Bruce Manning Metzger, 93; New Testament scholar helped edit, update Bible translations

Times Staff Writer

Bruce Manning Metzger, a New Testament scholar and biblical translator who helped to edit several modern translations of the Bible, died Tuesday at the University Medical Center at Princeton, N.J. He was 93.

The cause was respiratory failure, his son John said Thursday.

Starting in the mid-1970s, Metzger served as chairman of a committee of about 30 Christian and Jewish scholars who worked on the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible that is now used in a number of seminaries and schools of theology.

The translation, published in 1990, eliminated such archaic words as “thee” and “thou” and adjusted references to “man” where both men and women were indicated. The result was closer to current English usage than the older Revised Standard Version of the Bible, published in 1952.


The updated translation was sponsored by the National Council of Churches, an ecumenical group of 35 Christian denominations. The organization was in need of a translation that would be acceptable to a wide range of Christian denominations.

Soon after Metzger and his colleagues completed their work in 1989, he pointed out some of the changes in an interview with The Times.

The phrase, “Man shall not live by bread alone,” from the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy and the New Testament Gospels of Matthew and Luke, was adjusted to read, “One shall not live by bread alone.”

“O men of little faith,” in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, became “O you of little faith.” The original Greek text did not use the word for man in that phrase, Metzger said. To insert it was “an unnecessary, restrictive” addition, he told The Times.

Masculine references to God in the New Revised Standard Version were preserved only if they came from early Hebrew or Greek biblical manuscripts.

Some of the adjustments aimed at preventing confusion with popular slang.

A line in Psalm 50 was changed from “I will accept no bull from your house” to “I will not accept a bull from your house.”


Another line, in the second letter of Paul to the Corinthians, previously read, “Once I was stoned.” Metzger’s committee changed it to “Once I received a stoning.”

Metzger’s knowledge of ancient languages, including Ethiopic, Coptic and Aramaic as well as Greek and Hebrew, all of which are used in scripture studies, made him particularly valuable to the committee.

“Metzger was an excellent text critic and a superb student of Greek,” Walter Harrelson, an emeritus professor of the Hebrew Bible at Vanderbilt University Divinity School, said Thursday in a Times interview.

The gender issue proved to be a hot topic, said Harrelson, who was on the committee. Several members resigned because of it.

“As we looked to be more inclusive in the language, they said we were not expressing precision,” Harrelson said.

In a 1994 interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Metzger said his main objective was “greater accuracy, clarity and naturalness of expression.”


Metzger was born Feb. 9, 1914, in Middletown, Pa. He graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary and earned master’s and doctorate degrees in classics from Princeton University. He worked on several updated Bible translations, including the Revised Standard Version. He also served as general editor of the Reader’s Digest Condensed Bible for some years.

He was a faculty member at Princeton Theological Seminary from 1938 until he retired and was named professor emeritus in 1984.

Metzger was ordained a Presbyterian minister in 1939. He married Isobel Mackay in 1944. The couple had two sons, James and John. Metzger is survived by his wife, sons, a sister and a number of nieces and nephews.