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Ralph Philip Martin: 1925-2013

Ralph Martin was born in Liverpool on 4 August 1925.  He came to faith in Christ at Anfield Methodist Church, Liverpool.  Early in his life he felt called to the ministry but with the onset of World War II he was called to serve the war effort as a Bevin Boy in the coal mines near Burnley.  After three years in the mines be began training for the Baptist ministry at Manchester Baptist College, earning his first degree with distinction.
Ralph’s first church was Kendal Road Baptist Church, Gloucester, where he was ordained in 1949.  His ministry there was greatly appreciated and it was at this time that his friendship with Lily Nelson of Liverpool blossomed into marriage.  In 1953 Ralph moved to West Street Baptist Church, Dunstable, where again he exercised a fruitful ministry.  The family had by now expanded with the arrival of two daughters, Patricia and Elizabeth.

During these ten years Ralph was not only fully committed to the pastoral role but was developing his academic gifts and gained an MA Degree in Pauline studies from the University of Manchester, and also wrote a widely acclaimed commentary on Philippians.  He was invited to become a lecturer at the London Bible College (1959) where his lucid lecturing skill was relished by the students.  The six years at London included the writing of a thesis on Philippians 2: 5-11 for a PhD from King’s College.  In 1965 he moved to Manchester University, lecturing for the next four years in New Testament.  Then came a very significant move to Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California, serving as Professor of New Testament (1969-88) and Director of Graduate Studies.  This was a highly productive period of Ralph Martin’s illustrious academic career.  He wrote the two volume New Testament Foundations which became a standard work and Commentaries on most of Paul’s letters; served as New Testament Editor for the Word Commentaries of the New Testament, writing James and 2 Corinthians  in the series himself; contributed numerous articles to academic and popular journals; was visiting lecturer to Australia, Jerusalem and Russia.  When he retired to England in 1988 he became an Associate Professor at Sheffield University.

Ralph lived a very fulfilled life but he also experienced sorrow.  The prolonged illness of his beloved Lily brought deep anguish into his life.  Yet he continued to preach, write, mentor students as well as spending time with Lily at the nursing home until her death in 1995.  The last ten years of Ralph’s life brought a restored sense of personal happiness through his marriage in 2002 to Doreen Jones, a retired headmistress and Baptist lay preacher.  He continued working into his eighties before a final illness brought increasing limitation to sight and mobility and he died peacefully at home on 25 February 2013, at eighty seven.

Undoubtedly Dr Ralph Martin was a bright star in the theological firmament yet he never forgot his calling as a minister.  Alongside his distinguished academic career he ministered in seven local churches, two in California and the rest in England.  Professor Howard Marshall said of Ralph “He has always seem his task as a scholar in terms of service to the Gospel and the Church.” He would have been happy to be described as a conservative yet he always encouraged his students to think for themselves and displayed a gracious spirit when interacting with opposite points of view.  In his prodigious output and personal example Ralph Martin bequeathed to the church an outstanding legacy.
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