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Fred Bruce
The renowned Bible Scholar from Elgin


Many thanks to David Thomson for providing this article.

Born in Elgin in 1910, the son of a former farm worker who became an evangelist, Fred Bruce is now remembered as Britain’s finest Biblical scholar of the 20th century.

Young Fred was educated at the West End school and later at Elgin Academy where he graduated as dux of the school. His family attended a local brethren assembly that later met in the West End Mission Hall, (now demolished, but the meeting continues at the Riverside Hall, by the home of the great 19th century preacher Brownlow North). He was baptized in the Lossie Gospel Hall, (the original one which was located upstairs at 27 James Street, then owned by Alex Campbell, a senior uncle of our own Dolly Campbell). Fred’s father Peter Bruce had helped to establish the brethren meeting in Lossie.

Life in the home of Peter and Mary Bruce at Rose Place, Elgin, was characterized by “plain living and high thinking”, with few luxuries but good staple food. To supplement his modest and irregular evangelist income, Peter would often work on local farms during daytime, and then preach in tents or halls in the evening. He maintained a productive vegetable garden and a well-stocked fuel wood shed at his house, and used to gut and dress rabbits for the family table. The family was blessed with seven children (3 boys and 4 girls) of which Fred was the eldest. All of the children followed their parents example in coming to faith early in life. Lena, one of the sisters, married a former missionary to China, Fred Rossetter who served as minister of Elgin Baptist Church around 1939 – 1940.

Though his eldest son showed much promise at school, there was no way Peter could have funded a college education for him. But young Fred was able to get his studies financed by successfully passing examinations for a series of bursaries and scholarships then available to pupils with outstanding academic ability. That enabled him to study at Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Vienna and Cambridge. At both Aberdeen and Cambridge he received first class honours degrees. Then he went on to lecture at the universities of Leeds, Sheffield, and latterly Manchester where he held the position of Rylands Professor of biblical criticism and exegesis from 1959 to 1978. He was made a Fellow of the British Academy and President of both the Society for Old Testament Study and the Society for New Testament Study.

F F Bruce became a prolific writer, completing commentaries on The Acts of the Apostles and all of Paul’s epistles, plus Scripture Union notes on the Gospels, the Revelation, Hebrews, and the letters of James, John, Peter and Jude. He also wrote studies on Daniel, Kings, Chronicles, and several of the Old Testament prophets. Among his many books were, Paul, the Apostle of the Free Spirit; The Canon of Scripture; New Testament History; the Dead Sea Scrolls; A Mind for What Matters; the New Testament Documents, are they reliable?; the Spreading Flame – the spread of Christianity from Pentecost to AD 800; Israel and the Nations – from the exodus to the fall of the second temple. Bruce’s life is recounted in his autobiography, In Retrospect – remembrance of things past; and the recent excellent biography, A Life – the definitive biography of a New Testament scholar, by Tim Grass of Spurgeon’s College.

F F Bruce had an excellent command of Greek, a subject he lectured on with distinction. He was also fluent in German, Latin, Hebrew, Aramaic, and ancient Chaldean and Celtic languages. As a result of his remarkable ability in these tongues, he was eminently capable of commenting on and translating, the earliest scriptural documents, and assessing the contents of the Dead Sea Scrolls when they became available. He studied the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus and those of the early Christian fathers, and their contemporaries in Greek and Roman society.

Despite his encyclopedic knowledge and global reputation, FF was a genuinely humble Christian who remained faithful to the great truths of the Gospel all his life. (David comments: I will never forget his expression and body language when I was introduced to the august professor in 1955 – as if it was he who was meeting someone important, and not me, a mere 15 year-old schoolboy!).

Fred Bruce worshipped with the Brethren all his life, yet was totally non-sectarian and non-judgmental towards all other believers who he regarded with compassion and understanding. He avoided petty controversies like the plague, and advised all young Christians, as his own father had advised him, to make up their own minds directly from reading the scriptures, and not to accept anything just because he or other prominent teachers had said it. He was a strong defender of Christian liberty, and an advocate of the roles of gifted women in Christian service at home and abroad.

The New Zealand theologian, J I Packer wrote of F F, : “Bruce was a very Scottish Scotsman, in whom tough independence of mind was married to a sensitive common-touch courtesy. Warmth of heart went with verbal coolness, and an exquisite dry humour, genially deflationary, reflected robust common sense. Blessed with a stellar memory, superb academic instincts, energy and versatility of mind, an easy, limpid fluency on paper, and a huge capacity for work, he wrote more than 40 books plus nearly 2,000 articles and reviews. (He was) a gentle modest Christian, an intelligent, quizzical man of letters, a lover of good men and good books, - a great man who under God accomplished a great deal.

No Christian was ever more free of narrow bigotry, prejudice and eccentricity in the views he held and the way he held them; and no man ever did more to demonstrate how evangelical faith and total academic integrity may walk hand in hand.”

You can get a copy of his biography at:
http://www.amazon.com/F-Bruce-Life-Tim-Grass/dp/0802867235 where a review says...

"If evangelicalism in the United Kingdom has been preserved from the dangers of fundamentalism and bigotry over the past seventy years or so, the credit must go largely to the enormous influence of the outstanding, gracious, Christian teacher and writer whose career is the subject of this book. However, its appeal will be much wider than simply to those who wish to understand this significant period of contemporary history. Although he was an academic scholar, Fred Bruce had a remarkably interesting life that is related here in a fascinating manner and evaluated critically by a sympathetic observer who shares the same facility in attractive presentation as was shown by Bruce himself."


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