themes that have become a significant resource for academics, pastors, church educators and adult leaders of various Christian denominations. He lectured widely across the Church and internationally, including leading Bible studies for gatherings of the archbishops of the Anglican Communion at Lambeth Palace, the Oxford Center for Mission Studies, the Center for the Study of Middle Eastern Christianity at the Evangelical Theological Seminary at Cairo, the Maryknoll Sisters, and at various Christian fellowship groups in the Arabian Gulf states.
He remains noted for his uniquely insightful treatment of the parables of Jesus, particularly that of the Prodigal Son (or, the Forgiving Father), and became widely read through his books, hundreds of journal articles and an extensive film and video ministry including a full-length, professionally produced feature film made in Cairo under the title “Finding the Lost.” His final monograph was The Good Shepherd: Thousand-Year •Journey from Psalm 23 to the New Testament (2014) which he considered his best work.
Books that have been translated into numerous languages include The Cross and the Prodigal; Jacob and the Prodigal; Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies of the Gospels; Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural Studies in First Corinthians; and others.
Dr. Bailey was predeceased in death in 2010 by his son, David, and is survived by his wife, Ethel, his daughter Sara Makari and her husband, Victor, daughter-in-law Leslie, and grandchildren, Kelcey and Cameron.