The Letters of Paul: An Expanded Paraphrase

Frederick F. Bruce, The Letters of Paul: An Expanded Paraphrase, Printed in Parallel with the Revised Version with Fuller References by Drs. Scrivener, Moulton & Greenup. Exeter, Devon: Paternoster Press, 1965.

Frederick Fyvie Bruce (1910-1990) was raised in an evangelical family, in the Open Brethren Church. He studied classical literature in college, received the M.A. degree in Classics from Cambridge, and took a position as lecturer in Greek at Leeds University. During the 1930's his academic interests turned to New Testament studies. In 1947 he was appointed to the newly created chair of biblical studies at Sheffield University, and in 1949 he became the editor of The Evangelical Quarterly, a position he held until 1980. In 1954 he published a major commentary on the book of Acts. He left Sheffield University in 1959 to become a professor of Biblical criticism and exegesis at the University of Manchester, where he remained until his retirement in 1978. During his years at Manchester he published several commentaries on New Testament books, and other works of biblical interpretation and introduction. Among these, the best known is his 1977 book, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free (published in Great Britain as Paul: Apostle of the Free Spirit)

Although Bruce began his career as a conservative "evangelical" (professing belief in the inerrancy of Scripture), at the University of Manchester he seems to have moved in a liberal direction. One conservative author observes that in his Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free Bruce "presents Paul's teaching as the developing thought of an apostle, formed out of his exceptional experience of Christ, rather than as the inspired truth of God. Whilst for the most part reaching conservative conclusions, he appears to proceed on largely liberal assumptions." James Barr—another prominent scholar who turned liberal while teaching at Manchester—considered Bruce to be a "conservative liberal." 1

Bruce's The Letters of Paul: An Expanded Paraphrase (1965) began with a paraphrase of the Epistle to the Galatians prepared for a youth ministry conference in 1955. He describes the origin of the paraphrase in his Introduction:

This work began haphazardly. During Easter weekend, 1955, I gave a series of Bible study talks on the Epistle to the Galatians to the North Midlands Young People's Holiday Conference at Kingsmoor School, Glossop, and prepared a paraphrase of the epistle to be used along with the talks. Some time later, finding myself short of material for one number of The Evangelical Quarterly, I used this paraphrase to fill the gap. At Easter, 1957, I gave a series of talks to the same conference on the Epistle to the Colossians, and prepared a similar paraphrase of that epistle, which was also published subsequently in The Evangelical Quarterly. At this point my friend and publisher, Mr. B. Howard Mudditt, assured me that this was the most important work I had ever done, and urged me to continue what I had begun. Under his friendly pressure I found myself producing paraphrase after paraphrase, until in the course of six years or so the whole Pauline corpus was paraphrased in successive numbers of the Evangelical Quarterly. This paraphrase in a revised form is now published in one volume. (page 9.)

His stated purpose is "to make the course of Paul's argument as clear as possible." (Introduction, page 9.) We may judge how far he succeeds in this purpose in the following passage, chosen at random. Below is Romans chapter 5 from the Revised Standard Version (1946) and from Bruce's paraphrase.

Romans 5

Revised Standard Version, 1946

1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we (a) have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have obtained access (b) to this grace in which we stand, and we (c) rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 More than that, we (c) rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.

6 While we were yet helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Why, one will hardly die for a righteous man — though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die. 8 But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we are now justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 Not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received our reconciliation.

12 Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned — 13 sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the effect of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. 17 If, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

18 Then as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man's act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. 19 For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man's obedience many will be made righteous. 20 Law came in, to increase the trespass; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

a. Other ancient authorities read let us.
b. Other ancient authorities add by faith.
c. Or let us.

The Letters of Paul, 1965

(Ch. 5:1-11)

So then, having entered into a right relationship with God on the ground of faith, we enjoy peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him, too, we have received the right of access into this state of favour in which we now stand, and we rejoice in the hope of attaining the glory of God. (a) Not only so, but we even rejoice in our afflictions, for we know that affliction produces patience, and patience produces a tested character, and a tested character produces hope. Nor will this hope let us down, because God's love is poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Look at it this way: when we were still weak, Christ, in the hour of our need, submitted to death for the sake of us sinners. You will scarcely find anyone willing to die for a righteous man — well, perhaps there may be someone who would venture to die for a good man — but God confirms His love to us by the fact that Christ died for us when we were still sinners. If he did that for us, much more shall we be delivered from the coming wrath through Him now that we have been set right with God through his sacrificial death. I repeat: if we were reconciled to God through His Son's death when we were still His enemies, much more shall we experience salvation through His life now that we have been reconciled. And more than all that: we rejoice in God Himself through our Lord Jesus Christ — the One through whom we have now received this reconciliation.

(Ch. 5:12-21)

Now mark the comparison and contrast. It was by one man that sin came into the world, and death entered by means of sin; death accordingly has spread to all mankind, because it was all mankind that sinned. (b) Long before the giving of the Law sin was in the world, although sin is not reckoned as positive transgression in the absence of a positive law. (c) Yet death exercised dominion from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those whose sin did not take the form that Adam's did, for his sin was a positive transgression. Now the first man is a "type" of the Man who is to come, but his "typical" character is limited, for God's gift of grace is not on all fours with the original fall. Through the one man's fall the many died, but the grace of God and the free gift which comes through the grace of the one man Jesus Christ have been bestowed in much greater abundance upon the many. The free gift is not on the scale of the effect of one man's sin. As a result of that one sin the judgement came, and led to condemnation; but the free gift is bestowed after many "falls," with a view to justification. If, by reason of one man's fall, death exercised dominion through that one man's agency, much more will those who receive the abundance of God's grace and His free gift of righteousness reign triumphantly in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

To sum up: it was through one man's fall that all men found themselves involved in condemnation; and similarly it is through one man's righteousness that all men are blessed with a justification which brings life in its train. For just as the many received the status of sinners through the one man's disobedience, so the many will be set right with God through the one man's obedience. (d) It was to make sinful acts increase the more that law came in — by a side road, so to speak — but where sin increased, divine grace increased more exceedingly. God's purpose in this was that, as sin had dominated the situation, with death as its inevitable sequel, so grace should dominate the situation, and do so righteously, with eternal life as is goal, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

a. From which we fall short through sin (Ch. 3:23, p. 191).
b. That is, all mankind sinned in Adam's sin, because Adam, as his name implies, is the embodiment of all mankind.
c. Cf. Ch. 4:15 (p. 195).
d. Cf. Isaiah 53:11.

Regarding the paraprase here we may observe that Bruce has added some phrases which are intended to mark the logical stages of the chapter. "Look at it this way" is put in front of verse 6 to show the introduction of a supporting argument for the lovingkindness of God. "I repeat" is put in front of verse 10 to indicate that what we read there is more or less a restatement of verse 9. "Now mark the comparison and contrast" is put in front of verse 12 to orient the reader to the following comparisons. The final clause of verse 14 is recast as the beginning of a new sentence, introduced by the word "Now" because it introduces a new thought. "To sum up" is put in front of verse 18 to indicate the summary function of the remaining verses. The headings put before verses 1 and 12 also serve the purpose of marking units of discourse. Some of this is helpful.

We might take issue, however, with the idea of summarizing verses 1-11 as "The Blessings which Accompany Justification: Peace, Joy, Hope." This seems to describe only the first five verses. And verse 10 is no mere repetition of verse 9. In fact, the idea "now that we are reconciled, we shall be saved by his life" is a significant point of advance in the argument. It is here that Paul ceases to speak of a merely forensic justification, and begins to speak of a salvation which includes what is known as "sanctification." Actually, the main purpose of this chapter in Paul's epistle is to move on from the forensic concept of justification which he has been discussing in the previous chapters to an exposition of the effectual working of the power of God's grace (charis) in the life of the faithful. So verse 10, "For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life," presents the central idea of the chapter. This "life" of which he speaks is the new life in the Spirit, sanctification, which is an integral part of salvation. The emphasis in this chapter is not upon the judicial "state" or "status" of man — not upon a merely imputed righteousness — but upon the vital connection with Christ. The question to be asked in 6:1, "Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?" is already in view, and the merely "forensic" conception of righteousness and grace implied in this question is already being undermined and rejected in chapter 5. Grace is no mere "state of favour," as Bruce paraphrases the word in verse 2, but a dynamic force, a reigning power in the life of the believer. This really is crucial to an understanding of the argument in chapter 5, and Bruce fails to bring it out. Another weakness is his failure to indicate the parenthetical character of verses 13 and 14, which throws the argument off track.

In another passage we will note a very questionable rendering.

Galatians 6:14-16

Revised Standard Version, 1946

14 But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16 Peace and mercy be upon all who walk by this rule, upon the Israel of God.

The Letters of Paul, 1965

But far be it from me to boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ: that cross forms a permanent barrier (1) between the world and me, and between me and the world. Here neither circumcision nor uncircumcision matters at all; here is a new creation. And as for all those who make this their rule of life, may peace and mercy be upon them, and upon God's people Israel. (2)

1. There seems to be a play on the two senses of Greek stauroo here: (a) to erect a fence, (b) to crucify.
2. Perhaps an echo of Psalm 125:5, "Peace be upon Israel."

Our interest is not in the eccentric "forms a permanent barrier" in verse 14, though that is questionable enough. The bigger problem is at the end of verse 16. Here it appears that blessings are pronounced upon the Church and upon the Jews, who are "God's people Israel." But the true meaning of the final phrase is probably quite different, as may be seen in the RSV translation — Paul appropriates the name "Israel" for the Church, as the true Israel of God. This interpretation is also adopted in the NIV, "even to the Israel of God," and the Jerusalem Bible, "who form the Israel of God" (to which is added the footnote, "The Christian community, the true Israel, cf. 3:29; Rm 9:6-8, as opposed to the 'Israel according to the flesh,' 1 Co 10:18"). This is highly significant, and Bruce does not even mention the interpretation of the RSV in his footnote. In his Commentary on Galatians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992) he discusses the matter, and he expresses his opinion that "this invocation of blessing on the Israel of God has probably an eschatological perspective" because "Paul held good hope of the ultimate blessing of Israel," expecting that "all Israel will be saved" (pp. 274–75). 2 Yet there is no reason to think that Paul's mind has suddenly turned to eschatology in Galatians 6:16b. For more information on the interpretation and translation of Galatians 6:16 see the article, The Israel of God.

In conclusion, we will say that Bruce's paraphrase is occasionally helpful when used in combination with a more literal version, such as the one printed on facing pages in this edition (the English Revised Version of 1881). But the reader must never suppose that a paraphrase such as this can be relied upon for close study of the text. Inevitably in a paraphrase some things are brought out, other things are de-emphasized, and some things are simply falsified. Even when the paraphraser is a competent scholar like F.F. Bruce there will be failures to represent major points of the text faithfully, as we have noted in this critique.

1. Quoted in Ian H. Murray's Evangelicalism Divided (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2000), pp. 181, and in John Wenham's Facing Hell: An Autobiography (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 1999), pp. 195.

2. We note that Bruce also casts doubt upon the authenticity of 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 in order to maintain his inclusivist view of Paul's "good hope." In his commentary on 1 and 2 Thessalonians in the Word Biblical Commentary series, vol 45 (Waco: Word Books, 1982) he says these verses "have more in common with current Gentile disparagement of Jews than with the positive attitude of affection and hope which Paul elsewhere expresses with regard to his kinsmen by race" (p. 51). Clearly, there is an overriding theological bias at work here.