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<< Return to SBL Forum Archive Paul S. Minear 1906-2007

Paul Sevier Minear, New Testament scholar, ecumenist, and prolific author, died peacefully at his home in Guilford, CT on Feb. 22, having celebrated his 101st birthday five days earlier.

Born in 1906 and raised in an Iowa Methodist parsonage, he received his B.A. from Iowa Wesleyan College in 1927, his B.D. from Garrett Biblical Institute (now Garrett-Evangelical Seminary) in 1930 before going to Yale for a Ph.D. in New Testament, received in 1932. After teaching at the Hawaii School of Religion for a year, he taught at Garrett (1934-44) before going to Andover Newton Theological School where he succeeded his friend Amos Wilder as Norris Professor of New Testament. From there he joined the faculty of Yale Divinity School in 1956, where he was Winkley Professor of Biblical Theology until he retired in 1971. In 1964-65 he was President of Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas; from 1967-88 he was a member of the committee that produced the NRSV.

While at Andover Newton, he became active in ecumenical affairs, especially the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches, through which he became well known in ecclesiastical and theological circles around the globe. In 1969-70 he worked closely with Theodore Hesburgh to establish the Ecumenical Institute for Advanced Theological Studies at Tantur, Jerusalem, and briefly was its Vice Rector when it opened. Health problems, however, required returning to the States in 1971, when he also retired from his post at Yale.

Though retired, he continued to publish books and articles for non-specialists and scholars alike. Indeed, shortly before his passing he received word that his article on Matt. 11:25-30, written when he was 100, had been accepted for publication - evidence enough that while his body was failing, his mind remained alert and probing.

His major books include The Eyes of Faith (1946), The Kingdom and the Power. An Exposition of the New Testament Gospel (1950; repr. 2004), Images of the Church in the New Testament (1960; repr. 2004), The Obedience of Faith: The Purposes of Paul in the Epistle to the Romans (1971). A select bibliography compiled in 1993 by his son listed 23 books, 43 essays in symposia, and 94 articles in professional and popular journals, as well as curriculum resources for church education; since then he wrote 3 books and numerous articles. From this diverse corpus, Paul selected and edited 21 articles for The Bible and the Historian: Breaking the Silence about God in Biblical Studies (2002). The subtitle reflects his persistent, deep interest in the Bible's theology, begun while at Garrett when he discovered Kierkegaard and Barth. The subtitle of The Eyes of Faith signals what was to come: A Study of the Biblical Point of View.

Repeatedly he exposed the "internal and intrinsic otherness of the patterns of imagination in the Bible" which arouse resistance in today's readers, and insisted that vital understanding (distinct from historical explanation) requires willingness to enter that strangeness in order to be changed by it. Minear's enduring interest in biblical eschatology is manifest not only in two books explicitly devoted to the subject (The Christian Hope and the Second Coming [1954] and a commentary on the New Testament apocalypse (I saw a New Earth [1968]), but also in his Death Set to Music: Masterworks by Bach, Brahms, Penderecki, Bernstein (1987).

While conversant with both biblical scholarship and contemporary theology, in the classroom he focused on the biblical text itself, not on methods and theories for studying it. He taught students to think in form critical terms without making form criticism the subject matter. He explored language and imagery, not as an observer, but as one accosted by a different view of reality — one that challenges what it takes for granted.

Paul is survived by his wife Gladys, whom he married 77 years ago and who celebrated her 100th birthday last August. Her alma mater, Iowa Wesleyan, recognized her important but never intrusive role in Paul's work by awarding her an honorary D.H.L. in 1997. Also surviving are three children (Larry, recently retired as Director of the Humanitarianism and War Project at Tufts University, where he worked with aid agencies to improve the quality of their work; Richard, Professor of History at the University of Massachusetts, where he specializes in Japanese studies and translations for publication; and Anita, member of Parliament of Canton Thurgau, Switzerland, who is supplying librarians, teachers and books to libraries and schools in Mongolia) as well as six grandchildren. A memorial service, not yet scheduled, will commemorate Paul's life and work in the spring.

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