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Chapter 8: Westcott and Hort
Brooke Foss Westcott (1825-1903) and Fenton John Anthony Hort (1828-1892) have been highly controversial figures in biblical history.
On one side, their supporters have heralded them as great men of God, having greatly advanced the search for the original Greek text.
On the other side, their opponents have leveled charges of heresy, infidelity, apostasy, and many others, claiming that they are guilty of wreaking great damage on the true text of Scripture.
I have no desire to "sling mud" nor a desire to hide facts.
I believe it is essential at this time that we examine what we know about these men and their theories concerning the text of the Bible.
I long sought for copies of the books about their lives. These are The Life and Letters of Brooke Foss Westeott, by his son, Arthur, and The Life and Letters of Fenton John Anthony Hort, written by his son.
After literally months of trying, I was able to acquire copies of them both for study. Most of the material in this section will be directly from these sources so as to prevent it from being secondhand.
We cannot blindly accept the finding of any scholar without investigating what his beliefs are concerning the Bible and its doctrines. Scholarship alone makes for an inadequate and dangerous authority, therefore we are forced to scrutinize these men's lives.
A Monumental Switch
Westcott and Hort were responsible for the greatest feat in textual criticism. They were responsible for replacing the Universal Text of the Authorized Version with the Local Text of Egypt and the Roman Catholic Church. Both Wescott and Hort were known to have resented the pre-eminence given to the Authorized Version and its underlying Greek Text. They had been deceived into believing that the Roman Catholic manuscripts, Vaticanus and Aleph, were better because they were "older." This they believed, even though Hort admitted that the Antiochian or Universal Text was equal in antiquity. "The fundamental text of the late extant Greek MSS generally is beyond all question identical with the dominant Antiochian or Graeco-Syrian Text of the second half of the Fourth Century."85
In spite of the fact that the readings of the Universal Text were found to be as old, or older, Westcott and Hort still sought to dislodge it from its place of high standing in biblical history. Hort occasionally let his emotions show, "I had no idea till the last few weeks of the importance of text, having read so little Greek Testament, and dragged on with the villainous Textus Receptus ... Think of the vile Textus Receptus leaning entirely on late MSS; it is a blessing there are such early ones."86
Westcott and Hort built their own Greek text based primarily on a few uncial MSS of the Local Text. It has been stated earlier that these perverted MSS do not even agree among themselves. The ironic thing is that Westcott and Hort knew this when they formed their text!
Burgon exposed Dr. Hort's confession, "Even Hort had occasion to notice an instance of the concordia discourse." Commenting on the four places in Mark's gospel (14:30, 68, 72, a, b) where the cock's crowing is mentioned said, "The confusion of attestation introduced by these several cross currents of change is so great that of the seven principal MSS, Aleph, A, B, C, D, L, no two have the same text in all four places."87
A Shocking Revelation
That these men should lend their influence to a family of MSS which have a history of attacking and diluting the major doctrines of the Bible, should not come as a surprise. Oddly enough, neither man believed that the Bible should be treated any differently than the writings of the lost histor-ians and philosophers!
Hort wrote, "For ourselves, we dare not introduce considerations which could not reasonably be applied to other ancient texts, supposing them to have documentary attestation of equal amount, variety and antiquity."88
He also states, "In the New Testament, as in almost all prose writings which have been much copied, corruptions by interpolation are many times more numerous than corruptions by omission." (Emphasis mine.)89
We must consider these things for a moment. How can God use men who do not believe that His Book is any different than Shakespeare, Plato, or Dickens? It is a fundamental belief that the Bible is different from all other writings. Why did these men not believe so?
Their skepticism does, in fact, go even deeper. They have both become famous for being able to deny scriptural truth and still be upheld by fundamental Christianity as biblical authorities! Both Westcott and Hort failed to accept the basic Bible doctrines which we hold so dear and vital to our fundamental faith.
Hort denies the reality of Eden: "I am inclined to think that no such state as 'Eden'(I mean the popular notion) ever existed, and that Adam's fall in no degree differed from the fall of each of his descendants, as Coleridge justly argues."90
Furthermore, he took sides with the apostate authors of "Essays and Reviews."
Hort writes to Rev. Rowland Williams, October 21, 1858, "Further I agree with them [Authors of "Essays and Reviews"] in condemning many leading specific doctrines of the popular theology ... Evangelicals seem to me perverted rather than untrue. There are, I fear, still more serious differences between us on the subject of authority, and especially the authority of the Bible."91
We must also confront Hort's disbelief that the Bible was infallible: "If you make a decided conviction of the absolute infallibility of the N.T. practically a sine qua non for co-operation, I fear I could not join you." He also stated:
And further commented to a colleague:
Though unimpressed with the evangelicals of his day, Hort had great admiration for Charles Darwin! To his colleague, B.F. Westcott, he wrote excitedly: "...Have you read Darwin? How I should like to talk with you about it! In spite of difficulties, I am inclined to think it unanswerable. In any case it is a treat to read such a book."
And to John Ellerton he writes: "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 ... My feeling is strong that the theory is unanswerable. If so, it opens up a new period."93
Dr. Hort was also an adherent to the teaching of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. His son writes: "In undergraduate days, if not before, he came under the spell of Coleridge."94
Coleridge was the college drop-out whose drug addiction is an historical fact. "The opium habit, begun earlier to deaden the pain of rheumatism, grew stronger. After vainly trying in Malta and Italy to break away from opium, Coleridge came back to England in 1806."95
One of Coleridge's famous works is Aids to Reflection. "Its chief aim is to harmonize formal Christianity with Coleridge's variety of transcendental philosophy. He also did much to introduce Immanual Kant and other German philosophers to English readers."96
This man, Coleridge, had a great influence on the two scholars from Cambridge.
Forsaking Colossians 2:8
Hort was also a lover of Greek philosophy. In writing to Mr. A. MacMillian, he stated: "You seem to make (Greek) philosophy worthless for those who have received the Christian revelation. To me, though in a hazy way, it seems full of precious truth of which I find nothing, and should be very much astonished and perplexed to find anything in revelation."97
Lost in the Forest
In some cases Hort seemed to wander in the woods. In others he can only be described as utterly "lost in the forest." Take, for example, his views on fundamental Bible truths.
Concerning existence of a personal devil he wrote:
Rev. Hort also shrunk from the belief in a literal, eternal "hell."
Although the idea of a literal devil and a literal hell found no place in Hort's educated mind, he was a very real believer in the fictious Roman Catholic doctrine of "purgatory." To Rev. John Ellerton he wrote in 1854:
Also while advising a young student he wrote:
Thus we see that Dr. Hort's opinions were certainly not inhibited by orthodoxy. Yet his wayward ways do not end here. For, as his own writings display, Dr. Hort fell short in several other fundamental areas.
There was also his rejection of Christ's atoning death for the sins of all mankind.
In fact, Hort considered the teachings of Christ's atonement as heresy!
The fact is, that Hort believed Satan more worthy of accepting Christ's payment for sins than God.
Dr. Hort also believed that the Roman Catholic teaching of "baptismal regeneration" was more correct than the "evangelical" teaching.
He also states that, "Baptism assures us that we are children of God, members of Christ and His body, and heirs of the heavenly kingdom."107
In fact, Hort's heretical view of baptism probably cost his own son his eternal soul, as we find Hort assuring his eldest son, Arthur, that his infant baptism was his salvation:
Hort's Twisted Belief
Along with Hort's unregenerated misconceptions of basic Bible truths, there were his quirkish and sometimes quackish personal beliefs.
One such example is his hatred for democracy, as he asserts in a letter to Rev. Westcott dated April 28, 1865:
In fact, Hort's hope, during the years of the American Civil War, was that the South would win. This desire was fostered by the hope that such a victory would destroy both countries to eliminate America's threat to England's domination of the world. His own words betray this in a letter which he wrote to Rev. John Ellerton in September of 1862:
Hort also had no respect for prominent Americans, be they politician or preacher. Concerning President Abraham Lincoln he wrote: "I cannot see that he has shown any special virtues or statesmanlike capacities."111 The great preacher D.L. Moody impressed him as follows:
Hort's distaste for America may not be solely attributed to patriotism as much as to a tainting of his thinking by a touch of Communism. These facts are brought out in his continued correspondence with Rev. John Ellerton, circa 1850:
Then again, it is possible that the learned doctor was influenced by more than mere philosophy, as we see in his description of a hotel in the Alps where he often vacationed:
It is not an amazing thing that any one man could hold to so many unscriptural and ungodly beliefs. It is amazing that such a man could be exalted by Bible believing preachers and professors to a point of authority higher than the King James Bible! Dr. Hort was a truly great Greek scholar, yet a great intellect does not make one an authority over the Bible when they themselves do not even claim to believe it! Albert Einstein was a man of great intellect, but he rejected Scripture, and so where he speaks on the subject of Scripture he is not to be accepted as authoritative. Possessing a great mind or great ability does not guarantee being a great spiritual leader. Dr. Hort was a scholar, but his scholarship alone is no reason to accept his theories concerning Bible truth.
If fundamental pastors of today enlisted the services of an evangelist and found that this evangelist had beliefs paralleling those of Fenton John Anthony Hort, I believe that the pastor would cancel the meeting. Strangely through, when a pastor discovers such to be true about Dr. Hort, he excuses him as "a great Greek scholar" and presents his Authorized Version to him to be maliciously dissected and then discarded as Dr. Hort sets himself down in the seat of authority which the Bible once held. Here again I must assert that most often this is done with childlike faith on the part of the pastor, due to the education he received while in seminary. The seminary is not really guilty either, for they have simply and unsuspectingly accepted the authority of two men raised under the influence of a campaign by the Jesuits to re-Romanize England. Wilkenson reports that Hort had been influenced by these Roman Catholic forces: "Dr. Hort tell us that the writings of Simon had a large share in the movement to discredit the Textus Receptus class of MSS and Bibles." 119
Problems with Westcott
Unfortunately for the "new Bible" supporters, Dr. Westcott's credentials are even more anti-biblical. Westcott did not believe that Genesis 1-3 should be taken literally. He also thought that "Moses" and "David" were poetic characters whom Jesus Christ referred to by name only because the common people accepted them as authentic. Westcott states:
He also said "David" is not a chronological but a spiritual person. 121
That the first three chapter of Genesis are all allegory has been believed by liberals and modernists for years. Do today's fundamentalists realize that those modernists' beliefs were nurtures in the heart of this Bible critic?
Westcott was also a doubter of the biblical account of miracles: "I never read an account of a miracle but I seem instinctively to feel its improbability, and discover somewhat of evidence in the account of it." 122 If a great fundamental preacher of our day were to make this statement, he would be called apostate, but what then of Westcott?
Westcott believed that the second coming of Jesus Christ was not a physical coming but a spiritual coming: "As far as I can remember, I said very shortly what I hold to be the 'Lord's coming' in my little book on the Historic Faith. I hold very strongly that the Fall of Jerusalem was the coming which first fulfilled the Lord's words; and, as there have been other comings, I cannot doubt that He is 'coming' to us now." 123
Wait! This fundamental doctrine is not the last one to be denied by Bishop Westcott, for he believed Heaven to be a state and not a literal place. Note the following quotations from Bishop Westcott: "No doubt the language of the Rubric is unguarded, but it saves us from the error of connecting the Presence of Christ's glorified humanity with place; 'heaven is a state and not a place.'" 124
Dr. Westcott was also deeply devoted to John Newman, the Roman Catholic defector who took 150 Church of England clergymen with him when he made the change. Those of his disciples who did not make the physical change to Rome, made the spiritual change to Romanism, though many, like Westcott, never admitted it.
In writing to his futue wife in 1852, Westcott wrote: "Today I have again taken up 'Tracts for the Times' and Dr. Newman. Don't tell me that he will do me harm. At least today he will, has done me good, and had you been here I should have asked you to read his solemn words to me. My purchase has already amply repaid me. I think I shall choose a volume for one of my Christmas companions." 127
This was written after Newman had defected to Rome!
Wilkenson adds, "By voice and pen, the teaching of Newman changed in the minds of many their attitude toward the Bible. Stanley shows us that the allegorizing of German theology, under whose influence Newman and the leaders of the movement were, was Origen's method of allegorizing. Newman contended that God never intended the Bible to teach doctrines."
Westcott also resented criticism of the Essays and Reviews. Upon hearing the Bishop of Manchester deride the apostate authors of these heretical essays, Westcott wrote, "But his language about the Essays and Reviews roused my indignation beyond expression." 128
These are the convictions of a man greatly responsible for the destruction of Christian faith in the Greek Text of the Authorized Version. Place Mr. Westcott next to any present fundamental preacher or educator, and he would be judged a modernist, liberal and heretic. In spite of his outstanding ability in Greek, a man of his convictions would not be welcome on the campus of any truly Christian college in America. This is not an overstatement, nor is it malicious. The Christian colleges of today hold very high standards and simply would not settle for a man of such apostate conviction, no matter how great his ability to teach a given subject.