I mentioned my mentor, Bruce Metzger, in a recent post. In this blast from the past, I reprint a post I did almost exactly four years ago, in response to a question that I was then asked about how Metzger, a devoted Christian and minister of the church, responded to the fact that I (one of his closest students) lost my faith. The question generated a series of posts on related topics, but here is the one where I actually answer the question:
Bruce Metzger Beliefs
I have come now, by an unusually circuitous route, to answer the question that got me started in talking about my relationship with Bruce Metzger, my work for the NRSV Bible translation committee, my view of the NRSV as a translation, the textual problems of Luke 22:19-20 and 22:43-44 and, well sundry other things. The reader’s question was how Metzger responded to my loss of faith. When I first got to know him, I was a strong evangelical Christian. In the years before he died, I had become an agnostic. How did he respond to that?
After all that I’ve written in these posts, I’m afraid the direct answer will be a bit of a disappointment. The answer is: I don’t know.
Metzger and I never talked about either my faith or his. He was my teacher and I was his student, and we talked almost exclusively about the scholarship: New Testament studies, the history of earliest Christianity, the textual tradition of the New Testament. We did not have a pastoral relationship but an academic one. I don’t know if Metzger ever had a pastoral relationship with any of his students, but I somewhat doubt it. He was their teacher, not their pastor or counselor.
Bruce Metzger: Teacher vs Pastor
I know this seems weird to outsiders, since, well, isn’t faith the point? Well, it’s not really the point for academics, whether they are Christians or not (except for fundamentalists and very conservative evangelicals). I taught for four years at Rutgers University and have now taught for twenty-four years at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and have been an adjunct for years at Duke University, all twenty-eight years in departments of religious studies with faculty colleagues who were experts in various religions and various aspects of religion.
Some of these colleagues have been Christians, some Jews, some Muslims, some agnostics, some – a variety of other things. In all these years, I have never, ever, had a conversation with a colleague about my personal religious views. Never. Why? I suppose because we are not a church but a secular institution of higher learning, faith commitments are irrelevant to scholarship. I know, it may seem weird, but there it is.
One might think that it would be different with Metzger. He taught in a theological seminary that trained Christian ministers – a very different environment from a secular state university. True enough. But in his relationship with the students he was training to be scholars, he interacted in view of scholarship, and it was the research that mattered, not the personal faith commitments.
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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.