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Category: From the Heart
Posted by: an okie gardener
A giant in New Testament studies died this month. Dr. Metzger was an internationally famous scholar of Greek and of the New Testament. A partial list of his accomplishments is here taken from the tribute on the Princeton Theological Seminary website (link here):

Dr. Bruce Manning Metzger, New Testament professor emeritus at Princeton Theological Seminary and one of the preeminent American New Testament critics and biblical translators of the twentieth century, died February 13, 2007, at the University Medical Center at Princeton, at the age of 93.
. . .
He served as Chair of the Committee on Translation of the American Bible Society 196470, and as Chair of the Committee of Translators for the
New Revised Standard Version of the Bible 197790. The impact of this work is incalculable and Bruce Metzger saw it through the press almost single-handedly.
. . .
Bruce Metzger cared about and provided for his students. Generations have been grateful for his
Lists of Words Occurring Frequently in the Coptic New Testament, and his Lexical Aids for Students of New Testament Greek (first published in 1946) became a standard study tool. He edited The Oxford Annotated Bible in 1962, and in 1966, along with Kurt Aland, Matthew Black, and Allen Wikgren, edited the United Bible Societies' edition of the Greek New Testament. This text, especially adapted to meet the needs of Bible translators, with its beautiful original font and indication of the relative degree of certainty for each variant adopted in the text, proved to be an enduring landmark. The editors were later joined by Carlo Martini (the Cardinal Archbishop of Milan from 1980 to 2002).
. . .
There were other honors. In 1994, Bruce Metzger was awarded the Burkitt Medal for Biblical Studies by The British Academy in London (of which he had been a Corresponding Fellow since 1978). This is only awarded in recognition of a lifetime of distinguished biblical study. Bruce Metzger was elected president of Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas (1971), the International Society of Biblical Literature (1971), and was the first president of the North American Patristic Society (1972). He was a member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton (1969 and 1974) and visiting fellow at Clare Hall, Cambridge (1974) and Wolfson College, Oxford (1979).

There were many other books, among which the classic studies
The Text of the New Testament, Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (1964, and translated into German, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Italian and Russian) and The Early Versions of the New Testament, Their Origin, Transmission, and Limitations (1977) have been particularly influential. Bruce Metzger's last publication before his death was Apostolic Letters of Faith, Hope, and Love: Galatians, 1 Peter, and I John (2006).

Dr. Metzger was one of my teachers in seminary and my personal reflections are below.

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Yesterday morning the dogs and I went down to the creek. The sun had risen, but the light still was dim because of clouds. Amid the brown leaves on the ground and the brown leafless trees, the greening willow branches announced that winter slowly was giving way to spring. I almost turned back after a half-mile or so, I had other things to do and my legs were tired from the day before (isn't that what they say of aging athletes, that the legs are the first to go). But, ahead was a stretch of creek we hadn't seen in a while.

The dogs and I had been hearing ahead of us, from time to time, some noises that I thought might be turkeys on the move. After another eighth of a mile or so we saw them, nearly twenty birds on the other side of the creek moving away from us at a fast walk. The dogs jumped in the water and swam across. I called them back when they reached the other bank; they needed the exercise of swimming, the turkeys did not need the exercise of fleeing from two well-fed dogs. Moving on just a bit further, I saw what I took in the dim light to be a duck swimming up the creek. A second look showed me my mistake.

It was a beaver, its head visible on the surface of the water. The last couple of week I had seen fresh beaver sign--gnawn trees and a scent mound a mile back down the creek. Standing behind a tree to hide my silouhette I watched this wild animal circle in the water, and swim back toward me. Then the dogs returned from somewhere in the woods. Hearing them, the beaver smacked the water with its tail and dove.

Why is it more satifying to see wild animals than zoo animals? Perhaps because to see wild animals I must go into their home, be a quiet and observant guest, and "hunt" them. The quest brings its own excitement. And on a deeper level, they are wild animals, uncaged. They live a life independent from me, or from zoo keepers. They are God's creatures.

Do yourself a favor this weekend. Turn off the TV or computer or video game and find a slice of creation to prowl.
I'll try to post on the significance of Ash Wednesday sometime today. For now, I want to respond to Joab's comment on my Fat Tuesday post. He asked what was the value of traditional Lenten discipline: what's the big deal about giving up chocolate or something?

I think there is value in giving up something benign for Lent, be it chocolate, coffee, sweets, violence on television, or whatever.

First, without self-discipline there is no consistent Christian walk nor progress in the spiritual life. We must learn to say no to ourselves. Giving up something for Lent provides practice in self-denial.

Second, when we crave the thing we have given up, we can remind ourselves that Jesus Christ gave up the glory of heaven, emptying himself, and denying himself during his time on earth. In the book The Last Temptation of Christ, (much better than the movie), Jesus is tempted to live a normal life--marriage, home, children. These are all good things that he gave up for his mission.

Third, we all know that our bodily existence can at times be a hinderence to our service of God--the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Abstaining, whether a fast or the giving up of an innocent pleasure, uses the appetites of the body to strengthen the spirit. Our hunger, or our craving, reminds us to pray and to remember our Savior by reminding us that it is the season of Lent.

20/02: Fat Tuesday

Today is the last day before Lent, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Even in post-Katrina New Orleans crowds will gather to get drunk, throw beads, watch parades and exposed breasts, and in general celebrate bacchanalia.

So what does this have to do with Christianity? Very little. But, very little is not the same as nothing. There is a connection. Prior to the discipline and self-denial of Lent people wanted to enjoy themselves, feasting before fasting, carnival before contrition.

Enjoyment, within bounds of moderation and modesty, also can be a worship of God. We celebrate and give thanks for and are glad in the wonderous world the Lord has created. As Calvin wrote, God must want us to take pleasure in the world for he has made flowers to please the eye and the nose, and has made food to taste good as well as give nourishment.

The traditional Church calender reflects both the reality of the goodness of this world, and the reality of the fallenness of this world: the fast of Advent followed by the feast of Christmas, the fast of Lent followed by the feast of Easter.

So, enjoy yourself today. Eat something you like and thank God that you derive pleasure from eating. Play with dogs and children. If you live in the South, go into the backyard and toss a baseball around. Tomorrow receive the mark of ashes.

Even in Louisiana, I am told that the small-town Mardi Gras celebrations are family oriented fairs. Leave New Orleans to the devil.