(Published in BAR May/June 2007)
Bruce Manning Metzger, the quintessential Presbyterian elder, scholar and gentleman, was one of the foremost New Testament textual critics of the 20th century. He was a major contributor to our understanding of the history of formation of the New Testament canon, an influential translator of the Biblical text and an insightful interpreter of the New Testament for modern times.
Metzger graduated from Lebanon Valley College in 1935 and from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1938; he then earned a master’s degree in 1940 and a Ph.D. in 1942 in classics at Princeton University. When Metzger graduated from Princeton Seminary, he joined the faculty and ultimately served there for 46 years, the last 30 as professor of New Testament, before retiring in 1984. In 1944 Metzger married Isobel Elizabeth Mackay, the daughter of the seminary president.
Metzger’s scholarship was flawless. While one might disagree with his conclusions on this or that issue, one would be hard put to find fault in the mass of evidence he accumulated in the fields in which he worked. His expert knowledge of the many languages necessary to do textual criticism attracted the respect of all his colleagues.
He became closely acquainted with the most esoteric witnesses to the New Testament text. When the United Bible Societies formed the Greek New Testament Project in 1955, Metzger was chosen to work with an international team of five prominent scholars. Beginning in 1966 the team produced a series of editions of the Greek New Testament that are used by scholars the world over and by the more-than-200 translation committees that the United Bible Societies sponsor around the world.
Metzger is best known outside scholarship as a Bible translator. As a young scholar he worked on the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, and in 1962 he compiled a concordance for it with Isobel Metzger (his wife). He served as chair of the Subcommittee on Translation of the American Bible Society from 1964 to 1970 and as general chair of the Standard Bible Committee of the National Council of Churches from 1977 to 1990, which produced the New Revised Standard Version in 1990. Metzger’s work extended to all books of all the canons, Jewish and Christian, from antiquity to today, as well as some that never made it into any canon.
In 1971 he served as president of both the international Society of Biblical Literature and of the Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas, and the following year of the North American Patristic Society. He was at different times visiting fellow at both Oxford and Cambridge Universities, was honored by the British Academy in 1994 and was awarded five honorary doctorates. Metzger published over 30 books of lasting significance for New Testament scholarship, including seven bibliographies of invaluable reference for New Testament scholars worldwide.
Yet for all his gifts and world-wide recognition in his field, Metzger was a model of humility and grace, always keen to learn from others—;especially students—never drawing attention to himself. He didn’t need to.—James A. Sanders, Claremont School of Theology and the Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center