Snaith, Norman Henry M.A., D.D., D.Lt (1898-1982)

Transcription of obituary published in the Minutes of Conference

NORMAN HENRY SNAITH, M.A., D.D.: born in Chipping Norton on 21st April 1898, the son and grandson of Primitive Methodist ministers. He was educated at North Walsham. Alnwick, and Manchester Grammar Schools, and read mathematics at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, obtaining the M.A. degree. He gave evidence of considerable ability in classical languages at school, but not until training for the ministry at Mansfield College, Oxford, did he turn his attention to oriental languages in which subsequently he became a prominent scholar. 

He entered the Primitive Methodist Ministry and was ordained in 1925. He then served in the New Wandsworth and Fulham, Gateshead, Durham, and Luton Circuits. During the Second World War he assisted in the Leeds Mission and Leeds (Headingley) circuits. He was appointed Tutor in Old Testament Language and Literature at Wesley College Headingley in 1936, and became Principal in 1954 remaining so until retirement in 1961. Conference elected him President in 1958.

His contribution to Old Testament scholarship was considerable and important. Published works include The Jewish New Year Festival; Study Notes on the Hebrew text of various Old Testament books; The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, which was the A.S. Peake Memorial Lecture, 1956; Mercy and Sacrifice, a study in Hosea; Have faith in God; I believe in. . .; articles in Peake’s Commentary and other composite volumes. 

During the war years he edited the text of the Hebrew Bible published by the British and Foreign Bible Society in 1958. He was a member of the translation panel for the New English Bible, contributing to the translation of the book of Genesis. The Distinctive Ideas of the Old Testament, published in 1944, is regarded as his most important contribution to the study of the Old Testament. For this he: was awarded the comparatively rare degree of D.D. of Oxford University. Other academic honours were bestowed on him: an Honorary D.D. at Glasgow, and an Honorary D.Litt. at Leeds; he was President of the Society for Old Testament Studies in 1957, and Speaker’s Lecturer in Biblical Studies at Oxford for four years from 1961. 

At heart he was a Primitive Methodist all his life and greatly valued his nonconformist heritage. When the report on the Conversations with the Church of England was published in 1963, he was one of four signatories to ‘A Dissentient View’. Whilst vigorously affirming Christian unity, he firmly rejected: the historic episcopate and what he believed to be its implications. For him the only way into the Christian Church was through repentance and faith, and faith as a complete and utter trust in God. 

Wherever he went he was welcomed as a preacher of considerable power. His simple sermons, lit up by popular illustrations, revealed his scholarship. His message was warmly evangelical, and his public prayers remarkable for their down-to-earth expression. His friendly manner and homely speech earned him the affection of his students. No lover of pomp and ceremony, his informal style of living was a protest against stuffiness. He was usually on the side of the underdog and frequently critical of establishments. 

In retirement he continued his work on the text of the Hebrew Bible, often rising early to do so. He found relaxation in reading and re-reading the works of Dickens and Scott. His last months were spent at the Methodist Home for the Aged in Ipswich, for his lameness had become a burden. The fellowship of the home gave him great comfort following the sudden death of Winifred, his wife. He would speak of his evangelical faith and the presence of Christ in the fellowship meeting, quoting the hymn ‘Jesus, these eyes have never seen that radiant form of thine’, which was sung later at his funeral service. 

He died on 4th March 1982 in the eighty-fourth year of his age and the sixty-first year of his ministry.


Norman was born on 21 April 1898 at Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, to parents John Allen Snaith, a PM minister, and Mary Ann Bunn.

He married Winifred Howson Graham (1900-1981) in the spring of 1925 in the Pancras Registration District, London. Winifred was a daughter of Rev. T Graham.

Norman died on 4 March 1982 at Ipswich, Suffolk.


  • 1921 Mansfield College
  • 1925 New Wandsworth &c
  • 1927 Gateshead I
  • 1932 Durham
  • 1934 Luton
  • 1936 Headingley College Tutor
  • 1943 Leeds Mission
  • 1944 Leeds, Headingley 
  • 1946 Headingley College Tutor
  • 1954 Headingley College Principal
  • 1961 Oxford (Sup)


Methodist Minutes 1982/83

W Leary, Directory of Primitive Methodist Ministers and their Circuits, 1990

Census Returns and Births, Marriages & Deaths Registers

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