Obituary of George Raymond Beasley-Murray

Paul wrote this obituary of his father, George Raymond Beasley-Murray for Jesus College, Cambridge.

George Raymond Beasley-Murray (10 October 1916 – 23 February 2000) came to Jesus as a mature student in 1948 to read Part III of the Theology Tripos, specialising in New Testament studies. The Dean at that time was the redoubtable Gardener-Smith! George was an usual student in two respects: in the first place, he combined his studies with holding down a full-time as minister of the Zion Baptist Church on East Road, Cambridge; in the second place, although by the time he came to Cambridge he already had gained the degrees of BD and MTh from London University, he had in fact left school at the age of 16 with no thought of further education. As a teenager his goal was to become a concert pianist, a goal which he was well in the process of realising before he became convinced that God was calling him into Christian ministry.

After training at Spurgeon’s College, the Baptist theological college in South London, he began his ministry during the London Blitz and for seven years served as pastor of Ashurst Drive Baptist Church, Ilford. In 1948 he moved to Cambridge, where after a short ministry of two years he was called to become a tutor at Spurgeon’s College. He left Spurgeon’s in 1956 to become Professor of Greek and New Testament Interpretation at the International Baptist Theological Seminary in Ruschlikon, Zurich, but. after two years returned to become Principal of Spurgeon’s College, where he remained until 1973, at which point he moved on to his last appointment as Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville (1973-1980).

An author of more than twenty books as also countless articles, his books included Baptism in the New Testament (for which he was awarded his London DD – it became a standard textbook in many RC seminaries and remained in print for almost 40 years!), <em(for which he was awarded his Cambridge DD), and Jesus and the Last Days, a major contribution to understanding the eschatological teaching of Jesus. His final publication was the revised edition of his best-selling Word Commentary on John, which he finished just six months before he died.

A leading figure in the evangelical world, he was nonetheless prepared to be responsible for the translation into English of the controversial commentary on John by the radical German scholar, Rudolf Bultmann. He also translated into English Baptism in The Thought of St Paul by the leading Roman Catholic German scholar, Rudolf Schnackenburg. “Where scholars divide” he said in the distinguished Drew Lecture, “one has to make one’s own decision and maintain it with respect for the opinions of others”.

Although he always spoke of himself as a New Testament teacher rather than a New Testament scholar, he was highly regarded by his peers. In 1960 he was, for instance, offered the prestigious John Rylands Chair of Biblical Criticism at Manchester University, but turned the offer down in order to concentrate on training men and women for Baptist ministry. In recognition of his scholarship as also of his commitment to Baptist ministry, he received the honorary degree of DLitt (CNAA) by Spurgeon’s College. He also received an honorary DD from McMaster University, Canada.

Among Baptists he was a popular denominational leader. After his year as President of the Baptist Union of Great Britain in 1968, he became the chairman of the Baptist Union Council. He was also a well-known figure in Baptist World Alliance circles, and travelled the world preaching and lecturing. Long before ecumenism became popular in Baptist circles, he was a fervent advocate of Christian unity, encouraging Baptist churches to share and explore relationships with other churches. For many years he was secretary of the European section of the Faith and Order commission of the World Council of Churches, which produced One Lord, One Baptism.

He was, however, more than a scholar and denominational leader. He was also a gifted communicator of the Christian Gospel. Described as having “the mind of a scholar; the heart of an evangelist”, he had a passion for communicating the Christian faith to people outside the church. In his retirement years spent at Hove he was active in church life, and only a year or so before his death was running in his home an ‘Alpha’ course on Christian basics.

Married to Ruth for almost 58 years, they had four children, of whom the eldest, Rev Dr Paul Beasley-Murray is also a Jesus man. Paul is currently Senior Minister of the Baptist Church, Victoria Road South, Chelmsford, Essex.