Johns, Alger Francis (1918–1972)
By Sabrina Riley
Sabrina Riley was born in Auburn, New York and raised in Dowagiac, Michigan. She received a B.A. in history from Andrews University and an M.A. in information and libraries studies from the University of Michigan. Riley was a member of Andrews University’s library staff from 1998 to 2003, library director and college archivist at Union College from 2003 to 2016, and is presently a freelance researcher, author, and information professional.
First Published: November 1, 2022
Alger Francis Johns was an Adventist pastor, educator, scholar, and author.
Born February 23, 1918, in Kansas City, Missouri, United States, Alger F. Johns was the eldest son of Varner J. Johns, Sr. (1890-1982) and Ruby Charlene Morrison (1892-1973). Ruby was the daughter of Elder James Harvey Morrison. Varner J. Johns, Sr. was a lifelong Adventist minister who served as a pastor in many locations throughout the Midwest and western United States, briefly as a pastor in Brazil, and as the Minnesota Conference president. Alger was named after an uncle, Alger Herbert Johns, who was an Adventist pastor, administrator, and champion of religious liberty. Alger’s two younger brothers also served the Adventist Church: Varner J., Jr. as chief of internal medicine, chief of cardiology, and associate dean of the Loma Linda University School of Medicine; and Warren L. as chief counsel to the General Conference.1
Varner Johns, Sr. and his mother Catherine joined the Adventist Church in 1907, when he was 17 years old. Elder G. W. Anglebarger had held a series of evangelistic meetings in 1904 in their hometown of Denver, Colorado, which the Johns family attended. The meetings were considered a failure, however, in that no baptisms occurred at that time. But the seeds were planted and the Johns family later joined the church. The “seeds” multiplied as Catherine eventually convinced a neighbor to also join the church. That neighbor was H. A. Vandeman, father of George Vandeman. The “seeds” continued to multiply from that one “failed” series of meetings. Both Vandemans became ordained ministers, and George went on to found the It Is Written television ministry in 1956.2
Education and Family
Alger F. Johns graduated from Maplewood Academy in 1935 as valedictorian of his class. Unbeknownst to him, this is where he would meet his future wife, Genevieve C. Carpenter. They sat next to each other in a typing class, but being three years apart in school, it led to no romance at the time. Johns then attended Union College (1935-1936) before graduating from Southern California Junior College (now La Sierra University) in 1937, again valedictorian of his class. He next graduated with a Bachelors of Arts degree from Pacific Union College in 1939. In 1949, he completed a Master of Arts from the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary. 3 He received his doctorate from Johns Hopkins University in 1958 under the supervision of Dr. William F. Albright, the leading biblical archeologist of the twentieth century, with a dissertation entitled “The Chaldean Kings of Babylonia.”4
Johns reconnected with Genevieve Carpenter after he read an announcement about her employment by the Wisconsin Conference in late 1940.5 They married in Glendale, California, on June 22, 1941. The Johnses had three sons, Warren and Jerry, who both became ministers, followed by a third son, Gordon, who broke the family tradition and became an ophthalmologist.6
Johns became a ministerial intern for the Southeastern California Conference in 1939. He held evangelistic meetings in Lakeside, California, in 1939-1940 and then in Blythe, California, in 1940-1941, all the while courting Genevieve Carpenter. Following their marriage, he served as a pastor in Ogden, Utah, (1942-1943) at which time he was ordained to the ministry,7 before accepting a call from the mission board to teach at Middle East College, Beirut, Lebanon, in 1944.8 Prior to embarking on their mission service, he attended Potomac University (Theological Seminary) for language study. While in Lebanon, an unfortunate accident resulted in Genevieve sustaining severe burns that required permanent return to the United States in 1945 for medical treatment. Upon returning to the United States, Johns served as pastor in Santa Ana, California, (1946-1947) and then Bible teacher at San Diego Union Academy (1947-1949).9 In the autumn of 1949, Johns become a Bible teacher at La Sierra College, while serving as associate pastor of the college’s church.10 During this period of time, he remotely pursued his Master of Theology degree from the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary with summer classwork in Takoma Park.
In 1954, Johns moved to Washington, D.C. He assisted in editing the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, and wrote the commentary on the book of James. The next year, he began teaching at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary.11 During this time, he also pursued his doctorate at Johns Hopkins University. Genevieve worked first in the school business office and later as secretary for two faculty members.
Johns and his family moved to Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, when the seminary was relocated there in 1959. He held the position of professor of Old Testament literature and exegesis. His favorite courses to teach were the exegesis of the books of Isaiah and Daniel. At Andrews University, Genevieve worked the admissions office.
Johns’s publications include a number of articles written for laity and professional organizations. His legacy includes A Short Grammar of Biblical Aramaic,12 first published in 1963, which continues to be used as a textbook by major seminaries. At the time of publication, it was unique in its comparative study of biblical Hebrew and biblical Aramaic.13 A supplemental work was derived from it in 2003, An Annotated Answer Key to Alger Johns's a Short Grammar of Biblical Aramaic.14 His one major publication in an Old Testament journal was on Nebuchadnezzar’s strategy of making Sabbath attacks on Jerusalem, when the Jews refused to defend themselves by fighting on their sacred day.15 Johns utilized a perpetual astronomical calendar of lunar observations to date historical records made both by Jews and Babylonians in the early sixth century B.C. By this unique method, he determined that all three attacks by Nebuchadnezzar took place on a Saturday/Sabbath. He also argued that Nebuchadnezzar’s final attack occurred on July 29, 587 B.C., although other scholars continue to believe 586 B.C. is correct. The latter date was defended by Edwin Thiele in his doctoral dissertation.
Johns died in St. Joseph, Michigan, on April 16, 1972, at age 54. His untimely death came as a result of chronic hepatitis, most likely contracted while on a tour of the Middle East Holy Lands in the summer of 1959.
Works by Alger F. Johns16
A Short Grammar of Biblical Aramaic: Volume I of the Andrews University Monograph Series, 1963.
Commentary on the Book of James for the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Volume 7.
“The Jewish Temple in the Days of the Early Persian Kings.” M.A. Thesis. Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Takoma Park, Maryland, 1949.
“The Chaldean Kings of Babylon: A Political History of the Neo-Babylonian Empire.” Ph.D. Dissertation. Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, 1958.
“Rebuilding the Ruins.” Signs of the Times, September 16, 1941.
“Medical Missionary Course Values.” Ministry, January 1943.
“When God Asks Questions.” ARH, January 22, 1953.
“Spirits – Yesterday and Today.” MV Program Kit, p. 29-33, Spring 1953.
“The Riddle on the Wall.” Ministry, October 1956.
Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary contributions [entries unknown]. Review and Herald, Washington, D.C., 1960.
“The Feet of Clay.” Ministry, February 1961.
“The Presentation of Ezekiel 38 in Evangelism, Part I.” Ministry, August 1962.
“The Presentation of Ezekiel 38 in Evangelism, Part II.” Ministry, September 1962.
“The Military Strategy of Sabbath Attacks on the Jews.” Vetus Testamentum 13:482-485, 1963, (read as a paper at Society of Biblical Literature meeting in New York, December 1962).
“A Note on Isaiah 45:9.” Andrews University Seminary Studies 1:62, 1963.
“The Military Strategy of Sabbath Attacks on the Jews.” Ministry, August 1964 (reprinted from Vetus Testamentum 13:482, 1963).
“Did David Use Assyrian-Type Annals?.” Andrews University Seminary Studies 3:97, 1965.
“Book Review of ‘Literature Evangelism’ by George Verwer, Moody Press.” Ministry, October 1965.
“Book Review of ‘A Short History of Ancient Near East’ by Siegfried Schwantes.” Ministry 1967.
“From Sovereign to Saint, Part I.” Ministry, July 1967.
“From Sovereign to Saint, Part II.” Ministry, August 1967.
“Treasure of Qumran: My Story of the Dead Sea Scrolls, by Athanasius Samuel.” Andrews University Seminary Studies 6:123-124, 1968.
“Down with the Decalogue.” Youth’s Instructor, May 28, 1968.
“King Jehoiakim’s Rebellion against Nebuchadnezzar.” Paper read at Society of Oriental Research, Berkeley, California, December 1968.
“The Times of Isaiah.” ARH, January 21, 1971.
“Applying Isaiah’s Message to Our Times.” ARH, January 28, 1971.
“Personal Enemy Number One.” ARH, August 30, 1973 (published posthumously).
“Alger Francis Johns obituary.” ARH, July 6, 1972.
“Alger Johns obituary.” Herald Palladium (Benton Harbor, Michigan), April 17, 1972. Accessed September 28, 2022. Newspapers.com.
Dick, E. D. “Missionary Departures.” ARH, May 18, 1944.
Dick, E. D. “Theological Seminary Moves Forward.” ARH, November 17, 1955.
Johns, Alger F. “The Chaldean Kings of Babylonia.” Ph.D. diss., Johns Hopkins University, 1959.
Johns, Alger F. “The Jewish Temple in the Days of the Early Persian Kings.” M.A. thesis, Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, 1949.
Johns, Alger F. “The Military Strategy of Sabbath Attacks on the Jews.” Vetus Testamentum (1963): 482-486.
Johns, Alger F. A Short Grammar of Biblical Aramaic. Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 1963.
Running, Leona G. “Review of A Short Grammar of Biblical Aramaic by Alger F. Johns.” Andrews University Seminary Studies 5, no. 2 (1967): 206-207.
Running, Leona Glidden, Siegfried H. Horn, Alger F. Johns, Robert Leo Odom, and J. R. Zurcher. Mesopotamian Chronology. N.p., 1969.
Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook. Takoma Park, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1944-1972.
“Varner J. Johns obituary.” ARH, October 28, 1982.
“Varner J. Johns obituary,” ARH, October 28, 1982, 23. Unless otherwise noted, information in this article is the personal knowledge of Warren Johns and Gordon Johns as Alger Johns’s sons.↩
Personal knowledge of Warren Johns and Gordon Johns. Compare with “Herbert Allen Vandeman obituary,” ARH, April 29, 1948, 20.↩
Alger F. Johns, “The Jewish Temple in the Days of the Early Persian Kings” (MA thesis, Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary. 1949).↩
Alger F. Johns, “The Chaldean Kings of Babylonia” (Ph.D. diss., Johns Hopkins University, 1959).↩
T. E. Unruh, “Changes in Office Staff,” Lake Union Herald, December 24, 1940, 3.↩
“Alger Johns obituary,” Herald Palladium (Benton Harbor, Michigan), April 17, 1972, 18, accessed September 28, 2022, Newspapers.com.↩
Personal knowledge of Warren Johns and Gordon Johns.↩
E. D. Dick, “Missionary Departures,” ARH, May 18, 1944, 24; “Beruit College,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Takoma Park, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1945), 217.↩
“San Diego Union Academy,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Takoma Park, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1949), 282↩
“La Sierra College,” Pacific Union Recorder, September 1, 1952, 8;↩
E. D. Dick, “Theological Seminary Moves Forward,” ARH, November 17, 1955, 19.↩
Alger F. Johns, A Short Grammar of Biblical Aramaic (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 1963).↩
Leona G. Running, “Review of A Short Grammar of Biblical Aramaic by Alger F. Johns,” Andrews University Seminary Studies 5, no. 2 (1967): 206-207.↩
James N. Jumper and Alger F. Johns, An Annotated Answer Key to Alger Johns's a Short Grammar of Biblical Aramaic (Berrien Springs MI: Andrews University Press, 2003).↩
Alger F. Johns, “The Military Strategy of Sabbath Attacks on the Jews,” Vetus Testamentum 13:482-485, 1963.↩
The list of Alger F. Johns’s works was prepared by Warren Johns and Gordon Johns.↩