Sacred Search: 29-Year Bible Hunt Ends in Answer

Article excerpt

IN THE QUIET basement of a Lutheran church in St. Louis County, an adult Bible class discussed the 16th chapter of The Acts of the Apostles. Near the end of class, Harry Fisher leaned across the discussion table. Why does the voice in the narrative abruptly change from "they" to "we"? he asked.

Silence. No one had an answer.

It was the kind of esoteric question that vanishes from most minds in an instant. In Fisher's, it stuck.

Fisher, a lawyer and Presbyterian, wrote to a theologian. No answer. He visited a seminary. No answer.

That was in 1966. Now, after a 29-year hunt - a hunt that took him to rare books, Greek and Hebrew classes and even to Jerusalem - Fisher thinks he has solved his puzzle. His answer is in a 156-page booklet in a plastic binder. He's mailing 100 copies to religious scholars, seminary presidents, lawyers and other Bible sleuths.

Fisher, 64, may be in a league of his own when it comes to religious studies. Many people take Bible courses. Some even get advanced degrees. But few lay people spend as much time engaged in such study as Fisher did.

"I think it is just wonderful," said Douglas G. Baird, dean of the University of Chicago Law School, who got a copy of Fisher's text a week ago. "He gives lawyers a good name."

Fisher was reared in Minnesota, Arkansas and Iowa, the son of a Presbyterian minister and Sunday school teacher. He skipped his senior year at the high school in Cedar Groves, Iowa, to enroll at the University of Chicago. He graduated in two years. Then he went to the University of Chicago Law School and got his law degree at 21. He joined the Air Force, which sent him to court, where he tried 206 criminal cases in less than four years - more than many trial lawyers try in 20 years.

He came here in 1957 and worked for a law firm now called the Stolar Partnership. He wrote legislation and worked as a lobbyist.c After six years, he joined professional campaign manager Lemoine Skinner and later founded Stemmler, Fisher & Associates.

Fisher wrote speeches and legislative proposals and organized public events in 39 campaigns, including those for John Danforth's attorney general and Senate races, Joseph L. Badaracco's Board of Aldermen and governor races and Howard Ohlendorf's congressional races. He became editor of the Regional Commerce & Growth Association's Commerce Magazine.

He'd promised himself that he'd retire at 55 so he could find more time to study the Gospel of Luke and The Acts of the Apostles. He missed the goal by a year, retiring in 1988. He was sure he was headed for discovery.

"If you were traveling in the Sierra Nevadas and saw something glinting in the sun, where there was only supposed to be trees and rock, and if you climbed and found a handful of gold dust, would you keep digging?" he said by way of explanation for his 29-year exploration.

For years, he lost sleep, pouring over footnotes in erudite Bible studies. He read works by 17th-century German scholars. Impatient with the fuzzy language in various English translations, he learned Greek. That enabled him to read the original words of Acts and the Gospel of Luke. …