Joseph Barber Lightfoot


1828-89.  D.D.; LightfootLady Margaret’s Professor; Chaplain to Albert & Queen Victoria; Bishop of Durham.

Born in Liverpool, he was educated at King Edward's School, Birmingham, where his contemporaries included B.F. Westcott and E.W. Benson. In 1847 Lightfoot went up to Trinity and read for his degree along with Westcott and F.J.A. Hort. He graduated Senior Classic and 30th Wrangler, and was elected a Fellow. From 1854 to 1859 he edited the Journal of Classical and Sacred Philology,  founded by Lightfoot, Hort and Mayor. In 1857 he became a Tutor and his fame as a scholar grew. He was made Hulsean Professor in 1861, and shortly afterwards Chaplain to the Prince Consort and Honorary Chaplain in Ordinary to Queen Victoria.

In 1866 he was Whitehall preacher, and in 1871 he became Canon of St Paul's Cathedral. His sermons were not remarkable for eloquence, but a certain solidity and balance of judgment, an absence of partisanship, a sobriety of expression combined with clearness and force of diction, attracted hearers and inspired them with confidence. As was written of him in The Times after his death,

"his personal character carried immense weight, but his great position depended still more on the universally recognized fact that his belief in Christian truth and his defence of it were supported by learning as solid and comprehensive as could be found anywhere in Europe, and by a temper not only of the utmost candour but of the highest scientific capacity. The days in which his university influence was asserted were a time of much shaking of old beliefs. The disintegrating speculations of an influential school of criticism in Germany were making their way among English men of culture just about the time, as is usually the case, when the tide was turning against them in their own country. The peculiar service which was rendered at this juncture by the 'Cambridge School' was that, instead of opposing a mere dogmatic opposition to the Tübingen critics, they met them frankly on their own ground; and instead of arguing that their conclusions ought not to be and could not be true, they simply proved that their facts and their premises were wrong. It was a characteristic of equal importance that Dr Lightfoot, like Dr Westcott, never discussed these subjects in the mere spirit of controversy. It was always patent that what he was chiefly concerned with was the substance and the life of Christian truth, and that his whole energies were employed in this inquiry because his whole heart was engaged in the truths and facts which were at stake. He was not diverted by controversy to side-issues; and his labour was devoted to the positive elucidation of the sacred documents in which the Christian truth is enshrined."

In 1874, the anonymous publication of Walter Richard Cassels' Supernatural Religion created considerable sensation. In a series of papers in the Contemporary Review, between December 1874 and May 1877, Lightfoot undertook the defence of the New Testament canon. The articles were published in collected form in 1889. About the same time he was engaged in contributions to W Smith's Dictionary of Christian Biography and Dictionary of the Bible, and he also joined the committee for revising the translation of the New Testament. In 1875 he became Lady Margaret's Professor of Divinity in succession to William Selwyn.

He had previously written his commentaries on the Epistles to the Galatians, Philippians and Lightfoot, by William Blake RichmondColossians, the notes to which were distinguished by sound judgment and enriched from his large store of patristic and classical learning. These commentaries may be described as to a certain extent a new departure in New Testament exegesis. Before Lightfoot's time, commentaries had frequently consisted either of short homilies on particular portions of the text, or of endeavours to enforce foregone conclusions, or of attempts to decide with infinite industry and ingenuity between the interpretations of former commentators. Lightfoot endeavoured to make his author interpret himself, and by considering the general drift of his argument to discover his meaning where it appeared doubtful. Thus he was able often to recover the meaning of a passage which had long been buried under a heap of contradictory glosses, and he founded a school in which sobriety and common sense were added to the industry and ingenuity of former commentators.

In 1879 Lightfoot was consecrated bishop of Durham. He was as successful in this position as he had been when professor of theology, and he soon surrounded himself with a band of scholarly young men. He endeavoured to combine his habits of theological study with the practical work of administration. He exercised a large liberality and did much to further the work of temperance and purity organizations. He continued to work at his editions of the Apostolic Fathers, and in 1885 published an edition of the Epistles of Ignatius and Polycarp, collecting also a large store of valuable materials for a second edition of Clement of Rome, which was published after his death. His defence of the authenticity of the Epistles of Ignatius is one of the most important contributions to that very difficult controversy. His unremitting labours impaired his health and shortened his splendid career at Durham. He never married. He died at Bournemouth and was succeeded in the episcopate by Westcott, his schoolfellow and lifelong friend.

Memorial inscription Translation




Joseph Barber Lightfoot, D.D., Fellow and Tutor of the College, was Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity, and for ten years Bishop of Durham.  His fame as a critic, exegete and pastor was universally recognised.  This inscription was given and dedicated by a few of his many friends.  He was born on 13th April 1828 and died on 21st December 1890.

Joseph Barber Lightfoot

Brass located on the north wall of the Ante-Chapel. 
Inscription text by H. Montagu Butler.


Lightfoot brass.  Click for enlarged image







Click on the thumbnail for a larger image.


Gerald Ponsonby Lenox-Conyngham


Full index of



John Edensor Littlewood
Brasses A-B Brasses C-G Brasses H-K Brasses L-P Brasses R-S Brasses T-W