Monday, July 20, 2009

Graham Stanton

Graham Stanton died early on Saturday morning. Tommy suggested I write something for the blog, but I have struggled to know what to write. Graham was such a major influence on my professional life, and it has been a sad kind of blessing to recall some of our interactions and encounters over the last twenty years.
Graham was the editor of NTS who accepted one of my first published articles (on Mark 1.1 in 1989); he was Professor of NT at King's College London while I was at Oak Hill and welcomed my contributions to NT seminars there between 1990 and 1998 and encouraged me to do more work on the early papyri; he had moved to Cambridge to take up the Lady Margaret Chair when in 1999 he urged me to apply for a job in Cambridge and then became a senior colleague (and part boss).
If this sounds like the story is about me, then I'm sorry, that is what Graham was like. Even in the last few months a conversation with Graham would go along predictable lines: "don't worry about me - how are you getting on? how is Fiona?, how are the kids? how is the lecturing going? have you made any new discoveries recently?" He was not a self-important man. He was a humble one. A born teacher and an encourager of others - he looked out not for his own interests, but the interests of others.
One example which I always appreciated was in 2001, my second year of teaching in the faculty. Graham was planning a sabbatical and asked me if I would take on his (beloved!) Paul lectures. I really appreciated the trust he had in me, and not only that but after thinking about it for a week or two I mentioned that I was planning to structure the course completely differently (despite his 30 years of experience)! His reponse was pure encouragement - "fine, do what you think is best!"
Another example illustrates something of his character for me. I had long been interested in his classic essay (his 2006 SNTS presidential address: 'The Fourfold Gospel' NTS 43 (1997), 317-346), but discovered what I thought were some problems in the work of T.C. Skeat on which he depended in that article. I mentioned once that there seemed to be some problems with Skeat's calculations; Graham asked me to write up the issue for him to consider; he read it and said - 'hmmm, this seems pretty persuasive, you must send this to NTS straight away' - no bluster, nothing negative, just encouragement to press ahead (even if it undermined an argument he depended on). I was privileged to offer a paper in Graham's honour at a special study day in Cambridge last year. Afterwards he wrote me:
I am very grateful to you for your contribution to the NT conference last Saturday. Your presentation was superb both from a content as well as an IT point of view. It was good to have your Skeat / Stanton demolition set out so clearly.
As a NT scholar Graham had a prevailing scholarly interest in central issues relating to Jesus and the Gospels, reflected in his books (Jesus of Nazareth in New Testament Preaching (1973); The Gospels and Jesus (1989, 2002); A Gospel for a New People (1992) Gospel Truth?: New Light on Jesus and the Gospels (1995); Jesus and Gospel (2004) - it is true that some of his colleagues felt that he could have at least tried to think of a more distinctive title for this book!). This scholarly interest relates to his own Christian faith - Graham believed that 'in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, God disclosed his purposes for his creation' (Gospel Truth?, 192); he believed (echoing 2 Cor 5) 'that in (or through) Christ crucified, God was reconciling the world to himself, no longer holding people's misdeeds against them. God has taken an initiative in love, forgiven our sins, reconciled us to himself, and thus transformed our lives. ' (500th anniversary sermon - notable for the appeal to P46 at 2 Cor 5.19!)

A full bibliography up to 2005 can be found in the Festschrift, edited by M. Bockmuehl and D. Hagner, The Written Gospel (Cambridge: CUP, 2005), 296-300. Some interesting autobiographical reflections can be read here.

There will be a Thanksgiving Service at 2.30 pm on Friday 24 July in Emmanuel United Reformed Church, Trumpington Street, Cambridge.

Up-date: Cambridge University posted a good obituary here. The Telegraph has also published an obituary [10th August] (the online version is unfortunately marked by at least three errors - which I have brought to their attention).
19th August: The Times has an excellent obituary today.
19th August: James D G Dunn wrote an obituary for SBL (HT: MG)
18th Sept: Richard Burridge wrote an obituary for Church Times (HT: MG)[It is true about the cricket.]
16th Oct: David Thompson wrote an obituary for the Independent (HT: MG) [This one also rings true]


  1. Thanks for the reflections, Pete.

    2Tim 2.2

  2. Peter,
    Thanks for the reflections. Any kiwi who can earn the love and respect of an Aussie must be a good bloke.