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<< Return to SBL Forum Archive Graham Stanton (1940 - 2009)


James D G Dunn

Professor Graham Stanton, emeritus Lady Margaret’s Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge, died of cancer on 18 July aged 69.

He was one of the best known, internationally respected and admired New Testament scholars of his generation.   His many students at King’s College London and latterly at Cambridge will be ever grateful that they had opportunity to study under him.   His doctoral postgraduates fill many teaching posts around the world.   And his colleagues will remember him as an ever gracious leader and counsellor.

A memory cherished by all who were privileged to attend was his 65th birthday party, carefully organised by family and friends as a surprise.   At this party he was presented with a Festschrift, a special honour given to academics of high distinction consisting of essays contributed from all round the world. This was a masterly sequence of studies on The Written Gospel, which, more than most other Festschriften constitutes a major and comprehensive contribution to Gospel scholarship, Professor Stanton’s own main specialism.   Apart from the presentation of the Festschrift the highlight of the party was a performance by his postgraduates of the All Blacks’ ‘haka’ which begins any international in which the All Blacks are playing.   As a New Zealander, Graham’s enthusiasm for the All Blacks was legendary (his cake had an icing rugby ball on it), and his delight at the performance was the icing on the party.

Graham was born in Christchurch, New Zealand and gained an MA and a BD from the University of Otago, as a student of Knox College, Dunedin.   Brought up in the Salvation Army, he was licensed by the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand in 1965.   He came to Westminster College, Cambridge as a Lewis and Gibson Scholar in 1966 to study for a PhD under the late Professor C. F. D. Moule.   Originally a member of Fitzwilliam College, he held a one-year research studentship at St John’s College from 1969 to 1970.

In 1970 he was appointed to a Lectureship at King’s College, London, being elected Professor of New Testament in 1977, as successor to Professor Christopher Evans.   For 28 years he was a mainstay of the Department of Theology at King’s, until he was elected to the Lady Margaret’s Chair in 1998 in succession to Professor Morna Hooker.

Graham’s command of New Testament and other ancient texts was extensive, though his life long specialism was in the New Testament Gospels, the Gospel of Matthew in particular.  And his interest extended to a general curiosity about the way in which the early Christian tradition was written down and passed among the early Christian communities.

His first book, based on his doctoral dissertation, was Jesus of Nazareth in New Testament Preaching (1974).   It was and still is a significant contribution to the debate on the content and character of the earliest Christian preaching which has not been given the attention it deserves.

Probably his best known and influential work is The Gospels and Jesus (1989, 2nd edn 2002). It provides a remarkably authoritative and concise treatment of what is probably the single most important question in the history of Christianity’s beginnings – viz. the relation between ‘the historical Jesus’ and the Christian Gospels

Perhaps more important for the scholarly guild has been his collection of essays on Matthew’s Gospel, A Gospel for a New People (1992), in which he used a variety of methods to throw light on the community behind the text and its relation to emerging rabbinic Judaism.

Gospel Truth? New Light on Jesus and the Gospels (1995 - translated into French, Dutch, Spanish and Italian) was a popular presentation of many of these themes.   More recently Jesus and Gospel (2004) examined the development of the term ‘gospel’ and the four canonical Gospels.   Sadly his final illness left him able to complete his long term work on Justin Martyr.

Probably even more influential has been his work as an Editor, including the most prestigious and historic English language commentary series (International Critical Commentary) since 1984, and of both the flagship journal New Testament Studies (1982-90) and the associated monograph series of Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas (SNTS, 1982-91), the leading international professional society in his field.

Graham served as Secretary of SNTS from 1976-82, and was elected President of the Society for the year 1996-97, to preside at the Society’s Strasbourg meeting.

King’s College, London elected him to a Fellowship of the College in 1996, and the University of Otago awarded him an honorary DD in 2000.   In 2006 he was awarded the British Academy’s Burkitt Medal for his contribution to Biblical Studies.

During his time in Cambridge he presided over the celebrations for the Quincentenary of the Lady Margaret’s Chair in 2002, and was intimately involved in securing the re-endowment of the Chair from the Kirby Laing Foundation in October 2007.   As a Fellow of Fitzwilliam College he secured a key benefaction for the endowment of the Chaplaincy in 2008.

Diagnosed with melanoma cancer at the beginning of 2003 his lengthy fight against it was an inspiration to all who knew him.   That it lasted six-and-a-half years, when statistics show that only 5% melanoma sufferers survive for five years, has been a strong encouragement to all fellow sufferers.

As a scholar, a loyal friend and an encourager of all young researchers he will be greatly missed. He is survived by his wife Esther (his funeral fell on the 44th anniversary of their wedding), their children Roger, Michael and Nicola, and three grandchildren.


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