Bruce Metzger and the Curse of Textual Criticism

Jeffrey Khoo

Bruce Manning Metzger passed away on February 13, 2007 at the age of 93. He taught New Testament language and literature at Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) since 1938. He is known particularly for his textual criticism of the New Testament. For his textual-critical work, many are now singing his praises, and extolling him in no uncertain terms as one of Princeton’s “greatest intellectual ornaments,” and an “absolutely preeminent New Testament scholar.” Iain Torrance, President of PTS, called Metzger, “the greatest American New Testament critic and biblical translator of the twentieth century.”

Metzger’s Influence

Metzger is adored by modern-day textual critics who hail him as a “legend.” Here is one anecdote that shows how Metzger is practically worshipped, “Kathleen Maxwell told us in her presentation at the SBL in Edinburgh that she had phoned Bart Ehrman concerning a special feature in a manuscript (a red cross marking out the place where there was an illumination in the exemplar of the MS). Ehrman had told her to phone his Doktorvater Metzger to see if he had encountered this feature in MSS. Bart gave her the number and she got Metzger on the line. To us she remarked, ‘I felt like I was calling God!’” If this is not blasphemy (cf Acts 12:20–23), it is surely idolatry! This is the curse of textual criticism—the glorification of the scholar and his mind, instead of Christ and His words.

Although Metzger has died, his books and his students live on. One of his students is bestselling author Bart Ehrman who under Metzger’s tutelage ended up an agnostic. Metzger’s mantle has fallen upon Ehrman, and the latter will no doubt continue the Bible-denying legacy of his master! Metzger’s textbook on textual criticism—The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration—has just been revised and published with Ehrman as co-author and is likely to remain as the standard for all aspiring textual-critical scholars. Dan Wallace of Dallas Theological Seminary, a Metzger fan and TR/KJV-basher, wrote, “Metzger-Ehrman’s Text of the New Testament remains the standard handbook on NT textual criticism. Even with its few flaws, this volume should be read, underlined, digested, and quoted by all students of the NT text. It rightfully deserves to be within arm’s reach of all who study the sacred Greek Scriptures.” Wallace’s influence at Dallas will no doubt lead more Dallas students to close textual-critical encounters of the deadly Metzger-Ehrman kind.

At this juncture, let me offer a Biblical fundamentalist perspective of Metzger’s contributions to New Testament scholarship. Faithful and true Biblicists ought to be warned that Metzger’s scholarship is not one to be desired nor admired. Metzger could well be a gentle, courteous, and nice man as described in many a eulogy, but such adulations are no sure gauge of his biblical and theological orthodoxy. Let us beware lest we fall into the snare of unbelieving scholarship, and the seduction of worldly honour and glory. Every biblical scholar or theologue who is committed to the total infallibility and inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures, and the authenticity and integrity of the Greek New Testament of the Protestant Reformation which is the Textus Receptus must know that the adoption of Metzger’s philosophy and methodology will only lead to chronic uncertainty and perpetual unbelief of the total inspiration and perfect preservation of the Holy Scriptures.

Metzger Rejected

Let me share with you my experience. Metzger’s book on textual criticism—The Text of the New Testament—was introduced to me when I was a student at the Far Eastern Bible College (FEBC, 1985–1989). It was required reading for a couple of New Testament courses that I had to take. Those lecturers of mine had earned their theological degrees from top seminaries and universities in the USA and UK. They used and quoted Metzger favourably. When I myself pursued further studies in the States, at Grace Theological Seminary in the years 1989–1991, I found a modernist like Metzger highly regarded in what was a conservative evangelical and fundamentalist institution. (The Grace Seminary catalogue of 1989–1991 proudly advertised Bruce Metzger to attract prospective students. Page 63 of the catalogue contained a handsome photo of Metzger with this caption, “Dr. Bruce Metzger, one of the dozens of noted authors and theologians who have lectured to Grace Seminary students.”)

By the grace of God, the contents of Metzger’s book, in particular his textual methodology and interpretation of history, never sat well with me. For instance, one lecturer at FEBC during my student days, quoting Metzger, taught that the teachings of Jesus were not unique to Him, but merely an improvement on the existing traditions Jesus had access to in His day. What an attack on the integrity of our Lord and His Word! Also, I was taught the so-called “eclectic” method of textual criticism which favoured the critical theories of liberal Anglicans, Westcott and Hort. It made me proud to think that I could judge or emend the Holy Scriptures based on human reasoning and man-made rules. For over a decade, I had used the modernistic United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament edited by Metzger et al, but am thankful to the Lord for delivering me out of ignorance and error through the writings of J W Burgon, E F Hills and D A Waite. Dr Waite, who is President of the Dean Burgon Society, visited Singapore in 1992. He spoke at Calvary Pandan Bible-Presbyterian Church and FEBC on the textual issue and defended the KJV and its underlying texts. The glory of God and the logic of faith then led the Rev Dr Timothy Tow, the principal of FEBC and his faculty, to see the wonderful truth of the verbal and plenary preservation of the Holy Scriptures (Ps 12:6–7, Matt 5:18, 24:35). FEBC now requires the use of only the Traditional Hebrew Masoretic Text and the Greek Textus Receptus published by the Trinitarian Bible Society in its biblical language and literature classes. The KJV continues to be the only acceptable version for use in its English Bible courses.

Metzger’s Myth

Many an evangelical textual critic are impressed by the “awesome” footnotes of Metzger’s scholarly writings. Metzger’s texts and his annotated footnotes are said to be indispensable stuff in scholarly text-critical research. O, how we must be wary! Metzger’s “Bible” of textual criticism is filled with unbelief and deception. One example of deception is the myth Metzger concocted to question the authenticity of the Trinitarian verse called the “Johannine Comma” (1 John 5:7). Metzger in his textbook—The Text of the New Testament—pontificated, “Erasmus promised that he would insert the Comma Johanneum, as it is called, in future editions if a single Greek manuscript could be found that contained the passage. At length such a copy was found—or was made to order!” For decades, Metzger’s story has been parroted by anti-preservationists, TR/KJV opponents as if it was gospel truth. Erasmian expert, Henk J de Jonge of Leiden University, in his paper on “Erasmus and the Comma Johanneum” has convincingly proven that Metzger’s story on Erasmus is utterly baseless. This was no small embarrassment to Metzger and all his followers. Metzger, however, did not remove his misleading story about Erasmus in subsequent editions of his book, but placed a corrigendum in a footnote on a distant page (p291) in his third, enlarged edition confessing that what he had written on page 101 about Erasmus and 1 John 5:7 “needs to be corrected.”

Metzger’s Ecumenism

Let it be known that Metzger was a fervent promoter and leader of the ecumenical movement. The ecumenical New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of 1977–1990 was Metzger’s baby. Without Metzger there would be no NRSV. Metzger saw no better way to promote ecumenism than to produce a Bible that would unite both Protestant and Catholic elements. Metzger was actively involved in the translation of the Apocrypha and even expanded it to include 3rd and 4th Maccabees and Psalm 151. He did this to please the Roman Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church. In 1976, he personally presented the ecumenical edition of the RSV to Demetrios I, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople and titular head of the several Orthodox Churches. In 1993, Metzger presented a Catholic edition of the NRSV to Pope John Paul II at the Vatican. Why did he do all this? PTS President, Iain Torrance, tells us why, “Bruce Metzger understood and was passionate about the significance of biblical translation for ecumenical dialogue. … It was important to him that Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Protestant Christians be able to have recourse to a common biblical text as an instrument of unity.”

Is such an ecumenical ethos shared by Biblical fundamentalists and separatists? If not, why are fundamentalist pastors and scholars from Bob Jones University, Central, Detroit, Temple and other fundamental Baptist Seminaries which believe and practise separation commending and recommending Metzger, his ecumenical RSV/NRSV and the many modern versions that stem from his corrupt Greek Text? Is this apostasy, hypocrisy, compromise, or what?

Metzger Defeated

“For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth” (2 Cor 13:8). Despite the evangelical/fundamentalist compromise today, and the denial of God’s special providence in the days of the Great Protestant Reformation in the restoration of His true Church and reception of His true Word, the promise of God holds true for He has supernaturally preserved His inspired Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament words on which the King James Bible—the Reformation Bible—is based, and has surely raised up in these last days a remnant of Biblicists from all over the world who remain true to the spirit of the Reformation, who refuse to kowtow to the ecumenical idolatry and textual-critical scholarolatry of this postmodern and neo-deistic age. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal 6:7).

Dr Jeffrey Khoo is Academic Dean of Far Eastern Bible College and Elder of True Life Bible-Presbyterian Church.

Published in The Burning Bush, Volume 15 Number 1, January 2009.