Ralph W. Klein, beloved LSTC professor for decades, dies

December 31, 2021

Ralph W. Klein, 85, Christ Seminary-Seminex professor emeritus of Old Testament at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC), died Dec. 29. He was a beloved professor, pastor, social service volunteer, golf and tennis enthusiast, journal editor and scholar. Klein helped to shape the lives and ministries of countless pastors, scholars, and church leaders. His funeral is Saturday, Jan. 8, 10 a.m., at Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Church, 9401 S. Oakley Chicago. Face masks are required. Online streaming will be available at https://www.asimplestreaming.com/rklein. Visitation is Friday, Jan. 7, 3-8 p.m. at Donnellan Funeral Home, 10525 S. Western Ave. Chicago, and at the church Saturday, Jan. 8, from 9 a.m. until the time of the service.

“Ralph Klein was a pillar of the seminary. He generously and enthusiastically participated in its mission of raising up visionary leaders for the ELCA and the global church,” said Esther Menn, dean of academic affairs and Ralph W. and Marilyn R. Klein professor of Old Testament/Hebrew Bible. “He was a brilliant scholar, a person of moral integrity, and a humble servant of Christ who touched so many lives in his roles as teacher, scholar, leader, and friend. We miss him greatly, even as we celebrate the gift of his life. Personally, it is an honor to be the first holder of the chair that Marilyn, Ralph, and others are endowing to support the teaching of scripture at LSTC.” 

A member of the faculty since 1983, Klein served as a professor through 2009. His faculty colleague Klaus-Peter Adam, professor of Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, said, “Ralph was an internationally- recognized scholar in Bible who was remarkably familiar with European, American, and global scholarship. He personified excellence through his historical, source, and text-critical expertise. His rigor and creativity in the classroom were matched by his deep and ample humor, which came from a generous, warm personality.” 

Klein was dean at LSTC from 1988-99 and again in the spring semester of 2005. Kadi Billman, John H. Tietjen professor emerita of pastoral ministry, recalls that “Ralph Klein exhibited extraordinary leadership as LSTC’s academic dean for 11 fruitful years, helping LSTC navigate many changes. During Ralph’s tenure as dean, Christ Seminary-Seminex faculty became key members of the LSTC faculty, and the Seminex legacy influenced new generations of students. Ralph’s stature as a scholar and skill as an administrator attracted a new generation of faculty members to the school; he took pleasure in encouraging and administratively supporting faculty scholarship, and in times of crisis he was a pastor to faculty members and also to many students. He was the first to embrace educational technology and to encourage faculty members to become adept in new ventures in teaching and learning.” 

Prior to joining the seminary’s faculty, Klein was professor and chair of the department of exegetical theology at Christ Seminary-Seminex, St. Louis, Mo.; assistant professor at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis; and an instructor at Concordia Senior College, Fort Wayne, Ind. Reflecting on Klein’s contributions prior to coming to LSTC, Kurt Hendel, Bernard, Fischer, Westberg distinguished ministry professor emeritus of reformation history, notes that “Dr. Klein was a leading and influential proponent of the historical-critical study of Scripture, the ecumenical movement, and the ordination of women, all of which inspired significant debate and division within the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod during the 1960s and 1970s. He was also an ardent supporter of the civil rights movement and a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War. His faculty leadership role continued when he joined the majority of his colleagues and students in forming Concordia Seminary in Exile (Christ Seminary-Seminex) in February 1974.” 

A pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Klein shared his gifts with the church at large. He was a member of the St. Louis Task Force on Soviet Jewry, a member of the stewardship committee for the Metropolitan Chicago Synod, ELCA, and a member and chair of the board of directors of the social policies committee of Lutheran Family and Children’s Services, St. Louis, among other commitments. Regarding his work in support of inclusion of partnered gay and lesbian clergy in the ELCA, Klein’s colleague Barbara Rossing, professor of New Testament, said, “Ralph’s gift was to affirm the authority of scripture while also advocating for the blessing of same-sex relationships. In 2009, we organized more than 300 teaching theologians to sign our co-authored public statement of affirmation of full inclusion of partnered gay and lesbian clergy at a crucial moment for the ELCA. It was an honor to work with him on that and many other biblical projects.” 

Klein founded and chaired the Chronicles-Ezra-Nehemiah Group for the Society of Biblical Literature and served on the Commission on Accrediting of the Association of Theological Schools and as a member and chair of visiting accreditation teams to other seminaries. In 2016, in recognition of his lifetime scholarly achievements, he was awarded the title of Honorary President of the Chicago Society of Biblical Research. 

Klein authored more than 1,300 books, book reviews, and short notices. His notable books include Textual Criticism of the Old Testament; Israel in Exile: A Theological Interpretation; 1 Samuel: Word Biblical Commentary; Ezekiel: The Prophet and His Message; Ezra-Nehemiah: New Interpreter’s Bible; and Chronicles, Volumes 1 and 2: Hermeneia Commentary. He served as editor of Currents in Theology and Mission and as associate editor of the Catholic Biblical Quarterly for many years. Klein wrote for many publications, including Christian Century, Concordia Theological Monthly, Currents in Theology and Mission, Harvard Theological Review, Interpretation, Journal of Biblical Literature, Journal of Hebrew Scriptures, Word and World, and the Zeitschrift fuer die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft. While curator of the Gruber Rare Books Collection at LSTC, Klein facilitated as a moral and ecumenical sign the repatriation to Greece of an invaluable 9th to 10th century Byzantine New Testament Manuscript 1424.  

Klein received a bachelor of arts degree from Concordia Senior College, Fort Wayne, and a master of divinity degree from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. At Harvard University, he received the doctor of theology degree and was a Teaching Fellow and Rockefeller Fellow. He also studied at the University of Michigan, Ecole Biblique, Jerusalem; Cambridge University; as Humboldt Fellow at the University of Göttingen, Kirchliche Hochschule, Berlin; and Marburg University. 

He is survived by his wife of 60 years Marilyn (nee Kieninger), daughters Martha (Michael) Conway and Becky (John) Klein-Collins, and grandsons Patrick and Daniel Conway and Luke, Seth, and Jonah Klein-Collins. 

The family has requested that memorials be made to Bethlehem Lutheran Church; LSTC for the Ralph W. and Marilyn R. Klein Chair in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible; and Lutheran World Relief. 


Cheryl Hoth

Assistant to the Dean of Academic Affairs


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