In Memoriam: Richard N. Longenecker, 1930–2021 (EerdWord)

Late one night my college roommate rousted me from my studies or slumbers (can’t remember which—they sometimes overlapped) to accompany him on a rescue mission. This must have been around 1979. Three slightly younger Wheaton College students from Ontario—my roommate’s home province—were stranded at an Interstate highway rest stop an hour or two away because their car had broken down, and they had phoned my roommate to see if he could pick them up and bring them the rest of the way to campus. Not that it mattered, but one of them was the son of the famous New Testament scholar Richard Longenecker. Well, of course! Off we went. I guess that’s when I first met Bruce.

Richard Longenecker was never one of my teachers, but he was highly esteemed among my teachers and their close friends and colleagues—the leading evangelical biblical scholars of the mid and late twentieth century. That generation is thinning out.

note on Bruce’s Facebook page on June 7 shared the news of Richard’s passing. The next day the Wycliffe College website gave a few details of his life and added a few tributes from friends.

Here at Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, we remember Richard as a prolific author and editor. His footprints are all over our archives.

My college roommate and I already thought of Professor Longenecker as a leading New Testament scholar back in the late 1970s largely because of two earlier books. Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period first appeared in 1975. The second edition was published in 1999. Even earlier was his widely studied Paul, Apostle of Liberty (1964). When Douglas Campbell wrote the foreword to the 2015 second edition of this book, he noted that his Doktorvater had anticipated important developments in Pauline studies that would be elaborated by E. P. Sanders and others over following decades. Similarly, Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period anticipated—and was not eclipsed by—later attention to intertexualilty in the New Testament writings.

New Testament Social Ethics for Today (1984) is a smaller work—essentially a set of four lectures originally given at Wycliffe College and then also presented in various forms to other church-related audiences—is still useful for thinking about how the New Testament should guide contemporary Christian practice.

Richard’s Romans commentary in the New International Greek Testament Commentary (2016) was a long-anticipated magnum opus. It’s only (!) 1200 pages long because the introduction, completed several years earlier, was published as a separate book, Introducing Romans: Critical Issues in Paul’s Most Famous Letter (2011).

Richard was also editor of a number of multiauthor books published in McMaster New Testament Studies. Eerdmans still keeps the volumes available:

1. Patterns of Discipleship in the New Testament (1996)
2. The Road from Damascus: The Impact of Paul’s Conversion on His Life, Thought, and Ministry (1997)
3. Life in the Face of Death: The Resurrection Message of the New Testament (1998)
4. The Challenge of Jesus’ Parables (2000)
5. Into God’s Presence: Prayer in the New Testament (2001)
7. Contours of Christology in the New Testament (2005)

These volumes were (to quote Richard’s preface) “designed to address particular themes in  the New Testament that are (or should be) of crucial concern to Christians today.” The aim was to enlist contributors who would produce “first-class biblical scholarship” that would speak clearly not only to scholars but to “intelligent laypeople, theological students, and ministers” in a mode “both scholarly and pastoral.” (The missing number 6 was Community Formation in the Early Church and in the Church Today, which was not published in the series because of political/relational difficulties beyond the control of Richard and his Eerdmans editors, as Richard explained when he sent the manuscript to me at Hendrickson Publishers in 2001. It was published by Hendrickson in late 2002, later passed to Baker Academic, and is no longer in print.)

Richard also had essays in several other Eerdmans books. This list is not exhaustive, but here is what I find in books that remain available:

  • “The Foundational Conviction of New Testament Christology: The Obedience/Faithfulness/Sonship of Christ.” Pages 473–80 in Jesus of Nazareth: Lord and Christ: Essays on the Historical Jesus and New Testament Christology. Edited by Joel B. Green and Max Turner. 1994.
  • Excerpt (pages 1–15) from New Testament Social Ethics for Today (1984). Pages 337–50 in Understanding Paul’s Ethics: Twentieth-Century Approaches. Edited by Brian S. Rosner. 1995.
  • “The Focus of Romans: The Central Role of 5:1–8:39 in the Argument of the Letter.” Pages 49–69 in Romans and the People of God: Essays in Honor of Gordon D. Fee on the Occasion of His 65th Birthday. Edited by Sven K. Soderlund and N. T. Wright. 1999.
  • Quo vadis? From Whence to Where in New Testament Text Criticism and Translation.” Pages 327–46 in Translating the New Testament: Text, Translation, Theology. McMaster New Testament Studies. Edited by Stanley E. Porter and Mark J. Boda. 2009.

Much of Richard’s collaboration with Eerdmans antedated by own tenure here. I asked my illustrious predecessor, Jon Pott, whether he would like to contribute any thoughts, and he provided the following:

Dick Longenecker was one of a small, elite generation of scholars who revivified biblical scholarship for the evangelical world and also brought it onto the larger scholarly stage. Eerdmans was a great beneficiary of this renaissance, through the work of these figures themselves and through the work, in turn, of their students. Dick was steadfastly a part of the Eerdmans program for decades, and I found it lovely and fitting that his long association with the program could culminate with what may be his magnum opus, his long-awaited volume on Romans for the New International Greek Testament Commentary. Actually, I should say two volumes, rather than one, because so exhaustive was his work on this great epistle that the introductory background part was published as a separate volume, anticipating the commentary proper! That was Dick—massively erudite and thorough, but with all the perfectionism coming from someone of wonderful warmth and Christian grace.

—Jon Pott

Jon mentions the students of Richard Longenecker and his cohort. Richard’s influence on the Eerdmans New Testament program continues, not only in the work of his son Bruce but through scholars like Douglas Campbell, whose foreword to the second edition of Paul, Apostle of Liberty was noted above. Douglas offers this recollection:

He was a perfect advisor for me. His scholarship was extraordinarily deep and creative for someone located so squarely within the Evangelical tradition—and located in any tradition for that matter. Almost everything I have done subsequently is indebted to his insights. He knew his texts so well. Just an amazing mind, and a capacious kindness and wisdom. He modeled interpretative charity and confidence as well as precision. And he was a devout servant of the gospel. His opening prayers in lectures were memorable. They have stuck with me.

—Douglas Campbell

On the occasion of Prof. Longenecker’s death, it may be appropriate to close with words from his introduction to Life in the Face of Death:

LIFE IS for living! But there is also a dark side to life: the mocking specter of death that permeates every facet of human activity and invades every corner of our human consciousness. Death is a stark and haunting reality that is very much a part of the personal story of us all. Death is, in fact, the great enigma of life. Why, with all of life’s potential and promise, all of life’s preparations, all of life’s accomplishments, must everything end in death? Why this termination of our human existence? It is also the ultimate frustration. For despite humanity’s cleverness, we are all powerless before its inevitability. We may postpone it through advances in medical science, assuage its physical pains through drugs, relieve its emotional trauma through palliative care, rationalize its purpose, or even deny its existence. But we cannot escape it!

Christians have a special interest in life—both in their own lives and in the lives of others, both humanly and spiritually. They have this special interest in life because through Christ they have come into living relation with God, who is life’s creator, redeemer, sustainer, and eventual re-creator. What Christians believe they have in ‘‘the Word made flesh’’ and the words of Holy Scripture is a message from God that speaks both aptly and directly to our human situation and that offers a new perspective on life, death, and the afterlife. And this new perspective, Christians believe, is to be found most distinctly in the resurrection message of the New Testament. 

—Richard Longenecker, 1930–2021

We here at the press offer thanks to God for the life and work of Richard Longenecker and our prayer for God’s comfort for his bereaved family and friends. May we all live in the hope that Richard found in the message of the New Testament. 

James Ernest
Vice President, Editor-in-Chief

Reposted from the Eerdword, the Eerdmans blog.

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