William Kelly (1821-1906): Biblical Literalist, Conservative Intellectual, and Mystic

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Anne-Louise Critchlow


In this thesis I consider the life and work of William Kelly, a Brethren theologian who was a leader of the Moderate Exclusive Brethren movement.I have analysed his beliefs and his influence amongst the Brethren and the wider Victorian Christian world. In particular, I have used articles, both those by other Brethren writers which Kelly edited, and the many articles he wrote himself as contributions to The Bible Treasury, a published monthly magazine which he edited between 1856 and 1906. I have considered his books of Biblical exegesis and his tracts and pamphlets on other subjects.While Kelly also edited the work of John Nelson Darby (1880-1882), I have contended that Kelly was an independent theologian in his own right and not just an indiscriminate follower of Darby's teaching. I have examined Kelly's lively and scholarly appraisal of the German 'School of Higher Criticism' and its commentary on Anglican and non-conformist theologians of his period with whom he disagreed. Kelly's work is worthy of study because his Biblical exegesis was meticulous and scholarly and demonstrated his understanding of each book within the context of the wider Biblical text.In keeping with the title of my thesis, I propose that Kelly's teaching was nuanced and cannot easily be stereotyped. In describing him as a Biblical literalist, I have chosen to focus on the key topics of 'the Atonement' and 'the After-Life', as these were considered to be controversial topics amongst Victorian theologians and Kelly referred to them throughout his teaching. In defining him partly as a conservative intellectual, I examine his broader understanding of Biblical language and literary form, his assessment of the philosophical foundations of criticism, and his response to German and English trends in Biblical criticism. I also consider his mystic theology with regard to the church and the teaching of the Epistles and the way his own writing encapsulates his interpretation of the Biblical text. Finally, I have come to some overall conclusions about how we can assess William Kelly, the characteristics of his theology and his place within the continuum of Brethren theology and of a broader Christian tradition.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • William Gregory (Supervisor)
  • Graham Johnson (Supervisor)
Award date31 Dec 2015