The Revd Dr John Alexander Motyer

by
09 September 2016

Christ Church, Westbourne

Julia Cameron writes:

THE Revd Dr Alec Motyer, who died on 26 August, aged 91, was a scholar, pastor, and preacher, and one of the foremost Evangelical theologians of the second half of the 20th century.

Born in Dublin in 1924, Motyer never lost his gentle Celtic brogue. He had won a choral scholarship at St Patrick’s Cathedral Grammar School, and was a keen tennis player. It was through his love for choral music that he met Beryl, who was to become his wife, when they were both singing in the choir of St Kevin’s Church.

He spent six years at Trinity College, Dublin, and a long-vac term at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. He served his curacy in Penn Fields, in Lichfield diocese, having sensed from his teenage years that he would work under its Vicar, Hugh Jordan, who had preached at St Kevin’s. From Penn Fields, he moved to Clifton Theological College, Bristol, as a tutor.

Motyer’s career was, unusually, to be spent alternating between theological education and the local church. It reflected his two-fold desire that Bible teachers be Bible scholars; and that theological training for parish ministry be rooted in parish experience. He served as Vice Principal of Clifton Theological College, Bristol (1954-65), then as Vicar of St Luke’s, Hampstead, for five years. From here, he became Deputy Principal of Tyndale Hall for a year, before becoming Principal of the newly amalgamated Trinity College, Bristol, from 1971 to 1981, with J. I. Packer as Associate Principal.

In 1981, he moved back into parish ministry, serving as Vicar of Christ Church, Westbourne, in Bournemouth, until his retirement in 1989. Motyer retained a warm affinity with many ordinands who were at Clifton and Trinity, evidenced by the number of their weddings he conducted and lifelong friendships that resulted.

There was a naturalness about his ministry: a desire to influence and to edify young minds, always tempered with humour, which became part of his trademark. He would frequently speak at university Christian Unions, willingly giving time to the preparation and travel. Here he could hold an undergraduate audience, and bring theological argument to bear in a way that was simple to grasp, and memorable.

His magnum opus on Isaiah, originally intended for the Tyndale Commentary series, would take more than 30 years to complete, and was eventually published in 1993, winning the US CBA Book of the Year award. The Isaianic literature, he argued, had a single author; it was “one whopping whole”. A student at Cambridge in the early 1970s recalled 40 years later: “I’ll never forget Alec Motyer’s CICCU Bible readings on his beloved Isaiah. ‘If you get to heaven and see three men punching me, and they’re all three called Isaiah, you’ll know I was wrong.’”

Throughout his ministry, he retained a clear commitment to the Church of England, writing frequently in the Churchman, always anchoring Anglican practice to scriptural principle. Circumcision and Baptism appeared in 1956; Principles of Prayer Book Revision in 1962.

Into his old age, despite his renown, he would wear academic honour lightly. “I’m not really a scholar,” he would say, “just a man who loves the word of God.” He traced this back to the influence of his grandmother, with whom he lived from a young age.

Throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, Motyer served on the patronage board of the Church Society, where his contributions were remembered as “full of godly wisdom and often hilarious”. He continued to preach and to write in retirement, and was a regular preacher at St George’s, Poynton, in Cheshire, his home church. He spoke at the Keswick Convention and its spin-offs around the world, and at Word Alive.

In 1997, he was awarded a Lambeth DD in recognition of his contribution to Evangelical scholarship. He had served as editor of the New Bible Commentary (1953), and it was to him that his friend John Stott turned in the mid-1970s, for an Old Testament Editor of the then newly conceived Bible Speaks Today series. He would contribute to both Testaments: Amos (1974), Philippians (1984), James (1985) and Exodus (2005).

While he had a trained eye for detailed textual criticism, he could take a popular sweep in, for example, A Christian’s Pocket Guide to Loving the Old Testament (Christian Focus Publications, 2015). A new edition of A Scenic Route Through the Old Testament (IVP/SPCK) was published this year.

All his life, one of his greatest gifts as a scholar was his ability to stand back from the text, and interpret it illustratively for the layman. His preaching, as was his writing, was full of illustrations, each carefully chosen not to give light relief to the reader or listener, but genuinely to illustrate (in its literal meaning), to throw light on the text.

Motyer is survived by his children, Stephen, Mark, and Catherine, seven grandchildren, and two great grandchildren.

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