Remembering Bill Klassen

Published: April 15, 2019

William (Bill) Klassen, Ph.D., who was a New Testament professor in 1958 when Mennonite Biblical Seminary (one of the seminaries that formed AMBS) began on the Elkhart, Indiana, campus, died Jan. 29 in Waterloo, Ontario. A memorial service / celebration of life was held April 14 in Waterloo.

Bill served AMBS from 1958 to 1967. AMBS Professor Emeritus of New Testament Willard Swartley, Ph.D., recalls, “Bill Klassen left AMBS before I came in 1978, but he took special interest in me as his successor in promoting biblical peace studies. He encouraged me many times in developing peace studies among Mennonite biblical scholars, which took form through the Institute of Mennonite Studies’ development of a series, Studies in Peace and Scripture (SPS), with Volume 16 soon to be published. I am happy to say ‘thank you’ to Bill for paving the way for this important field of scholarship, to which he contributed numerous books and articles. My book Covenant of Peace: The Missing Peace in New Testament Theology and Ethics (Vol. 9 in SPS; Eerdmans, 2006) has 22 William Klassen entries. Bill also recommended me for membership in the Society for New Testament Studies (SNTS), a gateway requirement for membership.”


William (Bill) Klassen
1930 – 2019

After 88 years of a joyous life filled with exuberance, love of family and friends, and a passion for learning and teaching, Bill Klassen died after a brief illness late Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019, at Parkwood Mennonite Home in Waterloo, Ontario. Bill was born May 18, 1930, as the middle child in a family of 15 children next to the U.S. border in the small farming community of Halbstadt, Manitoba.
Bill will be missed and his memory cherished by Dona Harvey, his wife of 41 years, and his children, Tyler (and wife Mary) of Goshen, Indiana; Kirsten of Elkhart, Indiana; and Karis of Indianapolis, Indiana; and granddaughters Sara of Goshen and Anya of Indianapolis. He will also be missed by his remaining siblings, Marie, Ed (Anne), Elsa, Katherine, Ernst, Susanna, John (Alice), Charles (Margaret), Stanley (Lona) and Victor, and by sister-in-law Helen and many loving friends, nieces and nephews. He is also survived by his first wife and mother of his children, Marilyn Horst Klassen of Elkhart, Indiana. Bill was predeceased by his parents, David (D.D.) and Susan Klassen, by sisters Anna and Henrietta, and by brothers Aaron and Paul.
Bill grew up in Homewood, Manitoba, and graduated from the Mennonite Collegiate Institute in Gretna, Manitoba, and Goshen (Indiana) College. He earned his Bachelor of Divinity from Goshen Biblical Seminary and his doctorate in New Testament from Princeton (New Jersey) Theological Seminary. He taught at Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana, and was head of the Department of Religion at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg and Director of Development at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia. He served as Dean of the Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem, and then as Director of Development at University College at the University of Toronto. From 1989 to 1995, he served as Principal of St. Paul’s United College at the University of Waterloo. Over the decades, he led many student groups to Israel, the West Bank, Gaza and elsewhere in the Middle East.
After retiring, Bill raised funds globally to renovate the world-famous library of the École Biblique in Jerusalem and founded the Canadian Friends of the École Biblique to provide scholarships for Canadian graduate students wishing to study the Bible in the land of its birth.

He is the author of Judas: Betrayer or Friend of Jesus and served as a consultant on the National Geographic Society Team on the Gospel of Judas. He appeared on a number of television documentaries related to Judas: the National Geographic, History and Discovery channels, Arts and Entertainment and Britain’s ITV. He authored numerous books on peace and forgiveness and, with friend and colleague Walter Klaassen, spent years exploring the life and work of Pilgram Marpeck, a leader in the early Anabaptist movement.
Bill delighted in cooking and baking (known for his bread and granola), as well as playing tennis, golf, squash and racquetball, plus fishing, cross-country and downhill skiing. He also loved singing and listening to classical music.
An ordained minister in the Mennonite Church and United Church of Canada, Bill served as interim minister at First United Church in Waterloo and Dublin Street United in Guelph, Ontario, and as associate minister and, more recently, minister emeritus at his home congregation, Westminster United Church in Waterloo.
Bill’s family wishes to thank the staff, residents and friends of Parkwood Mennonite Home for their companionship and loving care of Bill for the past year. A memorial service and celebration of his life will be held Palm Sunday afternoon, April 14, 2019, at 2 p.m. at Westminster United Church in Waterloo under the auspices of Erb & Good Family Funeral Home.  In lieu of flowers, donations in remembrance of Bill may be made to Parkwood Mennonite Home, Westminster United Church or the Canadian Friends of the École Biblique by contacting the funeral home at or 519-745-8445.

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