Frederick Fyvie Bruce (1910—1990), better known as F. F. Bruce, was a Scottish Bible scholar and theologian who profoundly influenced the contemporary evangelical understanding of the Bible. He served as the Rylands Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis at the University of Manchester for nearly twenty years (1959—1978). A man of integrity, a master of languages, a lover of the Bible, and a giant in biblical exegesis, F. F. Bruce is remembered affectionately as the “Dean of Evangelical Scholarship.”
F. F. Bruce was born in Elgin, Scotland, the son of Plymouth Brethren itinerant evangelist Peter Fyvie Bruce. His father made a lasting imprint on his faith and his life’s work. Bruce remained a lifelong member of the Christian Brethren community of independent congregations and founded the Christian Brethren Archive at the University of Manchester in 1979.
Bruce was educated at the universities of Aberdeen, Cambridge, and Vienna. He graduated at the top of his class at Cambridge. He received an honorary Doctor of Divinity from Aberdeen in 1957. Later, in 1963, he obtained a master’s degree in Hebrew and literature from Manchester University.
Bruce’s love for the Scriptures and aptitude for languages began in early childhood. These passions continued throughout his entire life. Not only did Bruce master all the ancient biblical languages (Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Aramaic), the classics and modern European languages (German, French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Danish, Swedish), but he was also fluent in the Celtic languages of his homeland. His knowledge of the Bible was extraordinary. Bruce seemed to have memorized the entire Bible, including the texts of the original language and multiple translations. “In the truest sense, he knew the Bible by heart,” wrote his friends Laurel and Ward Gasque (“Frederick Fyvie Bruce: An Appreciation,” Ashland Theological Journal, Vol. 23, 1991, p. 3).
“When asked a question about the Bible, he did not have to look up the text. He would sometimes take off his glasses, close his eyes as if he were scrolling the text in his mind, and then comment in such an exact manner that it was clear he was referring to the Hebrew or Greek text, which he either translated or paraphrased in his answer. If the context were academic, he might refer directly to the original language; in speaking to students who were not necessarily theologians, he would normally use a contemporary translation” (Gasque, “Bruce, Frederick Fyvie,” in Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals, ed. Larsen, T., et al., InterVarsity Press, 2003, p. 86).
F. F. Bruce began his academic career as an assistant lecturer in Greek at Edinburgh University (1935—1938). He also taught at Leeds University (1938—1947) and headed the Department of Biblical History and Literature at Sheffield University (1947—1959). From 1959 to 1978, he was John Rylands Chair of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis, where he supervised more PhD students in biblical studies than any other scholar of his time.
Bruce was comfortable among academics, students, seekers, and “ordinary” believers. He gave lectures and preached throughout the UK, Europe, USA, Canada, Holland, Italy, Australia, Uganda, and New Zealand, yet still took time from his busy schedule to encourage young Christian ministers from around the world who came to study with him. As an evangelical, F. F. Bruce emphasized the centrality of Jesus Christ and the message of the gospel rather than doctrines or denominations. Despite his Plymouth Brethren affiliations, he encouraged egalitarianism and the full participation of women in church and Christian ministry.
Bruce wrote nearly fifty books, hundreds of essays, and thousands of reviews and articles. He edited The Evangelical Quarterly (1949—1980) for more than thirty years, edited The Palestine Exploration Quarterly (1957—1971), and served as contributing editor for Christianity Today (1956—1978). He published commentaries on all of Paul’s epistles and nearly every book of the New Testament. His earliest and most widely circulated work is The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (1943), which has undergone numerous editions and translations into many languages and is still in print today.
Here are some memorable quotes from the writings of F. F. Bruce:
“The best way to destroy an enemy is to turn him into a friend.” (Hard Sayings of the Bible)
“My doctrine of Scripture is based on my study of Scripture, not vice versa.” (In Retrospect: Remembrance of Things Past)
“The soul’s deepest thirst is for God himself, who has made us so that we can never be satisfied without him.” (The Gospel of John: Introduction, Exposition and Notes)
“Unity of mind is best achieved when each aims at reproducing the mind of Christ. True Christianity, in fact, is the cultivation and expression of the mind which he manifested in all his ways.” (Paul and His Converts: How Paul Nurtured the Churches He Planted)
“If the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt.” (The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?)