The Rev. Patrick D. Miller Jr. could often be spotted reading as he walked through the Princeton Seminary campus.
That probably didn’t surprise anyone who knew him because Miller, who died last spring, was a renowned biblical scholar admired for his depth and erudition.
“Wherever he was headed, you’d look across the campus and there he was, nose in a book,” said Dennis T. Olson, Chair of the Biblical Studies Department and a longtime colleague of Miller’s. “But if you met him along the way, he’d close the book, ask you questions, and engage you in conversation.”
And conversation with Miller, who spoke with a southern drawl from growing up in Atlanta and San Antonio, left a lasting impression.
“When you talked with Pat it was like you were the only person in the world,” says Jacqueline E. Lapsley, who studied under Miller in the early 1990s, and is now the seminary’s dean and vice president of Academic Affairs, as well as a professor of Old Testament. “He’d be listening so intently, you knew he was for you.”
Miller, the Charles T. Haley Professor of Old Testament Theology from 1984 to his retirement in 2005, died May 1, 2020 in Black Mountain, North Carolina, after a long illness. He was 84.
As a scholar, he was widely acclaimed for his knowledge of ancient Israelite religion, facility with languages, and attention to nuances of text and history.
But his life’s work studying, interpreting, and teaching the Old Testament also reflected a deep engagement with the human condition that made him an unforgettable teacher for generations of students.
Miller was known for declaring: “There is nothing revealed about the character of God in the New Testament that is not already revealed in the Old Testament.” He expounded on that theme in lectures as well as in numerous books, including The Ten Commandments and Lord of the Psalms.
“Pat showed how scholarly engagement led to theological riches,” Lapsley said. “The result was this depth and power that he uncovered in the witness of the Scripture as to who God is and what God is doing in the world.”
Olson noted that after Miller earned his doctorate from Harvard University, he served as a pastor and later brought a measure of pastoral care to his teaching.
“His lectures were a combination of close, scholarly readings of Scripture, but always moving toward a sermon in affirming the ways that Old Testament texts continue to address the pressing issues of the day,” said Olson, who succeeded Miller in the Haley professorship.
When he wasn’t busy teaching, doing research, or editing scholarly journals, such as Theology Today, Miller pursued varied interests, from modern art to watching professional wrestling to rooting for the New York Yankees.
“He had a wonderful dry wit and was such a joy to be around,” Olson said. “He saw life as a gift and blessing from God that should be enjoyed.”