Bruce Metzger, Beloved by Modernists, Evangelicals, and Fundamentalists
November 9, 2023 (first published December 17, 2019)
David Cloud, Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061
Bruce Metzger

Bruce Metzger

As a student at Tennessee Temple in the 1970s, I was given zero information about the editors of the United Bible Societies Greek New Testament that we were required to use. These were Bruce Metzger, Matthew Black, Allen Wikgren, Carlo Martini, Kurt Aland, Barbara Aland, and Johannes Karavidopoulos.

I looked into these people for myself as a young missionary in the early 1980s and was amazed to find that Martini was a Roman Catholic cardinal and most of the others were theological modernists. I found, further, that the entire field of modern textual criticism was rife with unbelief from its inception. Modernists and Unitarians and modernist-influenced Evangelicals were the chief voices, with few exceptions.

I decided that I had been kept in the dark and nearly led astray. God commands me to mark and avoid heretics, not study their writings, adopt their principles, and use their Testaments.

Faith vs. the Modern Bible Versions, we have given extensive information about Martini, the Alands, Black, Wikgren, and Karavidopoulos. In this report we will focus on Metzger.

Bruce Metzger (1914-2007) was probably the most influential textual critic of his generation. Every book defending the modern versions lists his works. He is popular across all Christian lines: Catholic, liberal Protestant, Evangelical, Fundamentalist, Baptist.

He is popular with evangelicals and, in fact, is considered an evangelical. Metzger was mentioned in
Christianity Today as one of the “highly skilled, believing scholars” of our day (Michael Maudlin, “Inside CT,” Christianity Today, Feb. 8, 1999). The book Bible Interpreters of the 20th Century: a Selection of Evangelical Voices, edited by Walter Elwell and J.D. Weaver (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), features a chapter on Bruce Metzger by James A. Brooks (pp. 260-71).

Metzger is even popular with fundamentalists who support modern textual criticism, and that is a large and growing population. He is often mentioned and recommended in books written by fundamentalists (e.g., From the Mind of God to the Mind of Man, 1999, written by BJU graduates and associates; Central Baptist Seminary’s The Bible Version Debate, 1997). In a letter to me in the 1980s, fundamental Baptist evangelist Robert L. Sumner said that he trusts Metzger and he rebuked me for labeling Metzger a liberal. On a visit to the Bob Jones University bookstore in March 2005, I counted five of Metzger’s books for sale, and there was no warning of his theological liberalism.

Metzger was one of the editors of the United Bible Societies’ Greek N.T. He was George L. Collord Professor of New Testament Language and Literature at Princeton Theological Seminary. He headed up the New Revised Standard Version translation committee, which is owned by the theologically radical National Council of Churches in America. He has served on the board of the American Bible Society.

Metzger’s 1997 autobiography,
The Reminisces of an Octogenarian, omitted any reference to a personal salvation experience.

Metzger was a radical ecumenist. He was at the forefront of producing “the Ecumenical Edition” of the RSV in 1973 and personally presented a copy to Pope Paul VI. “In a private audience granted to a small group, comprising the Greek Orthodox Archbishop Athenagoras, Lady Priscilla and Sir William Collins, Herbert G. May, and the present writer, Pope Paul accepted the RSV ‘Common’ Bible as a significant step in furthering ecumenical relations among the churches” (Metzger, “The RSV-Ecumenical Edition,” Theology Today, October 1977). Metzger also presented a Bible to Pope John Paul II.

Metzger was rationalistic in his approach to the Bible’s text. He did not believe in the divine preservation of the Scripture in any practical sense. In fact, he claimed that it is possible that we do not have sufficient manuscript evidence to recover the original text, because the manuscripts that exist might not even represent the text of the early churches. “... the disquieting possibility remains that the evidence available to us today may, in certain cases, be totally unrepresentative of the distribution of readings in the early church” (Metzger, Text and Interpretation: Studies in the New Testament Presented to Matthew Black, 1979, p. 188).

Metzger blatantly denied the infallible inspiration of the Bible.

Metzger brazenly claimed that some portions of the original Scriptures might have been unfinished or lost before any copies could be made. Of the original ending of Mark 16 he says, “Whether he [Mark] was interrupted while writing and subsequently prevented (perhaps by death) from finishing his literary work, or whether the last leaf of the original copy was accidentally lost before other copies had been made, we do not know” (
The Text of the New Testament, p. 228).

Metzger advocated that Matthew incorporated errors in his royal genealogy of Christ (Metzger,
A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 1975, p. 1; cited from Thomas Strouse, “The Pauline Antidote for Christians Caught in Theological Heresy: An Examination and Application of 2 Timothy 2:24-26,” Emmanuel Baptist Theological Seminary, Newington, CT, 2001).

Metzger’s theological liberalism in regard to inspiration was expressed in the
Reader’s Digest Condensed Bible. He was the chairman of the project and wrote the introductions to each book, in which he questioned the authorship, traditional date, and supernatural inspiration of books penned by Moses, Daniel, Paul, James, and Peter. Consider some examples:

Genesis: “Nearly all modern scholars agree that, like the other books of the Pentateuch, [Genesis] is a composite of several sources, embodying traditions that go back in some cases to Moses.”

Exodus: “As with Genesis, several strands of literary tradition, some very ancient, some as late as the sixth century B.C., were combined in the makeup of the books.”

Deuteronomy: “Its compilation is generally assigned to the seventh century B.C., though it rests upon much older tradition, some of it from Moses’ time.”

Daniel: “Most scholars hold that the book was compiled during the persecutions (168-165 B.C.) of the Jewish people by Antiochus Epiphanes.”

John: “Whether the book was written directly by John, or indirectly (his teachings may have been edited by another), the church has accepted it as an authoritative supplement to the story of Jesus’ ministry given by the other evangelists.”

1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus: “Judging by differences in style and vocabulary from Paul’s other letters, many modern scholars think that the Pastorals were not written by Paul.”

James: “Tradition ascribes the letter to James, the Lord's brother, writing about A.D. 45, but modern opinion is uncertain, and differs widely on both origin and date.”

2 Peter: “Because the author refers to the letters of Paul as ‘scripture,’ a term apparently not applied to them until long after Paul’s death, most modern scholars think that this letter was drawn up in Peter’s name sometime between A.D. 100 and 150.”

Metzger’s radical modernism in relation to the Scripture was also evident in the notes to the
New Oxford Annotated Bible RSV, which he co-edited with Herbert May. It first appeared in 1962 as The Oxford Annotated Bible and was the first Protestant annotated edition of the Bible to be approved by the Roman Catholic Church. It was given an imprimatur in 1966 by Cardinal Cushing, Archbishop of Boston. Metzger and May claim the O.T. contains “a matrix of myth, legend, and history,” deny the worldwide flood, call Job an “ancient folktale,” claim there are two authors of Isaiah, call Jonah a “popular legend,” and otherwise attack the divine inspiration of Holy Scripture.

Introductory Notes to the Pentateuch: “The Old Testament may be described as the literary expression of the religious life of ancient Israel. ... The Israelites were more history-conscious than any other people in the ancient world. Probably as early as the time of David and Solomon, out of a matrix of myth, legend, and history, there had appeared the earliest written form of the story of the saving acts of God from Creation to the conquest of the Promised Land, an account which later in modified form became a part of Scripture” (Bruce Metzger and Herbert May,
New Oxford Annotated Bible).

Note on the Flood: “Archaeological evidence suggests that traditions of a prehistoric flood covering the whole earth are
heightened versions of local inundations, e.g. in the Tigris-Euphrates basin” (Metzger and May, New Oxford Annotated Bible).

Note on Job: “The
ancient folktale of a patient Job circulated orally among oriental sages in the second millennium B.C. and was probably written down in Hebrew at the time of David and Solomon or a century later (about 1000-800 B.C.)” (Metzger and May, New Oxford Annotated Bible).

Note on Psalm 22:12-13: “the meaning of the third line [they have pierced my hands and feet] is obscure” COMMENT: In fact, it is not obscure; it is a prophecy of Christ's crucifixion!

Note on Isaiah: “
Only chs. 1-39 can be assigned to Isaiah’s time; it is generally accepted that chs. 40-66 come from the time of Cyrus of Persia (539 B.C.) and later, as shown by the differences in historical background, literary style, and theological emphases. ... The contents of this section [chs. 56-66] (sometimes called Third Isaiah) suggest a date between 530 and 510 B.C., perhaps contemporary with Haggai and Zechariah (520-518); chapters 60-62 may be later.” COMMENT: The Lord Jesus Christ quoted from both major sections of Isaiah and said they were written by the same prophet (Jn. 12:38-41).

Note on Jonah: “The book of Jonah is didactic narrative which has taken older material from the realm of
popular legend and put it to a new, more consequential use” (Metzger and May, New Oxford Annotated Bible).

Introduction to the New Testament: “Jesus himself left no literary remains; information regarding his words and works comes from his immediate followers (the apostles) and their disciples. At first this information was circulated orally. As far as we know today, the first attempt to produce a written Gospel was made by John Mark, who according to tradition was a disciple of the Apostle Peter. This Gospel, along with a collection of sayings of Jesus and several other special sources, formed the basis of the Gospels attributed to Matthew and Luke” (Metzger and May, New Oxford Annotated Bible). COMMENT: The Gospels, like every part of the New Testament, were written by direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit (Jn. 16:13). This nonsense of trying to find ‘the original source’ for the Gospels is unbelieving heresy.

Notes on 2 Peter: “The tradition that this letter is the work of the apostle Peter was questioned in early times, and internal indications are almost decisive against it. ... Most scholars therefore regard the letter as the work of one who was deeply indebted to Peter and who published it under his master’s name early in the second century” (Metzger and May,
New Oxford Annotated Bible). COMMENT: Those who believe this nonsense must think the early Christians were liars and fools and that the Holy Spirit was on vacation.

Notes from “How to Read the Bible with Understanding”: “The opening chapters of the Old Testament deal with human origins. They are not to be read as history ... These chapters are followed by the stories of the patriarchs, which preserve ancient traditions now known to reflect the conditions of the times of which they tell, though they cannot be treated as strictly historical. ... it is not for history but for religion that they are preserved ... When we come to the books of Samuel and Kings ... Not all in these books is of the same historical value, and especially in the stories of Elijah and Elisha there are legendary elements. ... We should always remember the variety of literary forms found in the Bible, and should read a passage in the light of its own particular literary character. Legend should be read as legend, and poetry as poetry, and not with a dull prosaic and literalistic mind” (Metzger and May,
New Oxford Annotated Bible).

Metzger also supported the form criticism approach to the Gospels. In T
he New Testament, Its Background, Growth, and Content, which was published in 1965, he claimed that “the discipline of form criticism has enlarged our understanding of the conditions which prevailed during the years when the gospel materials circulated by word of mouth” (p. 86).

This is not true. Form criticism is an unbelieving discipline which claims that the Gospels were gradually developed out of a matrix of tradition. The fathers of form criticism have held a variety of views (reflecting the unsettled and relativistic nature of the rationalism upon which they stand), but all of them deny that the Gospels are the verbally inspired, divinely given, absolutely infallible Word of God.

Metzger said, “What each evangelist has preserved, therefore, is not a photographic reproduction of the words and deeds of Jesus, but an interpretative portrait delineated in accord with the special needs of the early church” (Ibid.).

Metzger was wrong. The Gospel writers have indeed given us, by divine revelation, a careful reproduction of the words and deeds of Jesus Christ in precisely the form designed by the Holy Spirit, a supernatural four-fold portrait of the Saviour. Praise God for it!

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