F. F. Bruce on Paul’s Conversion


F. F. BruceThis series on the New Perspective on Paul has generated several conversations (online and in real life). I was chatting about F. F. Bruce with a colleague today and he asked me if F. F. Bruce could be considered “New Perspective.” My initial thought was that Bruce did most of his work before the NPP was well-known, although I notice that he cited E. P. Sanders 23 times in his commentary on Galatians, Dunn appears a few times, but Bruce wrote on Galatians well before Dunn’s commentary was published in 1993.

Commenting on Galatians 3:10, Bruce sees Paul’s conversion as a decisive break from legalistic Judaism:  “Paul’s confrontation with the risen Christ on the Damascus road after his grounding in Judaism, and the new understanding of salvation-history which sprang from that confrontation, compelled him to see the legal path to salvation closed by a barrier (which he would not have refused to identify with the cross) which carried a notice reading: ‘No road this way.’”  F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians (NIGTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1982), 160.

I would say that is solidly “Old Perspective”!

F. F. Bruce was a careful exegete and he is certainly not importing his personal conversion experience into his reading of Paul. It is simply the case Paul saw his own Gospel as a major break from his previous way of life in the Judaism of the Second Temple Period.

That is not to say that Paul rejected Judaism, however. In may very well be that he thought of himself as reforming Judaism with a “new understanding of salvation-history.” As I said in the previous post, Paul’s experience is unique in salvation history.