W. D. Davies
William David Davies always called W. D., was a Welsh congregationalist minister and academic theologian.


He was born in Carmarthenshire
Carmarthenshire is a unitary authority in the south west of Wales and one of thirteen historic counties. It is the 3rd largest in Wales. Its three largest towns are Llanelli, Carmarthen and Ammanford...

, Wales
Wales is a country that is part of the United Kingdom and the island of Great Britain, bordered by England to its east and the Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea to its west. It has a population of three million, and a total area of 20,779 km²...

. Educated at the University of Wales (B.D., 1938) and at Cambridge (M.A., 1942), he was ordained to the ministry of the Congregational Church
Congregational church
Congregational churches are Protestant Christian churches practicing Congregationalist church governance, in which each congregation independently and autonomously runs its own affairs....

 in 1941, and served parishes in Cambridgeshire until 1946. Concurrently, he engaged in research at the University of Cambridge under the dean of British New Testament scholars, C.H. Dodd, and David Daube
David Daube
David Daube DCL, FBA was the twentieth century's preeminent scholar of ancient law. He combined a familiarity with many legal systems, particularly Roman law and biblical law, with an expertise in Greek, Roman, Jewish, and Christian literature, and used literary, religious, and legal texts to...

, a Jewish scholar who became Regius Professor of Civil Law (Oxford)
Regius Professor of Civil Law (Oxford)
The Regius Chair of Civil Law, founded in the 1540s, is one of the oldest of the professorships at the University of Oxford.-Foundation:The Regius Chair of Civil Law at Oxford was founded by King Henry VIII, who established five such Regius Professorships in the University, the others being the...

, but who wrote extensively on the New Testament from the vantage point of rabbinic sources.

Davies was then appointed Professor of New Testament Studies at Yorkshire United College in Bradford, Yorkshire, a post he held till 1950. In 1948, the University of Wales granted him the D.D. degree, operis causa, the first time for that degree to be so granted. That year saw the publication of his first major book, Paul and Rabbinic Judaism: Some Rabbinic Elements in Pauline Theology, and in 1950, Davies was named Professor of Biblical Theology at Duke. In 1955 he became professor of religion at Princeton University, where he was one of three professors (R.Y.B Scott and Horton Davies the other two) who helped to inaugurate a graduate-study program leading to a PhD in religion - the first such program in a secular university in the United States. (See New York Times, July 5, 1955.)

He then became Edward Robinson Professor of Biblical Theology at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York
Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York
Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York is a preeminent independent graduate school of theology, located in Manhattan between Claremont Avenue and Broadway, 120th to 122nd Streets. The seminary was founded in 1836 under the Presbyterian Church, and is affiliated with nearby Columbia...

, where he had important relationships with Reinhold Niebuhr
Reinhold Niebuhr
Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr was an American theologian and commentator on public affairs. Starting as a leftist minister in the 1920s indebted to theological liberalism, he shifted to the new Neo-Orthodox theology in the 1930s, explaining how the sin of pride created evil in the world...

 and, across the street, with Louis Finkelstein
Louis Finkelstein
Rabbi Louis Finkelstein was a Talmud scholar, an expert in Jewish law, and a leader of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and Conservative Judaism.-Brief Biography:...

 (Pharisaism), Neil Gillman
Neil Gillman
Neil Gillman is an American rabbi and philosopher, affiliated with Conservative Judaism.-Biography:Gillman was born in Quebec City, Canada. He graduated from McGill University in 1954. He was ordained as a rabbi at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in 1960. He received his Ph.D...

, Abraham Joshua Heschel
Abraham Joshua Heschel
Abraham Joshua Heschel was a Polish-born American rabbi and one of the leading Jewish theologians and Jewish philosophers of the 20th century.-Biography:...

 (narrative and law), and Saul Lieberman
Saul Lieberman
Saul Lieberman , also known as Rabbi Shaul Lieberman or The Gra"sh , was a rabbi and a scholar of Talmud...

 (Hellenism in the land of Israel) - all housed at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America
Jewish Theological Seminary of America
The Jewish Theological Seminary of America is one of the academic and spiritual centers of Conservative Judaism, and a major center for academic scholarship in Jewish studies.JTS operates five schools: Albert A...

 - as well as Salo Wittmayer Baron
Salo Wittmayer Baron
Salo Wittmayer Baron was an American historian of Polish-Austrian Jewish ancestry and the most noted historian of the Jews of his generation. Baron taught at Columbia University from 1930 until his retirement in 1963....

 of Columbia, down the hill. At Union, he supervised the dissertation of E.P. Sanders, which became the book The Tendencies of the Synoptic Tradition. Davies later returned to Duke as George Washington Ivey Professor of Advanced Studies and Research in Christian Origins.


Davies's period of study and research in Cambridge and his participation in Dodd's seminar led to his editing, together with Daube, of the volume of essays presented to C. H. Dodd in 1956, The Background of the New Testament and Its Eschatology. In his own published works, Davies's double interests - in the Jewish background of the New Testament and in the theological implications of this background - are especially exhibited. His books on Paul's writings and on the Sermon on the Mount (in Matthew) explore Pharisaic understandings of the Law (or Torah) in the "age to come" or messianic era - against the backdrop of developments and thought in Judaism not only during the time of Jesus but also in the closing decades of the first century (especially the destruction of Jerusalem and the Council of Jamnia
Council of Jamnia
The Council of Jamnia or Council of Yavne is a hypothetical late 1st-century council at which it is postulated the canon of the Hebrew Bible was finalized....


Paul and Rabbinic Judaism is one of the first books to rescue the apostle from the purely Greek background which earlier scholars had assumed for him. In The Setting of the Sermon on the Mount (1964), Davies sees a law which remains even under the covenant of grace and thus spans the canonical tensions between James and Paul.

Theologically, then, by reorienting views on Paul, and by bringing Pharisaic, nomistic themes in Matthew to the fore, Davies sought to pull together the various New Testament strands and aims at a comprehensive combination of Law and Gospel. As for church life, in Christian Origins and Judaism, Davies comes to the conclusion that, in the New Testament (rather like the Old) there is no single fixed pattern of church order that is to be regarded as normative, only certain criteria to guide.

The Dodd-Daube-Davies troika led, in many ways, to the so-called New Perspective on Paul
New Perspective on Paul
The "New Perspective on Paul" is a significant shift in the way some scholars, especially Protestant scholars, interpret the writings of the Apostle Paul.-Description:Since the Protestant Reformation The "New Perspective on Paul" is a significant shift in the way some scholars, especially...

 - probably what Davies meant when he eulogized Daube by saying that, by calling Christianity "a New Testament Judaism," Daube ushered in a "near-revolution" in New Testament studies. The leading light of new/originalist Paul movement, E.P. Sanders, was a student of Daube and Davies, and Sanders's first book, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, is very much in dialogue with Davies's earlier Paul and Rabbinic Judaism. By no means are the two in agreement on all things, but Davies's work in de-Hellenizing Paul allowed for Sanders to approach the apostle dusted, scrubbed, and ready for fresh analysis.

Some of Davies's other books include:
  • Torah in the Messianic Age And/or the Age to Come
  • Invitation to the New Testament
  • The Gospel and the Land: Early Christianity and Jewish Territorial Doctrine
  • The Territorial Dimension of Judaism
  • Christian Engagements with Judaism
  • The Cambridge History of Judaism, volumes 1-3 (co-editor)
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