Obituary: Robin Barbour, 93

Robin Barbour takes over from retiring moderator Dr Peter Brodie, left, at the General Assembly in 1979
Robin Barbour takes over from retiring moderator Dr Peter Brodie, left, at the General Assembly in 1979
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Robin Barbour, the former Moderator of the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly and former professor at Edinburgh University, has died, aged 93.

Born in Edinburgh on May 11, 1921, Robert Alexander Stewart Barbour came from a land-owning family in Perthshire. His father was laird of Bonskeid and a distinguished philosopher and theologian.

Robin was educated at Cargilfield School in Edinburgh and later Rugby, where one of his closest friends was Hugh Montefiore, later a senior bishop in the Church of England.

He went on to Oxford University, but his studies were interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War. He joined the Scottish Horse regiment and was awarded the Military Cross for his service in the Italian campaign.

Returning to Oxford, he graduated with a double first in classics and philosophy. After gaining a teaching qualification in the Capital, he studied divinity in St Andrews and Yale.

He met his wife Margaret one evening in the city – she was a friend of his sister’s at university – and for both, it was love at first sight. They married in 1950.

In 1953, Robin became secretary of the Edinburgh Council for Overseas Students and the following year he was appointed Edinburgh University chaplain to overseas students.

He was ordained in 1954 and in 1955 he was appointed a lecturer in new testament studies at New College on The Mound. He worked closely with Professor James Stewart, who was regarded as one of the most outstanding preachers of the 20th century.

Robin’s more scholarly approach to new testament studies was seen as a healthy antidote to what was sometimes called “James Stewart’s lecture room sermonising”. He was one of the panel of Biblical scholars assembled to translate the New English Bible published in 1961.

In 1970, he was moved from Edinburgh to become Professor of New Testament in Aberdeen.

From 1974-78, he chaired the Church of Scotland’s “Committee of Forty” to look into the Kirk’s declining membership and what changes were needed to halt the trend. Critics dubbed it “Ali Barbour and the 40 Thieves”.

In 1979, the year after the committee’s report was accepted by the General Assembly, Robin was nominated Moderator. In 1981, the Queen appointed him Dean of the Chapel Royal and for the next ten years, the Queen, who valued his advice, drew on his wide experience of the Church.

He retired in 1986, but remained active in the church, including chairing sessions of the General Assembly. Robin is survived by Margaret, his four children Freeland, David, Alison and Andrew, and eight grandchildren. A memorial service will be held in Dunkeld Cathedral on November 8.