In Memoriam: John Sailhamer (1946-2017)

By Dr. Josh Mathews

Yesterday morning I heard the news that John Sailhamer has passed away. Dr. Sailhamer taught Old Testament at Western for several years, and many in the Western community have been impacted significantly by his friendship and teaching. He had been battling Parkinson’s disease and was cared for faithfully by his sweet wife, Patty. Though we rejoice that his suffering is over, we are also deeply saddened by his death.

I first met John in 1998 when he taught a semester-long class on the Pentateuch at my church. His approach to Scripture left an immediate and lasting impression on my own understanding of the Bible. After that spring I tried to find and read all he had written, took a summer class with him at Western, sought coffee meetings with him whenever our paths crossed, and did my PhD studies under his supervision until he received the Parkinson’s diagnosis. In addition to many insights and illustrations from his classes and his writing, I will also never forget the wisdom he shared in conversations over lunch or while driving back and forth from the airport, or his godly career advice related to academics and church ministry

John was a brilliant scholar, able to work with texts in several languages and to dialogue expertly in a wide variety of disciplines. In some ways his views were unpopular, challenging the status quo and garnering criticism from portions of traditional evangelical scholarship on one side, and from the liberal academy on the other. And while he could, and did, engage in intense scholarly debate, I know of no one who can attest to anything other than a humble (even sometimes comically self-deprecating) winsomeness in his interactions. Anyone who has taken a class with him knows of his unique ability to communicate profound hermeneutical, exegetical, and theological ideas with humor and remarkable clarity. And the lasting impact of his contributions to scholarship is evident in the ubiquity of references to his work and ideas throughout the evangelical world today.

In all of this, what stands out as the driving force behind John’s gifted and diligent life of scholarship, was his love for God’s word and his heart for God’s people. He devoted his life’s efforts to serving the church and to communicating the gospel of Christ as it is proclaimed in all of Scripture.

We are grieved at his passing, and we also rejoice that he is now in the presence of the one he strove fervently to honor and to make known through his scholarship, teaching, and ministry.


Josh is from the Portland area and has lived there most of his life, other than a few years he spent elsewhere for his schooling. He has been involved in various ways in church ministry, and before joining Western’s faculty full time he served as associate pastor at a church in the Portland area. He and his wife, Stacy, have been married for ten years. Their four children range in ages from 7 to 2 years old and their names are Hallel, Simeon, Lita, and Silas.