He was born in Elgin, Morayshire and was educated at the University of Aberdeen, Cambridge University and the University of Vienna. After teaching Greek for several years first at the University of Edinburgh and then at the University of Leeds he became head of the Department of Biblical History and Literature at the University of Sheffield in 1947. In 1959 he moved to the University of Manchester where he became professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis. In his career he wrote some thirty-three books and served as editor of The Evangelical Quarterly and the Palestine Exploration Quarterly. He retired from teaching in 1978.
Bruce was a dedicated member of the Open Plymouth Brethren, though he did not affirm the dispensationalism usually associated with that movement.Bruce was a distinguished scholar on the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul, and wrote several studies the best known of which is Paul: Apostle of the Free Spirit. He also wrote commentaries on several biblical books including Acts of the Apostles, 1 & 2 Corinthians, and the Epistle to the Hebrews.
His work New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? is considered a classic in the discipline of apologetics.