Remember your leaders. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith
I never had the privilege of meeting Leon Morris, nor did I ever see him in person or hear him give a lecture, but I would like to write my appreciation of Morris from an autobiographical standpoint. As a young theological student in the 1970s I devoured his books, for he was one of the first scholars I read as a budding student. And how many books there were! Probably the most influential book was his Apostolic Preaching of the Cross. I read it several times and marked it up thoroughly; I still prize my copy of the book to this day. I was astonished at the rigorous analysis of words which characterized Morris’s study of the atonement and desired to comprehend the biblical languages as he did. At the same time, Morris’s evangelical commitments shone through his work, so that it was clear that his scholarship served a larger theological worldview.
In those early years of my education there were other books that impressed me. His massive commentary on the Gospel of John was the first major commentary on John’s Gospel that I read. What a model of careful and rigorous scholarship. And his book Studies in the Fourth Gospel demonstrated that a conservative reading of critical issues in the Gospel had scholarly credibility.
Leon Morris influenced me with his commentaries. His careful work in 1 Corinthians and the Thessalonian letters helped shaped my understanding of those Pauline letters. But his commentary on Revelation played a unique role in turning me in a new direction. If memory serves me correctly, this was the first scholarly commentary I read on the book of Revelation. Up to that point, the only perspective I knew on Revelation was the dispensational reading of the book. Upon reading Morris my eyes were opened to a different way of reading the book. Here was a reverent work, a serious work that interpreted the book in terms of the apocalyptic genre which informed the book. And I can’t fail to mention his delightful little book Apocalyptic, which proved to be so helpful in understanding the genre of Revelation.
During those years I also read a short book on church government that Morris wrote. I borrowed it from the library and don’t have the title, but I was struck by how fair and clear he was in explaining the various forms of church government.
As I grew older. I read and profited from his New Testament Theology and his commentaries on Galatians and Romans and the Introduction to the NT he wrote with Don Carson and Doug Moo, but it was during my early years as a scholar that I especially feasted on Morris and learned more from him than perhaps any other scholar.
What qualities distinguished Morris as a scholar? He was painstaking and thorough. He studied the text to see how words were used, and presented his conclusions in a readable and accessible way. Morris always did his homework. At the same time, Morris interacted with scholars from all sides of the theological spectrum, and he was always fair-minded and well-mannered. When he disagreed, he did so with class and courtesy. He presented his own views but argued carefully from the evidence. When I think of Leon Morris, I think of one who was faithful to the gospel, committed to the truth of the scriptures, judicious in his scholarship, and generous to those who disagreed. If I can be half the scholar, gentleman, and Christian as Leon Morris, I will be happy.
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DONATE Celebrate the centenary of the birthday of Leon Morris by donating to the Leon Morris Library Building Fund. The library plays a vital role in the academic and community life of Ridley Melbourne, with excellent collections of print and online resources. The current library building has served us well for 30 years but has now reached capacity. It is in urgent need of extension and modernization to provide a state of the art learning centre. The projected cost is $3 million, of which $500,000 has been raised to date.