Leon Morris was born 15 March, 1914. So today marks the centenary of his birth.
If you don’t know his name, he is one of foremost biblical scholars Australia has ever produced.
He made his name with The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross (1955), based on his Cambridge doctoral thesis. He defended – against liberal academic resistance – the idea that in the Bible, Jesus’ death was a ‘propitiation’ which turned aside God’s righteous wrath at sin.
J.I. Packer, reviewing it in the Evangelical Quarterly, greeted it as “a book of the first importance”. Packer said it was a delight to follow Dr Morris as he repeatedly shifts the emphasis back to that “which the New Testament is concerned to emphasise above all – that Christ saves God’s people from wrath and ruin by dying for their sins in their place.” [Source: Australian Dictionary of Evangelical Biography online]
Amazingly, Morris had done much of his initial study of the ancient biblical languages and of theology, serving with BCA*
as a ‘bush brother’, while his wife drove him across 40,000 square miles of bleak outback, to hold church services in the 20+ centres of the Minnipa Mission, Diocese of Willochra, South Australia, during World War Two (1940-45). [Source: D. A. Hubbard in his foreword, “Leon Morris: An Appreciation”, (pdf link) in Reconciliation and Hope: New Testament Essays on Atonement and Eschatology Presented to L.L. Morris on his 60th Birthday (ed. Robert Banks).]
The current Principal of Ridley, Rev Dr Brian Rosner, writes,
Leon Morris was Principal of Ridley College in Melbourne, Australia for 15 years from 1964 until 1979, and prior to that was Vice-Principal between 1945 and 1960…
At a time when evangelical biblical scholarship was at best marginal, Leon Morris attained a worldwide reputation as a New Testament scholar of the first rank. With a Cambridge PhD, he was the first Australian to be elected to the international scholarly Society for New Testament Studies. He was one of the first wardens of Tyndale House in Cambridge, was a translator of the NIV Bible, and gave visiting lectures in colleges around the world.
Morris was a prolific author. He wrote more than 50 books, which have sold over 2 million copies. They include classic texts on the Cross of Christ and many books about the New Testament… He combined firm convictions about the core truths of the Christian faith with a winsome humility.
My own reflections on Leon Morris go back to my time as a doctoral student in Cambridge in the late 1980s. Feeling at sea in an intimidating environment of critical scholarship, I was thankful for Tyndale House and its steadying influence. Whereas today evangelical biblical scholars are numerous and their contributions are generally taken seriously in the academy, this was not always the case.
It felt to me that I had an invidious choice to make. I could either hold to the inspiration of the Bible or investigate the texts of the Bible as historical documents in their ancient literary context. What I needed were examples of those who did both with integrity.
He explains that Leon Morris (along with F.F. Bruce and Howard Marshall) was just such an example…
“I recall vividly pouring over Morris on John and being greatly encouraged by the clarity of his exegesis, the honesty with which he grappled with exegetical difficulties and the attention not only to historical matters, but also to literary and theological issues… If evangelical biblical scholarship today offers something of value to the task of strengthening God’s people and promoting the gospel, which I believe it does, we owe a great deal to pioneers like Leon Morris.” [Source: http://www.ridley.edu.au/blog/post/remember-your-leaders/]
With many Christians around the globe, we give thanks to God as we remember this leader who spoke the Word of God to us (Hebrews 13:7).
* The correction follows advice gladly received from the National Director of the Bush Church Aid Society, Rev Mark Short, that Dr Morris served with BCA and not the Bush Brotherhood. I apologise for the error.
In addition, Mark shared with me an extract from Dr Morris’ BCA application form in their archives, completed in March 1938. When asked for his understanding of personal salvation, he replied:
…personal salvation is the removal of the sins of the individual through the Blood of the Lamb whereby the individual is justified in God’s sight and saved from the punishment he had incurred by his sin. It is obtained when the individual in simple faith accepts Christ as his Saviour and is ‘born of the Spirit.’