Moore Theological College pays tribute to Dr Bill Dumbrell (1926 – 2016)

Dr William J Dumbrell was born in 1926, was converted when he was twenty-five in 1951 and began his studies at Moore Theological College four years later, and took out a BD externally from the University of London with First Class Honours in 1961. He later earned an MTh from the same university in 1966 and a ThD from Harvard University in 1970. He was ordained in 1956 and served in churches in Parramatta and Ermington before lecturing at Moore College from 1963–66. Upon his return from Harvard, he lectured at Moore College in Old Testament from 1971 to 1984 and was Vice Principal from 1975–84. He then taught at Regent College, Vancouver, from 1984–88, before returning to teach at Moore College from 1988–1994. Bill and Norma then left for missionary service in Singapore, where Bill taught at Trinity College. Bill has been a prolific author of books and articles, including Covenant and Creation: An Old Testament Covenantal Theology (Exeter: Paternoster, 1984; 2nd edn 2013); The Faith of Israel: Its Expression in the Books of the Old Testament (Leicester: IVP, 1988; 2nd edn 2002); and The Search for Order: Biblical Eschatology in Focus (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994). Bill is survived by his wife Norma and his adult children, David, Ian, Grace, Naomi, and 6 grandchildren.

Moore Theological College principal, Dr Mark Thompson, commented on his passing with this tribute:

“Bill Dumbrell has been a teacher, mentor and friend to many. His enormous impact as a biblical exegete, theologian and minister of the gospel is felt throughout the world. Those of us who have had the privilege of being taught by him have much for which we can thank God. Alongside his highly respected contributions in the area of Old Testament studies, his theological acuity more generally, and his sense of humour and unique personality, his commitment above all else to the Lord Jesus and his gospel will leave an enduring mark on all of us. His prayerful interest in, and deep love of Moore College, right from those early days as a student through his time as Vice Principal in the 70s and 80s and into his retirement, was undoubted. It was most definitely reciprocated. If there were such a thing as a ‘Number One Borrower’ card at the Moore College library, it would undoubtedly be held by Bill. At the time of his call home to be with the Lord he had been a dearly loved and respected member of the Moore College community for more than sixty years.

One of Bill’s enduring concerns was the unity of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, a unity to be found in the idea of God’s unfolding covenant. He would emphasise again and again that this began at creation and not just at Genesis 12! His contributions in this area revolutionised the thinking of many and continues to be drawn upon by scholars, students and pastors across the world. Yet Bill had so much more to say as well, writing on many books of the New Testament as well as the Old Testament and theological themes such as eschatology. His memorable Annual Moore College Lectures, delivered in 1983 and later published as The End of the Beginning: Revelation 21–22 and the Old Testament (Sydney: Lancer, 1985), were the first I ever heard and they shook the foundations and stretched the mind of more than just this single first year student.

My initial interview to come to Moore College as a student was with Bill Dumbrell in 1982. I remember thinking at the time that he was more nervous than I was. That, of course, wasn’t true, but he was certainly able to put me at ease. Later, when he returned from study leave in Canada, I discovered his lectures were a unique experience, full of gems even if the structure wasn’t always visible. His humour was memorable. One group of students a couple of years later purged the tapes of his lectures that year of all substance and kept just the jokes and asides, labelling it ‘The Best of Bill’. We all knew we were in the presence of a very fine mind but he was always deeply engaging as just ‘Bill’. He could certainly argue his position strongly and took no prisoners in debate, but he was genuinely concerned for the students he had the opportunity to teach and shape as gospel men and women of the future.

Bill now enjoys the presence of the Lord he served throughout his life and though we grieve his loss to us, and especially to Norma and their family, we rejoice that he is safe in the care of the one who has loved him from eternity.”

Others have reflected on Dr Dumbrell and his impact. We feature some of these comments here.

Archbishop Dr Glenn Davies, President of the Governing Board and Former Faculty member:

“Bill Dumbrell was a gifted Christian man, a devoted husband and father, an outstanding scholar, a humble servant of the Scriptures, an inspiring teacher, a capable administrator, a gracious colleague, and a true friend. The Church of God and we especially in Sydney are in his debt for encouraging generations of students to take  every thought captive to the obedience of Christ and to proclaim the kingdom of God with passion and conviction.”

Dr Paul Barnett, Former Bishop of North Sydney and Emeritus Faculty member:

“Like many others I owe a great debt of gratitude to Bill Dumbrell.  He was my first teacher of Greek and later as Dean of Regent College, Vancouver extended the invitation that began a thirty year association with that distinguished hall of learning.  Bill was a clever and good man, a devoted servant of Jesus.”

Dr Barry Webb, Former Head of Old Testament and Emeritus Faculty member:

“I owe an enormous debt to Bill Dumbrell. I was in awe of him as a student at Moore College in the 1970s for his sharp mind and great learning. He was my first teacher in the Hebrew language. He opened my eyes to the riches of the Old Testament. He encouraged me to pursue higher studies and to consider full-time Christian ministry. He was a powerful influence on me at that critical period of my life and helped set its whole future direction. I will always remember him fondly and with much thankfulness to God.”

Dr Andrew Shead, Head of Old Testament, Moore College:

“Bill Dumbrell was unparalleled in his ability to master the trees and the forest simultaneously, combining knowledge of numerous languages and fine details of the text with a sweeping theological perceptiveness that spanned the extent of Scripture. He was a highly original and adventurous thinker, who never allowed age to set him in his ways. In particular, his work on covenant has helped to shape the thinking of generations of biblical theologians around the world. Bill’s air of the absent-minded professor could not hide his sharp wit or his interest in people, which made him a much loved teacher, colleague and friend.”

Dr Bill Dumbrell’s funeral will be held at St Philip’s Caringbah (402 Port Hacking Road), on this Wednesday 5 October at 1:30pm.

The Dumbrell family have asked that donations be made to the Moore College Library in lieu of sending flowers. Donations can be made to the Treasures of the Moore College Library

(Above: Moore College Faculty, circa 1985. Dr. Dumbrell arrowed courtesy Anglican Church League. Click for a larger version. Top photo of Dr Dumbrell courtesy Baker Publishing.)

Here’s a sermon on Luke 19:41-42 preached by Dr. Dumbrell at Moore College Chapel in 1986.

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