Snaith family

This Primitive Methodist family produced four ministerial generations. John Snaith (1836-1923; e.m. 1859) was born at Little Broughton, Cumbria on 29 June 1836. His first appointment was to Eyemouth PM, where consideration was being given to abandoning the cause but under his ministry a great revival took place, which not only revived the PMs but led also to the establishment of the fishing village's Morrisonian church. Philosophy was his hobby. He owned a complete set in German of the works of Hegel and wrote The Philosophy of the Spirit (London, 1914). He superannuated in 1902 and about ten years later went to live in Canada. His son was John Allen Snaith (1869-1945: e.m. 1893).. Two other sons entered the PM ministry: Herbert W. Snaith (1874-1926; e.m. 1897) and Richard T. Snaith who served in Australia 1891-1896 before resigning and moving to Canada.

In the third generation, J.A. Snaith's son, Norman H. Snaith (1898-1982; e.m. 1921) was born at Chipping Norton on 21 April 1898. He read mathematics at Corpus Christi and trained for the PM ministry at Mansfield College, Oxford, where he won both the Junior and the Senior Kennicott Hebrew prizes. After circuit ministry in Fulham, Felling in Gateshead, Durham and Luton, he was appointed OT Tutor at Headingley College in 1936, becoming Principal in 1954. He was President of the Conference in 1958 and retired to Thetford in 1961.

An internationally renowned OT scholar, President of the Society for OT Study in 1957, he received honorary doctorates from the universities of Glasgow, Leeds and Oxford. Yet he was first of all a minister, with a firm Trinitarian faith based on the Reformation belief in salvation by faith alone through the grace of God. He delighted in people and was also a much sought-after preacher. This is reflected in all his theological writings. His most influential book was 'The Distinctive Ideas of the Old Testament in which he presented studies of five key theological terms; but his immensely wide scholarship is seen in his studies of the Psalms, especially in The Jewish New Year Festival (1956). His Presidential address at the SOTS on Sacrifices in the Old Testament was also widely read. Yet many OT scholars sharply criticized his theories and they have made little permanent impact on academic studies.

In 1934 he was asked by the BFBS to edit a new edition of the Hebrew OT, which was eventually published in 1958. He also published important studies of Second Isaiah and Job, as well as many scholarly articles and little books on the Hebrew text intended to help students, for he believed that no one can fully understand the Bible without a knowledge of Hebrew. In 1956 he gave the first of the Peake Lectures, on 'The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible'. He also wrote popular books on the Christian faith, including I Believe in … on the Nicene Creed. He was one of the Methodist contributors to the New English Bible. He also proved himself to be a natural broadcaster and contributed regularly to the Methodist Recorder.

He was one of the four dissentients who rejected the proposals for Anglican-Methodist union in 1963, primarily because he regarded the demand for episcopal ordination in the apostolic succession as marking a legalism which was contrary to the gospel of salvation by faith alone.

He retired to Thetford in 1961 and spent his final months at the Ipswich MHA, where he died on 4 March 1982. His son John Graham Snaith (1934-2019; e.m. 1958) was a lecturer in the Cambridge Faculty of Oriental Studies. He died on 21 May 2019.

  • PM Magazine, 1893, p.193-4.
  • Souvenir Booklet of Eyemouth Methodist Church: centenary celebrations, 1834-1934 (Eyemouth, 1934)
  • Methodist Recorder, 10 July 1958, 18 March 1982
  • Conference Handbook, 1958
  • Times, 6 March 1982
  • Norman Porteous, in the Bulletin of the Society for Old Testament Studies (1983)
  • R.E. Clements, in Expository Times, June 1984, pp.273-6
  • G.W. Anderson, in Epworth Review, 13:1 (January 1986) pp.14-18
  • Donald K. McKimm (ed.), Dictionary of Major Biblical Interpreters (Downers Grove, IL, 2007), pp.929-33
  • Margaret Ruxton, Norman Henry Snaith, Biblical Scholar and Methodist Preacher (2010)