On Monday of this week (October 1, 2007), an icon of sober-minded New Testament scholarship died. He was ninety-eight. Born in China on December 3, 1908, Charles Francis Digby Moule (pronounced "mole") had a stellar career as a pastor and professor. He was one of the best known New Testament scholars of the twentieth century. Already many obituaries and eulogies have been written about him. Here are some of the links:
Scot McKnight’s blogsite
Mark Goodacre’s website
The basic information about his life can be seen on these websites. I’d like to share some more personal information. For starters, there has been no scholar whom I would consider a mentor more than C. F. D. Moule. I first came in contact with him in 1978, when I was working on my master’s thesis. I wrote to several grammarians to get their input on the thesis, "The Relation of Adjective to Noun in Anarthrous Constructions." Such a grammatical topic was the kind of paper that would cure the most hopeless insomniac, yet Moule was kind enough to write back. The basic objective of the thesis was to see whether 2 Timothy 3.16 should be translated "all scripture is inspired and profitable"or "all inspired scripture is also profitable." Moule disagreed with my conclusions (I argued for the first translation) but noted that the way I argued the case was the best way to defend the view. When I was working on my doctoral dissertation (another grammatical topic: "Article-Substantive-Kai-Substantive Constructions in the New Testament: Semantics and Significance" ), again I corresponded with Moule. And again, the focus was on a theological issue. This time the issue was closer to Moule’s heart: I argued, among other things, that at least Titus 2.13 and 2 Peter 1.1 affirmed the deity of Christ. Moule felt that I had proved my case.
To the unwary reader, one might think that Moule agreed with me on the second work simply because he believed that the New Testament affirms the deity of Christ. But that would be a great disservice to his memory, for Moule was, above all, an honest scholar. If he didn’t think an author had a defensible argument, even if Moule agreed with the theological implications of the essay, he would not be swayed. In the world of Cambridge University, a solid defense of a position was and is far more important than holding to the "right" view.
On my first sabbatical (1994-95), I spent some time at Tyndale House in Cambridge. Moule was already long retired and had moved to a little apartment in Pevensey, near Hastings. I wrote to him and asked if I could visit him. He invited me to lunch and I stayed for eight hours. We had a wonderful time together! That started a friendship that has continued and deepened over the years. Although I was never a student of his, he has been as close to me as any of my professors.
Over the past twelve years, we corresponded regularly. At one point, early on, he wrote, "Dear Dan, I think we now know each other well enough to drop the formalities. Please call me Charlie." I wrote back that I was not worthy to call him on a first-name basis, but I was vain enough to accept the offer to do so. That vanity will continue here because for a dozen years I have known him as Charlie.
His letters were always a great treat and truly fascinating. Whenever I got a letter from him, my wife would call me at work and say, "You got another letter from Charlie!" It was like getting a Christmas present in July; his letters were that important to me. I would open the letter and read it to our family. Every letter was a mixture of the latest theological news in the United Kingdom, Charlie’s personal anecdotes about life and ministry, and encouraging comments about my family. When my third son, Andy, had cancer, Moule offered up many prayers for his health. When I was struck with viral encephalitis, he was on his knees, beseeching the Lord of mercy for my health. He knew about our kids’ school, sports, girlfriends, spiritual life, work. He was like a beloved uncle who never intruded but always had an interest in each one of us.
I learned the art of letter-writing from Charlie Moule. And I learned the extreme value of letters from him. Email doesn’t have the same impact, and even face-to-face conversations don’t have the lasting impact that a written document can have. I have saved all his letters, and hope that many others who have been influenced by his life have, too. I’ve thought for several years of publishing a book of letters from Moule—not just letters that he wrote me but those he wrote many others as well. Each letter would tell its own story and show that there used to be giants among us, scholars whose heads were firmly attached to their hearts. Perhaps now is the time to get started on that tome.
He was the consummate gentleman, always rehashing the contents of my letters to him, affirming my life and ministry as though I were his own grandson. But Moule had no children or grandchildren. He was a life-long bachelor who never even learned how to drive a car. He was also one of the happiest scholars—indeed, one of the happiest human beings—that I’ve ever known. One can wonder whether this was due to his celibate state or to his bipedal mobility; ultimately, I think it was due to his genuine devotion to Jesus Christ—a devotion that was not merely cerebral but poured forth from his whole being.
We disagreed over many things, but always in the spirit of collegiality. He would not endorse the NET Bible even though he personally called it "a miracle" (largely because of the extensive and well-documented footnotes). His reason for not endorsing it was that he didn’t want to endorse things that were too evangelical. Yet he was not always consistent in such matters. He not only endorsed my Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament, but he co-nominated me, with Harold Hoehner, for membership in the Society of New Testament Studies. This is a rather prestigious society that demands that applicants go through several academic hoops to get in. Many scholars apply several times before getting accepted. In large measure, because of the backing of C. F. D. Moule (a former president of the Society), I was elected for membership the first year I was nominated.
Theologically, Moule was a moderate. He fully embraced the bodily resurrection of Christ and the deity of Christ. Yet his view on scripture, on the Holy Spirit, and many other matters would hardly be considered evangelical. Any view that Moule expounded on, however, had to be dealt with seriously. He was as careful a biblical scholar as one could find.
When I spent the day with him back in April of 1995, he offered many anecdotes about noted scholars. We turned at one point to talk about D. A. Carson. Moule blurted out, when I mentioned his name, "Oh, he’s my favorite fundamentalist!" I then asked him if Dr. Carson would appreciate being called a fundamentalist. "Probably not" Charlie said with a wink in his eye.
When I wrote to him about the litter that our beagle, Gini (or Sweet Generis—a Latin word-play) had, I told him that we were going to keep one of the puppies. Her name was Kunopa Kala. I reminded him that he would have to dust off his Homer to understand her name. He fired back a letter: "What a great name for a dog! And how appropriate that you put her name in the vocative!" That was news to me!
I believe that Moule had memorized the Greek New Testament, just as his predecessor at Cambridge, C. H. Dodd, had done. After one of his visits to Cambridge a few years ago, on the train ride home, Charlie’s only copy of the Greek New Testament was stolen, a copy that he had had for decades. Yet one could almost see the smile on his face as he wrote to me, "I hope that the thief will come to see the real value of his new treasure!" My Advanced Greek Grammar class at Dallas Seminary pooled their resources and we purchased a Biblia Sacra for him (a one-volume Hebrew Old Testament with the Greek New Testament), a gift for which he was exceedingly grateful. In the interim, when he had no Greek New Testament, he continued to write to me. He made many helpful comments about the NET Bible (of which I am the senior New Testament editor). In several places, he commented on the Greek text and our translation of it. Yet his comments on the Greek text were all from memory.
On the five hundredth anniversary of Lady Margaret’s Chair of Divinity at Cambridge University in 2002, Moule returned to Cambridge for the festivities. He was being honored as one of the most prestigious occupiers of that chair in its long history. Although known as one of the great New Testament scholars of the twentieth century, Moule was actually a professor of theology! Many students know him for his insightful Idiom-Book of New Testament Greek (second edition, 1959). As well, he wrote several essays and books on New Testament themes. A good friend of mine has said, "Theologians have opinions but exegetes have evidence." Moule was a theologian with evidence on his side, for he was a superb, sober-minded exegete.
Although known in evangelical New Testament circles for his Idiom-Book, Moule’s greatest academic accomplishment has to be his Origin of Christology (1977). It is still well worth reading. Indeed, it is must reading for anyone who wants to think deeply about this profound subject. When one of the Star Wars movies opened in theaters, I took my family to see the movie on opening day. I knew the lines would be long, so I brought my copy of Origin of Christology with me to reread while standing in line. When the movie started, I slipped it behind my back and forgot about it when I left the theater. The next day, I returned to see if someone had turned it in. There it was in the ticket kiosk! I wrote Charlie about this, and he noted wryly that using his book for back support was the most unusual use anyone had ever made of the book!
When I pleaded with him to write his autobiography, he simply said, "My life is not that interesting; no one would read such a boring book!" I’ve never known anyone more humble than Charlie Moule. "Pretentious" would never be an adjective to describe him. He showed more interest in my work than any other scholar did. Yet I was not treated in a particularly special way. He treated everyone the same, with grace, wit, humility, and endearing warmth.
I could go on and on telling stories about my friend and mentor, Charlie Moule. His life was fascinating to me, as I hope this little glimpse of it has been for you. At first, I was surprised to see the incredible warmth in his epistles. Then, I started to doubt myself, wondering whether he would be so kind of I misstepped in my missives to him. But he was always the same, even when we had strong disagreements, and even when I had offered some half-baked ideas that he shot down with ease.
He was completely lucid till his dying day, even though living in an assisted-living home for the last few years. His letters were filled with Latin, Greek, German, and Hebrew, yet were written in a lively style with a great sense of humor and an excessive use of exclamation points. They combined, like none I’ve ever seen (except for Bruce Metzger’s), the personal warmth and intellectual rigor of a genuine Christian scholar. When I would write, I would wait no more than ten days before getting a handwritten response. I always owed him a letter. I was planning on writing him again this weekend when I got the news of his passing today. The death of a friend always hits me hard. Even though C. F. D. Moule was nearly ninety-nine, and even though I knew that his day would come soon, I was not prepared for it today. It hit me hard both because of my relationship to him and because he was the sole survivor of a dying breed. With his death is the passing of the last of the gentlemen-scholars.