Obituary: Donald Guthrie

Peter Cotterell
Saturday 22 October 2011 21:12

Donald Guthrie, biblical scholar, born Ipswich 21 February 1916, married Mary Freeman (four sons, two daughters), died Pinner Middlesex 8 September 1992.

THERE CAN be very few New Testament scholars today who are not in one way or another indebted to and influenced by the numerous writings, spread across some 36 years, of Donald Guthrie.

Guthrie's first contribution, 'Tertullian and Pseudonymity', appeared in the Expository Times in 1956 and was followed by a steady stream of carefully researched articles which were characterised by a remarkable felicity of expression. The stream was never allowed to become a torrent: Guthrie was too careful a scholar to allow his material to get out of control, and he never wrote anything until he was satisfied that he had understood the issues.

In 1949 he was a student at London Bible College, reading for the External BD degree at London University. The Principal, Dr Ernest Kevan, penetrated Donald's shy reticence, due in part to a speech impediment that afflicted him throughout his life, and perceived the scholarliness that was so focal a part of his character. Before he even took his degree Guthrie was offered a place on the faculty. He accepted, and in fact never left the college: he was successively lecturer, senior lecturer, Vice-Principal (1978) and then President from 1983 until his death. He was awarded his doctorate in 1961, and only months before his death, at a moving ceremony, he received the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters, awarded by the Council for National Academic Awards in recognition of his contribution to New Testament scholarship.

To scholars, Guthrie is best known for his magisterial New Testament Introduction, initially published in three volumes, beginning in 1960. This established itself as the standard work on the subject, accepted as such by New Testament scholars of all persuasions. The fourth, revised, edition appeared as recently as 1990. In 1981 appeared his New Testament Theology, a massive 1,000 pages of condensed learning, representing the fruit of 30 years of teaching theology to undergraduates. He wrote commentaries on the Pastoral Epistles and Hebrews in the Tyndale New Testament series and on Galatians for the Century Bible. In 1982 was honoured with a Festschrift to mark his retirement.

There was another side to his character that not many people outside his family and the London Bible College family saw. He knew how to relax. He was the star of faculty drama productions: Cinderella, and The Sleeping Beauty. In Who's Who in Biblical Studies he listed Scottish country dancing and playing the piano among his recreational activities. He gave himself wholeheartedly to his students: he was always accessible. He was, in fact, no dry pedant, but a whole man. And he was supported throughout his life by his wife, Mary, and by their children.

He was a wholehearted and committed Christian, and consistently demonstrated his utter confidence in the Scriptures. But in his writings he was always ready to listen to what others had to say, to give their arguments careful and scholarly consideration, and to recognise the integrity of those with whom he disagreed.

Donald Guthrie was consulting editor for such major reference works as The New Bible Commentary and the Illustrated Bible Dictionary; also a member of the Society for New Testament Studies; Drew Lecturer in 1982, Didsbury Lecturer in 1985; Tyndale Lecturer and Laing Lecturer. It is difficult to know how he fitted it all in. His years of teaching have ensured a flow of men and women committed to his high standard of scholarly research, demonstrating their scholarship in exegeting that same Word of God that meant so much to him.

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