New Testament Worthies
Morton Scott Enslin
8 March 1897 - 14 Dec 1980

Morton Enslin

Enslin, a Somerville native, started his education at Harvard (AB 1919, following two years of active duty in the Navy at the end of WW1), and received a BD from what was then the Newton Theological institution in 1922, and a ThD from Harvard in 1924. In that year, he joined the faculty of the Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester Pennsylvania as Professor of New Testament Literature, and was instrumental in founding the Crozer Theological Quarterly. From 1925 he served in parallel as Lecturer in Patristics in the University of Pennsylvania graduate school. His scholarly writings began to appear soon after, with an article on Paul and Gamaliel (Journal of Religion, 1927), which inaugurated a lifelong study of the complex Luke/Paul/Acts problem; for historical credibility, he came down definitively on the side of Paul as against Acts. In 1928, in the Journal of Biblical Literature, there followed an article showing that the Ascension of Jesus (as an event separate from his posthumous Appearance) is virtually unique to Luke, and cannot be taken as strictly historical. Enslin was a Visiting Professor at the Chicago Theological Seminary in summer 1929, in which year also appeared a piece on the Historical Jesus (in the Chicago-based Journal of Religion); it began: "It is fast becoming a truism among New Testament critics that it is a hopeless task to attempt to write a life or history of Jesus in any approved sense of these terms. The materials for such a study are totally inadequate." He goes on to quote Easton approvingly, and ends by suspecting that Acts "would appear to give us aid in detecting genuine historical tradition in the Gospel accounts." This habit of reading the texts together, and not in isolation, was the key to Enslin's progress. He welcomed the massive study of Foakes-Jackson and Lake (The Beginnings of Christianity, 5v, 1920-1933) upon the appearance of the last two volumes in 1933, but at the same time put on record his own doubts about Acts: ""My own impression from an almost microscopic study of the volumes is an increased doubt as to the accuracy of the book of Acts as history." As for Luke and Paul, or for the author of Acts, whoever he was, and Paul, "The evident admiration of the author for Paul, and the fact that he devoted half his volume to a chronicle of Paul's experiences make it to me unthinkable that he was unacquainted with his letters." a position later reached also by Vielhauer. Still more presciently, he predicts that "we shall awake some morning to find that it has become orthodox again to believe that Luke actually used Matthew."

Evidently inspired by Jackson-Lake, and realizing that there was still much to be done, Enslin produced his own three-volume work on Christian Beginnings in 1938. This was widely used as a textbook and was also successful also with the general public. The material on early Judaism was twice as extensive as that on early Christianity, and the following survey of Christian literature was larger than both together. This was Enslin's summa, but not his conclusion. He returned to the core problem of Luke by noting one of Luke's symbolic usages in Luke and the Samaritans (Harvard Theological Review, 1943), concluding that piece with this comment on Luke's story of the Ten Lepers, "Thus it would appear entirely unnecessary to look beyond Luke's own ingenuity for this story." There, following up previous suggestions, and more than a decade before Austin Farrer's Dispensing with Q paper of 1955, was sounded the death knell not only of Q, but of Luke's other fictitious source, L. That same year, Enslin tried to extract a shred of history from Acts in The Sequence of Events in Acts 9-15 and the Career of Peter, remarking at one point, "It is not difficult do discern that the order of events is almost totally dislocated throughout this section of Acts." This steady pursuit of truth in Scripture did not pass unnoticed. In 1945 Enslin became the President of the Society of Biblical Literature, and was also awarded an honorary DD by Colby College. His SBL Presidential Address on the Future of Biblical studies, as he wasted no time in noting, should actually have been called Is There a Future for Biblical Studies? He went on to say, "To me this is a very real question, and I confess that I do not know the answer. I see perils all along the line, and I am increasingly pessimistic as to the outcome." And again, "One final word. What about our students? Are we training men to be ready for these tasks awaiting American scholarship? Frankly, I doubt it. The majority of my students are unable even to make effective use of Hebrew and Greek, know little German and less Latin. . . I shiver at the type of student we seem to be attracting. Granted that many of them will make faithful and not ineffective pastors, but where are the men to come from to do the work which is singularly elusive to the man whose professional equipment does not extend beyond a round full voice, the ability to provide an hour's retreat from reality once a week, and a perspiring readiness to apply his monkey wrench to all the sexual maladjustments in his larger parish?" This was accurately enough observed, but all the same, these are not terms of endearment to the traditionally minded. Enslin's contribution to the 1951 Grant Festschrift was also a word to preachers. In it, he took very much Bacon's position on the need to educate a congregation in the modern understanding of Scripture. "For a man to be in a pulpit for five years, and to say of the findings of scholarship, I agree with this, but I can't present it to my people, for they are not ready for it, is to convict himself of utter incompetence." This was in 1951.

In 1954, after a year at Drew Theological Seminary, Enslin was dismissed from the largely Baptist Crozer for his Christological inadequacies, after a full thirty years there. In 1955 he took a position as Craig Professor of Biblical Languages and Literature at the Universalist St Lawrence University Theological School in Canton, New York. The Universalists gave Enslin a wide forum; his book From Jesus to the Gospels was based on lectures delivered at the University of Minnesota under the sponsorship of the Minnesota Unitarian Universalist College Centers Committee, and repeated two years later at the All Souls Unitarian Church of Tulsa Oklahoma. The last chapter, in which Enslin wryly noted the persistence of pagan myths (like that of Hippolytus) under Christian guise, gave him a perfect opportunity to note what had happened to serious scholarship at Crozer, and in particular to the journal he had founded there, since his departure: "In the concluding lecture I have made considerable use of an earlier lecture which I delivered at Crozer Theological Seminary when I was a professor there, and which was subsequently published in the now extinct Crozer Quarterly, Vol XXVI, No 1 (January, 1950), perhaps because I was then its editor. It is a pleasant duty to express my thanks to the present administration of that school for permission to use that copyrighted material, a courtesy reminiscent of past years." That book came out in 1964, the year in which Enslin was awarded an honorary DHL by Hebrew Union College.

Enslin's association with St Lawrence ended the following year, when the Theology School itself went out of existence, due to the consolidation of the Universalist Church of America and the American Unitarian Association. After a summer at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Enslin was taken on as a Visiting Lecturer (but also Chairman) in the Department of the History of Religion at Bryn Mawr, from 1965 to 1968. From this period comes Enslin's Prolegomenon to the reissue of Israel Abrahams' Studies in Pharisaism and the Gospels, a book which had originally been meant as a companion to the Montefiore commentary. Enslin's study of Luke and Matthew (Jewish Quarterly Review, 1967), which probes the relationship of the two Gospels, showing in fine detail how Matthean material has been reshaped by Luke, but also leaving open the possibility that Matthew was not Luke's only non-Markan source. This was followed by a final period at Dropsie, where he held a Professorship from 1968 until his death in 1980. One of its first fruits was his edition of the Hebrew and Greek texts of Judith, with an introduction and appendices by Solomon Zeitlin, which came out in 1972. That same year, as though to mark the effective end of his period of active scholarship, appeared a Festschrift (Understanding the Sacred Text), with Frank Beare among the editors and contributors.

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