Old Testament scholar, he was born in Arbroath on 25 January 1913 and educated at St Andrews with a First Class in Classics and at Wesley House, Cambridge. He then spent a year, 1938-39 as a Finch scholar at the University of Lund under Johannes Lindblom, the beginning of a lifelong association with Scandinavian scholarship. He was Assistant Tutor at Richmond College 1939-1941, before serving during World War II as an RAF chaplain in Egypt, the Sudan and Palestine. In 1946 he was appointed OT Tutor at Handsworth College; in 1956, Lecturer in OT Literature and Theology at St Andrews; and in 1958, Professor of OT Studies at Durham University. He moved to the University of Edinburgh in 1962, being successively Professor of OT Literature and Theology and of Hebrew and OT Studies, the first non-Presbyterian professor. He retired in 1982. He gave the Charles Ryder Smith Memorial Lecture in 1964, the Fernley-Hartley Lecture in 1969 and the A.S. Peake Memorial Lecture in 1984. He was Speaker's Lecturer at Oxford 1976-1980. He was elected a fellow of the British Academy in 1972 and of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1977, and received the Burkitt Medal for Biblical Studies in 1982 and honorary doctorates from St. Andrews (1959) and Lund University (1971). He played a prominent part in both the British and the International OT Societies, being elected President of both. The British Society for Old Testament Study presented him with a Festschrift, Understanding Poets and Prophets to mark his 80th birthday. He edited the Society's volume of OT essays, Tradition and Interpretation (1979) and contributed to the volume on the Psalms in the B&FBS Translator's Translation.
A Critical Introduction to the OT (1959) and The History and Religion of Israel (1966) are excellent textbooks. He translated a number of Scandinavian writings into English and his translation of Mowinckel's He That Cometh (1956) is notably fluent. His Peake Memorial Lecture in 1984 was on 'Faith, Hope and Love in the Old Testament'.
He combined his impressive scholarship with a deep pastoral concern and a lively sense of humour and was widely read in Scottish literature, notably Scott, Burns, Stevenson and Edwin Muir. Both of his wives predeceased him. He died in Edinburgh on 17 March 2002.