09 September 2009

Expert on St Matthew’s Gospel: Professor Graham Stanton

Expert on St Matthew’s Gospel: Professor Graham Stanton

The Revd Professor Richard A. Burridge writes:

“WHO is this Stanton, just appointed to teach New Testament at King’s? I cannot find him in Crockford!” The late Professor Stanton, who died on 18 July, aged 69, chuckled to recount the reactions to his appointment, in 1970, as a young Presbyterian Kiwi at King’s College, London, with its great tradition of training Anglican clergy.

Graham Stanton was born in New Zealand, and given the middle name Norman after his father. His parents were in the Salvation Army, and when, as a child, he was given 7s. 6d. to buy whatever he wanted, he bought a New Testament, setting the tracks for the rest of his life. He studied for a BA, MA, and BD at the University of Otago, and was licensed as a Presbyterian minister in 1965. He responded to Otago’s conferral of a DD in 2000 with an address on its motto, sapere aude (“Dare to be wise”).

Graham dared to be wise himself, seeing the academic life as an adventure, which took him to Cambridge for doctoral studies under the Lady Margaret Professor, Charlie Moule. He joined a circle of postgraduates who would become the leading New Testament scholars of our day. His Ph.D., later published as Jesus of Nazareth in New Testament Preaching (1974), emphasised the concern of the earliest Christians for the person of Jesus, in opposition to the dominant form-critical paradigm from Bultmann.

Its quality and originality were recognised as King’s College, London, made Stanton lecturer in 1970, and then Professor of New Testament, at only 37, in 1977. His Inaugural Lecture (1978) continued his interest in literary approaches, and he developed into the foremost scholar on Matthew’s Gospel in the English-speaking world. This work culminated in his collection of essays A Gospel for a New People (1992).

He was editor of New Testament Studies, and the Society for New Testament Studies monograph series, as well as being Secretary of the society (1976-82), and President (1996-97), and Chairman of the British section (1989-92).

Yet Graham never lost his core commitment to teaching at all levels. He championed New Testament Greek, and promoted new ways of teaching. Among these, he recorded cassettes of himself declaiming the original text for students. Meanwhile, undergraduate lectures led to his best-selling The Gospels and Jesus (1989, revised edition 2002), which has been the standard textbook of the past 20 years.

As well as teaching undergraduates and Anglican ordinands, Graham evolved into a greatly respected doctoral supervisor. In addition to full-time postgraduates, who later became significant scholars, Graham encouraged clergy from the south-east into part-time research.

When I was struggling to combine a local curacy with a Ph.D., Graham’s encouragement to attend his research seminar at King’s was a lifeline, as was the personal interest he took in everyone. It was a privilege to work alongside him as Dean from 1994, again encouraged by Graham’s constant “‘warm greetings”.

On top of his research, writing, and teaching, Graham undertook his share of administration, as Head of Biblical Studies (1982-88) and Head of Department (1996-98), always promoting the importance of biblical studies and theology for the wider college. In his Otago DD address, he described regular lectures to hundreds of non-theology students on the Associateship of King’s College (AKC) course as “the greatest challenge I faced in my 28 years at King’s”; but the clarity of those lectures were a model. He received the Fellowship of King’s College in 1996.

In 1998, he was lured away to his former supervisor’s chair as Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, securing its re-endowment as he retired in 2007. There, too, he continued research and writing, producing Jesus and Gospel (2004), as well as being Chairman of the Faculty Board of Divinity (2001-03). Once again, he had devoted doctoral students, who performed a special New Zealand rugby haka on his 65th birthday, when he was presented with The Written Gospel (2005), a collection of essays in his honour from leading scholars across the world.

By this stage, however, he was already terminally ill with melanoma, something he fought with quiet determination for more than six years, confounding the medics’ prognoses. All his writing on Jesus and the gospel was lived out practically, in his Christian faith and fortitude throughout his illness, as he gradually let go of planned projects (including the International Critical Commentary volume on Galatians which we will never see), and even disposing of his books, so that his beloved wife, Esther, would not have to do it after he was gone.

Even at my last visit, just days before he died, propped up in front of the first Ashes Test (he loved seeing the Australians struggle), he wanted to know about the con­ference from which I had brought a card with signatures.

The tributes at his funeral thanksgiving and on many websites witness to the love and friendship that this scholar, teacher, and deeply Christian gentleman evoked in us all. He will be very greatly missed.

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