Page H. Kelley: Old Testament Scholar and Devoted Baptist

By Mynatt, Daniel S. | Baptist History and Heritage, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

Page H. Kelley: Old Testament Scholar and Devoted Baptist


Mynatt, Daniel S., Baptist History and Heritage


Southern Baptists have not been known for producing internationally recognized scholars.

This probably has a lot to do with the love/hate relationship Baptists have had with their scholars in general; the Whitsitt Controversy comes to mind. (1) In Old Testament studies, Southern Baptists have likewise produced only a few scholars with a widespread reputation. For example, one of the most promising figures in Baptist Old Testament scholarship was Crawford H. Toy. He was part of the inaugural class of Southern Seminary in 1859, while the school was in Greenville, South Carolina, and he later taught at Southern Seminary for ten years (1869-79). (2) Unfortunately for Southern Baptists, however, Toy made his major contributions to the discipline after he departed Southern Seminary (under fire) for Harvard, and ironically, he is most widely remembered among Southern Baptists, not for his scholarship, but for his role as Lottie Moon's romantic interest! (3)

I will make the case in this article that Page Hutto Kelley should also be remembered for his considerable contributions to Old Testament scholarship. It was only at the end of his career that he began to publish primarily scholarly materials, and thus his contributions to the discipline are easily overshadowed by the previous decades when he kept a quiet profile as a dedicated professor and denominational servant. His scholarly activity should not be neglected.

Life Before Southern Seminary: 1924-59

Kelley was born on July 19, 1924. A biographical essay of his life, accenting his early years, will soon be published, and the reader should look there for many other interesting details. (4) He was born as the first of seven children to Roy and Jessie Kelley, who were tenant farmers in Geneva County, Alabama. As a result of his father's work, Kelley grew up all over Geneva County, which is in south Alabama perched atop the Florida panhandle. We could characterize the Kelleys as poor; Page once remarked to me about not always having shoes. In Depression-era south Alabama, however, they would have been among the middle class of rural farm workers. Joining the family for a while was Kelley's great grandfather on his mother's side who had been part of the Confederate Army with Lee which surrendered to Grant at Appomattox.

Roy Kelley became ill in 1938, and Page, as the eldest son, now in high school, took over work on the farm. He was unable to attend school regularly for a year and did his lessons by night. Roy later died, and although the exact culprit was not known, Page speculated that it was cancer of some sort. He made ends meet through a newspaper delivery route and selling peanuts at ball games all the while running the farm.

In 1941, Kelley entered Howard College in Birmingham (now Samford University). During his college years he served as assistant pastor of Hunter Street Baptist Church in Birmingham and pastor of Verbena Baptist Church. He graduated from Howard in 1945 and went on to Southern Seminary. Riding on the same train with him from Dothan to Louisville was Vernice Macintosh, a classmate whom Page had met in a Shakespeare class. She planned to attend the WMU training school. Page and Vernice married two years later in 1947. During the years Kelley worked on his B.D. degree, he pastored Livonia Baptist Church in southern Indiana. He graduated in 1948 and entered the Th.D. program at Southern the same year. He also moved to become pastor of the Tea Creek Baptist Church, North Vernon, Indiana.

The year 1952 was a busy one for the Kelley family. Page gave up his pastorate so he could finish his dissertation. He also taught Hebrew at Southern. But, more significantly, in July 1952, Page, Vernice, and their infant daughter sailed to Brazil to begin work as missionaries. After completing language school in 1953, Kelley taught Old Testament and Hebrew at the Baptist Seminary in Rio de Janeiro from 1953-59. …

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