Published on July 19, 2020 by Paul R. House
I met Jim Packer in June 1999. He was 73 then, and already a legend in Evangelical circles. Over the next 16 years I was privileged to spend dozens of working days with him and the other members of the Translation Oversight Committee of the English Standard Version. In 2006, Beeson sponsored a memorable conference on the theme "J. I. Packer and the Future of Evangelicalism." At the end of the conference, Jim delivered a paper explaining that his vocational goal had been to be "a cathecist for adults." If I qualify as an adult, here are a few things he taught me.
Love human language. Jim was a Classics scholar at Oxford University, and his first teaching job was as a Greek and Latin instructor at Oak Hill College. One of his first scholarly publications was a translation of Luther's Bondage of the Will. He could sightread the Greek New Testament. I will pass over his Hebrew skills. His prose was precise, packed. His reading habits included Agatha Christie novels, for he liked trying to figure out her method. If we want good theologians, we will keep Hebrew, Greek, and Latin (I will pass over my skills in Latin) going. We might also read Agatha Christie.
Love the gospel—love the Bible—love God. Jim became a Christian a few days after coming to Oxford in 1944. The good news of redemption in Jesus Christ through his blood because of the love of the Father and the insistence of the Holy Spirit never stopped amazing him. Shortly after becoming a believer, he realized that he took the Scriptures as God's kind and perfect word. He believed in them a wise God taught him how to live for God's glory. His love for language, the gospel, and the Bible were evident to me in his work on the ESV.
Love the church. Jim was a Reformed Anglican. He embraced the heritage of Cranmer, Ridley, and Latimer as it came down through Henry Venn, Charles Simeon, J.C. Ryle, and Howard Mowll. He upped their game. He also loved the Puritans, which is the only explanation I have for his patience with the works of John Owen. He connected the Reformed threads of Anglicans and Puritans and had a ministry to Presbyterians. He sought unity in truth with Catholics. Jim knew the gates of hell would not stand against the church. When his diocese cast him off, he made great contributions to ACNA. The new ACNA Prayer Book and the ACNA Catechism owe a great deal to his zeal for the truth on behalf of God's people.
Love God's work. Jim persevered. He never lost zeal for what God gave him to do. At the same time, he accepted his age and its limitations. Still, like Caleb, he rose to the work as he did when young. I have seen him do so with gratitude and a good sense of humor.
Love your family. He had a long and compatible marriage to Kit, and he was an appreciative father.
People my age have lost a spiritual father. Younger people have lost a spiritual grandfather. Not to worry. He has left us books we need. He has left a testimony to truth and life in Christ. My guess is that he expects us to get to work.
Paul R. House is professor of divinity at Beeson Divinity School, where he teaches Hebrew and Old Testament courses.