I won’t recount for you the whole story (see more here), but Ben Witherington III stumbled upon a treasure trove of unpublished material by J.B. Lightfoot while Witherington was on leave in Durham (UK). Some of this material, all handwritten, was Lightfoot’s personal lecture notes on Acts. Witherington, with help from others including Todd Still, made the worthwhile effort to publish this material. The first volume in a series called “The Lightfoot Legacy” is entitled The Acts of the Apostles: A Newly Discovered Commentary (IVP, 2014). Before cracking the spine on this book, I had already told a friend I was excited about this publishing endeavor because Lightfoot was such a supreme model of a historian, somehow with encyclopedic knowledge of ancient texts and languages. In a time now when seminaries are cutting biblical languages out of their curricula, I admire the “good ole days” when historical study (including original languages) was simply taken for granted as foundational to proper study of Scripture.
Having now read a good bit of this newly published work, I enjoyed the early biographical sketch written by Witherington and Still, getting to know Lightfoot the person. Actually, when I was a student at Durham a handful of students had a rare and memorable opportunity to visit Auckland castle where we were treated to a tour of the facilities including the place where Lightfoot and Westcott were buried. What a great legacy at Durham of top-notch historical work.
A caveat – Lightfoot’s Acts notes are quite technical, so not casual reading. Lots of insights and great material for research, though, of course.
One additional note: Lightfoot was a pious man (obviously an advantage for a bishop!). While he excelled as a historian, his study was deeply rooted in faith. I was blessed by this statement on prayer and exegesis.
Last of all, these remarks would be most defective, if I failed to remind you, as I need to be reminded myself, that above all things prayer is necessary for the right understanding of the Holy Scripture. As speaking to Christians, I might appeal at once to the authority of Scripture itself, an authority which you all recognize. But if it can be said that as a matter of argument, I am arguing in a circle, because the recognition of the duty of prayer presupposes a belief in the truth of Holy Scripture, I could put the matter in this light. If you are studying an ancient writer, a historian for instance such as Thucydides or Tacitus, you would not expect to understand him unless you endeavored to transport yourself into the time at which he wrote, to think and feel with him, and to realize all the circumstances which influence the life and actions of men of that day. Otherwise, your study would be barren of any results. So it is with the study of Holy Scripture. These documents come before you as spiritual writings, and to appreciate them you must put yourself in communication with the Spirit. Prayer is the medium of communication. And therefore it is necessary for the right understanding of the Bible” (51)