In the early morning of 18 January 2020, Petr Pokorný, Professor of New Testament Studies at the Protestant Theological Faculty of Charles University, died at the age of 86, surrounded by his family. In him the Faculty and the church have lost an outstanding and popular teacher, a perceptive researcher of international renown, and a tireless organiser of academic work, whose profound erudition in biblical studies, theology, philology, and philosophy was combined with the friendly and open certainty of a witness to the Christian faith.
Petr Pokorný was born in Brno on 21 April 1933. After studying theology at the Comenius Protestant Theological Faculty (today the Protestant Theological Faculty of Charles University) he was ordained as a preacher of the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren in 1958, and from then until 1967 he served in the Church as assistant pastor and pastor in congregations in Prague. During this period he also studied the Coptic language and Greek literature in Prague and Vienna, and spent one term carrying out postgraduate studies at Oxford. In 1963 he defended his doctoral dissertation and in 1967 his habilitation dissertation, in both cases after several years of delay on the part of the Communist authorities.
From 1968 onwards he taught New Testament Biblical Studies as the assistant and later successor of his teacher Josef Bohumil Souček at the Prague Protestant Theological Faculty, being appointed Professor in 1972. In the period 1996–1999 he held the office of Dean of the Faculty. He spent periods as visiting or guest professor at several foreign universities (Greifswald, Pittsburgh, Tübingen, St Petersburg), and was awarded honorary doctorates by the universities in Bonn, Budapest, and St Petersburg. He was an active member of a number of leading academic organisations, in particular the Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas and the Learned Society of the Czech Republic, of both of which he was president. A major outcome of his endeavours to achieve cooperation in research is the Centre for Biblical Studies of Charles University and the Czech Academy of Sciences, which he founded in 1998 and was head of in 2001–2010.
Professor Pokorný’s research interests were wide-ranging, including in broad terms the literary and theological interpretation of the New Testament writings and other contemporary texts, and more specifically the synoptic gospels and the Deutero-Pauline epistles, Gnosticism, and the person and significance of Jesus of Nazareth. He was a member of the team of translators that produced the Czech Ecumenical Translation of the Bible in the 1970s.
In his teaching and research work Petr Pokorný did not cease to be a practising theologian; he was not only an academic teacher, but also a preacher and thought-provoking interpreter of biblical texts, who lectured on theological, historical, and philosophical questions for church circles and the general public. In his own church he was a member of the theological committee and contributed to his church’s hymnbook by composing the texts to several hymns.
When he retired some years ago, he viewed this as meaning retirement from managerial functions, not retirement from work. Right up to his death he played an active part in Faculty life, giving lectures and supervising several doctoral students; in November 2019 he preached the sermon at the festive service to mark the hundredth anniversary of the foundation of the Faculty.
He will be greatly missed by the Faculty, by his church, and of course by his family.