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My Role in Editing My Most Important Book that No One Has Heard Of.

Just one question in this week’s blog, about a book that I edited that most readers of the blog have never heard of, let alone read, but that is probably one of the most important books I’ve ever been involved with.   QUESTION: Dr. Ehrman, in your first and second edition of The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research: Essays on the Status Quaestionis that you co-edited with Dr. Michael Holmes, what was your role in editing, especially since some articles were beyond your admitted expertise? - Dr. Michael Holmes is also the author of The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations and The Greek New Testament, among other works.   RESPONSE: This is actually a terrific question, but before addressing it directly I need to provide a bit of background.  The book this person is asking about is in the field of “textual criticism” in its technical sense, that is, the study of how to reconstruct the original text of the New Testament given the fact that we don’t have the [...]

How We Got Our 27-Book New Testament: The Case of Didymus

As I pointed out in my previous post, when I was a graduate student I wanted to show that I was not interested only in New Testament textual criticism (using the surviving witnesses to establish what the authors of the New Testament originally wrote) but in a range of important historical and interpretive issues in early Christianity.   I wanted to be broad ranging.  And I wanted this already at the very beginning of my graduate work. My first semester in the PhD program I had a seminar on the “Canon of the New Testament” with Bruce Metzger.   This was a class that focused on the questions surrounding how we ended up with the twenty-seven books in the New Testament.  Who decided that it would be these twenty-seven books, and no others?  What was motivating these people?  What were the grounds for their decisions?  And when did they make them? These are all, of course, fundamental questions, and Metzger himself wrote the authoritative book on the topic – which is still the authoritative book.  In the [...]

Bruce Metzger Beliefs, My Loss of Faith: A Blast from the Past

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 [...]

Becoming a Textual Critic

Back to my narrative of how I got interested in biblical studies, and specifically textual criticism.   I was just thinking last night about how people (on the blog or elsewhere) sometimes report to me that they have heard my conservative evangelical critics say that I’m not a biblical interpreter (exegete) or a historian, but I’m a textual critic (someone who studies the manuscripts of the New Testament).  And I started thinking about all my training in the Bible and the history of early Christianity. I did three years at Moody studying mainly Bible and theology; I did a two year completion degree at Wheaton majoring in English; I then did a three-year Master’s of Divinity degree at Princeton Theological Seminary; and finally a four-year PhD in New Testament also at Princeton Seminary.  Over the course of all those years I must have taken, what?   70 or 75 courses?  How many of those courses were on textual criticism? I had one class at Moody that was maybe ¼ devoted to the topic.   And one class in [...]

Metzger and the Squirrel Part 2: Another Blast from the Past

I’ve decided that I can’t do just one Blast from the Past this week, since the one I chose was a two-part post, and I can’t leave anyone hanging.  Here is the all important (and in some ways more interesting) part two of my Metzger and the squirrel story, from exactly four years ago. **************************************************************** As I indicated on my previous post, for years friends of mine were eager for me to find out whether the story about Metzger and the squirrel really happened. They wanted me just to ask Metzger. But there were problems with that. Among other things, if it had happened, he almost certainly wouldn’t remember, since it would have simply been something that happened with no significance to him – only to the one who thought it was very odd that Metzger would happen to know what the Greek word for squirrel was and that he would volunteer it at that rather inauspicious moment. Moreover, there were aspects of the story that did not “ring true.” Metzger was not heartless toward [...]

2020-05-11T13:31:31-04:00July 23rd, 2016|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

Bruce Metzger and the Squirrel: A Blast from the Past

A Blast From the Past: four years ago I posted the following, an amusing anecdate about my mentor in graduate school (and beyond) the illustrious New Testament scholar Bruce Metzger. *************************************************************************** As with all great men, Metzger was widely talked about among those who knew and revered him. There were lots of stories told about Metzger at Princeton Seminary. Someone should probably collect and publish them. I was especially interested in the stories, since I came to Princeton in order to study with him. Most of the stories were meant to be funny, and we always wondered which, if any of them, were “true” (in the sense that they really happened). Far and away the most commonly told and best known story was the one I heard when I first arrived at the seminary in 1978. It is the story of Metzger and the Squirrel. FOR THE REST OF THIS POST, log in as a Member. Click here for membership options. If you don't belong yet, JOIN!! Before telling the story and explicating it [...]

2020-05-11T13:29:37-04:00July 21st, 2016|Public Forum, Reflections and Ruminations|

Do I Have a Grudge against Dr. Bruce Metzger?

QUESTION: A more personal question:  did you have a grudge against Dr. Bruce Metzger? I have always seen conservative textual critics and scholars pit you against Dr. Metzger's views. RESPONSE: When I first read this question I was very surprised indeed.  A grudge against Bruce Metzger??? Metzger, as many readers of this blog know, was my teacher and mentor, and I never had anything but the most profound and utmost respect for him, from the moment I first had the privilege of meeting him until the time of his death – and still today. Dr. Bruce Metzger - The Greatest New Testament Scholar in North America I don’t think there’s anyone in the known universe who would disagree that Bruce Metzger was the greatest NT textual scholar ever to come out of North America.  I first heard about him when I was an undergraduate at Wheaton College.  I was taking Greek there and began to be interested in pursuing the study of Greek manuscripts.  I knew that Metzger had been one of the five editors [...]

2022-06-29T00:34:10-04:00September 19th, 2015|Bart’s Biography, Public Forum, Reader’s Questions|

Why Don’t You Believe Like Your Teacher, Dr. Metzger?

QUESTION: Dr. Ehrman just out of curiosity, why do people pit you against your teacher Dr. Bruce Metzger? Did Metzger also find the construction of the originals impossible due to the late manuscript attestation and the inability to know what the original looked like? Or did your teacher, Dr. Metzger, disagree and hold to biblical inerrancy? RESPONSE: It’s a very good question and it has a very straightforward answer.  The people who do this are all, to my knowledge, conservative evangelical Christians who find it upsetting over two of the things that I say: (1) that I am now no longer a believer because I do not think the Christian faith can adequately explain how a good and powerful God can be in control of this world when there is so much senseless pain, misery, and suffering in it and, completely unrelatedly (2) that since we do not have lots of early manuscripts of the New Testament (let alone the originals) there are places where we cannot know for sure what the authors originally wrote.   [...]

2022-06-12T20:09:38-04:00November 23rd, 2014|Bart’s Biography, Public Forum, Reader’s Questions|

Fortune Telling with Manuscripts

An interesting new manuscript of the Gospel of John has just been identified. I’ll give some information on it in the next post, but to make sense of it I need to provide some background. This is pretty esoteric stuff (i.e., hardly anyone but hard-core experts knows about it), but it’s pretty interesting. In 1988 my mentor, Bruce Metzger, published an article called “Greek Manuscripts of John’s Gospel With ‘Hermeneia.’ ” In this article he identified five Greek manuscripts of the Gospel of John with an unusual feature. These papyrus manuscripts date from the third (or possibly fourth) to the seventh centuries. The unusual feature in them is that on the bottom of one or more pages (fourteen instances altogether among the five manuscripts) after the portion of the text of John’s Gospel , they have written the Greek word “hermeneia,” which is then followed by some kind of phrase or other. These phrases are such things as “If you believe it will be a joy to you” or “it is a good deliverance” or [...]

2020-04-03T17:45:17-04:00November 5th, 2013|New Testament Manuscripts, Reflections and Ruminations|

Autobiographical. Metzger and My Loss of Faith

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. FOR THE REST OF THIS POST, log in as a Member. Click here for membership options. If you don't belong yet, JOIN!! 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 scholarship:  New Testament studies, [...]

Autobiographical: Back to Metzger and Me

After all the tangents and side-tracks, I can return now to my reminiscences of my relationship with Bruce Metzger. Perhaps I should say a few things about his personality, as I perceived and experienced it. I think everyone who knew him would say that he was a true Christian gentleman. He was respectful of all people, polite to a fault, and cordial. But he was not someone that anyone became intimate with. I am absolutely positive that I came to be closer to him than any PhD student he supervised in his 40 plus years teaching at Princeton Theological Seminary. He as much as told me so. I knew his wife and his two sons (a bit); he invited my family to Christmas dinner; for several weeks I lived with him and his wife in their home. But there was always a kind of distance to him as well. He never let down his hair. The best I can put it is that he was cordial rather than warm and intimate. He was a shy [...]

Autobiographical. Metzger and Me: More on the NRSV

MORE REFLECTIONS IN RESPONSE TO THE QUESTION ABOUT MY RELATIONSHIP WITH MY MENTOR BRUCE METZGER ***************************************************************************************************************** Two rather humorous stories connected with my work as the administrative assistant for the revision of the Revised Standard Version. In that capacity I was, of course, present for the various deliberations of the committee. Among the many issues they discussed was what to call the new revision. Ultimately it stood in the tradition of the “Authorized Version” – the technical name of the King James Version. In 1881, the KJV underwent an “official” revision (i.e., authorized by the ecclesiastical authorities who owned the copyright) in the Revised Version. Its committee received a lot of flak for the changes it made. Even though it was an English revision, there were several Americans who were on the committee. As part of their terms of involvement, they agreed not to publish and American version of the translation (making changes as they saw fit and bringing spelling and punctuation into conformity with American usage) for 20 years; and so in 1901 was [...]

The NRSV Bible Translation Committee (Part 2)

A CONTINUATION OF MY POSTS OF MY RELATIONSHIP WITH BRUCE METZGER I served as one of the secretaries for the NRSV, as explained in my previous post, for a couple of years. It was not onerous work and was quite a privilege to be able to associate with some of the greatest biblical scholars and Semitic philologists of the time. I was, of course, a complete nobody. Some of the members of the committee treated me (and the other secretaries) as complete nobodies (these tended to be the less qualified and more insecure members of the committee; I won’t name names!); others treated me (and the others) in a dignified and respectful way, realizing that we were, after all, just graduate students, but knowing that we were advanced and heading into academic careers of our own. When I graduated from my PhD program I was teaching part time at Rutgers, but I did not have a full time, tenure-track position there.   It was a slightly oppressive situation, as adjunct positions at universities typically are.   I’ll [...]

Autobiographical. Metzger and Me. The NRSV Bible Translation Committee

A CONTINUATION OF MY RECOLLECTIONS OF BRUCE METZGER, MY MENTOR. When I was still a graduate student in the PhD program at Princeton Theological Seminary, Metzger invited me to serve as a secretary for the committee that was producing the new revision of the Revised Standard Version translation of the Bible. The RSV (on which the new translation was to be based) had come out in 1952, and it had caused a huge furor at the time. It was an “official” revision of the King James Bible, that was supposed to update the language (English has changed a lot since 1611), to take into consideration new manuscript discoveries (especially important for the New Testament, since the KJV was based on only a few medieval manuscripts that were not of very high quality; hundreds of better ones had since been discovered, and to incorporate the findings of modern Biblical scholarship). The RSV of 1952 was an “official” translation because it was authorized by the National Council of Churches in the U.S. But in the opinion of [...]

Autobiographical. Metzger and Me. The Dissertation Defense

I CONTINUE HERE WITH MY REMINISCENCES OF MY INTERACTIONS AND RELATIONSHIP WITH MY MENTOR, BRUCE METZGER ********************************************************************************************************************* In almost (but not absolutely) all PhD programs in this country, the doctoral candidate has do have an “oral defense” of the dissertation.   If s/he successfully defends, the PhD is then granted.  Here at UNC, the defense is conducted in front of the five-person dissertation committee.  Everyone on the committee has read the dissertation – carefully, in theory – and the defense is designed to see if, well, the thesis is defensible.  In other words, faculty members do not hold back but probe deeply into the work to see if there are any flaws in it.   If a student fails the defense, s/he has to revise the dissertation and try again.   Even if it is considered passable, revisions of some sort are often considered necessary.   FOR THE REST OF THIS POST, log in as a Member. Click here for membership options. If you don't belong yet, JOIN!! My own dissertation defense was in 1985.   Metzger had [...]

Autobiographical. Metzger and Me: Finishing the Dissertation

SOME MORE ON MY RELATIONSHIP WITH BRUCE METZGER, ON FINISHING THE DISSERTATION Different dissertation advisors have different approaches to supervising a dissertation. Some are extremely hands on, to the point of working over every thought and every sentence. Not too many are like that, because if they were, they would never do anything else with their life. Plus, the idea is for the student to figure it out and get good at it. That takes some trial and error. Other advisors go for the big picture and like to talk over the big ideas. Others basically don’t give a rip how the dissertation is coming along – they want to see it at the end, and when it’s done, they’ll tell the student whether it’s good enough or not. Others … well, there are lots of other approaches. Sometime I’ll explain mine, which is not quite any of the above. Metzger took an approach that other students may have found frustrating, but that was absolutely perfect for me.  He basically let me do my own [...]

2020-12-29T00:56:04-05:00August 14th, 2012|Bart’s Biography, Book Discussions, Reader’s Questions|

Autobiographical. Me and Metzger: More on the Dissertation

THIS IS A CONTINUATION OF MY POSTS OF MY RELATIONSHIP WITH BRUCE METZGER, MY MENTOR As I started thinking about how to write up this second post on my dissertation (the first post was posted some days ago), I remembered one of my clearest pieces of advice that I ever gave to myself, many years ago now, based, already then, on substantial experience.  Never , ever, NEVER ask a graduate student what s/he is writing the dissertation on.   They invariably will tell you, and it will take a half hour, and your eyes will glaze over in 30 seconds.   So just don’t do it.   With that principle in mind, I think I had better not go into all the ins and outs of the dissertation. I’ll just go into some of them…. FOR THE REST OF THIS POST, LOG IN AS A MEMBER. If you don't belong yet, now's your chance! The reason it is so painful listening to someone’s story about their dissertation is that by their very nature dissertations tend to [...]

2020-05-11T13:52:14-04:00August 12th, 2012|Bart’s Biography, Reader’s Questions|

Autobiographical. Metzger and Me: The Dissertation

THIS POST RESUMES MY RECOLLECTIONS OF MY INTERACTIONS WITH BRUCE METZGER, MY MENTOR. When I entered my PhD program at Princeton Theological Seminary, I knew already that I wanted to specialize in the study of the Greek manuscript tradition of the New Testament. As I indicated in my earlier posts, that’s why I went there, because Metzger was the country’s leading expert in this field, and one could argue the leading expert in the world (some Germans would contest the point!). While doing my Master’s thesis for Metzger I read widely in the secondary literature on textual criticism, and came to be highly influenced by a scholar named Gordon Fee. Fee is an interesting and important figure. As it turns out, he is a very committed Pentecostal Christian, who preaches and evangelizes. But when he’s not doing that, he’s doing scholarship, and he’s an amazing scholar. He is also the author of How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth and Discovering Biblical Equality, among other works. At the time of my master’s work, [...]

2020-12-29T01:04:50-05:00August 8th, 2012|Bart’s Biography, Reader’s Questions|

Autobiographical. Metzger and Me: My PhD Exams

I CONTINUE MY RECOLLECTIONS OF MY EXPERIENCES WITH MY MENTOR, BRUCE METZGER: Metzger directed my PhD exams, and was responsible for writing the questions for one of them. To explain that situation requires a good bit of background. In a typical PhD program, at the end of two years of taking seminars (usually three a semester, for four semesters), a student takes the PhD exams. These go by different names: “Comprehensive exams” (that’s what we called them at Princeton Seminary); “Preliminary Exams” (i.e. preliminary to writing a dissertation); “Qualifying exams” (i.e. that qualify you to move on to the dissertation stage) – all of these refer to the same battery of exams. In most respects the way it was set up at Princeton was fairly typical – it is the way we also have it set up in the PhD program that I teach in at UNC. Here at UNC, students take five examinations, each of them four hours in length, followed by a two-hour oral examination before the examining committee. At Princeton we took [...]

Autobiographical. Metzger and Me: The Squirrel Story, Part 2

HERE I CONTINUE MY REMINISCENCES OF BRUCE METZGER, MY MENTOR As I indicated on my previous post, for years friends of mine were eager for me to find out whether the story about Metzger and the squirrel really happened. They wanted me just to ask Metzger. But there were problems with that. Among other things, if it had happened, he almost certainly wouldn’t remember, since it would have simply been something that happened with no significance to him – only to the one who thought it was very odd that Metzger would happen to know what the Greek word for squirrel was and that he would volunteer it at that rather inauspicious moment. Moreover, there were aspects of the story that did not “ring true.” Metzger was not heartless toward other living beings and he was not one to boast about his knowledge about Greek -- or about anything else. Years later something happened to me that made me realize that the narrative itself could not be true... FOR THE REST OF THIS POST, log [...]

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