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Bible scholar, Yale professor Abraham Malherbe dies at 82


Abraham Malherbe at Yale, circa 2002 (Photo by Evan Ingersoll)

Abraham Malherbe, the Buckingham Professor Emeritus of New Testament Criticism and Interpretation at Yale Divinity School, died from an apparent heart attack on Sept. 28. He was 82.
Malherbe, an internationally known Bible scholar, was born in South Africa and converted to Christianity by missionary Eldred Echols, we reported in a 2002 Dialogue with Malherbe. Echols encouraged Malherbe to attend Abilene Christian University in Texas. After graduation there, Malherbe studied at Harvard University and returned to teach at ACU from 1963-69.
ACU Today reports:

“Abe trained a generation of New Testament professors in the Churches of Christ, who now populate the Christian college faculties and beyond,” said Dr. Ken Cukrowski (’84) , associate professor of New Testament, associate provost and interim dean of ACU’s College of Biblical Studies. “I believe there was at least a 30-year stretch where an ACU graduate was in Yale’s doctoral program in New Testament. So much of what I know, how I know, and the questions I ask, are due to him. If ever I read Scripture well, it is due to him. My appreciation is deep; my respect could not be higher; my gratitude is profound.”
“I would never have pursued an academic career if it had not been for Abe’s capacity to instill in his students a passion for learning about the New Testament and the ancient world,” said Dr. James Thompson (’64) , professor of New Testament and Onstead Chair for Biblical Studies. “I will always be grateful for the new world of scholarship he opened for us, the encouragement he gave me, and for the relationship that began with my first graduate semester and ended only with his death.”

Read the full story.
In a news release, Yale University reports:

Malherbe and his wife, Phyllis, who made their home in Hamden, CT, dedicated a great deal of time and resources to support the Whitney Avenue Church of Christ in New Haven as well as a number of other churches in the area including the First Baptist Church in New Haven, which the Malherbes attended in recent years.
David Bartlett, the J. Edward and Ruth Cox Lantz Professor Emeritus of Christian Communication, said, “Abe Malherbe was the embodiment of an ancient ideal, the Christian scholar.  His scholarship is known by everyone who studies New Testament as he helped bring early Christian literature into conversation with the Hellenistic philosophical writings and helped us to think about the church in its social and intellectual context.  His Anchor Bible commentary on 1 & 2 Thessalonians will surely be the major resource for students and scholars for a very long time.

Read the full story, which includes information for memorial donations.
Here’s a snippet from our 2002 Dialogue with Malherbe, in which he addressed his concerns about Churches of Christ “cozying up to those evangelicals who put a premium on feeling at the expense of reason.”

This is not an indictment of all evangelicals, for there are differences among them. Having discovered the Holy Spirit, grace and mercy, however, evangelical priorities and language have come to suffuse much of the preaching in our fellowship.
That, combined with the style of preaching, common in all churches these days, that is narratival and anecdotal rather than expository, results in sermons that are as theologically thin gruel as are many of the so-called praise songs we sing.
It seems that the goal of many services is to achieve an emotional response without imparting biblical knowledge. When the same, non-expository approach is followed in a church’s Bible classes, any Restorationist nuance easily disappears.

See the full interview.

  • Feedback
    Abe & Phyllis were very down to earth people who practiced godly hospitality. He will be missed.
    Steve Holt Sr.
    October, 4 2012

    I was privileged to be a fellow student with Abe in ACU in the early 50’s. Even though we have not seen each other in many years, I still remember him as the humble, quiet scholar, and a very Christian gentleman. My prayers go out to all his family. May God bless you, and I pray your good memories will comfort and sustain you.
    Jim Hawkins
    October, 5 2012

    Abe & Phyllis will always be a part of my life. I attended Whitney Avenue Church of Christ for many years until I relocated to VA.
    I was sorry to hear of his passing and he will surely be missed.
    Abe had such a great sense of humor.
    Those years he taught Sunday school at Whitney Avenue Church of Christ were the best christian learning experience I’ve ever had. He was also a great teacher of life.
    Rest in peace Abe, you’ll always be in our hearts.
    Vicki Draughn
    October, 5 2012

    I only knew Dr. Mahlerbe by reputation. However, I am intrigued that he once attended a Church of Christ in CT, but recently First Baptist Church. Is this indicative of a shift in his restorationist thinking?
    Mark White
    October, 8 2012

    Can remember attending a weekend (as I remember) type of “lectureship” at Patchogue, NY (Long Island); probably 1963!!! Can’t remember other speakers; NOR can I remember HIS topic. But, looking at the program it listed Harvard!!! There was nothing DRAMATIC about his talk… BUT from that time on I “watched” for his name… don’t recall seeing further articles by or about him; had hoped to hear him speak again. Some years later happened to be in Boston for a medical meeting; attended the Brookline congregation; wondered if Malherbie might be in attendance… he wasn’t!!! NOW that I have been “caught up” on his activities will WATCH for some of his writings!!!
    Buford Rowe
    Buford Rowe
    October, 8 2012

    I first met Abe and Phyllis when we lived in Boston and he was doing a postdoc at Harvard. I was in awe of them, and Phyllis was gracious enough to give me a baby shower. My most memorable moment with Abe was when he walked into my class at Pepperdine Lectures a few years ago. I was traumatized to have this scholar in my session, but his smile and hug quickly dissipated my anxiety. I have always had the deepest respect for this gifted man of God.
    Lisa Crowe
    Lisa Crowe
    October, 9 2012

    It has been a sad, sad week for many of us who were in school in 1964-69. First, my Major Professor, Dr. Neil Lightfoot passed and now one of my Graduate School Professors, Dr. Malherbe, joins him. Dr. Malherbe ran a tough class! His seminar classes were as difficult as anything I ever experienced at ACC (ACU), but his discipline was one of the things that I remember most about him. His knowledge of the Ephesians was un-surpassed in our time. He will be missed.
    Dee Carter
    October, 9 2012

    Please share some further information concerning Abe Malherbe’s attending the First Baptist church. Was this true? I was a student of his at ACC in the 60’s and I find this very hard to believe. I hope it was not true. If so, any ideas as to why he would have done this?
    Sincerely,
    Edward Dyche
    edward dyche
    November, 4 2012

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