F.F. Bruce: A Life
Denver Journal Book Review by Denver Seminary Professor Bruce Demarest
Grass, Tim. F. F. Bruce: A Life. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011. Paperback, 283 pp. $22.00. ISBN 978-0-8028-6723-0.
This volume represents the first full biography of Professor F. F. Bruce (1910-1990), arguably the leading evangelical biblical scholar of the latter half of the twentieth century. The book rightly portrays Professor Bruce as a multifaceted scholar, highly competent in Greek classics, Old Testament, and particularly New Testament studies. Professor Bruce taught at the universities of Leeds, Sheffield, and Manchester where, in the latter institution, he succeeded Professors C. H. Dodd and T. W. Manson. At Manchester Bruce held the chair of Rylands Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis. During his productive career he wrote some fifty books and two thousand articles and reviews. I was particularly interested in Bruce’s biography in that Professor Bruce was my academic mentor at Manchester University.
The book opens by describing Bruce’s early life in Elgin, Scotland, as the eldest of seven children born to Peter and Mary Bruce. His father was a farmer who served as an Open Brethren evangelist preaching the Gospel across Scotland. At age eleven Fred was admitted to Elgin Academy where among other subjects he studied Latin and Greek. The recipient of several academic prizes, he enrolled in the University of Aberdeen followed by studies at Cambridge, Vienna, and Edinburgh universities. One of Bruce’s professors labeled him as “the most brilliant student of his generation.” He was competent in several languages: biblical Hebrew and Greek, Latin, Dutch, French, German, Italian, and Spanish.
Raised on the Westminster Shorter Catechism, Bruce’s exegetical studies confirmed his broadly Reformed theology, although he never wore his moderate Calvinism on his sleeve. To the chagrin of some fellow Brethren, Bruce distanced himself from the dispensationalism dominant in Brethren circles at the time. Uncomfortable with the dogmatism that attempts to fit the biblical text into a predetermined schema, Bruce allowed the biblical text to speak for itself and to so direct his readers. Bruce published frequently consulted commentaries on biblical books, including Acts, Romans, Galatians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, and Hebrews. One of his leading works—Are the New Testament Documents Reliable (1943)—has been translated into German, Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, and Swedish. Among many distinctions he was elected a Fellow of the British Academy (1973). During his academic career Bruce supervised fifty doctoral students—more than any other British mentor in the field. During his retirement Bruce continued research and writing, revising many of his earlier publications. Bruce never learned to drive an automobile, judging that such was a “waste of time.” Indeed, he wrote drafts of many publications while commuting to his office on the train.
Although a world-class biblical scholar, Bruce was actively involved in his local Brethren assembly, various church ministries, parachurch organizations such as Inter-Varsity Fellowship, and the Tyndale Fellowship; and in publishing organs such as The Witness, which he founded, and the Evangelical Quarterly. Bruce firmly believed that no tension exists between critical study and biblical exposition aimed at the common person. He was asked more than once if he were a conservative or a liberal evangelical, to which he responded, “Since there is only one euangelion, I am an unhyphenated evangelical.” One of Bruce’s well regarded doctoral graduates claimed that he may be regarded as “evangelicalism’s Erasmus, a man of phenomenal knowledge and prodigious literary output” (pg. 216).
Professor Bruce taught us not only through his lectures and writings but also through his life. He was a man of unquestioned integrity, humility, generosity, and common sense. An advocate of women in ministry and overseas missions, Professor Bruce was deeply devoted to Christ and his kingdom. Although modest of stature, he was a giant of a scholar. This carefully researched and winsomely written biography by Tim Grass, historian at Spurgeon’s College, London, does justice to a truly great man. Contained in the volume are nearly fifty pages of bibliography of Bruce’s monographs, essays, and other print items.
Bruce A. Demarest
Senior Professor of Christian Formation