Hard Sayings of Jesus. By F. F. Bruce. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983. 265 pp. Paper, $10.99.
The obvious purpose of F. F. Bruce’s Hard Sayings of Jesus, is to make difficult teachings of Jesus easier to understand. Yet, Bruce’s theology makes them impenetrable. Don’t misunderstand, the bookdoes offer some valuable insights. Bruce’s historical and cultural knowledge is often illuminating. But his theological bias dominates his interpretations and makes many hard sayings even harder.
One example of this is in chapter 48, where Bruce discusses Mark 10:25, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Referring to the rich man, he writes, “His record in keeping the commandments was unimpeachable…and Jesus said nothing to suggest that his claim was exaggerated. But, to test the strength of his commitment, Jesus bade him to sell his property and distribute the proceeds among the poor (p. 180, emphasis mine).
This approach is especially dangerous because it leads to a works or Lordship approach to salvation. Bruce doesn’t see Jesus exposing the rich man’s total inability—and thus his need for a Savior. No, he feels that even the disciples “had not realized, perhaps, just how stringent the terms of entry into the kingdom were—and are” (p. 181).
Jesus’ explanation of Mark 10:24 “How hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God” (contained in the vast majority of manuscripts) is explained away. Bruce writes, “This could be an attempt to soften the hardness of his words, making it possible for a reader to comfort himself with the thought; ‘I have riches, indeed, but I do not trust in them: I am all right.’” However, the problem was exactly what Jesus said. People naturally trust in themselves, their goodness, their merit, not in Christ Jesus, for salvation. Increased wealth can lead to increased self-dependence and self-righteousness.
Another example of Bruce’s theological bias appears when he quotes an epigram translated “Believe, and thou hast eaten,” to explain how we should respond to Jesus as the Bread of life (p. 24). Bruce then goes on to cite favorably the interpretation of Bernard of Clairvaux: “Bernard expounds the words ‘he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life’ as meaning: ‘He who reflects on my death, and after my example mortifies his members which are on earth, has eternal life’—in other words, If you suffer with me, you will also reign with me” (italics mine). Thus Bruce appears to agree that mortifying one’s members and suffering are part of believing. But this kind of interpretation torpedoes the grace of God. It is salvation by works, not by grace.
These are but two examples of the author’s approach. But they are illustrative of his grid. Bruce equates the demands of the Gospel with the demands of discipleship, and believing with good works. By doing so, he misleads people to believe a “gospel” that is not good news at all.
Tabernacle Baptist Church