Persistence and Joy in God’s Word: Celebrating Lecturer Murray Smith’s PhD Accomplishment
Christ College’s Lecturer in Biblical Theology and Exegesis, Murray Smith, has recently gained his PhD. This a great accomplishment that has been a long time in the works!
The joy of teaching and training
Murray was called into the teaching role at Christ College while he was serving as an elder and assistant to the minister at Kirkplace Presbyterian Church. At this time he was in the early stages of his PhD in the Department of Ancient History at Macquarie University.
Having grown up in a Christian family, Murray considers himself a “Timothy” (2 Tim 3:14–15), but had a renewal of faith in late high school. He shares, “God really grabbed me, and showed me his grace in Christ I knew I wanted serve God and the work of his kingdom through the church in some way. And I increasingly had a conviction that my gifts were in teaching.”
Murray worked in many roles as he looked for ways to use those gifts. He was a staff worker with the Evangelical Union at Sydney University, then a high school History and Christian Studies teacher, before being ordained as an elder and pursuing further academic study, until he eventually landed at Christ College as a lecturer.
After many years working at Christ College, Murray is still excited by working with students both in and out of the classroom. He shares, “I love the opportunity to spend time in God’s Word with future leaders for God’s church. The ministry of the Word is central to pastoral ministry and to gospel ministry in all its forms.”
He sees training people who are keen and hungry for God’s Word, and who are eager in their training to preach and put it into practice as a blessing. Murray says, “I have the opportunity to help train future leaders and teachers in God’s Word. And that’s a real privilege. I get to do it across the whole canon of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, Old Testament and New Testament, tracing the story of the Bible from creation to new creation.”
Undertaking his PhD over many years
Murray’s PhD thesis is titled ‘Jesus, the Son of Man, and the Final Coming of God, the Origins of Early Christian Second Coming Expectation in Jesus’ eschatological vision.’
The question that Murray asked and answered was, ‘Did Jesus promise his own return?’ While Bible-believing Christians believe that Jesus will return, the vast majority of modern scholarship has responded to the question of whether Jesus himself promised this himself with a “no.”
Murray shares, “I wanted to engage with that scholarship and see if a more robust case could be made for the traditional Christian understanding that Jesus did promise his own return. The focus of the study was Jesus’ use of Daniel 7:13 in his ‘coming Son of Man’ sayings in the Gospels. These sayings have been dismissed as ‘inauthentic’ by many liberal scholars, and re-interpreted by many evangelical scholars to refer to Jesus’ ascension, or to the destruction of Jerusalem. I wanted to show that the traditional understanding of these sayings—as Jesus’ promise of his own return—is still the best.”
Like with all big projects, Murray faced various challenges while undertaking his PhD. One of the biggest was finding the time to do the research. He put the PhD on hold for the first few years of teaching at Christ College, and then returned to it part time. As he was engaging with complicated ideas and working in three languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek), it required a lot of sustained effort, all while being a husband and father, teaching at Christ College, and serving as elder in a new church plant at Hornsby Presbyterian Church, among other things.
Another challenge was Murray’s choice of question and material. He reflects, “The question that I chose was quite complex. People say if you’re going to do a New Testament PhD, don’t do the Son of Man in the Gospels. But I wanted to do it for that very reason, because there’s a lot of confusion in the scholarship and in the church, and I wanted to sort it out, to offer a clear and consistent reading of Daniel 7:13 and Jesus’ use of it in his ‘coming Son of Man’ sayings in the Gospels..” This confusion in the area meant not only sorting through the complexity of the primary material in the Bible and in the early Jewish literature outside the Bible, but also the complexity of the secondary literature where there has been widespread discussion and debate.
However God saw Murray through his long research period. He was especially helped by periods of Study Leave granted by Christ College, one of which was spent at Tyndale House in Cambridge, which allowed him to focus on the research.
His thesis has now been completed and accepted. It was examined by Professors Simon Gathercole (University of Cambridge), Edward Adams (Kings College, London), and Elizabeth Shively (University of Edinburgh), all of whom passed the thesis with no corrections—the best possible result.
Regarding the question of “Did Jesus promise his own return?”, Murray’s thesis responds with a resounding “yes.” This is an exciting contribution to the scholarly body of work on Daniel 7, the “coming Son of Man” in the Gospels, and early Christian expectation for Jesus’ return, and opens exciting opportunities for Murray too.
Looking forward, writing and teaching
From the process of doing his PhD, Murray has developed an even stronger trust in the promises of Jesus. He shares, “At rock bottom, it has given me a deeper confidence that Jesus will return and that we have that as his own promise. We can be confident that he will keep his word. And that enables us to live in hope, because we know that when he comes he will raise the dead, execute the final judgment, and make everything new.”
This great truth and trust is something he is eager to share, both by publishing his PhD research and by presenting similar arguments in a more popular level book. Murray shares, “The examiners have encouraged me to publish the thesis, so I’m in the process of seeking a an academic publisher for it.”
The second way he is looking to share his research is through a more popular level book. He says, “I have a contract with Lexham Press to write a book on Christian eschatology, which will draw on what I’ve done in the thesis and expand it at a more popular level.”
The book will be titled “He Will Come Again in Glory”, and will integrate biblical and systematic theology to present a holistic Christian eschatology . Murray will take that project on during his study leave in 2024, as a way of getting the fruit of the research out to thinking Christians.
As he continues to teach, Murray is also taking many learnings from his PhD process into the classroom. He shares, “[The PhD has] been impacting my teaching the whole way through, in that when you are reading a lot and thinking a lot about the Bible, and scholarship on the Bible, that feeds into your teaching in a hundred ways. My lecture notes since the beginning, since 2010, have always been informed by, and enriched by the research that I’ve been doing, not only for the PhD but for other research projects too. And I hope that that will continue.”
In addition to his book, Murray has some other projects on the horizon that he sees will continue this process in him as a teacher. He also says, “Working in one part of the Bible impacts on your understanding of the whole of Bible. The activities of research and writing and teaching and preaching all influence each other. You get depth and breadth through research and writing, and you especially get clarity through teaching. The best way to learn something really well is to teach it. And when what we are learning and teaching is the Word of God, the challenge always is to trust it, and to live it, and to commend it to others.”