Thursday, February 9, 2012

Dr. Frederick Danker+

The first really big textbook I had to purchase in college was a Greek-English lexicon. It was required for Dr. Richard Reinisch's courses in Greek. While we initially worked solely in Attic, "classical" Greek, so as actually to learn the language by reading unfamiliar texts, we eventually focused more and more attention on translating Nestle-Aland's Novum Testamentum Graece. For that task, we needed to rely on that big book, the second edition of A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature (Chicago, 1979), based on Walter Bauer's Griechisch-Deutsches Woerterbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der Fruehchristlichen Literatur, and edited by Americans W. F. Arndt, F. W. Gingrich, and F. W. Danker. Thus, it was usually abbreviated as BADG.

That second edition got a lot of use through college and seminary and then on into the parish and graduate school. I still used it when I was asked to take over the teaching of Greek at my alma mater, Concordia University, Portland, when Dr. Reinisch retired. Just as he had done with me and my fellow students, so I did with my own. They had to buy that big book. Midway through my decade of teaching Greek (alongside my other courses in Christian theology and the history of Christianity), a new edition of that lexicon appeared (Chicago, 2000). Because the last of its American editors, Dr. Danker, had done so much revision to it, his name now appeared second, after Bauer's. The third edition now gets abbreviated as BDAG.

This magisterial work, topping out at 1108 pages, remains the standard reference work for anyone studying the Greek New Testament and early Greco-Christian literature.

Sometime during my undergraduate years I learned about "Seminex," a complicated series of events in 1973 and '74 that eventually led to the dismissal of the majority of professors at the principal seminary of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. Included among those professors was Dr. Frederick Danker. My parish pastor, Dale Koehneke, had attended the seminary that those fired professors formed after their dismissal, Christ Seminary--Seminary in Exile, otherwise known as Seminex. One summer when I was home from college I asked Pr. Koehneke if he could direct me to a book that would help me to understand what "Seminex" was all about. He gave me his copy of Dr. Danker's personal account of that traumatic event, No Room in the Brotherhood. It was my first exposure to the theological and ecclesial conflicts that fractured the Synod.

I almost went to Seminex myself, but my teachers at Concordia, Portland, my pastors in Salem, Ore., my family, and my close friends, encouraged me to head off to the seminary that was formed in the same location as the one that had become exiled in 1974. There we were required to read another book by Dr. Danker, his Multipurpose Tools for Bible Study (first edition by CPH in 1960; 2nd ed. by Fortress in 1993), an insightful analysis of the most important resources for the historical-critical investigation of the Scriptures. While we post-1974 students had to refer to these scholarly methods under the title of the "grammatical-historical method," they were essentially the same as the so-called modern "historical-critical method," an approach that the Synod had encouraged its members to use in the late 1960s and early 70s. Some of us joked at the time--1984-88--that "the historical-grammatical method" merely meant that one didn't have to use one's brain as much as "the historical-critical method." "Krino," from which we get the word "critical," means "to make a judgment based on taking various factors into account, judge, think, consider, look upon; to come to a conclusion after a cognitive process, reach a decision, decide, propose, intend" (BDAG 568).

Even in my seminary course on Luke, we were encouraged to read Dr. Danker's marvelous exposition, Jesus and the New Age.

I first met Dr. Danker through our mutual friend, Dr. Edward Schroeder, also a veteran of the Missouri wars of the 1970s. "Red Fred" as he was known to his students, had learned about my work on the nineteenth-century Bible scholar, Johannes von Hofmann, and wanted to talk with me about Hofmann's commentaries on the New Testament. Later, when I gave a conference paper on the theology of Werner Elert, Dr. Danker asked me about Elert's perspective on the so-called quests for the historical Jesus. (As I recall I stressed how important the historical-critical investigation of the New Testament was for Dr. Elert, since purely literary approaches in his view ended up with a mostly fictional Jesus.) Still later, Dr. Danker and I had other conversations in other venues. The last time I spoke with him was in San Francisco, last Nov. at AAR/SBL. He was pretty frail, but we managed to share a few words and even a laugh at the LCMS seminary reception where we ran into each other. He wondered how I got invited and I wondered the same about him.

Word came last week that "Red Fred" Danker died from complications that resulted from a fall he took. He was kicked out of an earthly "brotherhood" that had no room for him and for so many others. One can imagine our Elder Brother having said to Fred last week: "Welcome, there is room for you here."

To read his obituary that was published earlier this week in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:


  1. Of course there is room in the brotherhood. I think it is significant that Jesus' words, "where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them" occurs in the context of Jesus' instructions regarding we ought to reprove one another. We are members of the "brotherhood" because Jesus has called each of us by name. That we disagree on matters adiophora is irrelevant.

    In tribute to Dr. Danker:

    The church's one Foundation
    Is Jesus Christ her Lord;
    She is his new creation
    By water and the Word:
    From heav'n he came and sought her
    To be his holy bride;
    With his own blood he bought her,
    And for her life he died.

  2. Thank you, John Mundinger, for these words and for your other comments on my blog. I hope you will continue to share your reflections.