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‘Red Top’ Owens, former prof at Southern Seminary, dies

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–A longtime Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor known for his mastery of biblical languages as well as his nickname has passed away.

John Joseph Owens, known simply as “Red Top” to friends because of his hair color, died July 8. Owens, 83, was professor of Old Testament for more than four decades at Southern Seminary, teaching from 1942 until his retirement in 1984. He continued teaching as a senior professor and emeritus professor years after his retirement.

The funeral will be held at 1:30 p.m. Eastern time July 11 at Louisville’s Crescent Hill Baptist Church where he was a member. He is survived by his wife, Mary Frances Owens; two daughters, Kay Healey and Sue McGeary; and a son, Tim Owens.

He was proficient in at least 10 foreign languages, but his specialty was the Semitic languages — especially Hebrew. After retirement he wrote “Analytical Key to the Old Testament,” a massive four-volume set still used by Southern Seminary students. In it he parses every Hebrew word in the Old Testament. Owens was also the author of the Broadman Bible Commentaries on Numbers, Daniel and Job.

“He was our No. 1 linguist in Hebrew, Aramaic and all the related Semitic languages for 40 years,” said Wayne Ward, a former Southern Seminary professor who taught alongside Owens but also sat under him as a student. “When he retired, he [was still] our No. 1 linguist.”

Owens wanted seminary students to keep their linguistic skills for life. In a 1990 issue of the Southern Seminary publication “The Tie,” he told why he was spending so much of his retirement working on “Analytical Key to the Old Testament,” noting that it was written for the average Hebrew student.

“It’s to help the person who has had a little Hebrew and needs the undergirding of an analytical key,” he said.

Owens said in the same interview he was enjoying his retirement.

“I didn’t realize it would be this much fun or I’d have retired earlier,” he said.

He and his wife took frequent ship cruises to such places as Alaska, Hawaii and the Caribbean. Together they also taught a Sunday School class at Crescent Hill.

“His class was a congregation within itself,” Ward said.

Owens received his bachelor’s degree from Oklahoma Baptist University and his master’s and doctorate degrees from Southern Seminary.

Owens’ friends knew at an early age he was a brilliant man. He entered Oklahoma Baptist University at age 13 and Southern Seminary at age 18. Incredibly, he earned his doctor of theology at age 24.

“He was kind of a teenage prodigy,” Ward said. “He finished Oklahoma Baptist University — where his father was a professor — at age 16. That’s about the time that most people are going into their junior year in high school.”

Before enrolling at Southern Seminary, Owens had already taught college classes in Spanish, Greek and German.

But Owens also was known for his athletic skills. Ward said Owens was easily the top golfer among Southern’s faculty.

Owens was talented on the basketball court as well, playing for the professional Cincinnati Camellos while a seminary student. Ward said Owens’ specialty was at the free-throw line, where he shot underhanded and could hit dozens in a row.

“He became the sensational free-throw shooter [for the team],” Ward said. “He would put on a show…. He just scooped it up there.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: JOHN JOSEPH OWENS.

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  • Michael Foust