The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross by Leon Morris

Leon Morris. The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross. Eerdmans, 2001. 318 pp.

Morris has written a very thorough and scholarly linguistic and exegetical study of some of the most important soteriological terms related to the cross work of Christ. Though many scholarly works undermine the authority of Scripture and call into question the fundamental doctrines of the faith, this work is thoroughly conservative and evangelical in its defense of the historic doctrines of soteriology. However, it defends these doctrines not on the basis of tradition but on the basis of a fresh analysis of the relevant data.


This is most assuredly not a book for the casual reader, and being fairly well-versed in the biblical languages is essential to derive the fullest benefit. This book seeks to provide a common ground for understanding the key soteriological terminology in response to the widespread misuses and abuses so frequently associated with these terms (7).

The book deals with seven different terms or subjects. In nearly every chapter there is discussion on etymology, OT usage, LXX usage, extra-biblical usage in both Jewish and Greek thought, NT usage, and related terminology. The reason for such a thorough examination is that these sources shaped the understanding of the writers of the NT and reveal the common understanding of their day (7). The first chapter deals with redemption, the second with covenant, the third with the blood, the fourth with the Lamb of God, the fifth and sixth with propitiation, the seventh with reconciliation, and the eighth and ninth with justification.


Redemption is “employed very loosely” by many different people (11). Usually it is thought to mean simply “deliverance” or “salvation.” But this variety is not reflective of first century usage. One of the biggest problems is acquaintance with theological terminology outside of a knowledge of how that terminology was used in everyday life. Modern day Christians immediately think of religion when they hear “redemption,” but the mind of the first century Christian would have gone to the events of daily life (11). A thorough examination of all the relevant terminology reveals that there is no reason not to think in terms of the payment of a ransom. Redemption communicates, almost without fail, “deliverance by payment of price” (27). This redemption has substitution at its very heart (34). This is communicated even more clearly by the use of the preposition ἀντί which means “instead of” or “in exchange for” (35). So NT redemption cannot be viewed apart from the substitutionary death of Christ by which He gave Himself as a ransom to free sinners (48).


The blood of Christ has in recent year been understood not as associated with His death but with His life (112). In this view, the death of the victim is not what is important. Rather, it is the necessary means to “obtaining the blood, the life” (114). So it is the life of the victim, not its death, that is being presented to God. But while the life is associated closely with blood, so is death so that the shedding of blood is the taking of life. The focus is on the giving up of life, the dying (116). Many problems seem to arise when the blood is taken in a strictly literal sense (115). Most of the time, the blood is simply representative of the giving up of life in death (122–23).

Lamb of God

The “Lamb of God” is a term that has been shrouded with mystery and frequently debated concerning what exactly the Baptist meant by it. The phrase “of God” could communicate (1) “belonging to God,” (2) “provided by God,” or (3) “a special relationship to God” (129). Likely, however, there was more than one meaning intended, which was customary in John’s gospel (129–30). The exact expression “Lamb of God” appears to have originated with John, so tracing its precise roots becomes difficult. There have been numerous suggestions: (1) the Passover lamb, (2) the “lamb that is led to the slaughter” of Is. 53:7, (3) the Suffering Servant of Is. 53, (4) the daily sacrifice, (5) the “gentle lamb” of Jer. 11:19, (6) the scapegoat, (7) the triumphant lamb of the apocalypses, (8) the lamb that God provides in Gen. 22:8, or (9) the guilt offering. What is clear is the sacrificial nature of the expression. Many of these options seem to commend themselves as possible, but none is without its problems. It seems that “Lamb of God” is broad, while each of these suggestions is too specific (141). Therefore, it is likely that John had in mind none of these specifically, but all of them collectively and generally (143).


In contrast to some of the other key terms like “reconciliation” and “propitiation,” there is a wealth of biblical and extra-biblical material related to justification. The OT words are rooted in the concept of “law and judgment” (253). The forensic nature is clear. Judgment and justification are often closely connected (254). Righteousness cannot be properly understood apart from the law. The basis idea of righteousness is conformity to a standard (259). One of the clear testimonies to the forensic nature of justification is its contrast with condemnation. If condemnation does not mean “to make guilty,” then likely justification does not mean “to make righteous” (259). There are also examples where the justification of the wicked is regarded as sinful. Certainly “making righteous” those who are wicked would be something that would please God. The concept of imputed righteousness, which has its beginnings in Genesis, testifies to the forensic nature of this act (263).

Morris has put together an excellent study that should be read by all who are seeking to gain and in-depth understanding of the key terms relating to the cross. The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross sets an example in our day of thoroughly evangelical scholarship. This type of work is absolutely essential to drawing correct theological conclusions on these critical doctrines. I would heartily recommend this important work.

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