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Thomas F. Torrance was born in Chengdu, Sichuan, China on August 30, 1913, the oldest son of missionaries (Rev. Thomas and Annie E. Torrance). The family returned to Scotland in 1927, where Torrance studied classics and philosophy at the University of Edinburgh (1931-34) and completed his B.D at New College (1934-37).

Torrance received his Ph.D. at Basel under Karl Barth. He was awarded the M.B.E. for his bravery as a chaplain during WW II. After the war he served as a minister in several parishes in Scotland before becoming Professor of Christian Dogmatics at New College, Edinburgh, a position held for 27 years.

Besides serving as a pastor, Torrance was Moderator of the Church of Scotland (1976-77) and engaged in significant ecumenical dialogue over many years. He played a key role in the consultations that led to a “Joint Statement of the Official Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches" in 1991 announcing an agreed statement on the Trinity.

Widely regarded as the most outstanding Reformed theologian in the English-speaking world during the twentieth century, Torrance received the Templeton Foundation Prize for Progress in Religion for his work on the relations between theology and natural science. Not simply a theologian, Torrance was noted for his expertise in natural science, especially Einstein and post-Einsteinian physics, and as a historian of doctrine, particularly in patristics, the Reformation and Scottish theology.

In addition, Torrance wrote numerous articles and books on biblical hermenutics, as well as founded the Scottish Journal of Theology. He was deeply involved in editing and translating into English both Calvin’s New Testament commentaries and Barth’s Church Dogmatics. A prolific scholar who published dozens of books and hundreds of articles, Torrance is best known for his early monograph on theological method, Theological Science (Oxford University Press, 1969), and his recent works in theology, The Trinitarian Faith: The Evangelical Theology of the Ancient Catholic Church (T&T Clark, 1988) and The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons (T&T Clark, 1996). Few scholars have combined the kind of penetrating intellect, breadth of interest and research, love of the Church and historic Christian faith, and zeal for the Gospel that we find in Torrance.

Thomas F. Torrance died on December 2, 2007. It seems somehow fitting that this astonishing man, who became a theologian without ever forgetting his evangelical missionary roots, shared the Gospel with his Chinese nurse moments before his death (according to her account). She left his room to get a blood pressure monitor and when she returned, he had passed on.

Citation: Elmer Colyer, " Thomas F. Torrance, 1913-2007," SBL Forum , n.p. [cited Jan 2008]. Online:


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