Krister Stendahl, Lutheran Bishop, Dean, Scholar and Teacher, Dies

4/17/2008 12:00:00 AM

     CHICAGO (ELCA) -- The Rev. Krister O. Stendahl, New
Testament scholar, teacher, former dean of Harvard Divinity
School, Cambridge, Mass., and Lutheran bishop of the Diocese of
Stockholm (Sweden), died April 15.  At the time of his death
Stendahl, 86, was Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Divinity
Emeritus, Harvard Divinity School.
     A funeral service for Stendahl is planned for April 18 at 11
a.m. at University Lutheran Church, Cambridge, Mass.  A memorial
service of celebration will be held May 16 at 2 p.m. at Harvard's
Memorial Church, according to a message on the Harvard Divinity
School Web site.
     Stendahl was well known as an advocate for the equality of
women in the church and for promoting ecumenical and interfaith
relations through his work with the Lutheran World Federation,
the World Council of Churches (WCC), both in Geneva, and other
church organizations.  He spoke and wrote in support of full
equality for people who are gay or lesbian in both the church and
     In a written tribute to Stendahl, the Rev. Mark S. Hanson,
presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
(ELCA), noted that Stendahl was one of "the most distinguished
biblical scholars, theological leaders and insightful churchmen
of the 20th century."  Stendahl advocated for the ordination of
women in U.S. Lutheran churches as well as in Sweden, Hanson
     "Throughout his service as a pastor and bishop, Dr. Stendahl
spoke of the church as a movement rather than an organization,"
Hanson wrote.  "Yet, with courage and commitment, he gave
conscientious attention to the well-being of the structures of
the church.  He spoke what he believed was a timely word, even if
what he said might provoke others to disagreement.  Whenever he
spoke, he formed his convictions on the basis of Scripture and
the tradition of the church.  He did not merely express his
opinion.  He always sought to teach and bring new insights into
the community of faith, the church."
     Born April 21, 1921 in Stockholm, Stendahl earned bachelor
of divinity, licentiate of theology and doctor of theology
degrees from Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden, and was
ordained in the (Lutheran) Church of Sweden.  While earning the
degrees he studied in Cambridge, England, and Paris, served as a
parish pastor, and taught biblical studies at Uppsala University.
     In 1954 he joined the faculty at Harvard Divinity School as
a professor of New Testament. He served there for 30 years,
from1968 to 1979 as dean.  He received the Guggenheim Fellowship
in 1959 and 1974.  Stendahl left Harvard in 1984 to serve as
Bishop of Stockholm until his retirement in 1988.  He returned to
Cambridge as chaplain to Harvard Divinity School.  At Brandeis
University, Waltham, Mass., from 1991 to 1993, he was the first
Myra and Robert Kraft and Jacob Hiatt Distinguished Professor of
Christian Studies.
     After retiring from Brandeis University in 1993, Stendahl
and his wife, Brita, a writer and scholar in Scandinavian and
comparative literature and culture, promoted Christian-Jewish
relations, said Stendahl's son, the Rev. John K. Stendahl,
Lutheran Church of the Newtons, Newton Center, Mass. In 1994
Krister Stendahl become co-director of the Osher Center for
Tolerance and Pluralism at Shalom Hartman Institute, Jerusalem,
and facilitated American scholars' working visits to the Holy
Land, his son said.
     In his New Testament scholarship, Stendahl examined tensions
in the early Christian community between Jews and gentiles.  His
books included "The School of St. Matthew" (1954), "The Bible and
the Role of Women" (1966), "Paul Among the Jews and Gentiles"
(1976) and "Meanings" (1984). An emphasis on the Jewish context
of the New Testament developed into an interest in Jewish studies
and involvement in Jewish-Christian dialogue.  He served on the
council of the World Union of Jewish Studies.  From 1975 to 1985
he chaired the WCC Consultation on the Church and the Jewish
     In 1988 Stendahl received the first Distinguished Service
Medal from the Association of Theological Schools and (together
with Dr. Gerhart Riegner) the Second Ladislaus Laszt
International Ecumenical Award from Ben-Gurion University of the
Negev, Israel.  In 1993 he and Brita Stendahl received the first
Myron B. Bloy Memorial Award from the Association for Religion
and Intellectual Life.
     Lund University, Lund, Sweden, in cooperation with the
Church of Sweden, has established the Krister Stendahl Chair in
Theology of Religion.  It is located in Jerusalem at the Swedish
Theological Institute, focusing on Jewish studies and dialogue
between Judaism and Christianity with the additional dimension of
engaging Muslims in dialogue.
     Stendahl is survived by Brita; his children, John, Anna and
Daniel; eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

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