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Seasoned, Reasoned Evangelical Scholarship

Posted: 17/11/14

by Andreas Kӧstenberger

‘Remember your leaders. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith’

In my own personal pilgrimage as a scholar, Leon Morris played a significant role. As a student of D. A. Carson, researching and writing on John’s Gospel, there were many times when I turned to Leon Morris’s work alongside works by C. K. Barrett, Raymond Brown, Rudolf Schnackenburg, my Doktorvater, and others. In fact, I found his writings on the Gospel to be among the most thorough and valuable. I still remember the surge of excitement I felt when, as a Ph.D. student in the early 1990s, I came upon a highly prized used copy of Morris’s Studies in the Fourth Gospel at the ExLibris bookstore in Chicago’s Hyde Park district.

Later, I benefited from the reworked transcript of his lectures given while a (popular) guest lecturer at my alma mater, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Jesus Is the Christ: Studies in the Theology of John (though with some trepidation demurring from his proposal that every sign in the Gospel corresponds to a discourse). While Morris was clearly conservative on matters of authorship, I found that he consistently provided a thoughtful, well-reasoned case rather than merely repeating traditional arguments. His 1995 revised NICNT commentary on John, as well, is on my short list of favorite John commentaries, along those by Carson and Ridderbos, as anyone perusing my own John commentary in the BECNT series (2004) will be able to tell.

More recently, when researching and writing on the relationship between John’s Gospel and the Synoptics, I took as my point of departure from Leon Morris’s concept of “interlocking traditions,” according to which John corroborates information found in the other canonical Gospels within a framework of diversity within underlying unity. On the basis of this concept, I developed my own proposal of Johannine transposition of Synoptic (especially Markan and possibly also Lukan) material, arguing that John knew and creatively reworked antecedent Synoptic material much like a composer transposes a tune. Truly, as NT scholars we stand on the shoulders of giants such as Leon Morris.

Conversely, I was disappointed when discovering that William Baird, in volume 3 of his recently published History of NT Research (2013), utterly ignores Morris’s contribution, despite the fact that Morris easily meets the cut-off date set by Baird of having been born prior to 1930. To be sure, Morris is in good company, as Baird also omits reference to the likes of George Ladd (b. 1911), Earle Ellis (b. 1926), Richard Longenecker (b. 1930), and Howard Marshall (b. 1934), to mention but a few (James Dunn is included, despite being born in 1939), other than mentioning some of them in a single passing footnote (p. 534, n. 205). In Baird’s History, which might more aptly be titled History of the Historical-Critical Method, he treats F. F. Bruce as the sole token conservative but has no room for the likes of Morris, perhaps because Morris and other evangelicals don’t fit his historical-critical paradigm.

A less biased account of the history of NT research (including Johannine research), I believe, would be, or at least should be, much kinder to Leon Morris, who through his writings and scholarship mentored many biblical studies students such as myself without ever meeting them in person. Through the impact he made, Leon Morris lives on in the writings of so many of us, and I, for one, am profoundly grateful for his seasoned, reasoned evangelical scholarship that set a very high standard for academic excellence in the context of a high view of Scripture.

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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.

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