CKB is Gone to Glory

Several years ago, I went back to my alma mater, the University of Durham to give some lectures and to see my old mentor  C.K. Barrett.  This is the picture I took in his house in Pity Me, a little village outside of Durham. It was the last time I saw him.  This morning an alert student told me that Jimmy Dunn announced his passing.

Here is the notice from Jimmy—-

“Hi everyone. You will be saddened to hear that Kingsley Barrett, my predecessor, died last night (6.30 pm, 26.08.11) – aged 94. He was the greatest UK commentator on NT texts since J. B. Lightfoot, and much loved by a wide range of Methodist chapels to which he ministered for about 60 years. He will be much missed, but his commentaries will live on for many years, providing information and insight to future generations of students of the NT.”

There are so many things that I could share about this man. One of the most impressive was his loyalty. Almost every Sunday morning to the very end of his life he was worshiping or preaching in some little Methodist Chapel.  It didn’t matter he was the greatest NT scholar of his era h and it didn’t matter that there were only ten people in the little chapel where he was preaching.  He who was faithful and loyal in little would be faithful and loyal in much to the very end of his life.  He and his wife Margaret were a wonderful couple.  She was a dynamic red head. He was a rather shy man until he got behind a pulpit or a lecturn or in a seminar room.  He did not drive.  She drove everywhere.  He was not a major conversationalist, she could talk for hours on end.  They were like an extra mom and dad, far from home.  They would invite the trembling doctoral students into their home and serve them tea and cookies while we read papers around the dining room table.  It was a blessing.

Some fifteen years ago, I asked Kingsley if he would do a Galatians commentary for my Eerdmans series.  He thought about it a long time, and then said quite humbly… “I am afraid I am not up to speed on all the latest literature on Galatians, and a scholar needs to recognize when his pot has begun to go off the boil.”    He was in so many ways, a humble man and as the British would say,  he had a very good innings.  I am sure he will be glad to be with the Lord now, and perhaps to see Margaret again, if that is the way things work upstairs.  We don’t really know for sure.   What I know is, that if he had not mentored me, I would never have been a scholar at all, never mind the way things have actually turned out for me.    One story will have to do.

I was a young man in a hurry, not least because my scholarship ran out in three years.  So I was determined to get my dissertation done in three years, come Hades or high water.  And I did.  I was going to be maybe the first American to ever get done in the minimum time.  All things looked good. Kinsley had signed off on my dissertation as did the internal examiner, John McHugh.  Just one problem.  The external A.T. Hanson was a former Evangelical, and he could smell an Evangelical miles away. He read my thesis on Women in the Gospels and Acts, and thought I was preaching to the Evangelical choir.  He was right about that. So he decided that unless I blew him away in the VIVA with scintillating logic, he was going to ask for some rewriting.   And he did.   I was unprepared for this neither straight pass nor fail, but limbo deal.

I went to see CKB.  The complaint was, I needed to write as if I were writing for an audience not convinced of a high view of Scripture.  I needed to convince the non-Evangelical.  When I asked Kingsley why he had not warned me this was needed,  he said ‘I didn’t want to press you too hard.”   I found out later why.  He had had a student who came in an Evangelical and in the doctoral meat grinder he lost his faith.  He didn’t want history to repeat itself.    He asked me “Will you do what Prof. Hanson asked?”   I told him “I must.  It’s what the Lord has called me to do.  I can’t let him or my scholarship folks down.”  And so it was that I went home to North Carolina, pastored four churches, taught a little at Duke and High Point college, and rewrote the introductions to each section of the dissertation.  Hanson had not objected to the case I was making or my conclusions, he just wanted me to do a better job of critically arguing the case.  And a good thing too.  In the providence of God this was precisely the training I needed to speak to a much wider audience as a NT scholar.  And it led to my dissertation being published in the SNTS monograph series in two parts— it became a best seller, and led to a popular version as well— Women in the Genesis of Christianity.    CKB hung in there with me, and saw me through to the end.   And we became friends.  Yes, I could have gone to Oxford and studied with Tom Wright under George Caird, but I was a Methodist and CKB was the best Methodist NT scholar ever.  I have no regrets.   I am proud to stand in the line of  Lightfoot, Wescott, Plummer, Turner, Barrett, Cranfield, Dunn, and now Barclay and Watson and many other fine NT scholars.

Thanks Kingsley and Margaret— you were the best!  You were the best. See you in the Kingdom.

  • Jim Groome

    Ben,

    Where would any of us be without our mentors? You write so well about a friend who influenced you greatly. I think you and I share a mentor from early in our lives; Terry Lambert from High Point Central. He gave me great encouragement in Creative Writing class. I also had him for 11th grade English. I hope you are doing well.

    Jim Groome

  • Ben Witherington

    Hi Jim:

    Long time no hear from. Yes indeed Terry Lambert was important. I had not thought of him in a good while. He is the one who said to me one day—-”you are good at poetry, write us the copy for the Pemican pictures” and I did. It was the first time my poetry was ever published, and he made it fit perfectly with the pictures. I was off and running in writing.

    Blessings on you and yours,

    Ben

  • Chappell Temple

    The first time I met C.K. Barrett was a few years ago while in Durham to visit our daughter who is a doctoral candidate there as well. When she asked me if I had ever heard of C.K. Barrett I thought, “Is he still alive?” I assured her that he was one of the finest New Testament scholars of our time and she told me she had met him at her church, North Road Methodist, where he attended most Sundays. I subsequently had the privilege of meeting him for myself during one of our visits to the U.K. and when I told him that his commentaries had been a treasured part of my library since seminary days in Boston, he simply smiled and said something like, “surely there’s been better stuff since then.” (There hasn’t.) The last time I saw him was a year ago when back in England for our daughter’s wedding at North Road. The congregation was meeting across the street in an upstairs hall while the church was undergoing renovation, but Professor Barrett still managed to get up the stairs every Sunday despite his physical challenges, listening closely to every sermon, even the one I preached there in a decided American accent. He remained the perfect gentleman and scholar. May God grant us all the ability to be as faithful as our dear brother in discharging our own responsibilities in the Kingdom.

  • Marc Axelrod

    Sorry to hear about Professor Barrett’s passing. I can see he is a very special person in your life. I was just reading Is There a Doctor in the House this am, including the stuff about your oral defense.

    I have my D.Min oral defense on Sept 23. I should be free to hit future SBL meetings. Thinking about turning some sermons into popular level Christian books

  • Brian Small

    Barrett was the first world-class scholar that I had the opportunity to meet back in my Asbury Seminary days. I am sorry to hear of his passing.

  • Pamela Langford

    Ben,

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful memories of C.K.
    Barrett. I have been reading his works for many, many years.
    I loved hearing that Kingsley was not a major
    conversationalist and that Margaret talked could talk for hours on end and did all the driving. I hope that they have met up in the Glory Land. They sound like a marvellous couple.

    Kind regards,
    Pamela

  • Todd D. Still

    Thank you, Ben, for this post. Although I did not study with Professor Barrett, I have greatly benefited from his published work. There are not and have not been many like him–an informed critical scholar of the first order and a devout Christian and churchman. Durham has a strong NT line, now including my former teacher at Glasgow, J.M.G. Barclay. Long may it continue! It would honor Professor Barrett and the Lord he loved and served so well.

    Todd D. Still
    Truett Seminary, Baylor University


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