A Great Man Died Today

Obituary for Samuel Hugh Moffett

February 10, 2015

Dr. Samuel Hugh Moffett

Dr. Samuel Hugh Moffett —Courtesy of Princeton Theological Seminary


Samuel Hugh Moffett (April 7, 1916-February 9, 2015) passed peacefully at his home in Princeton, NJ, on February 9, 2015, with Eileen Flower by his side, after a long life of loving kindness, faithfulness, and unwavering hope in his missionary service and scholarly works.

He was born in Pyongyang, Korea, on April 7, 1916, as the third son of Rev. Dr. Samuel Austin Moffett (1864-1939). His father was the founder of the Presbyterian Church in Pyongyang and Northwestern Korea and the leader of one of the largest mission stations in the world for 40 years. His mother Lucia Fish Moffett (1877-1962) was from the well-known family of that name in Carpentaria, CA. He had two older brothers – US pastor James McKee served churches in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York (1905-1986), and Charles Hull (1908-1976) became a missionary to India from 1945 to 1952 and then served churches in the US like pastor James McKee (correction noted from family members), two younger brothers—Howard Fergus (1917-2013) served Korea as a medical missionary from 1948 to 1992 and Thomas Fish. Once he said, “She [my mother] brought me up on the classics, and my father brought me up on the Westminster Catechism.”

He graduated from Pyongyang Foreign School as valedictorian in 1934 and Wheaton College with summa cum laude in 1938. He graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1942 and married Miss Elizabeth B. Tarrant in July 1942. Moffett received Ph. D. in history at Yale University in 1945, on the relations of the Presbyterian mission board with its work in the Shandong station in China. Professor Kenneth Scott Latourette was his PhD mentor.

Moffett followed in his parents footsteps in spiritual life, missionary service, and teacher’s work. In 1947 he and his wife were appointed by the Presbyterian board as missionaries to Shanghai, China. When the civil war was going on, he served as a faculty member of Yenjing University in Beijing and then of Nanking Theological Seminary until forced out of the country in 1951 by the communists. He returned to Princeton Theological Seminary as a faculty member from 1953 to 1955. Yet his wife Elizabeth died in 1955, after which he returned to the land of his birth—Korea--in November 1955. He remarried with Miss Eileen Flower in September 1956. They started their missionary work in the rural area of Andong and learned Korean culture and language there for three years. He was appointed to a faculty of Presbyterian Theological Seminary in 1959. Until 1981 he served as Dean of the graduate school and co-president of Korean Presbyterian Seminary. He also participated in many ecumenical organizations such as Soongsil University, Yonsei University, and Korea Bible Society as a member of board of directors or a committee member. He also served as the first director of the Asian Center for Theological Studies, which was built for the education of Asian church leaders in 1973.

After 26 years work in Korea, he returning to America and was appointed as Henry Luce Professor of Ecumenics and Mission at Princeton Theological Seminary for five years, retiring in 1986. Since retiring, he published the first volume on the History of Christianity in Asia in 1996. He published this second volume in 2005, thirteen years after the publishing of the first, at the age of 89.

He was a leading scholar on the history of Christianity in East Asia and in the global ecumenical movement. He was the author of numerous publications, including Whe'er the Sun (1953), The Christians of Korea (1962), The Biblical Background of Evangelicalism (1968), and his magnum opus two volumes of A History of Christianity in Asia.

  1. I met Sam and Eileen in 1964, when I was 8 years old. We were living in Taegu where my father was Chief of Surgery at the Presbyterian Hospital and my mother taught English at the Nursing School. It was clear to me even at that young age that Sam and Eileen were exceptional. Many years later, I was blessed to be in contact with them again when they had settled in Princeton. Dr. Moffett presided at our wedding in 1985 and also baptized our first two children, Alex and Anna. One of my nephews is named after him. He was revered in our family. I will always remember, and treasure, his devotion to God, commitment to scholarship, remarkable humility and sweetness of spirit.

    by Mark Dawson

    March 8, 2015

  2. Our sincere condolence and best wishes for the family. It was a privilege to have met summer times at Daechon Beach. Hannelore Son-U Son-Jai Paik

    by Hannelore Paik

    March 3, 2015

  3. I remember him as Uncle Sam, first getting to know him when I was a young boy and my parents, Court and Sally Robinson, were Presbyterian missionaries to Korea (1960-1971). I remember his great good humor, graciousness and, of course, his deep love of God and for the Korean people. We were blessed to see him and Aunt Eileen last year when my wife and I visited them in Princeton and he signed his extraordinary books on the history of Christianity in Asia. Wonderful man. Abiding legacy.

    by W. Courtland Robinson

    February 27, 2015

  4. A great man has gone to glory! May we follow in his footsteps in China and Korea

    by Stone

    February 27, 2015

  5. During my 48 years as pastor in Native American (Dakota & Nez Perce tribes) churches, I learned of and was inspired by the mission work of Dr. Sam Moffett and his father. What a privilege it was for Barbara and me to take a two week course under him and Eileen and visit their home in August 1970. Their zeal to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all people was an encouragement to us. Thanks be to God for their example and teaching.

    by R Hunter and Barbara Keen

    February 27, 2015

  6. I am a Korean-American Presbyterian missionary to China and can proudly say that I am a fruit of their labor. His books, The History of Christianity in Asia Volumes I & II are being used for the seminary course I'm teaching in SoCal. I saw him briefly at Princeton while working on my doctorate there in the 90s and I can say with conviction that he was indeed a godly man.

    by James A. Lee

    February 26, 2015

  7. Uncle Sam was truly a God-loving man and taught so many of us, in his humble way, what it means to live your life with such a deep and abiding faith. I will miss him. My life was blessed and graced by his presence in it.

    by Peg Moffett

    February 21, 2015

  8. We used to call him Dr. Ma, Sam-Rak. One summer day in 1969, he came to Andong and 've preached at Seo-Bu Church in Korean. He was a Director of Kyung-An High School one stage. We will remember him for long time !

    by Jimmy Kim

    February 20, 2015

  9. I remember him well. My first day in class he and I made a connection which lasted through my seminary days. My field work was in a nursing home and he came to preside over communion. We had some fun with it too! Blessings to Eileen.

    by Barbara (Patton) Rolph

    February 15, 2015

  10. Dr. Moffett was a Christian scholar who inspired so many of us in the following generation. My life is so much richer for having been touched by him and his work. Truly " a prince and a great man has fallen this day in Israel." 2 Sam. 3:8

    by Richard. Pierard, Prof. History Emer, Ind. St Univ

    February 14, 2015

  11. I can remember as if it were yesterday the day in 1984 when I met Sam Moffett the first time. His intelligence was extraordinary and his ability to welcome a newcomer to an American Society of Missiology meeting at Princeton Seminary was warm and encouraging. In later years we worked on the Orbis edition of the first and second volumes of "The History of Christianity in Asia," and I found myself feeling incredibly blessed by his friendship. He was a deeply spiritual scholar, one of those rare beings who bring both great gifts of heart and mind to their work, and whose work came from a sense of calling to serve a mission greater than himself. Eileen, neither you nor your husband will not be forgotten by Linda and me.

    by Bill Burrows

    February 14, 2015

  12. Sam was a great man to many Koreans. We, North and South Koreans, will respect and love him forever.

    by Kenneth Gimm

    February 12, 2015

  13. As a friend of my late husband, Ralph D. Winter, I will always remember Sam and Eileen's gracious hospitality toward us and the Paul Piersons when we attended a Princeton reunion. He showed us his piles of papers and countless books as he was working on volume 2. A most humble, godly scholar with a dry sense of humor whom Ralph highly respected. Praise the Lord they are together again.

    by Barbara Winter

    February 12, 2015

  14. I am a Korean missionary in the Philippines. Because of you........

    by Barnabas Kim

    February 12, 2015

  15. I tried to take every course that Dr Moffett offered, as much for his fresh and joyful faith as for the intellectual content. I remember having breakfast with Dr and Eilene Moffett once and them praying through a list of seminary students and others with needs as we sat at their table. Thank you for your example of faith, love and joy. Thank you for pointing so many, inlcuding me, to Jesus. You are now in His presence and we look forward to meeting you there.

    by Philip Skotte

    February 12, 2015

  16. Sam was among the most encouraging men I know. When I became the director of OMSC in 2000, he and Eileen visited regularly, supported generously, and encouraged consistently. Blessed be his memory. And blessed be those he leaves behind, especially Eileen, as he joins the great cloud of witnesses.

    by Jonathan Bonk

    February 11, 2015

  17. I just read of the death of Rev. Dr. Samuel Moffett, who spent a lifetime in missions and teaching. He was on the faculty of Princeton Theological Seminary. I remember him and his wife Eileen as very genteel and gracious people ... very accessible. He was also a supporter of Presbyterians Pro-Life. May God bless Eileen and his family at this loss ... but it will be a joy to see him again at the resurrection.

    by John Erthein

    February 11, 2015

  18. Sam was a challenging professor, example in ministry and a beacon to all who care about communicating the love of Jesus to all people. There is no sense in saying "Rest in Peace" - Sam will rejoice in the presence of the Lord. The response to this great man's passing should be to recommit to carrying out God's mission in the world.

    by Robert Johnson

    February 11, 2015

  19. My mother-in-law, Lucy Sooy Roberts Hale, was born in Pyongyang, Korea on December 27, 1910. She was one of six children born to Presbyterian missionary parents in Korea. She was the second oldest Roberts girl. (There were three girls, then three boys.) She attended Wilson College in Chambersburg, PA. In 1933, she married the Rev. Henry Ewing Hale III who was born on 10/12/1906 in New York City. Mr. Hale was a graduate of Princeton University and Princeton Seminary. I wonder if the two families knew each other.....(I lost Peter on November 12, 2012.)

    by Ann Tomlinson Hale (m. Rev. Peter Roberts Hale)

    February 11, 2015

  20. A great, great man--an inspiration to all of us!

    by John Huffman

    February 10, 2015

  21. I'm so sorry to hear of his death. His father Sam, and my grandfather, Archibald Campbell, were together in the mission field in the northwestern mountains of Korea where bothe Sam and my mother, Helen Campbell Ames, grew up. As did all children of Asian missionaries, they both attend the Pyongyang Foriegn School (PYFS) until graduation. Sam and my father, George Ames, were in Seminary at Princeton together. There are some memorable names in the Korean mission field, and the Moffat family is one of them, along with Underwood and Campbell. He will be missed.

    by Margaret (Meg) Ames Mann

    February 10, 2015

  22. What a wonderful heritage he has left for Christian faithful. Pray that his works will be read and understood.

    by Joyce Ellen Johnson

    February 10, 2015