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Caird, George Bradfordlocked

(1917–1984)

George Bradford Caird (1917–1984)

by unknown photographer

photograph reproduced by courtesy of The British Academy

Caird, George Bradford (1917–1984), biblical scholar, was born in Springfield, Wandsworth, on 19 July 1917, the youngest of three children and only son of George Caird, an engineer who was from Dundee but was then in London because of war work, and his wife, Esther Love Bradford. The family home was afterwards in Birmingham, where Caird attended King Edward's School (1929–36) and went on to Peterhouse, Cambridge. He took a first class in both parts of the classical tripos (1938 and 1939), with distinction in Greek and Latin verse. From Cambridge he went on to study for the Congregational ministry at Mansfield College, Oxford (1939–43), and at the same time did postgraduate research, for which he gained the degree of DPhil in 1944. From 1943 to 1946 he was minister of Highgate Congregational Church in London, and the instincts and styles of the preacher remained with him throughout his life. In 1945 he married Viola Mary (Mollie), daughter of Ezra Benjamin Newport, schoolmaster, of Reigate, and, after their move to Canada which soon followed, they had three sons (one of whom was John Caird, the theatre director) and one daughter. Caird never tired of talking of his children, all of whom came to be professionally noted, and of his grandchildren.

Caird's career specifically as an academic scholar of the Bible began when he went to St Stephen's College, Edmonton, Alberta, an institution of the United Church of Canada, to teach Old Testament (1946–50). In 1950 he became the first professor of New Testament in the newly formed faculty of divinity at McGill University, Montreal, and he stayed there until 1959; in addition he was (1955–9) principal of the theological college of the United Church in Montreal. He greatly admired the United Church, which fitted well with his spiritual and theological tendencies. But Oxford was his spiritual home, and Mansfield and English Congregationalism drew him back: he became tutor in theology at Mansfield in 1959 and principal in 1970. His academic duties were complemented by service to the church: he was an observer at the Second Vatican Council and in 1975–6 was moderator of the general assembly of the recently formed United Reformed church.

In Oxford theology Caird's comprehensiveness of scope, command of language and evidence, and deep theological emphasis, combined with his excellence as a lecturer, quickly established him as a central figure. He was appointed to a readership in 1969, and in 1977 became Dean Ireland's professor of the exegesis of holy scripture, a position which carried with it a professorial fellowship at Queen's College. As the senior person in New Testament studies in Oxford, Caird exercised a deep influence and was greatly admired by many of those who heard him.

Caird's books included: The Truth of the Gospel (1950), a general account of the whole range of Christian doctrine; a commentary on the books of Samuel in The Interpreter's Bible (1953); The Apostolic Age (1955); Principalities and Powers (1956); commentaries on St Luke (1963), on Revelation (1966), on Paul's letters from prison (1976); and The Language and Imagery of the Bible (1980), which received wide notice and was awarded the Collins Religious Book award in 1982. At the time of his death he was preparing a theology of the New Testament, which was afterwards completed by one of his pupils, L. D. Hurst, and published as New Testament Theology (1994). In addition, a volume of essays, intended as a Festschrift but appearing, sadly, as a memorial volume, was The glory of Christ in the New Testament: studies in Christology in memory of George Bradford Caird, edited by L. D. Hurst and N. T. Wright (1987). Among other scholarly achievements may be mentioned his work on the Septuagint—he was Grinfield lecturer on the Septuagint at Oxford for four years from 1961; his work as joint editor of the Journal of Theological Studies, from 1978; and his interest in biblical translation, as shown by his warm support for the New English Bible, for which he served on the Apocrypha panel from 1961.

Caird's academic distinction was recognized by honorary doctorates of divinity from St Stephen's College, Edmonton (1959), the diocesan (Anglican) college in Montreal (1959), and Aberdeen University (1966). In 1966 he also gained Oxford's own doctorate of divinity. In 1973 he was elected a fellow of the British Academy.

Caird's thinking combined a moderate criticism, a somewhat conservative theological position, and a strong sense for linguistic nuances and literary values. His handling of the Bible followed critical lines but rejected scepticism; he was judicious and fair but also quite combative in controversy, and his opposition to the work of Rudolf Bultmann was marked. He greatly emphasized the historical Jesus, while denying that the quest for him would lead away from theological values. Biblical authority was central in all his thinking, yet he completely rejected the fundamentalist understanding of scripture. Religion for him filled the whole of life and affected attitudes to sickness and health, life and death, peace and war (he was a committed pacifist), and such matters as the situation in South Africa. He particularly stressed the element of metaphor and myth in human talk about the divine, and thought that much distortion had arisen because interpreters had taken as literal expressions that were meant from the beginning to be literary figures.

Music was important to Caird, and he wrote several hymns, some of which were included in standard hymnals. Precision in language was central to his personality; he relaxed in joy among family and friends. In the year in which he would have retired from his chair, he suddenly died in his home, Brook Cottage, Bassett Road, Letcombe Regis, Oxfordshire, on 21 April 1984. He was survived by his wife.

Sources

  • J. Barr, ‘George Bradford Caird, 1917–1984’, PBA, 71 (1985), 493–521
  • D. A. Sykes and H. Chadwick, Mansfield College Magazine, 186, 48–9, 50–54
  • private information (1990)

Likenesses

Wealth at Death

under £40,000: probate, 25 July 1984, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

Calendars of the grants of probate … made in … HM court of probate [England and Wales]
Proceedings of the British Academy