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Approved unto God?

by Rev. David Blunt

In our last issue we referred to the Anglican scholars Westcott and Hort who were responsible for the reconstructed Greek Text which underlies modern bibles. The impression is often given that this pair were not only expert scholars but also of evangelical sympathies and that therefore we may safely trust the conclusions of their work, the logic of which is that we must abandon our Authorised Version because it is in error in many places. But who were these men, and especially, what were their beliefs? We present statements from their own writings which show such serious departures from orthodoxy as to cast grave doubt on the reliability of their work.

This article was published in the Presbyterian Standard, Issue No. 6, April-June 1997.

W E should always be reluctant to engage inad hominem arguments, i.e. those that concentrate on personalities rather than issues, but the character and professed beliefs of those involved in such vital matters as the text and translation of the Bible cannot be overlooked. It is necessary that those handling the inspired word of God themselves be spiritual men. This is the teaching of Scripture itself (1 COR. 2:11-16).

Textual criticism cannot be divorced entirely from theology. No matter how great a Greek or Hebrew scholar a man may be, or no matter how great an authority on the various pieces of textual evidence, his conclusions must always be open to suspicion if he does not accept the Bible as the very word of God. Furthermore, if he is astray on fundamental doctrines then we would be right to be wary of his findings.


Brooke Foss Westcott (1825-1901) was born at Birmingham and Fenton John Anthony Hort (1828-1892) at Dublin. In 1851 Westcott was ordained an Anglican "priest" and Hort in 1856: their careers were spent mostly in academic positions rather than pastorates. As early as 1853 they began work on their Greek text of the New Testament: this project was to occupy most of their remaining lives. In 1870 the idea of a modest revision of the A.V. was sanctioned by the Southern Convocation of the Church of England, and this provided the opportunity for Westcott and Hort to introduce their radical changes. They defended the inclusion of a Unitarian scholar on the Revision Committee. "The New Testament in the Original Greek" was published in 1881, as was the Revised Version based upon it: this latter failed to gain lasting popularity, but the Westcott-Hort text and theory has dominated the scene since.


We now turn to the doctrines of these two text-critics. The following selection of quotes, grouped under seven significant categories concluding with the vital one of Scripture, are taken from volumes of "Life and Letters" which were compiled by sons of theirs.


Westcott (1846 Oct.): "Is there not that in the principles of the "Evangelical" school which must lead to the exaltation of the individual minister, and does not that help to prove their unsoundness? If preaching is the chief means of grace, it must emanate not from the church, but from the preacher, and besides placing him in a false position, it places him in a fearfully dangerous one." ( Life, Vol.I, pp.44,45).

Hort (1858 Oct.): "Further I agree with them in condemning many leading specific doctrines of the popular theology as, to say the least, containing much superstition and immorality of a very pernicious kind...The positive doctrines even of the Evangelicals seem to me perverted rather than untrue" ( Life, Vol.I, p.400).


Westcott (1848 Nov.): "All stigmatise him (a Dr. Hampden) as a 'heretic,'...I thought myself that he was grievously in error, but yesterday I read over the selections from his writings which his adversaries make, and in them I found systematically expressed the very strains of thought which I have been endeavouring to trace out for the last two or three years. If he be condemned, what will become of me?" ( Life, Vol.I, p.94).

Hort (1851 Feb.): "Westcott is just coming out with his Norrisian on'The Elements of the Gospel Harmony.' I have seen the first sheet on Inspiration, which is a wonderful step in advance of common orthodox heresy." (Life, Vol.I, p.181).


Westcott (1847 Jan.): "After leaving the monastery we shaped our course to a little oratory...It is very small, with one kneeling-place; and behind a screen was a 'Pieta' the size of life (i.e. a Virgin and dead Christ)...I could not help thinking on the grandeur of the Romish Church, on her zeal even in error, on her earnestness and selfdevotion, which we might, with nobler views and a purer end, strive to imitate. Had I been alone I could have knelt there for hours." ( Life, Vol.I, p.81).

Hort (1865 Oct.): "I have been persuaded for many years that Maryworship and 'Jesus'-worship have very much in common in their causes and their results." ( Life, Vol.II, p.50).


Hort (1848 July): "One of the things, I think, which shows the falsity of the Evangelical notion of this subject (baptism), is that it is so trim and precise... no deep spiritual truths of the Reason are thus logically harmonious and systematic...the pure Romish view seems to me nearer, and more likely to lead to, the truth than the Evangelical" ( Life, Vol.I, pp.76,77).


Hort (1860 Oct.): "I entirely agree - correcting one word - with what you there say on the Atonement, having for many years believed that "the absolute union of the Christian (or rather, of man) with Christ Himself" is the spiritual truth of which the popular doctrine of substitution is an immoral and material counterfeit" ( Life, Vol.I, p.430).


Westcott (1890 Mar.): "No one now, I suppose, holds that the first three chapters of Genesis, for example, give a literal history - I could never understand how any one reading them with open eyes could think they did - yet they disclose to us a Gospel. So it is probably elsewhere." ( Life, Vol.II, p.69).

Hort (1860 Apr.): "But the book which has most engaged me is Darwin. Whatever may be thought of it, it is a book that one is proud to be contemporary with. I must work out and examine the argument in more detail, but at present my feeling is strong that the theory is unanswerable." ( Life, Vol.I, p.416).


Westcott (1853 Sept.) "I feel most keenly the disgrace of circulating what I feel to be falsified copies of Holy Scripture (a reference to the A.V.?), and am most anxious to provide something to replace them." ( Life, Vol.I, pp.228,229).

Westcott (1860 May): "at present I find the presumption in favour of the absolute truth - I reject the word infallibility - of Holy Scripture overwhelming." ( Life, Vol.I, p.207).

Hort (1848 July): "the fanaticism of the bibliolaters, among whom reading so many 'chapters' seems exactly to correspond to the Romish superstition of telling so many dozen beads on a rosary" ( Life, Vol.I, p.77).

Hort (1851 Dec.): "Think of that vile Textus Receptus leaning entirely on late MSS.; it is a blessing there are such early ones" (Life, Vol.I, p.211).

Hort (1860 May): "If you make a decided conviction of the absolute infallibility of the N.T. practically asine qua non for co-operation, I fear I could not join you, even if you were willing to forget your fears about the origin of the Gospels." ( Life, Vol.I, p.420).

With these views, can anyone say with confidence that these men are safe guides on the text of Scripture?


Hort, A.F.,Life and Letters of Fenton J.A. Hort, MacMillan and Co., London, 1896, vols. I,II.

Westcott, A.,Life and Letters of Brooke Foss Westcott, MacMillan and Co., London, 1903, vols. I,II.