Peter Head has brought to my attention the death, on 10 February, of R. T. France, one of the most significant evangelical British New Testament scholars of his generation. After earning his Ph.D. at the University of Bristol in 1967, France held a number of academic posts, culminating in his Principalship at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, from 1989-95. The measure of the man, however, may be seen in his serving in regular pastoral capacity at Anglican parishes in England and Wales from 1995 until his retirement in 1999.
I first came upon the work of Dick France via his penetrating doctoral thesis, Jesus and the Old Testament, while I was studying the Use of the Old Testament and the New with Darrell Bock and Don Glenn at Dallas Seminary in the spring of 1986 (the measure of the work’s value is seen in its continued availability more than 40 years on). Later, his work, Matthew: Evangelist and Teacher, served me well as I was preparing for my doctoral comps (likewise, this work is still in print).
However, France’s lasting legacy is assured by the two works he undertook in his retirement, his magisterial commentaries on Mark, in the New International Greek Testament Commentary, and on Matthew in the New International Commentary on the New Testament. This latter work especially, despite the limits of its series, has established itself—at least to yours truly—as second, in a very large and accomplished field, only to Davies and Allison’s massive, three-volume ICC commentary on the Gospel.
I leave you with a sample of France’s work, a fragment of his comments on Matthew 1:21, the angelic announcement of Jesus’ birth to Joseph:
The Hebrew Yehôšua’ is normally taken to mean “Yahweh is salvation,” so that the interpretation in terms of saving from sin derives from the popular Hebrew understanding of the name; the similarity to the Hebrew verb yôšȋa‘ (“he will save”) may have helped with Matthew’s formulation of the meaning of the name in a future verb, “he will save.” But whereas the OT name spoke of God as the savior, Mary’s son is himself to be the agent of salvation; here is scope for profound Christological reflection on the part of any of Matthew’s readers who can see behind the common Greek name to its Hebrew origin. “His people” in relation to the mission of a “son of David” must in the first place denote Israel, but even if at this stage Matthew’s readers have not yet recognized the universalistic implications of the title “son of Abraham” and of the non-Israelite women in the genealogy, they will not have to read far into the book before they become aware that the scope of salvation is being spread more widely. Indeed, one of the key issues which will dominate the final confrontation in Jerusalem, and will be brought to its climax in 28:18-20, will be who are to constitute the continuing people of God and the role of Jesus in bringing into being what he will significantly describe in 16:18 as “my ekklēsia” [my church].
R.I.P., Dr. France, as the words of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer so eloquently say, “in the sure hope of the Resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall change our vile body, that it may be like unto his glorious body, according to the mighty working, whereby he is able to subdue all things to himself.”