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Autobiographical: Metzger and Me. The Seminar on the Canon


I return to the early years of my relationship with Bruce Metzger.   That graduate seminar that I took with him, my first semester in my PhD program, was exhilarating, and in some senses life changing.   To be sure, most of the work we did for the seminar was difficult and detailed.  Every week we had to translate from Greek or Latin an ancient “canon list” – that is, a list of books that this or that author thought should be considered canonical scripture – lists and discussions of canon from Origen, Eusebius, Codex Claramontanus, Athanasius, and so on.  One of the students in the course, as it turns out, was a Greek orthodox priest studying for a PhD.  He obviously knew Greek extremely well, better than any of us (except, of course, Metzger).  At the beginning of each class, this student and Metzger would discuss each of the Greek texts we had translated for the week, specifically in order to correct the mistakes of the edition we were using when it came to the Greek accents!  (Every Greek word has one or two accents on it, and these accents are to be made following rigorous and sometimes rather obscure rules….)

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Bruce Metzger is the author of several books including The Early Versions of the New Testament and The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, And Restoration.

Autobiographical. Metzger and Me: My Dissertation Proposal
Autobiographical. Metzger and Me: Beginning the PhD Program



  1. Avatar
    dallaswolf  July 12, 2012

    I read somewhere that Didymous the Blind developed a kind of rudimentary Braile system at the Catechetical School in Alexandria. That would seem to be of marginal utility for study given it would have to ne done manually. Is that a myth or did he actually work on that in the 4th century?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 13, 2012

      Yes, he apparently did! But he didn’t much need it. Books were read to him, and he had an absolutely phenomenal memory.

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    Scott F  July 12, 2012

    As you work with Patristic documents do you run into the same problems as with canonical works? Do different copies of the same work feature variations? Do the NT quotations show signs of harmonization by copyists? Or are there just too few copies of these works to do serious analysis on their own transmission?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 13, 2012

      Yes indeed, similar problems. Fewer copies, but same problems, especially harmonizations. Some authors have lots of copies, some very few. For Didymus’s commentaries, there is precisely one copy.

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    ZachET  July 12, 2012

    As extremely appreciative I am for your blog, and I am I think its fascinating and great in its fundraising initiative, could you possibly do more responding to your evangelical critics and revisiting your debates.. Thanks

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 13, 2012

      I’m happy to respond to any questions anyone puts to me. I really don’t have time to search the Internet to see what evangelicals are saying about my views though. (I should say that most of my views about the NT are completely mainstream; I don’t really have too many idiosyncratic opinions about the stuff of scholarship. The only ones with wildly different views, as a rule, are religiously committed persons — e.g., very conservative evangelicals and fundamenatlists — who have a vested interest in haveing a different view. Everyone else, Christian or non-Christian, believer or non-believer, is *basically* on the same page, for the most part, on most issues. Not that everyone agrees on all the details, but there’s hardly anything I’ve said in any of my popular books that is particularly controversial among scholars)

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      Adam  July 19, 2012


      There are actually dozens of youtube video’s and audio discusions and debates between Bart and major evangelicals (William Lane Craig, Craig Evans Dinesh D’Souza, James White, Daniel Wallace, Darrell Bock, and many others). Most of Bart’s views that spark the reaction of evangelicals aren’t that controversial among scholars and mainline Christians and there have been many in addition to Bart who respond to evangelicals on the same issues as well. It would be hard to name another scholar who has responded to evangelicals in the scope that Bart has. Most of what is found on the internet in reaction to Bart are recycled arguments from the evangelicals above.

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    RonaldTaska  July 13, 2012

    So, how did Dr. Metzger go from being one who knew that the Bible had many textual problems to being a “conservative” Bible scholar? In other words, it would seem like an authority on textual criticism would have difficulty having a conservative view of the Bible knowing that there is no “the” Bible to interpret conservatively.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 13, 2012

      He did not *become* a firm believer after being a textual critic. he was a believer first. Most textual critics (who work with the manuscripts) are in fact conservative theological Christians. They think that God inspired the text, so you had better try to establish what that text was!

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    timber84  July 13, 2012

    Were there any other church fathers or areas other than Alexandria that considered 1 Clement, the Shepherd of Hermas, and the Letter of Barnabas as canonical?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 13, 2012

      That’s a great question, and off hand, I don’t think I know the answer!

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    duncc44  July 13, 2012

    If this was an active and open debate during that period , when were the 27 books finally accepted as the canon ?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 13, 2012

      There’s no firm date, since there never was a council that took a vote (until the counter-Reformation council of Trent!) But by the mid-fifth century, things were pretty well firmed up.

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