John Muddiman (born 1947) was a gentle giant in the field of New Testament Studies and the community of Mansfield College. John first came up to Oxford in 1965 as an open scholar in Classics and Theology at Keble College, where he took a first-class honours degree. According to The New Testament and the Church (ed. Groves and Barton), a festschrift presented to John in 2015, his background in Classics and Theology gave him ‘an intuitive understanding of the world of the New Testament and an ability to convey it to others.’

After completing his degree at Keble, John spent two years at Selwyn College, Cambridge where he took a starred first in Part Three of the Theology Tripos (now called an MPhil), and a year in Leuven from 1971-1972 with the World Council of Churches. John returned to Oxford to serve as the Hastings Rashdall Research Fellow and Assistant Chaplain at New College (1972-1974), Greek Tutor for the Theology Faculty (1976-1983), Tutor, Director of Studies, and Vice-Principal of St Stephen’s House (1976-1983), Chaplain of St Hilda’s College, Oxford (1981-1983), and a Mansfield College Lecturer and New Testament Tutor (1980-1983). In the midst of these posts, John completed his DPhil in 1976 under the supervision of George Caird at Mansfield on the fasting controversy in Mark’s Gospel.

In 1983, John was appointed as Lecturer in New Testament Studies at the University of Nottingham, a post he held for almost 8 years. He returned to Mansfield in 1990 – much to the delight of Fellows and friends – to the post named for his supervisor: the G.B. Caird Fellow. In 1992, he was given a joint appointment in the Theology Faculty of the University alongside his Mansfield fellowship. 

As recounted at the time of John’s retirement in 2012, few people gave so much to Mansfield and with such good humour as John. Out of loyalty to his Faculty and College, John took on much more than his share of administrative responsibilities. During his time at Mansfield, John served the College as Tutor for Admissions (1992-1997), Co-director of the Oxford Centre for Environment, Ethics and Society (1992-1996), and Tutor for Welfare (2012); and the Theology Faculty and University as Chair of the Faculty Board (2000-2002), Chair of the Faculty (2011-2012) and University Assessor (2009-2010). In fact, as Mansfield had only recently become a College within the University, this was the first time the College elected an Assessor or Proctor and John was the first Mansfield Fellow to serve in this role. As colleagues recall, his calm and measured approach equipped him well for this, though he also sought to innovate imaginatively in the interests of students.

John’s academic interests extended beyond College and Faculty and he was also involved as a Governor both of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies and the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies; served on the Europaeum Committee; and on the Permanent Private Hall and Recognised Independent Centres committees. In meetings, John is remembered by colleagues as never dominant, but always judicious, gentle, and constructive. 

Within the College, John was known and widely regarded by students across years and disciplines. He is remembered for many for social gatherings in his College room on a Sunday evening, graduation dinners and termly meals of pizza and garlic bread in his home, the warm greetings shared across the quad as he arrived each day wearing his bike helmet, and, of course, the image of John sitting on a bench smoking his pipe. His compassion and kindness spilled over to students and colleagues alike. As one former JCR President recounts, when she became president, John ‘voluntarily consulted me on the grace to make a slight (and Muslim friendly) amendment to [what] I’d have to read out – Jesus Christ the Redeemer rather than Jesus Christ the Lord.’ As she continues, ‘I was touched by it and even now am moved by his kindness and thoughtfulness.’ A popular lecturer and teacher, John always pushed his students in their thinking and writing and was keen to form his doctoral students as teachers. He often invited them to co-lecture with him and would then spend hours after each lecture offering feedback over a comforting cup of tea. 

As a scholar, John was precise, original, and erudite. He eschewed the principle to which some scholars adhere, to leave no thought unpublished, and judiciously wrote on subjects to which he could make a real contribution. His well-received commentary on Ephesians in the distinguished Blacks New Testament Commentary series defied norms of the genre by being both highly original and oriented to the primary text rather than endlessly discussing secondary literature. He partnered with Professor John Barton to edit the monumental 1.5 million-word Oxford Bible Commentary, which has become a classic among theological students because of its unmatched pound-for-pound value in scholarship and scope. In seminars his vast but lightly-worn learning was on display, as he would recall arcane textual variants from memory or argue in novel ways for the literary dependence of one text upon another, or perhaps contend for the revision of some long-held scholarly prejudice about a New Testament text’s date or composition history. His joy and fascination with the material inspired hundreds of theological students in tutorials and lectures, as he invited them to join him in the task of interpretation, and his convivial hospitality – mentioned multiple times by almost all who knew him – was a welcome comfort in the midst of demanding terms. John was known too for his witty humour and his ever humane and liberal values. He was greatly loved by his students.

John always had one foot in the academy and one in the church, standing ‘in the great tradition of Anglican scholar-priests’ (The New Testament and the Church). This is embodied by his first book, The Bible, Fountain and Well of Truth, reviewed posthumously by G.B. Caird: ‘Dr Muddiman writes out of a conviction that today renewal must be scriptural in character, and that it must entail a proper balance between the critical study of the Bible and Bible reading with the eyes of faith nurtured on the corporate life, traditions, and experience of the Church’ (JTS, Oct. 1984). As in the academy, John’s loyalty to the Church was also marked by service, including membership of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (1991-2005) and as Chair of the Church of England’s Theological Education and Training Committee (1995-2002). Closer to home, John was a well-known figure in the College Chapel at Mansfield where he served as Associate Chaplain. Ordained as Deacon in the Church of England in 1971 and as Priest in 1972, John served the parish churches of St Mary and St Nicholas, Littlemore, St Cross, and St Mary Magdalen. He had a wide and well-deserved reputation for his preaching.

For many years, John assisted the Vicar of Littlemore – the Revd Dr David Nicholls. When David died unexpectedly, John shouldered the responsibility of parish services and pastoral care alongside his University and College duties, much to the amazement of his colleagues and friends. During this period, John’s friendship with David’s widow Gillian, a medic, gradually grew. Gill would regularly attend Wednesday Chapel services at Mansfield and dinner afterwards and they enjoyed travelling together, advanced cooking courses, and sharing their culinary delights with their many friends. They were engaged and married in 2010 and the reception at Mansfield was an absolutely joyous occasion. Tragically, Gillian died from aggressive cancer shortly after their honeymoon.

John has two sons – Joe and Tom – and he remained close to them and their families. John retired to Bingham in 2012 to be near his son Joe. He looked after his grandchildren multiple days each week and enjoyed cooking Sunday lunch with them. John was, of course, a superb cook and skilled at sugar craft, making brilliant family wedding cakes, including his own.

John died on 5 December 2020. The College hopes to offer a service to remember and celebrate John’s life when such gatherings are possible. He continues to teach us through his enduring wisdom and his extraordinary writings. May he rest in peace.

These reflections include contributions from Tony Lemon, David Lincicum, Peggy Morgan, Rosna Mortuza, and Jennifer Strawbridge.