Y Parchedig Owen E. Evans
In memory of Owen E Evans – New Testament scholar who lectured at Bangor University and dedicated years of labour to the task of translating the New Welsh Bible.
Owen Evans’ friends will know of him as a son of Barmouth in Merionethshire, although he had spent his first five years in London. He was born on 23 December 1920 and when his father, a pharmacist by occupation, died, the family returned to Wales and settled in Barmouth. Upon leaving Grammar School in 1937 Owen went back to London to join the Civil Service, and while there, began to preach on the Welsh Methodist circuit. During this period, he felt the call to present himself as a candidate for the ministry, and was accepted to his denomination’s college in Headingley, Leeds. He studied there from 1946 to 1949, and while there came under the influence of Vincent Taylor, a New Testament scholar held in high regard by Owen. Owen was ordained in 1951, and spent two years as a minister in Cricieth, but he was soon appointed to the Chair of New Testament at Hartley Victoria College in Manchester, where he stayed for 16 years. While there he spent some time assisting another well-known New Testament scholar, T.W. Manson, a lecturer at Manchester university. It is interesting to note that Owen’s last publication was an essay entitled ‘On Serving Two Masters’, where he paid tribute to Taylor and Manson, and discussed their influence on him. The essay (written years earlier, but unpublished) was published in the volume The Bible in Church, Academy and Culture: Essays in Honor of John Tudno Williams (ed. Alan P.F. Sell; Eugene, Oregon, UDA: Wipf & Stock 2011, pp. 124-41).
In early 1969 Owen joined the Biblical Studies Department (as it was known at the time) at Bangor University College, lecturing on the New Testament in Welsh, and stayed there until his retirement in 1988.
In 1963 he was appointed chair of the panel charged with translating the New Testament, and then in 1974, he was appointed Director of the New Welsh Bible. It is not easy to apprehend the time and labour given by Owen Evans to this work, and thanks to the tireless work undertaken by him and his co-panellists, the complete Bible was ready for publication on St David’s Day 1988. The New Testament appeared in 1975, but the New Testament panel continued to meet, as that version needed to be revised and the Apocrypha books translated. Owen’s contribution was recognised with the award of a University of Wales Honorary Doctorate in Theology in 1988, and in due course he was elected a Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales.
It could have been expected that Owen would rest on his laurels upon retiring and seeing the New Welsh Bible published, but on the contrary, he started work on the Index, an alphabetical list of every word that appears in the New Welsh Bible – a wholly extraordinary task that took ten years to complete. This work involved mastering all the new computer techniques available, and there is no doubt that the published volume – which runs to well over a thousand pages – is a masterpiece and an important, useful and necessary tool for anyone seriously studying the Bible.
It is no surprise that Owen’s publications, particularly from 1976 on, were concerned with the task of translating the Bible. This was the topic of the Henry Lewis Memorial Lecture that Owen delivered in 1976, and also the theme of the A.S. Peake Memorial Lecture, delivered in English by Owen in the same year. The previous year, he delivered the D.J. James lectures, which were published in a volume entitled Saints in Christ Jesus: A Study of the Christian Life in the New Testament (Gwasg John Penry, 1975). In a later volume he discussed the validity, authorship, date and location of the New Testament letters attributed to Paul (Arweiniad i’r Testament Newydd: Y Llythyrau Paulaidd; University of Wales Press, 1984).
Owen was a lifelong committed pacifist. He was a conscientious objector during the Second World War, and in 1941 had to face a tribunal in Colwyn Bay to argue that he could not reconcile going to war with his Christian faith. He was active in the Fellowship of Reconciliation in Wales for many years and was elected Vice-President in 1989-1991 and President of the movement in 1992-94.
I was his student during the early 70s, and one of his particular characteristics as a lecturer was his considerate generosity to all students in his care. He taught me how to read the New Testament in the original language, and everyone who attended his classes would remember the detailed attention he gave to the meaning and etymology of each word. When I returned to Bangor as a lecturer in the late 70s, Owen was an amiable colleague who was always prepared to help, and my personal debt to him for his support, his kind advice and guidance over the years is great.
When Owen retired from the Department, I had the privilege of editing a volume in tribute to him (Efrydiau Beiblaidd Bangor 4, Gwasg Gee, 1988), which was an opportunity for colleagues and friends to show their appreciation of his contribution to Welsh language Biblical scholarship. Owen spent his last years in a care home in Llanfairpwll, and losing his spouse, Margaret, last year was a cruel blow.
Owen Evans died on 31 October 2018 and a memorial service was held in Ebeneser chapel, Caernarfon, the chapel where he was ordained 67 years ago. As a lecturer, successive generations of students were in Owen’s debt, and through his work on the New Welsh Bible, the whole nation of Wales is also indebted to him.
Prepared by Professor Eryl Wynn Davies DD FLSW