Martin Spencer Israel was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, to a liberal Jewish family; his father was an ophthalmic surgeon. He learnt about Christianity from the family’s black African servants and was deeply impressed by the image of Jesus on the cross which somehow convinced him that his life’s work would, in some way, be about reconciliation. As a child he was a loner with a natural tendency towards introversion and mystical experience.
An outstanding scholar, he was educated first at Parktown Boys’ School, Johannesburg, then went on to study Medicine at the University of Witwatersrand, where he was awarded a first class honours degree. In 1951 he travelled to England to do postgraduate research, becoming first a doctor at Hammersmith Hospital, London, and then a pathology registrar at the Royal Hospital, Wolverhampton. After doing compulsory National Service in the Royal Army Medical Corps, he became Lecturer in Pathology at the Royal College of Surgeons, London, being promoted to Senior Lecturer in 1968. He went on to become the co-author of a standard textbook in Pathology.
However, he was very shy and suffered for many years from depression which he eventually overcame with the help of psychotherapy. He was drawn to various mystical traditions and the works of people like Carl Jung, Teilhard de Chardin and Martin Buber, discovering that he possessed considerable psychic sensitivity and had the gift of healing. He entered the Anglican ministry in 1974, eventually becoming the priest at Holy Trinity church, Kensington, in 1983 - a post he held until 1996.
Later in life he suffered from Parkinson's disease.
In his capacity as an Anglican priest he was a lecturer, personal counsellor and organiser of religious retreats. He also exercised a “healing ministry”, conducted church exorcisms and was president of both the Guild of Health (1983—1990) and the Churches’ Fellowship for Psychical and Spiritual Studies (1983—1998). He claimed to have regular contact with spirits of the dead (mediumship) and believed in the possibility of reincarnation. He became widely known as the author of many books dealing with spiritual issues from a mystical Christian perspective.