Personal Tribute to Bruce Manning Metzger

Bruce Metzger died on Tuesday, February 13, 2007 at the age of 93. He was the George L. Collord Professor Emeritus of New Testament Language and Literature at Princeton Theological Seminary. I think it would be fair to say that in his prime there was no greater authority on New Testament textual criticism than Dr. Metzger—at least not in the English-speaking world. I have five memories by way of tribute to a great man.

1. His book, The New Testament: Its Background, Growth, and Context was the text I used each time I taught the basic New Testament course at Bethel from 1974 to 1979. It was short, careful, solid, and readable.

2. He came to Fuller Seminary during my studies there (1968-71) and taught a class on Galatians, which I took with great enjoyment. I was so helped by his teaching and so impressed with him as a man, I applied to Princeton to do my graduate work with him when I was finished at Fuller in 1971. I was rejected. He wrote me a personal letter to ease my disappointment, saying that only four people were accepted. It helped (a little).

3. He told us the story that when the Concordance to the Revised Standard Version of the Bible was published, the publisher offered $25 for every mistake people found. He told of sitting up in bed at night reading the concordance noting errors—more for enjoyment than money.

4. Only when the Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament and the Aland Greek Testament coincided in wording did I make the change to use the small pocket size Aland Greek New Testament. Until then my ragged old Greek Testament was the Bible Societies’ edition—the one edited by Bruce Metzger.

5. He quoted a Chinese proverb: “The faintest ink is more lasting than the strongest memory.” Accordingly, he said in his Memoir (Reminiscences of an Octogenarian, p. 229) that he made notes of noteworthy sayings on 3 by 5 cards as he read throughout his life. There are over 20,000 of these which were left to the archives at Princeton. One of them from R. W. Sockman says, “Time is the deposit each one has in the bank of God, and no one knows the balance.” (Until the note falls due.)

I pray that I will fill my days as diligently as Bruce Metzger. His life gave the word assiduous flesh and blood meaning.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books.