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Bruce M. Metzger, key RSV & NRSV figure, dies at 93

New York City, February 15, 2007 He was called a "towering presence" and the reason "there is a translation of the Bible we call the New Revised Standard Version" (NRSV) and he will be greatly missed by many colleagues at the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC).

Dr. Bruce Metzger, pre-eminent in his field of Biblical translation, study and teaching, died Feb. 13.  He was 93. 

"Dr. Metzger was a towering presence on the campus of Princeton Theological Seminary during my days there as a student," recalled the Rev. Michael Livingston, NCC president. 

"Students used to say that Dr. Metzger 'wrote the Bible.'  The comment reflected the high regard in which this gentleman scholar was held," said Livingston, who is also executive director of the International Council of Community Churches, one of the 35 NCC member communions. 

"Dr. Metzger was appreciated as much for his quiet yet passionate faith as he was for his singular accomplishments as a Biblical scholar," said Livingston.    

Metzger was a member of the Revised Standard Version (RSV) translation team and general editor of the NRSV.  Both were produced by the Bible translation committees of the NCC which holds the copyright to both versions.  The RSV was the first translation to incorporate scholarship derived from the 20th century discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.   

A February 16, 2007 obituary by Mary Rourke in the Los Angeles Times vividly illustrates the updated language in the RSV/NRSV:

The (NRSV) translation, published in 1990, eliminated such archaic words as "thee" and "thou" and adjusted references to "man" where both men and women were indicated.

The result was closer to current English usage than the older Revised Standard Version of the Bible, published in 1952.

The updated translation was sponsored by the National Council of Churches, an ecumenical group of 35 Christian denominations. The organization was in need of a translation that would be acceptable to a wide range of Christian denominations.

Soon after Metzger and his colleagues completed their work in 1989, he pointed out some of the changes in an interview with The Times.

The phrase, "Man shall not live by bread alone," from the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy and the New Testament Gospels of Matthew and Luke, was adjusted to read, "One shall not live by bread alone."

"O men of little faith," in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, became "O you of little faith."

The original Greek text did not use the word for man in that phrase, Metzger said. To insert it was "an unnecessary, restrictive" addition, he told The Times.

Masculine references to God in the New Revised Standard Version were preserved only if they came from early Hebrew or Greek biblical manuscripts.

Some of the adjustments aimed at preventing confusion with popular slang.

A line in Psalm 50 was changed from "I will accept no bull from your house" to "I will not accept a bull from your house."

Another line, in the second letter of Paul to the Corinthians, previously read, "Once I was stoned." Metzger's committee changed it to "Once I received a stoning."

"Literally, generations to come of seminarians and pastors will rely on his careful work," said the Rev. Dr. Eileen Lindner, NCC's deputy general secretary for planning and research.  "His enthusiasm for the Bible as an ever-present guide for Christians is second only to his scholarship about the Bible," Lindner said. 

The RSV and NRSV translations, initially controversial because they broke from the tradition-bound language of the 1611 Authorized Version (King James), became the most widely used Bible translations in colleges, schools of theology and seminaries around the world.  

"I don't think it is an exaggeration to say the RSV would not have happened had it not been for Bruce Metzger," said the Rev. Bob Edgar, NCC general secretary.  "His leadership and scholarship were the reasons there is a translation of the Bible we call the New Revised Standard Version."  

Metzger, a Presbyterian, was the George L. Collord Professor Emeritus of New Testament Language and Literature at Princeton Seminary.   He earned a bachelor's degree from Lebanon Valley College in 1935, a bachelor of theology degree from Princeton Seminary in 1938 and a doctorate in classics from Princeton University in 1942.    Metzger began his teaching career at Princeton in 1938, where he stayed in the New Testament department for 46 years.  He became an ordained minister with the Presbyterian Church in 1939.  

"Bruce Metzger was a renowned biblical scholar," said Dr. Lindner.   "He may have been small in stature but he was a towering leader in the Bible translation work of the Council," she said.    

On hearing the news of his former professor's passing, NCC President Livingston said:  "I imagine Jesus greeting Dr. Metzger on the scholars bench in heaven and thanking him for making the gospel so clear and accessible to generations of faith seekers in our time and beyond, through his inspired work on Revised Standard and the New Revised Standard Versions of the Bible."  

The NCC is the ecumenical voice of America's Orthodox, Protestant, Anglican, historic African American and traditional peace churches.  These 35 communions have 45 million faithful members in 100,000 congregations in all 50 states.


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