Charles Cranfield: In Memoriam

The Reverend Professor Charles E. B. Cranfield, who died on 27th February, 2015, six months short of what would have been his hundredth birthday, was one of the leading British New Testament scholars of the second half of the twentieth century.  He taught in Durham for thirty years, as Lecturer (1950-62), Senior Lecturer (1962-66), Reader (1966-78) and finally in a ‘personal chair’ (1978-80).  During the same period he was colleague with Professor C. K. Barrett, two years younger, and together they made Durham pre-eminent in the world of New Testament scholarship.

After school at Mill Hill in London, Cranfield graduated from Jesus College, Cambridge, where he studied classics and then theology, moving down the road to train for the Methodist ministry at Wesley House.   He spent the summer of 1939 in Basel, Switzerland, but had to leave when the war began.   He was ordained as a Methodist in 1941 and briefly took a pastoral charge at Shoeburyness before serving as a Chaplain to the Forces, working with German prisoners-of-war after the end of hostilities.   He then returned to pastoral ministry, this time in Cleethorpes (1946-50), before being appointed to Durham.

In 1954 he moved from Methodism to become a member of the Presbyterian Church of England (subsequently part of the United Reformed Church).   The move was primarily theological, from Methodism’s implicit Arminianism to a solid Reformed theology, which was strongly influenced by Karl Barth (in Basel from 1935).   He remained a steady though not entirely uncritical Barthian thereafter, sometimes sending his own research students to study with ‘the old man of Basel’ as part of their course.

Cranfield was known in Durham as a thorough and unfailingly patient and teacher.  His deep concern to probe to the very heart of the text, and his careful attention to all relevant details, tried the patience of those less studious than himself.  But there was never any doubt that one was in the presence of a man who cared equally deeply about the actual content and personal meaning of the text and about the importance of exact, clear-thinking scholarship upon it.  These are the qualities that shine out of his published work.

His first book was on I Peter (1950), and he followed this with a short commentary on I and II Peter (1960).  He published half a dozen other ‘popular’ books, including collections of sermons (If God be For Us, 1985) and essays (The Bible and Christian Life, 1985).  But he is best known for two masterpiece commentaries: his The Gospel according to St Mark (1959, and many subsequent printings) and his two-volume International Critical Commentary on Romans (1975, 1978, and many subsequent impressions), the first fruit of his period as a series editor, which he only relinquished in his ninetieth year (2005).

His massive and painstaking scholarship was recognised in a DD from Aberdeen (1980), in being appointed a Fellow of the British Academy (1982), and in the British Academy’s Burkitt Medal for Biblical Studies (1989).


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