Minister known for his controversial work on the structure of the Gospel

Born: June 4, 1919;

Died: December 31, 2018

ANDREW Morton, who has died aged 99, was one of the last of a type of Church of Scotland minister who has virtually disappeared, a recognised authority in his academic field and a parish minister all his working life. He was particularly known for his pioneering and controversial work on the structure of the Gospel.

It has to be said that Mr Morton’s output exceeded that of many full-time biblical scholars and earlier this year he hit a milestone reached by very few ministers. He celebrated the 60th anniversary of his ordination when he was inducted to St Andrew’s Church in Fraserburgh in January 1949 where he stayed until 1960. He then moved to the historic Fife parish of Culross where he remained until he retired in 1987, by which time he had undertaken a union between the churches of Culross Abbey, Torryburn and Newmills in 1983.

Despite an increasing workload Mr Morton co-authored five books, and contributed 16 articles to learned journals. In 1973 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Andrew Morton was educated at Wellshot and Eastbank schools in Edinburgh and then spent ten years at Glasgow University graduating in arts, science and divinity.

In 1956 he was minister of St Andrew's Church in Fraserburgh, where his younger daughter Janet was born. For some time he had been co-operating with his former teacher, Professor G H C McGregor, on the large number of places in St John’s Gospel where the order of events or sayings of Jesus appear disorganised and out of any explicable order.

In the summer of 1956 Professor McGregor travelled to Fraserburgh to baptise Janet. Andrew Morton recalled “On the Monday morning we sat down at my desk and by mid-afternoon we had grasped the structure of the Gospel.”

They concluded that John’s Gospel had previously existed in a much shorter version which was later enlarged. They published their research and conclusions in The Structure of the Fourth Gospel, published in 1961.

The book attracted the notice of Dr (later Professor) Andrew Booth, a Fellow of Birkbeck College and a pioneer in the development of computers in the United Kingdom. He suggested the use of a computer in their New Testament research.

Andrew Morton recalled explained the project progressed in the spring and summer of 1963. “We could tell if a piece of Greek prose, of the type likely to be met in the New Testament, was by one man or more ... Every major New Testament problem, from composition to chronology, would have to be looked at again. Those who had devoted their careers to the New Testament did not rush to revise their work."

Andrew Morton went on: “We received help and encouragement from a number of scientists and mathematicians. From our New Testament colleagues we received a patronising scepticism. It was a saddening sight to see so many scholars standing naked before a new idea.”

Professor McGregor had for long been persuaded that the version of the Gospel available to us now was the result of the blending together of two different sources into one and said he was greatly impressed by the number of statistical coincidences revealed by Morton, and the way in which his confirmation of two sources being editorially merged into one confirmed his own theories.

The work of the two men met with considerable suspicion, however, not to say academic derision and elements of self-interest. The world of New Testament scholarship was awash with books suggesting possible authors of the books of the New Testament, but these works had to rely on their authors’ theories. However, if Morton and McGregor were correct, then there was a much more obvious way of assessing authorship than theories or hunches - the pattern of word usage and sentence structure (which was itself become a significant area of literary study).

McGregor’s co-operation with Morton was, superficially at least, an unlikely one. Garth McGregor was a pacifist whose first book, published in 1961, was an examination of the support he believed there was in the New Testament for Christian pacifism. Andrew Morton saw war service with the RAF Volunteer Reserves.

Andrew Morton was educated at Wellshot and Eastbank Schools in Glasgow. Study for his three degrees, MA, BSc and BD between 1938 and 1948, was interrupted by his war service with the RAF in Burma. In 1973 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and for many years he was an honorary research fellow in computing science at the University of Glasgow.

He was an extremely convivial companion, and had what seemed infinite patience in explaining his work to those interested but less qualified.

He was pre-deceased by his wife Jean and was father to Alan, Susan and Janet.