Terence Fretheim ’60 M.Div., Th.D., professor emeritus at Luther Seminary, made a profound and enduring impact before he died on Monday, November 16.
“Dr. Fretheim was a beloved teacher, mentor, colleague, and friend whose lasting legacy had a profound impact not just on Luther Seminary but on the global communion of churches,” said Luther Seminary President Robin Steinke. “His enduring legacy is the generation of scholars, teachers, pastors, deacons with whom he cultivated a love of scripture.”
Fretheim was first connected with the Luther Seminary faculty as a teaching fellow in Greek (1958-60) while he was still a seminary student. He returned as assistant professor in 1968 and became Elva B. Lovell Professor of Old Testament in 1978. He was dean of academic affairs (1978-88) and also served as acting chair of the Old Testament department (1977-78) and chair of the curriculum committee (1976-77). He retired from the seminary in 2013.
Paul Sponheim, Ph.D., professor emeritus, systematic theology, taught God, Evil, and Suffering with Fretheim for more than 20 years and notes his late colleague’s many gifts.
“Sometimes faculty get torn between publishing and teaching. Terry did both superbly. Sometimes administrative agency in educational institutions is not well regarded. Terry served ably as academic dean for 10 years in a crucial period in Luther Seminary’s life,” Sponheim said. “I also admired the way the Scriptures came to fresh life in his writing and teaching. His passing is a huge loss for the church, the academy, and the world at large.”
Fretheim was an instructor in Old Testament at Augsburg University from 1961 to 1963 and assistant professor of religion at Augsburg from 1967 to 1968. Ordained in 1968, he was pastor of Dennison (Minnesota) Lutheran Church from 1968 to 1971. He was a visiting professor at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago and both visiting professor and lecturer at the University of Chicago Divinity School.
Fretheim received the Fulbright Scholarship for study in England, the Lutheran Brotherhood Seminary Graduate Scholarship, the Martin Luther Scholarship, the Fredrik A. Schiotz Fellowship Award, and the ATS Scholarship for Theological Research.
A graduate of Luther College in Decorah, Iowa (B.A., 1956), he earned an M.Div. degree from Luther Seminary in 1960 and a Th.D. degree from Princeton Seminary in 1967. He also studied at the University of Durham in England, the University of Minnesota, the University of Heidelberg in Germany, Oxford University in England, and the University of Chicago. As a Luther College alumnus, he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa in 1995.
He was a member of the Catholic Biblical Association and the Society of Biblical Literature, where he served as editor of SBL Old Testament Monographs. He served on the Buddhist and Muslim task forces of the American Lutheran Church, was co-chair of the Theological Consultation for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, was president of the Minnesota Consortium of Theological Schools, and was Old Testament book editor for the Journal of Biblical Literature.
Fretheim published numerous books, including The Pentateuch (Abingdon, 1996); Proclamation 6 (Fortress, 1997); First and Second Kings (Westminster, 1999); About the Bible: Short Answers to Big Questions (Augsburg, 1999); In God’s Image: A Study of Genesis (Augsburg, 1999); Jeremiah: A Commentary (Smyth & Helwys, 2002); God and World in the Old Testament: A Relational Theology of Creation (Abingdon, 2005); and Abraham: Journeys of Family and Faith (University of South Carolina Press, 2007).
In 2014, Fretheim and his wife established the Terence E. and Faith F. Fretheim Lecture in Biblical Theology series in order that students, as well as faculty, staff, and other Luther Seminary community members, would have a chance to learn more about scholarship in biblical theology by leaders in the field.
In his remembrance of Fretheim for the Church Anew blog, Michael Chan, Ph.D., Luther Seminary assistant professor of Old Testament, described him as “one of the most productive, creative, and insightful interpreters of biblical literature” and “a biblical scholar with a pastor’s heart.” He wrote, “Professor Fretheim has contributed many things to the guild of biblical studies, but chief among them is the insight that the God of Israel … is in a genuine relationship with creation.”