15.3.1914 – 24.7.2006
Leon Lamb Morris was perhaps Australia’s most prolific biblical and theological author. He wrote over fifty books of theology and biblical commentary which have sold nearly two million copies worldwide and been translated into many languages. This is an astonishing output for an Australian writing technical or academic books. He was well-known throughout the Christian world as a careful, conservative biblical scholar. Extraordinarily, Morris received no formal theological education, apart from two years of supervision for his doctorate in Cambridge. He was self-taught theologian who brought his rigorous and disciplined training in scientific enquiry to his study of the Bible and theology.
Born in Lithgow in March 1914, his father was an iron founder. Morris began training as a teacher in 1931 with a degree in science. In his first year he was converted to Christ in the Anglican parish of Leichhardt under the ministry of R B Robinson. At the Katoomba Convention the next year he felt the call to ordained ministry. Having qualified as a science teacher he was required to serve out the five years of his bond to the Department of Education. However while he worked as teacher, he studied in his spare time for a Licentiate in Theology and topped the Australian College of Theology List. The Archbishop of Sydney, Howard Mowll, paid out his bond to the Department of Education and he was ordained to a curacy in Campsie in 1938.
In 1940, under the auspices of the Bush Church Aid Association, he began five years as priest in charge of the vast Minnipa Mission in outback South Australia during the difficult years of World War Two. He continued his private studies at this time, gaining the Bachelor of Divinity from London University with first class honours in 1943 and the Master of Theology in 1946. Mildred, whom he married in 1941, would drive the bumpy, dusty roads of South Australia while Leon studied New Testament Greek in the passenger seat.
In 1945, Morris was invited to the position of Vice-Principal of Ridley College in Melbourne. He spent 1950-51 in Cambridge gaining his Ph.D. which was later published as The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, a book which became seminal for modern evangelical theology of the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ. He was encouraged in his study by Professor, later Archbishop, Michael Ramsay. In 1951 he became the first Australian elected to the Society for New Testament Studies.
In 1961, Morris accepted the position of Warden at Tyndale House in Cambridge, a significant evangelical biblical research centre. In 1964, he courageously left this ideal academic post and returned to Ridley College as Principal when the college was in severe difficulty, convinced this was God’s call. During his fifteen years as Principal, he strengthened the college, gave it a worldwide reputation, built a new chapel and established Ridley College as an official residential college of Melbourne University, the first college to take both men and women. He was made a Canon of St Paul’s Cathedral in 1964 and a member of the University Council in 1977. In 1966 he was runner-up in the election of the Archbishop of Sydney.
During these years he continued his prolific writing, publishing commentaries on almost every book of the New Testament, many of which remain classics. He was in demand as a lecturer and preacher in Australia and overseas where he was visiting professor in a number of colleges. His style was famous for his dry wit, conciseness, simplicity and attention to the detail of the biblical text applied relevantly. He served on the boards of a number of Christian organizations including the Evangelical Alliance, Scripture Union, Church Missionary Society, Bible Society, and he chaired the 1968 Billy Graham Crusade Committee. As President of the Evangelical Alliance, he established TEAR Fund, a significant Christian aid and development agency in Australia. He was a translator for the New International Version of the New Testament. In 1974, on his sixtieth birthday, he was presented with a Festschrift from eminent biblical scholars from around the world.
In retirement, Morris continued writing from his large study in Doncaster. He lectured overseas several times and continued to preach regularly. He and Mildred were loyal members of Holy Trinity Doncaster where he preached his final sermon, on the opening verses of John’s gospel late in 1997. Typically he preached with few notes from the Greek text. As always, he was remarkably lucid. The Gospel of John held a place close to Leon Morris’s heart and his magisterial commentary on John remains perhaps his magnum opus.
Morris was well known for his humble manner and gracious Christian character. He leaves a vast legacy of theologically equipped ministers throughout the world upholding biblical Christian faith centred on the atoning death of Jesus Christ. His theology is the subject of a recently completed Ph.D. from the University of Queensland.
The first of four children, he is survived by his brother, Max. His wife Mildred predeceased him in April 2003. They had no children. The Leon and Mildred Morris Foundation continues their generosity to many good causes.
The Rev’d Canon Dr Peter Adam, Principal, Ridley College, Melbourne
Archdeacon Dr Paul Barker, Vicar, Holy Trinity Doncaster