FRESNO, Calif. — Elmer Martens, a Mennonite Brethren biblical scholar and seminary president whose life was a testament to faith, knowledge and service to the church, died Sept. 21 of a heart attack. He was 86.
Martens devoted much of his professional life to Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, now Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary. He was a full time member of the Old Testament faculty from 1969 to 1995. He also taught part-time from 1959 to 1961 and for many years after his retirement. He was president of the seminary from 1977 to 1986.
A scholar of the Old Testament, Martens served on the translation team of the New American Standard Bible and assisted with the New King James Version.
He was a founding editor of the Believers Church Bible Commentary series, published by Herald Press, and wrote the series’ volume on Jeremiah.
“Elmer Martens was the Mennonite Brethren Church’s scholar for nearly 50 years,” said Lynn Jost, a faculty member and former president of what is now Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary. “Though pressed into service as seminary president for a decade and often engaged in leading in a multitude of other ways throughout his career, Elmer left his greatest mark as the MB Old Testament scholar who served his church.
“Elmer continued to experiment with creative approaches to teaching, preaching and scholarly writing throughout his career, making his classes engaging, his preaching innovative and his scholarship future-oriented — so much so that on the eve of his death he forwarded a scholarly paper that he intended to present at a professional conference in November that plowed new ground in both method and content.”
Martens was born Aug. 12, 1930, in Main Centre, Sask., to Jacob H. and Susanna Nickel Martens. He married Phyllis Jean Hiebert on Aug. 24, 1956, in Mountain Lake, Minn.
He earned bachelor’s degrees from the University of Saskatchewan, the University of Manitoba and Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary and a doctorate from Claremont Graduate School.
Before joining the seminary faculty full-time, Martens was pastor of Butler Mennonite Brethren Church in Fresno from 1958 to 1966.
He also served as a part-time instructor at Pacific Bible Institute, which became Fresno Pacific University; and a teacher and vice principal in Stewart Valley, Sask.
In addition, he taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Southern Baptist Seminary and Fuller Theological Seminary as well as internationally in countries including Japan, India, South Korea, Russia, Kenya, Brazil and Congo.
Martens’ books include God’s Design: A Focus on Old Testament Theology and Old Testament Theology.
He co-edited The Flowering of Old Testament Theology and was the recipient of an honorary volume edited by Jon Isaak, The Old Testament in the Life of God’s People.
Other editing assignments included Journal of Church and Society in 1970-71 and the MB higher education journal Direction, 1989-95. He wrote numerous articles in publications such as Bulletin for Biblical Research, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society and Christian Scholar’s Review.
As part of his life of service to the MB church, Martens served on the General Conference boards of Christian Literature, 1966-78; and Missions/Services, 1978-97; as well as the Hymnal Committee, 1966-72. He was part of the U.S. Conference Executive Committee and Board of Reference and Counsel, 1959-62.
Survivors include his wife, Phyllis; four children, Lauren (Helen) Martens, Frances (Kenneth) Martens Friesen, Vernon (Sally) Martens and Karen (Rick) Bartlett; and nine grandchildren.
The memorial service will be at 2 p.m. Oct. 1 at North Fresno Mennonite Brethren Church.