Baker Academic

Friday, June 21, 2013

F. F. Bruce on Inspiration and Fundamentalism - Le Donne

I've never been a big fan of F. F. Bruce (not that I ever had reason to dislike him), but I began to appreciate him a bit more last year.  At the height of the inhospitable campaign that resulted in my departure from Illinois, a handful of supportive colleagues - indeed friends - posted the below quote on their office doors. It is from F. F. Bruce's autobiography In Retrospect (pp.188-189) :
When a man’s standing in the constituency which he serves, not to speak of his livelihood, depends on his reputation for fidelity to the truth of Scripture, it is a very serious matter for anyone else to broadcast doubts about his fidelity or orthodoxy. If he himself statedly renounces something which is of the essence of the historic Christian faith, he will be prepared for the consequences, but he should not be held responsible for the inferences which other people may draw from his statements. Most deplorable of all is the launching of a whispering campaign to the effect that So-and-so is ‘going off the rails’ or is ‘getting away from the Lord’.

It was just a small gesture, but it meant a great deal to me. I will also include another excerpt from Bruce on the topic of inspiration (pp.311-312) :
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 be 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.
My thanks to Chris Keith for pointing me to these gems.



  1. "In fundamentalism the truth of the Bible, its inerrancy, understood principally as correspondence with external reality and events, is fed into the interpretive process at its very beginning. That is to say, one does not first interpret the passage on the basis of linguistic and literary structure, and then raise the question whether this is true as a matter of correspondance to external reality or to historical events. On the contrary, though linguistic and literary structure are respected as guides, and indeed conservative literature contains a good deal of boasting about the command of these disciplines by conservative interpreters, the principle of the inerrancy of scripture has an overriding function. It dominates the interpretative process entirely. The questions: Might linguistic and literary form suggest that the passage is a myth or legend? Might it be mistaken in matters of historical fact? Might it be something generated not by external events which occurred in this sequence, but by problems in the inner experience of the early church?—such questions are therefore eliminated from the interpretative process from the beginning. The fundamentalist interpreter may consider them, but only in so far as they are forced upon him by the arguments of critical scholars. They do not form part of his own interpretative procedure at all. This means, however, that though linguistic and literary form are respected as guides, they operate as guides only under the overriding control of the principle of inerrancy. The question is, therefore, which of the various interpretations is supported by the linguistic and literary evidence, under the overriding assumptions that the passage is inerrant as a description of external events and realities? The passage is inerrant: the only question is, which is the correct path to the necessarily inerrant meaning?" James Barr from his book Fundamentalism pg 51.