Reginald Horace Fuller (1915-2007) was a leading New Testament scholar. 

Fuller was the son of Horace Fuller, an agricultural engineer, and his wife Cora Lottie née Heath. He came from Horsham in West Sussex, where he attended Collyer’s School. He was a choir boy in his local parish church between the ages of nine and fifteen. After leaving school, he went on to higher education at Peterhouse, Cambridge. After taking his BA he spent a year studying at the University of Tübingen, a place renowned for its biblical radicalism. He later remembered being with a group of theologians in a small room when Adolf Hitler walked in. On returning home, he went to Queen’s College Birmingham to prepare for the priesthood. While he was there, he met Ilse Barda, a native of Vienna; this was at the ordination of a fellow student, who had fled from Germany. Fuller married Ilse in 1942; they went on to have three daughters, Caroline, Rosemary and Sarah.  

Fuller was ordained in 1941; he served curacies in Bakewell and then at Ashbourne-with Mapleton in Derbyshire. Following this, he returned to Birmingham; he combined teaching at Queen’s with working as a curate in Edgbaston. His next role was as Professor of Theology and Hebrew at St David’s College; he worked in Lampeter from 1950 to 1955. Ilse remembered that he learned ‘Prayer Book Welsh’ so he could take services; he became active in the surrounding parishes.  

Fuller’s next move was to the United States, to become Professor of New Testament Literature and Languages at the Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois. Situated on the north shore of Lake Michigan, it was a good place to bring up a growing family. However, eventually it was time to move on; in 1966, Fuller became Baldwin Professor of New Testament at Union Seminary, New York. He stayed there six years, before being appointed as Molly Laird Downs Professor in The Episcopal Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia. He remained in Virginia for the rest of his life, becoming Professor Emeritus on his retirement in 1985. He became an American citizen in 1995. 

Theologically, Fuller combined critical thinking with a ‘firm commitment to the orthodox teachings of the church.’ For instance, he rejected Bultmann’s views on demythologisation, which he saw as undermining the Church’s proclamation. Fuller emphasized the continuity between the two testaments. While recognizing the different strands in New Testament theology, he saw a coherent centre in the preaching of the risen Christ.  

His first book, written in collaboration with Richard Hanson, was The Church of Rome: a dissuasive (SCM Press, 1948). Stephen Neill commented ‘This is a useful and timely book … The writers are young crusaders, intelligent and well-read.’ Whilst Fuller was at Lampeter, he published The Mission and Achievement of Jesus, (SCM Press, 1954). He argued that Jesus, by what he said and did, laid a firm foundation upon which the teaching of the apostles rested squarely. Bream summed up ‘This book is well worth careful study … And the treatment is full, yet remains compact.’ Fuller later wrote its sequel, bringing out The Foundations of New Testament Christology, (Lutterworth Press, 1965). He aimed to identify and reconstruct the various strata through which the Christology of the early church developed as it moved from first-century Jerusalem to the Council of Chalcedon in 451 CE. In 1966, Fuller brought out A Critical Introduction to the New Testament (Duckworth); for a while, this was a standard text in both Britain and the US. Rollins commented ‘Professor Fuller has made careful selection from a broad base of opinion, to produce a balanced and unified picture of NT literary and historical-critical scholarship today.’ 

Fuller believed that the Bible should be proclaimed every Sunday. In The Use of the Bible in Preaching (Bible Reading Fellowship, 1981), he laid down some basic and concise guidelines for exegesis and preaching. He argued that the Bible has an authoritative divine message that comes in and through its human character. The way to discover this message is through good exegetical skill. Fuller himself was noted for preaching short but profound sermons.  

Fuller was prominent as a translator as well as an author. The first book he converted into English was Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s modern classic, The Cost of Discipleship, (SCM Press, 1959)While he was at Lampeter, he worked on the first edition of Letters and Papers from Prison, (SCM Press, 1953). Fuller’s wife Ilse has said, ‘Books were hard to get during this post-war period, and we are happy to think that many people who might not have had a chance to do so otherwise heard about Bonhoeffer through Reg.’ Other works he translated from German included Bultmann’s Primitive Christianity and his essays in Kerygma and Myth; Jeremias’ Unknown Sayings of Jesus and Albert Schweitzer’s Reverence for Life.  

Fuller was an active ecumenist. He was a member of the World Council of Churches Faith and Order Commission from 1957 to 1961, and of the Episcopal-Lutheran conversations between 1968 and 1980. He also assisted in Lutheran-Catholic conversations in the US. In addition, he helped the US Catholic Bishops’ Conference concerned with the lectionary. He received the first annual Ecumenism Award from the Washington Theological Consortium in 2001. He was visiting professor at eight seminaries and colleges in the US, Canada and Australia. As well as receiving several honorary doctorates, he was president of the Society of New Testament Studies in 1983-84.  

Fuller fell and broke his hip on 25 March 2007, the day after his 92nd birthday. He died on 4 April, following complications from the surgery on this. Martha J. Horne, the dean of Virginia Theological Seminary, said of him, ‘Dr Fuller was a mentor to many, many students over the years who not only studied New Testament and Greek with him, but who witnessed his faithful life of prayer, study, fellowship, and devotion to family and friends.” 

Sources 

Davies, J. (2007, May 24). Reginald Fuller – a theologian of stature. Salisbury Journal. Retrieved February 10 2021 from https://www.salisburyjournal.co.uk/news/1422958.reginald-fuller-a-theologian-of-stature/ 

The Rev Professor Reginald Fuller. (2007, April 26). The Times. Retrieved February 10 2021 from https://link-gale-com.ezproxy.uwtsd.ac.uk/apps/doc/IF0503524155/TTDA?u=walamp&sid=TTDA&xid=7bfbacac 

Hultgren, A.J. & Hall, B. (eds.), Christ and His Communities: Essays in Honor of Reginald H. Fuller. (pp. 1-7). Retrieved February 10 2021 from https://b-ok.cc/book/1099268/5e5d89?redirect=160906215 

Canon Reginald Horace Fuller.  (2007, May 10). Church Times. Retrieved February 11 2021 from https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2007/11-may/news/uk/canon-reginald-horace-fuller 

Rourke, M. (2007, April 18). Reginald Fuller, 92; biblical scholar. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 11 2021 from https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2007-apr-18-me-fuller18-story.html 

Neill, S. (1949). The Church of Rome, a dissuasive. By Richard Hanson and Reginald Fuller. S.C.M. Press. 8/6. Churchman, 63(2),108-109. Retrieved February 11 2021 from https://biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/churchman/063-02_108.pdf 

Bream, H. (1955). The Mission and Achievement of Jesus. By REGINALD H. FULLER. (“Studies in Biblical Theology,” No. 12.) Chicago: Alec R. Allenson, Inc., 1954, $1.25. The Journal of Religion, 35(4),255-256. Retrieved February 11 2021 from https://www.jstor.org/stable/1200853 

Rollins, W.G. (1968). THE FOUNDATIONS OF NEW TESTAMENT CHRISTOLOGY. By Reginald H. Fuller. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1965. 268 pp. $5.95. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 7(1),155-156. Retrieved February 11 2021 from https://www.jstor.org/stable/1385148 

Rollins, W.G. (1967). A Critical Introduction to the New Testament, by Reginald H. Fuller. London: Duckworth, 1966. Pp. ix+221. 15s. Journal of Biblical Literature, 86(2),229. Retrieved February 11 2021 from https://www.jstor.org/stable/3263285 

Reginald H. Fuller 1915-2007. (2007). SBL Forum Archive. Retrieved February 12 2021 from https://www.sbl-site.org/publications/article.aspx?articleId=665