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Some are called to Teach – Distinguished Alum J. Michael Efird

by Louisville Seminary | May 19, 2011
A passion for biblical scholarship and teaching was ignited in The Rev. Dr. James Michael “Mickey” Efird (BD ’58) while a student at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

That excitement led him to a post at Duke University Divinity School, which he held from 1958 to 2006. There were people at Louisville Seminary who saw in him a gift for teaching, and they helped open doors for graduate school. Louisville Seminary, where he also was invited to do some basic-level teaching while a student, was the catalyst for a long career in academia, he said.

Dr. Efird’s contribution to biblical scholarship and teaching was honored recently, when he was named a Louisville Seminary 2011 Distinguished Alum. The award was presented at a luncheon, Tuesday, May 2, as part of the 2011 Festival of Theology and Reunion events, hosted on the campus, May 1-4.

The award recognizes graduates who, through their ministries and vocations, have influenced the Church and society and enhanced the mission of Louisville Seminary.

Efird enrolled at Louisville Seminary in 1954 after earning his degree from Davidson College. His intention was to become a pastor after graduation, yet a Louisville Seminary professor connected him with a scholarship opportunity to study in the doctoral program at Duke.

Efird, a native of Kannapolis, N.C., began teaching in the Duke Divinity School while a Ph.D. student. His passion for the academy blossomed, and in 1962, he was called as a full-time faculty member, focusing on Greek and biblical studies.

Efird taught thousands of students over the years, and most seminarians at Duke say Dr. Efird is their favorite Bible teacher, combining the knowledge of a scholar with communication skills that make his teaching easy to understand. A love for teaching and equipping students still remains strong, said Efird, professor Emeritus of Biblical Interpretation. “Preparing the next generation of pastors and theologians is so critical for the church and the world,” added Efird, who taught 12 students that went on to become United Methodist Church Bishops.

Recognized as both an Old Testament and New Testament Scholar, Dr. Efird has published more than 60 articles and papers, many of which can be found in the Harper-Collins One Volume Bible Dictionary. He is the author of 14 books and projects, including The New Testament Writings: History, Literature, and Interpretation (1996), The Old Testament Writings: History, Literature, and Interpretation (1982), These Things Are Written: An Introduction to the Religious Ideas of the Bible (1978), Revelation for Today: An Apocalyptic Approach (1989), A Grammar for New Testament Greek (1990), End Times: Rapture, Antichrist and Millennium (1986), and the “Revelation: Hope in Times of Trial,” video series for Minding the Spirit Inc.

Ordained in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), for more than 50 years Efird also has served as an interim supply pastor for various churches. He is especially beloved for his Bible studies, which he has shared across denominations. Laypersons and clergy alike love the obvious passion he has for the Bible, the way he interacts with his audience, and his rare gift for explaining the Bible to them so they can understand how the ancients understood the scriptures as well as how the texts can become applicable to contemporary life. Efird continues to teach in the United Methodist Church’s Course of Study program, in which he began in 1966, and he is very active in Duke’s Divinity School Lay Academy program and in churches in North Carolina and elsewhere.

“It is about making the Bible plain and understandable for everyone, from the pastor to the person in the pew,” Efird said.

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2011 Distinguished Alum awards were also presented to Chaplain Colonel Brenson P. Bishop (’95); The Rev. James H. Brown (’58), and The Rev. Dr. Willa Fae Williams ('93).

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