R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the seminary, said of Watts, “John D.W. Watts was both an Old Testament scholar and the son of an Old Testament scholar, and the Watts family represents at least two generations of seminary professors within the Southern Baptist Convention. Dr. Watts played a significant role in several Baptist institutions and was a member of the Southern Seminary faculty for many years. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Watts family.”
Born in August of 1921 in Laurens, South Carolina, Watts spent his childhood in Palestine with his missionary parents and his youth in New Orleans, La., where his father served on the faculty of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
In 1946, he married Winifred Lee Williams. The two served with the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board — now called the International Mission Board — from 1948 to 1970 and from 1972 to 1975. Watts was professor of Old Testament at International Baptist Theological Seminary in Rüschlikon, Switzerland, where he also served as president from 1963 to 1969. He then served on the faculty of Serampore College in Serampore, India (1972-75), Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., (1976-1981) and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., (1981-95).
Watts earned a bachelor’s degree from Mississippi College and bachelor of divinity and doctor of theology from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He was the Old Testament Editor of the Word Biblical Commentary. His books included Vision and Prophecy in Amos (1958; revised 1996), Studying the Book of Amos (1966), Basic Patterns in Old Testament Religion (1971), How We Got the Bible (2011), with contributions to the Broadman Bible Commentary (1970-72) and several commentaries on Old Testament books.
He was honored with two festschrift collections of essays by colleagues and students, Forming Prophetic Literature: Essays on Isaiah and the Twelve (ed. J. W. Watts and P. R. House, 1996) and a special issue of Perspectives in Religious Studies (ed. P. J. Scalise, 2008). In 1995, he retired to Penney Farms, Fla., where he lived with Lee until her death in February 2011.
He is survived by his children, Cheryl, Reid, Clare and Jim, as well as seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. The family will hold a memorial service at the Penney Farms Retirement Community on a date to-be-determined in September. The family requests donations of sympathy to Heifer International.