F.F. Bruce on Biblical Inspiration and Interpretation

On my to-read list is Tim Grass' biography of F.F. Bruce (1910-1990), one of best British biblical scholars in a hundred years.

On my to-read list is Tim Grass’ biography of F.F. Bruce (1910-1990), one of the best British biblical scholars in a hundred years.

What do we mean we say that the Bible is inspired? There are some, on one side of this question, who say that the Bible is inspired because it is inspiring.

Sorry folks, but that type of fluffy sentiment does not cut it. There are too many people in our churches who think of the Bible as a huge, oversized Hallmark card. There you will find inspiring thoughts, but are they merely sentiments born from human religious experience? Or are they truly the thoughts from a God who has spoken?

The Bible has been under intense scrutiny for a long time. You often hear these days that the Bible is an outdated, outmoded book. Has not modern science disproven the Bible? Has not the study of archaeology, history, and ethics rendered the Bible as obsolete? The Bible has been under serious attack, but thankfully God has raised up some really smart people who have helped to set the record straight, supporting the integrity and reliability of Scripture.

However, this does not mean that every defense has been a good defense. Unfortunately, there are those who so desperately want the Bible to be true, that they are afraid to ask tough questions. That does not cut it either.

F. F. Bruce was one of the premier evangelical scholars of the 20th century. During his era, there were relatively few who possessed such a deep love and reverence for Holy Scripture, who also championed responsible scholarship. The many students of F.F. Bruce today are now the senior members of the scholarly, evangelical community who love God’s Word, but who are not afraid to address tough issues. One of my absolute favorite seminary professors, Donald Hagner, received his PhD while studying with F.F. Bruce, at the University of Manchester.

Just recently, I glanced back at my highly annotated copy of one of Bruce’s last books that he completed before his death, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, that I read in seminary nearly twenty years ago. I tell you what… to this day, this guy still gets me really excited about studying God’s Word.

Here is a very appropriate selection from his autobiographical work that gets at how he viewed the Bible. As a student of the Bible, this is what I aspire to:

“I should not find the career of a Bible teacher so satisfying as I do if I were not persuaded that the Bible is God’s word written. The fact that I am so persuaded means that I must not come to the Bible with my own preconceptions of what the Bible, as God’s word written, can or cannot say. It is important to determine, by the canons of grammatical, textual, historical and literary study, what it actually does say. Occasionally, when I have expounded the meaning of some biblical passage in a particular way, I have been asked, ‘But how does that square with inspiration?’ But inspiration is not a concept of which I have a clear understanding before I come to the study of the text, so that I know in advance what limits are placed on the meaning of the text by the requirements of inspiration. On the contrary, it is by the patient study of the text that I come to understand better not only what the text itself means but also what is involved in biblical inspiration. My doctrine of Scripture is based on my study of Scripture, not vice versa. The question, ‘how does that square with inspiration?’ is perhaps asked most insistently when one part of Scripture seems to conflict in sense with another. I suppose much depends on the cast of one’s mind, but I have never been bothered by ‘apparent discrepancies’, nor have I been greatly concerned to harmonize them. My faith can accommodate such ‘discrepancies’ much more easily than it could swallow harmonizations that place an unnatural sense on the text or give an impression of special pleading. If the ‘discrepancies’ are left unharmonized, they may help to a better appreciation of the progress of revelation or of the distinctive outlooks of individual writers.”

–F.F. Bruce. In Retrospect (pp. 311-312).

About Clarke Morledge

Clarke Morledge -- Computer Network Engineer, College of William and Mary... I hiked the Mount of the Holy Cross, one of the famous Colorado Fourteeners, with some friends in July, 2012. My buddy, Mike Scott, snapped this photo of me on the summit. View all posts by Clarke Morledge

2 responses to “F.F. Bruce on Biblical Inspiration and Interpretation

  • Jerry Dearmon

    Thanks Clarke. I once had a minister who said “if you go to the Bible to prove you are correct you have missed the point of understanding the truth” I have studied FF Bruce in Small Groups and find his work refreshing and meaningful. Sometimes we delve too deeply in trying to understand the simple truth.


    • Clarke Morledge

      F.F. Bruce was great. More recent scholarship has refined some of his arguments, but he remains one evangelicalism’s finest scholars of the 20th century.


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