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Stanton, Graham Norman (1940–2009), New Testament scholar, was born on 9 July 1940 in Christchurch, New Zealand, the elder son of Norman Schofield Stanton and his wife, Gladys Jean, née McGregor. At the University of Otago he studied history and classics—graduating BA (1960), MA (1961)—and then theology as a student at Knox College, Dunedin, graduating BD (1964). During this time he left the Salvation Army, to which his family was committed, for the more structured and sacramental pattern of worship of the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand, by which he was licensed in 1965. In that year he married (Valerie) Esther Douglas (b. 1939), with whom he had two sons, Roger and Michael, and one daughter, Nicola.

In 1965 Stanton gained a Lewis and Gibson scholarship at Westminster College, Cambridge, to undertake, with membership of Fitzwilliam College, doctoral research under C. F. D. (Charlie) Moule. It was to become clear that this association, which blossomed into a deep friendship that lasted until Moule died less than two years before Stanton, was singularly apt. They had both come to theology via classical studies; both had been nurtured within the evangelical tradition; both had moved to a restrainedly liberal position, in which historical criticism of New Testament texts played a part; both were remembered for a generous instinct to encourage others, and for a consistently respectful approach to those of different views; both were honoured by their peers in election to the presidency of the international Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas; both were college men to their fingertips; and both saw the service of Christ and the worship of God as the ultimate concerns towards which the study of the New Testament pointed.

Stanton's doctoral dissertation (for which he was awarded his PhD in 1969) was published as Jesus of Nazareth in New Testament Preaching (1974; 2nd edn 2004), and proposed, contrary to prevailing scholarly opinion, that interest in the life and character of Jesus was an essential component of the early church's preaching, and should be so in contemporary Christian preaching too. On the completion of his research, Stanton was appointed to a temporary lectureship at Princeton Theological Seminary, New Jersey, in 1969, then a Naden postdoctoral research studentship at St John's College, Cambridge, in 1969–70. Later, in 1974, he was awarded a Humboldt Stiftung research fellowship in Tübingen. He was appointed lecturer at King's College, London, in 1970, and in 1977 succeeded Christopher Evans as professor of New Testament studies there. His burgeoning reputation as a teacher and researcher, especially on the gospel of Matthew, laid a secure foundation not only for this distinguished position but also for his standing as one of the leading New Testament scholars in Britain.

The term ‘gospel’ featured repeatedly in the titles of Stanton's books, some intended for non-specialist readers, including The Gospels and Jesus (1989; rev. edn 2002), a very widely used introduction to the gospels and the current quest of the historical Jesus, and Gospel Truth? (1995), a response to a number of popular books that were, in his unusually caustic words, ‘written by sensation seekers who have twisted evidence to fit fancy theories’ (p. vii). His major published works were for specialists in the study of the gospels in general and Matthew in particular, notably A Gospel for a New People: Studies in Matthew (1992) and Jesus and Gospel (2004). In these his approach combined traditional critical methods with social-scientific perspectives. The term ‘gospel’ he traced to the ‘street language’ of the Roman empire, with all the attendant risks of an early Christian takeover of the vocabulary of the imperial cult. Matthew was, in his view, the first to attach that term to a written document about Jesus, in this case addressed to a community that had experienced a painful severance from the local synagogue, and whose religion was Christianity. Here Stanton exhibited a certain caution—his scholarly papers regularly referred to the need to be ‘careful’—in the face of the arguments of at least one of his research students that Matthew's religion was in fact Christian Judaism.

Stanton remained in his post at King's—he was appointed a fellow of the college in 1996—until in 1998 he was elected Lady Margaret's professor of divinity at the University of Cambridge (succeeding, at one remove, Charlie Moule), with a fellowship of Fitzwilliam College. The foci of his research moved in the direction of Paul's letter to the Galatians and the writings of Justin Martyr. He led the enthusiastic celebration in 2002–3 of the quincentenary of the founding of the chair, the oldest in the university, and was instrumental and energetic in securing its re-endowment by the Kirby Laing Foundation in 2007. In that year he retired, as emeritus professor.

No account of Graham Stanton would be complete without reference to his delight in the supervision of his many research students, and to his times as head of department at both King's and Cambridge. In the latter role colleagues saw and were grateful for ‘a unique capacity to involve people in decision-making, to encourage those who were young or new or on the edges, and to excite a collegial vision for the department, while being, at the same time, a supremely efficient administrator’ (A. Torrance to D. Catchpole, 5 Nov 2009, priv. coll.). The same trust that he inspired in colleagues was the basis for his substantial and lengthy contribution to the Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas, not only as president (1996–7) but earlier as secretary (1976–82) and as editor of the society's journal New Testament Studies (1982–90) and its monograph series (1982–91).

Stanton's alma mater, the University of Otago, awarded him an honorary doctorate of divinity in 2000. On his sixty-fifth birthday he was presented with a Festschrift, The Written Gospel (2005, ed. M. Bockmuehl and D. A. Hagner). In 2006 his contribution to biblical studies brought the award of the British Academy's Burkitt medal. He died at his home, 11 Dane Drive, Cambridge, on 18 July 2009 after a courageous seven-year struggle with malignant melanoma. He was survived by his wife, Esther, and their three children. A service of thanksgiving was held at Emmanuel United Reformed Church, Cambridge, on 24 July 2009, and a memorial service at Fitzwilliam College on 23 January 2010. A collection of essays in his memory, Jesus, Matthew's Gospel and Early Christianity, edited by Daniel M. Gurtner, Joel Willitts, and Richard A. Burridge, was published in 2011.

David R. Catchpole


Daily Telegraph (11 Aug 2009) · The Times (19 Aug 2009) · Church Times (11 Sept 2009) · The Guardian (14 Sept 2009) · The Independent (16 Oct 2009) · www.sbl-site.org/publications/article.aspx?articleId=838, accessed on 9 March 2012 · WW (2009) · personal knowledge (2013) · private information (2013) · d. cert.


obituary photographs