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Durham University

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Staff Profile

Professor Francis Watson

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 33 43694
Room number: 37a North Bailey 109

Contact Professor Francis Watson (email at


I joined the Department of Theology and Religion in September 2007, after eight years as holder of the Kirby Laing Chair of New Testament Exegesis in the University of Aberdeen (1999-2007) and fifteen years at King’s College London (1984-99), latterly as Reader in Biblical Theology. My primary academic field is New Testament/early Christian studies, with closely related interests in theological hermeneutics and in reception-history (especially during the patristic period and in modern protestant theology).

During my time in Aberdeen, my research was focused in the field of Pauline studies and produced two major publications: Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith (2004) and Paul, Judaism and the Gentiles: Beyond the New Perspective (Revised and Expanded Edition, 2007). Both books are concerned with the relationship between Pauline Christian communities and their matrix within Second Temple Judaism, one focusing on intra-communal relations, the other on the shared but contested scriptural heritage. These books have, I hope, made a significant contribution to recent scholarship's attempts to rethink early Christianity's Jewish scriptural roots and identity.

My move to Durham coincided with the start of a new project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust and entitled "Gospels Canonical and Non-canonical" and with a particular interest in the formation and significance of the four gospel collection. This has now resulted in a book entitled Gospel Writing: A Canonical Perspective (Eerdmans 2013, 670 pp), which brings historical, hermeneutical and theological perspectives to bear on the question what it means for a gospel to be “canonical” or "noncanonical". The book proposes a new and broader paradigm for the study of the gospels which includes their early reception not only in theological writing but also in art. It has attracted widespread attention, not least for its criticism of the "Q hypothesis" and its analysis of the Lukan evangelist's compositional practice on the assumption that he had access to the Gospel of Matthew as well as Mark.

September 2012 marked the started of a research project following on from Gospel Writing and entitled, "The Fourfold Gospel and its Rivals" (2012-16). The project is supported by the AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council), and has provided funding for a postdoctoral researcher (Dr Matt Crawford, now of the Australian Catholic University, Melbourne) and continues to fund a research studentship (Sarah Parkhouse). I have worked with Dr Crawford on the (so-called) "Diatessaron" attributed to Tatian, on the "Eusebian canons", and on ancient illustrated gospel books such as the locally produced "Lindisfarne Gospels" and the "Garima Gospels" from Ethiopia. The aim of this research is to establish the fourfold canonical gospel as an object of research in its own right - necessitating a focus on what is excluded as well as what is included. My commitment to working with gospel texts on both sides of the canonical boundary is further illustrated by a new book entitled The Fourfold Gospel: A Theological Reading of the New Testament Portraits of Jesus (Baker, May 2016, c. 200 pp) and by my ongoing work on the Epistula Apostolorum, an early and little-studied post-resurrection dialogue that has survived only in Coptic and Ge'ez (ancient Ethiopic).

Alongside this gospel-related work, I have continued to develop a broader range of research interests. In the field of Pauline studies and Second Temple Judaism, I have produced a second edition of Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith (2015) which contains an extensive response to high profile reviewers of the first edition and two additional chapters. I have recently worked and written on two Second Temple texts accessible primarily in Ge'ez versions: 1 Enoch and Jubilees. Modern theological interests are reflected in articles on the reception of Albert Schweitzer in English-language scholarship, Karl Barth's early biblical interpretation, Rudolf Bultmann's New Testament theology, and the debate between the "theological interpretation of scripture" and the so-called "historical-critical method".

Alongside my own research, supervision of research student is at the heart of my work here in Durham as it was in Aberdeen. Among PhD topics I have supervised (or am still supervising) are the following:

  • Historical Jesus and hermeneutics
  • Intertextuality in Matthew
  • The Markan view of God
  • Discipleship in Luke
  • Johannine ecclesiology
  • Genesis 1-3 in Paul and Philo
  • Individual and community in Pauline theology
  • Paul and the exalted Christ
  • Ephesians and Colossians in canonical perspective
  • Word-of-God language in 1 Thessalonians
  • Pauline God-language and trinitarian theology
  • Divine and human agency in Paul and Second Temple Judaism
  • Reintegrating the Haustafeln into Colossians and Ephesians
  • Hebrews, Barnabas, and scripture
  • Trinitarian conceptuality in Hebrews
  • The Epistle of James and the formation of the Catholic Epistles collection
  • The Didache and Matthean Christianity
  • Irenaeus and Genesis 1-2
  • The Gospel of John in the controversy between modalists and proto-trinitarians
  • Augustine’s De Doctrina Christiana and its relevance for contemporary theological hermeneutics
  • Scripture, hermeneutics and the doctrine of election in Calvin and Barth
  • Theological hermeneutics in Schleiermacher, Gadamer and Barth
  • Hermeneutics and homiletics

Many of these PhD theses were subsequently published, including most recently James A. Andrews, Hermeneutics and the Church: In Dialogue with Augustine (Notre Dame 2012), Ben Dunson, Individual and Community in Paul's Letter to the Romans (Mohr Siebeck 2012), David Gibson, Reading the Decree: Exegesis, Election and Christology in Calvin and Barth (T. & T. Clark 2009), Abe Kuruvilla, Text to Praxis: Hermeneutics and Homiletics in Dialogue (T. & T. Clark, 2009), Jason Maston, Divine and Human Agency in Second Temple Judaism and Paul (Mohr Siebeck 2010), Peter Orr, Christ Absent and Present: A Study in Pauline Christology (Mohr Siebeck, 2014), Michael Thate, Remembrance of Things Past? Albert Schweitzer, the Anxiety of Influence, and the Untidy Jesus of Markan Memory (Mohr Siebeck 2012), and Jonathan D. Worthington, Creation in Paul and Philo (Mohr Siebeck 2011).

I am always happy to enter into email correspondence with prospective postgraduate students, especially about possible research topics. For students from north America, there is also the possibility of meeting in person at the annual meetings of the SBL.


Authored book

Edited book


  • Watson, Francis B. (2007). Paul, Judaism and the Gentiles Beyond the New Perspective (Revised and Expanded Edition). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans.
  • Watson, Francis B. (2004). Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith. London and New York: T. & T. Clark.
  • Watson, Francis B. (2000). Agape, Eros, Gender: Towards a Pauline Sexual Ethic. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Watson, Francis B. (1997). Text and Truth: Redefining Biblical Theology. Edinburgh: T & T Clark.
  • Watson, Francis B. (1994). Text, Church and World: Biblical Interpretation in Theological Perspective. Edinburgh: T & T Clark.
  • Watson, Francis B. (1986). Paul, Judaism and the Gentiles: A Sociological Approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Chapter in book

  • Watson, Francis (2019). "The Canon and the Codex: On the Material Form of the Christian Bible". In The Life of Texts: Evidence in Textual Production, Transmission, and Reception. Caruso, Carlo London: Bloomsbury Academic. 48-61, 208-210.
  • Watson, Francis (2018). "Q and the Logia: On the Discovery and Marginalizing of P.Oxy.1". In Gospel Interpretation and the Q Hypothesis. Mueller, Mogens & Omerzu, Heike London: T&T Clark. 573: 97-113.
  • Watson,Francis (2018). "Reception as Corruption: Tertullian and Marcion in Quest of the True Gospel". In Rewriting and Reception in and of the Bible. Hogenhaven, Jesper, Nielsen, Jesper Tang & Omerzu, Heike Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck. 396: 271-287.
  • Watson, Francis (2018). Pauline Reception and the Problem of Docetism. In Docetism in the Early Church. Verheyden, Joseph Bieringer, Reimund Schröter,Jens & Jäger, Ines Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. 42.
  • Watson, Francis (2017). "Lindisfarne and the Gospels: the Art of Interpretation". In Producing Christian Culture: Medieval Exegesis and Its Interpretative Genres. Gasper, Giles, Crawford, Matthew & Watson, Francis Ashgate. 47-65.
  • Watson, Francis (2016). "Barth, Ephesians, and the Practice of Theological Interpretation". In Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Ephesians. Nelson, David Baker Academic. 13-30, 154-157.
  • Watson, Francis (2011). Eschatology and the Twentieth Century: On the Reception of Schweitzer in English. In Eschatology-Eschatologie. Eckstein, H.-J., Landmesser, C. & Lichtenberger, H. Mohr Siebeck. 331-347.
  • Watson, Francis (2010). In the Beginning: Irenaeus, Creation and the Environment. In Ecological Hermeneutics: Biblical, Historical and Theological Perspectives. Horrell, David G., Hunt, Cherryl, Southgate, Christopher & Stavrakopolou, Francesca T. & T. Clark. 127-139.
  • Watson, Francis B. (2009). Mistranslation and the Death of Christ: Isaiah 53 LXX and its Pauline Reception. In Translating the New Testament: Text, Translation, Theology. Porter, Stanley E. & Boda, Mark J. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. 215-250.
  • Watson, Francis (2008). Veritas Christi: How to get from the Jesus of History to the Christ of Faith without losing one's Way. In Seeking the Identity of Jesus: A Pilgrimage. Gaventa, Beverly Roberts & Hays, Richard B. Eerdmans. 96-114.
  • Watson, Francis B. (2007). “I Received from the Lord.” Paul, Jesus and the Last Supper. In Jesus and Paul Reconnected. Still, Todd. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans.
  • Watson, Francis B. (2006). Are There Still Four Gospels? A Study in Theological Hermeneutics. In Reading Scripture with the Church. Adam, A. K. M., Fowl, S., Vanhoozer, K. & Watson, F. B. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker.
  • Watson, Francis B. (2006). Constructing an Antithesis Pauline and Other Jewish Perspectives on Divine and Human Agency. In Divine and Human Agency in Paul and His Cultural Environment. Barclay, John M. G. & Gathercole, Simon J. London and New York: T. & T. Clark. 99-116.
  • Watson, Francis B. (2006). The Fourfold Canonical Gospel. In The Cambridge Companion to the Gospels. Barton, Stephen. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 34-52.
  • Watson, Francis B. (2006). The Gospel of John and New Testament Theology. In The Nature of New Testament Theology. Rowland, C. & Tuckett, C. Oxford: Blackwell. 248-62.
  • Watson, Francis B. (2002). Barth's Philippians as Theological Exegesis. In Epistle to the Philippians. Barth, Karl Louisville: Westminster John Knox. xxvi-li.
  • Watson, Francis B. (2002). Is There a Story in These Texts? In Narrative Dynamics in Paul. Longenecker, Bruce W. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster/John Knox Press. 231-39.
  • Watson, Francis B. (2001). The quest for the real Jesus. In The Cambridge Companion to Jesus. Bockmuehl, Markus. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 156-69.
  • Watson, Francis B. (2000). The Bible. In The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth. Webster, John. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 57-71.
  • Watson, Francis B. (1997). The Scope of Hermeneutics. In The Cambridge Companion to Christian Doctrine. Gunton, C. E. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 65-80.
  • Watson, Francis B. (1997). Towards a Literal Reading of the Gospels. In The Gospels for All Christians. Bauckham, Richard. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans. 189-211.
  • Watson, Francis B. (1994). “He is Not Here.” Towards a Theology of the Empty Tomb. In Resurrection: Essays in Honour of Leslie Houlden. Barton, Stephen. & Stanton, Graham. London: SPCK. 95-107.
  • Watson, Francis B. (1987). Is John’s Christology Adoptionist? In The Glory of Christ in the New Testament. Wright, N. T. & Hurst, L. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 113-24.

Journal Article

  • Watson, Francis (2018). Roman Faith and Christian Faith. New Testament Studies 64(02): 243-247.
  • Watson, Francis (2016). "Towards a Redaction-Critical Reading of the Diatessaron Gospel". Early Christianity 7(1): 95-112.
  • Watson, Francis B. (2010). ‘Beyond Suspicion: On the Authorship of the Mar Saba Letter and the Secret Gospel of Mark’. Journal of Theological Studies n.s. 61(1): 128-170.
  • Watson, Francis (2010). Hermeneutics and the Doctrine of Scripture: why they need each other. International Journal of Systematic Theology 12(2): 118-143.
  • Watson, Francis (2009). Is the Historian competent to speak of the Resurrection of Jesus? A Study in Hermeneutics. Kerygma und Dogma 55: 52-72.
  • Watson, Francis B. (2009). Q as Hypothesis: A Study in Methodology. New Testament Studies 55(04): 397-415
  • Watson, Francis (2008). Scripture in Pauline Theology: How Far Down Does It Go? Journal of Theological Interpretation 2: 181-192.
  • Watson, Francis B. (2006). Paul the Reader: An Authorial Apologia. Journal for the Study of the New Testament 28: 363-73.
  • Watson, Francis B. (2006). Response. SJT 59: 461-68.
  • Watson, Francis B. (2002). “America’s theologian” an appreciation of Robert Jenson’s Systematic Theology, with some remarks about the Bible. Scottish Journal of Theology 55: 201-23.
  • Watson, Francis B. (2000). The Authority of the Voice: A Theological Reading of 1 Cor. 11.2-16. New Testament Studies 46: 520-36.
  • Watson, Francis B. (2000). The Triune Divine Identity: Reflections on Pauline God-Language, in Disagreement with J. D. G. Dunn. Journal for the Study of the New Testament 80: 99-124.
  • Watson, Francis B. (1999). Trinity and Community: A Reading of John 17. International Journal of Systematic Theology 1: 168-84.
  • Watson, Francis B. (1998). Theology and Music. Scottish Journal of Theology 51: 1-29.
  • Watson, Francis B. (1996). Bible, Theology and the University: A Response to Philip Davies. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 72: 3-16.
  • Watson, Francis B. (1985). The Social Function of Mark’s Secrecy Theme. Journal for the Study of the New Testament 24: 49-69.
  • Watson, Francis B. (1984). 2 Cor. X-XIII and Paul’s Painful Letter to the Corinthians. Journal of Theological Studies 35: 324-346.

Book review