Larry Hurtado was my Mentor: A Eulogy

by Mark Zhakevich | The Master’s Seminary and University

As I reflect on the life of my Doktorvater, Professor Larry Hurtado, a fitting description for his legacy is Pastor-Scholar. Before Professor Hurtado became a renowned New Testament scholar, he was a pastor.

He led a congregation from 1971 to 1975, at the same time as being a PhD student at Case Western Reserve University. In 1973 he was awarded his PhD, and life circumstances led him out of the pastorate into the academy. However, he never shed his love for people and ministry. As a New Testament scholar, he continued to speak at churches all over the globe, and he was committed to a local church in Leith, Edinburgh.

In June of 2017, after my viva, I had a 3-hour lunch with Professor Hurtado and asked him questions about his academic career, his family, his 20+ years at the University of Edinburgh, and his ministry. As we talked about his pastoral experience, he reflected on two aspects. First, God blessed his years as a pastor by growing the church numerically. The church grew at such a pace that other pastors began to visit and inquire as to what he was doing that resulted in the growth of his church. His reply was: “I was merely preaching the Bible.” Second, he loved to serve people, but when he was going through a difficult family trial, he said: “The church served me as much, if not more, as I served the church.”

One of my warmest memories with Professor Hurtado occurred in 2014 at SBL in San Diego over a meal. We went to lunch at a French café and before we began eating, he paused and said: “Let’s pray over our meal.” He thanked God for the meal, closing his prayer in the name of Jesus Christ.

I was fortunate to be one of his last students as he commenced his emeritus status at the University of Edinburgh in 2011. During his supervision of my thesis, he impressed six key lessons on me as his student.

First, he was committed to the biblical text. At one of our first meetings in September 2011, he said to me: “It doesn’t matter how novel the idea is if it is not defensible from the text.”

Second, he always had time for his students. Most of our meetings lasted for 2-3 hours as we talked about my thesis, his forthcoming publications, and advice for an academic career.

Third, he lived a balanced life. He would go for walks around Edinburgh and I would see him walk around Ramsay Gardens in New College, contemplating new ideas. On a few occasions he reminded me to find time to think creatively, and to make sure to enjoy life even during the rigor of the PhD.

Fourth, he invested into the careers of his students by encouraging them to publish, by featuring their research and publications on his blog, and through his endorsements.

Fifth, he was a humble man who appreciated scholarly engagement with his works as is evident on his blog.

Finally, he said to me once: “Scholarly contribution to New Testament studies is incremental and demands old fashioned discipline.”   

Professor Hurtado was a committed scholar who modeled the intersection of faith and scholarship. What an honor to have been mentored by him at the prime of his career. He will be especially remembered by all of us who knew him beyond his scholarship.


Mark Zhakevich (Ph.D., Edinburgh 2017) is Associate Professor of the New Testament at the Master’s Seminary and University, and an Elder at Grace Community Church, Sun Valley, CA.

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Tavis Bohlinger

Dr. Tavis Bohlinger is Editor-in-Chief of the Logos Academic Blog and Creative Director at Reformation Heritage Books. He holds a PhD from Durham University and writes across multiple genres, including academia, poetry, and screenwriting. He lives in Grand Rapids with his wife and three children.

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7 comments
  • Thanks, Mark. I only knew him from a distance. A great help during our doctrinal trial in 2018.

    Will

  • Terrific tribute to Prof. Hurtado, Mark. It was great to meet you this past weekend in the Aramaic Studies section of SBL! In light of the ETS/SBL meetings being in San Diego this past week, it’s amazing how one of your warmest memories was of your time together in SDO 5 years ago!

    Phillip Marshall

    • Thank you Phillip. It was a pleasure to meet you as well. Yes that was a special meal for me and even more memorable in light of his passing during SBL. Happy thanksgiving to your family.

  • I was reading Bart Ehrman’s post about Dr. Hurtado. He says that he knew Dr. Hurtado for 30 years and that they never discussed each other’s personal beliefs. Seems strange.

  • I never met him personally, but I find your tribute perfectly harmonious with my perceptions of his life and work through reading his blog for a couple years. Thank you for these enriched, and enriching, words.

  • I met Larry, as he asked to be known, at the 2015 Vacation Term for Biblical Study in Cambridge (UK). We had a few conversations over the week, the most memorable of which in the refectory. It’s funny that whilst his scholarly exegesis of Christological openings in Paul’s letters have become merged with other exegeses, I most remember a discussion around the lunchtable. After hearing from a few of us MA and PhD students about our research proposals, Larry sliced into a peach and said something along these lines:

    “I have lived for a long time now, and there’s a lot I’ve learned along the way about what is meaningful and what can be left behind, but what most stands out for me is that there is nothing more rewarding than slicing into a peach which is perfectly ripe, and nothing more disappointing than a peach which is not yet ready, and this is a peach which is not yet ready. Perhaps it would be good to come back to the tree a little later in the season when the fruit is ripe.”

    I’ve since quoted this a number of times in pastoral conversations about the need for wisdom, discernment, and a sense of God’s timing, and every time been struck by the wealth of warmth and patience just within this little story which could almost be a parable. My guess is that Mark Zhakevich and I are not alone in having such stories to tell.

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