Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Bruce Manning Metzer (1914-2007)

I was informed last week that the eminent theologian, Bruce Metzer passed away in February of this year. Metzer was an important guide in my own undergraduate and graduate studies in New Testament Textual Criticism. I remain inspired by his brilliant scholarship and the depth of his devotion to Jesus. He is a marvelous example of authentic Christian Leadership in the Academy. His orbituary from the Society of Biblical Literature reads as follows:
Dr. Bruce M. Metzger, the internationally renowned textual critic, bible scholar, and biblical translator, New Testament professor emeritus at Princeton Theological Seminary, and past President of the SBL (1971), died on February 13, 2007 at his home in Princeton at the age of 93.

Internationally recognized as a leading NT textual critic, Metzger was arguably the greatest textual specialist and biblical translator America has produced. Among his many publications, pride of place belongs to his trilogy on the text, versions, and canon of the NT. Most widely influential is his handbook on The Text of the New Testament (1964; translations include German, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Italian, and Russian; 3d, enl. ed. 1992; 4th ed. with Bart Ehrman, 2005), from which multiple generations of textual critics learned their craft. It presented (in a genuinely balanced and pedagogically useful form) the essentials of what would later be termed "reasoned eclecticism," the dominant approach in the discipline today (his influence with regard to methodology was extended even more widely by A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament). Without rival in the field, and an outstanding example of Metzger's wide-ranging and encyclopedic knowledge, is his Early Versions of the New Testament (1977), which surveys not only the expected major versions, but also many minor ones (e.g., Thracian and Sogdian). The Canon of the New Testament (1987) combines careful and erudite attention to historical matters with a concern for theological questions and implications — another typically Metzgerian characteristic.

Metzger's recognition as a leading NT textual critic is due also to his influential role as a member of the editorial committee responsible initially for The Greek New Testament and later for the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece, and also his involvement in, and leadership of, the International Greek New Testament Project (1948-1984).

The full breadth of Metzger's scholarship is most visible in his hundreds of articles, which cover textual criticism, philology, palaeography and papyrology, classical topics, Greco-Roman religions, the Hebrew Bible, the Apocrypha, the New Testament, patristics, early church history, and Bible translation (to name only the major areas). In addition he has published (in at least two dozen journals) reviews of hundreds of books written in eight languages. A master of bibliographic detail, Metzger would find that telling reference in sources the rest of us did not know existed (see, e.g., p. 271 n. 28 in the latest edition of the Text of the NT). In a remarkable feat, Metzger published in eight different decades: his first article appeared in 1938, and his most recent book in 2006.

Metzger's many awards, prizes, honors, and academic recognitions include honorary degrees from his alma mater, Findlay College, University of St. Andrews, University of Münster/Westfalia, and University of Potchefstroom; the presidencies of Studorium Novi Testamenti Societas (1971-1972), the Society of Biblical Literature (1971), the North American Patristic Society (1972), and the Society for Textual Scholarship (1995); and three Festschriften. Of particular note are Metzger's election in 1978 as Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy (its highest honor for those not residents of the UK), and the receipt in 1994 of its prestigious F. C. Burkitt Medal for Biblical Studies (only the third American so honored). As Iain Torrence, the Seminary's current President, observed, "Bruce Metzger's sheer brilliance, clarity and Christian devotion set a standard all of his own."

Yet for all his academic achievements and international renown, Bruce is warmly remembered by many as much or more for his personality and character. Friendly, modest, and self-effacing, seemingly always courteous and gracious, he took a genuine interest in his students, was a source of encouragement to colleagues and younger scholars alike, and deeply enjoyed his many speaking engagements in churches throughout the world. He had a knack of always finding something nice to say about a person or a book, an engaging sense of humor, and an apparently endless supply of amusing anecdotes. Though he tended to avoid talking about himself, he had some remarkable stories to tell (many were finally told in his Reminiscences of an Octogenarian [1997]), some of which were quite endearing: he once admitted, a bit sheepishly, to having studied Syriac vocabulary instead of listening to the lecture in a Christian Education class while a seminary student. He will be deeply missed by all who knew him, whether as colleague, teacher, mentor, or friend.