Lecture 25: Who Were Westcott & Hort? | Free Online Biblical Library

Lecture 25: Who Were Westcott & Hort?

Course: Textual Criticism

Lecture: Who Were Westcott & Hort?


A. Brook Westcott

In this lecture, we will look at Westcott and Hort and their dethroning of the Textus Receptus. Both of these people were Cambridge trained scholars of the late 19th century. We will consider them both personally and academically to see what they had accomplished. We begin with Brook Westcott who was born in 1825 and lived until 1901; trained at Cambridge University in classical Greek and Latin. At the age of 24, he began teaching at Cambridge. He was a voluminous writer who wrote on the Gospels, one such was a commentary on the Gospel of John which is still used today. He also wrote commentaries on Hebrews and other literature and extensively on the deity of Christ and his resurrection. His books on the canon of the New Testament on the history of the English Bible are still classics today. And of course, with Hort, he produced a Greek New Testament that has stood the test of time. In 1870, he became the Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge University. A professor in the UK system, there is only one professor in each department, but in the American system, everyone can be a professor or associate professor or assistant professor. To be on faculty in the UK system, you are called a fellow and to be the head of the department you are called a professor and usually, it’s a chair. So he was the Regius Professor of Divinity. He was broadly evangelical, very strong on Christ’s deity and resurrection and even as strong on the Bible being our final authority.

B. F.J. Hort 

Then there was F.J. Hort, born in 1828. Was born three years later and died nine years earlier. He was born in Dublin and was the Hulsean Professor of Divinity and later became the Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, which was a huge honor. Recently they celebrated their 500th anniversary of having a Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity there at Cambridge. A person who was very influential in my life was E.F.D. Moule who was the Lady Margret Professor of Divinity at Cambridge. He was not an evangelical but instead a moderate who was passionate about the Deity and bodily resurrection of Christ. We would write letters to each other with him often using multiple languages. He memorized the Greek New Testament like others such as C.H. Dodd. Hort was an exacting scholar, but he was prone to leave scholarly works unfinished. He produced a commentary on James unfinished and on other books, all unfinished, but he did finish his text of the New Testament and in 1881 and 82, he and Westcott published the New Testament in the original Greek with an introduction and appendix which became a landmark in text-critical studies. It wasn’t the first Greek New Testament to depart from the Textus Receptus. That had been done fifty years earlier by Karl Lachmann. This was the first one where they systematically laid out their principles in such a coherent way that in twenty-eight years of work, he was able to articulate the method of textual criticism in fifty-four pages. You really have to read this as it is so succinct that it can’t be made any briefer.

C. Dean John Burgon 

It didn’t have apparatus. They didn’t collate manuscripts and they didn’t do the labor that Tischendorf and Tragellis and some of the others had done of collecting variants. They stood on the shoulders of these giants and produce a text that they thought was the original. Their second volume gave the rationale for it. They came significantly closer to the original text of the New Testament than their predecessors. They just didn’t do the labor that got them there relying on the work of others instead. Their New Testament was the eye of the storm in terms of a theological emotional reaction by a number of people. There was a strong reaction from Dean John Burgon, Dean of Chichester England and later by King James only advocates such as Edward F. Hills and David Waite, the president of the Burgon Society. There was a strong reaction by Dean Burgon against Westcott and Hort. Burgon was a champion of lost causes, once giving a lecture on why women shouldn’t have a college education, on the day that women were admitted to Oxford University. One of these people who were rigidly fundamentalist and yet he too was an incredible scholar. Beginning with Burgon, there were ad hominem attacks, against the person rather than against their arguments. Burgon went all over Europe and the Middle East to find manuscripts to prove that the Textus Receptus or something close to it was the original text. He did an amazing amount of work. He actually produced the text of the Church Fathers through the first several centuries finding 86,000 quotations written in a multi-volume set that was never published. In the 20th century, the followers of Burgon, many of them very vicious against others, saying things like Westcott had denied the deity and resurrection of Christ. They said that Hort denied all sorts of cardinal doctrines. They also claimed that Westcott and Hort were even involved with the occult which of course wasn’t true.

D. Gale Riplinger 

An extreme example of Textus Receptus only people is Gale Riplinger or G.A. Riplinger who wrote the book, New Age Bible Versions in 1993. The cover was all black with a devil’s tail somewhere on it. There were tens of thousands of copies sold with hundreds of churches that abandoned modern translations going back to the King James because they thought all of those translations were the work of conspirators. In my opinion, the book was the most sloppily put together book on textual criticism that I have ever read. One of the things that she is famous for is the use of ellipses, the triple dots where she quotes from somebody and only finishes the quote later in a different context. So, the quotes were out of context. Her degree was in Home Economics and so I ask the question of how much scholarship did she have to do this kind of work. On the radio once, she said the reason she used G.A. Riplinger instead of Gale, was because it was co-authored by God; so it was God and Riplinger. I think she just didn’t want to be recognized as a woman who did this as it would have been questioned more by some of her conservative followers to reject it. One of the things she does in the book, she used B.F. Westcott instead of W.W. Westcott. The latter was indeed involved in the occult. A friend of mine contacted her about this and asked her whether she knew that it was a different person? W.W. Westcott was one of the founders of an occult group whereas B.F. Westcott was with a group that was investigating the occult instead for several years.

E. B.F. Westcott on the Occult 

The conclusion by B.F. Westcott, not W.W. Westcott came to, was that the occult was a bunch of nonsense and even dangerous. The very first magazine of Borderland came out in 1893. It wasn’t a study of the occult but actually dedicated to the occult. They wanted to use B.F. Westcott’s name because he had investigated the occult. He wrote a letter to the editor telling the editor that the Holy Bible must be the supreme guide in examining anything spiritual. What I observed as spiritist activities constantly recorded in the Bible in regards to Satan; there isn’t the faintest encouragement to seek them. The case is otherwise, I cannot therefore regard every voluntary approach to beings such as those who are supposed to hold communications with people through mediums as unlawful and perilous. I find in the incarnation of Jesus all that man requires for life and hope. So, in this letter to the editor, he is affirming that Scripture is our final authority which is broadly evangelical. Then he says, ‘everything we need is in Jesus.’ Indeed, taking all the evidence together, it isn’t too much to say that there is no single historic incident better or more supported than the resurrection of Christ. So, this isn’t a person who is denying the resurrection. So, what about the deity of Christ? He talks about the deity of Christ so much and confirms it so much and therefore to suggest that he didn’t believe it would be to put blinders on and read sentences out of their context. These are from his commentaries on John and Hebrews which are still classic texts and still in print today. He said that Christ’s work would take away sins and was himself sinless. He says in Hebrews that the exalted king, namely Christ, who is truly man, is also above all finite beings. Christ is creator and heir of all things. Christ, the incarnate Word, is the perfect Revelation of the Father and as God, he reveals God. Westcott was not a liberal scholar.

F. Hort’s Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism 

What about Hort? It is much more difficult to determine what Hort believes because he published far less than Westcott and probably not as orthodox as Westcott. He seemed to have some leanings that went in some directions and what is ironic, he was considered a Papist by the King James only people. That is almost Roman Catholic because he said that the causes and results of worshipping Mary was similar to that of the causes and results of worshipping Jesus. So, they said therefore he had Papist leanings, almost Roman Catholic. It is ironic that they would charge him with this because Erasmus who put the Greek New Testament together which was the basis of the Textus Receptus was a Roman Catholic priest. We should not condemn the Textus Receptus because it was produced by a Roman Catholic; Luther didn’t, for that was the text that he used. The King’s James version translators didn’t because that was the text that was available at the time. Its merits need to be judged on historical grounds. So, the relevance of Hort’s views; regardless of their perhaps different doctrinal positions, Westcott and Hort worked together and they also worked with J.B. Lightfoot who was another member of the translation committee for the Revised Version of 1881. Lightfoot was a thoroughly orthodox scholar. It isn’t the personal views behind their work but the work itself that must be examined. When the King James only and Textus Receptus people argue against Westcott and Hort, this only reveals the weakness of their position because their arguments against the texts of Westcott and Hort don’t have much in that direction at all. Well, these two guys were so incredible in what they were able to produce. There were two volumes that I’ve already talked about, which were immediately claimed as a major advance in understanding the transmission of the New Testament. It was almost instantly a classic for people immediately recognized the power of what they were saying. Hort’s method for doing textual criticism for the New Testament has been applied in many different areas of classical studies because he was the first to clearly articulate this.

G. The Textus Receptus and the Byzantine Text 

They used three basic arguments against the Textus Receptus and the Byzantine text. This is where we want to now go with this lecture. Their work of dethroning the Textus Receptus and the majority included three arguments. First, there were no distinctive Byzantine readings in the ante-Nicene Fathers. Neither do we find with the church fathers any textual variance that are found only in the Byzantine manuscripts and consequently this is evidence that the Byzantine text was later and must have come at a time after the Council of Nicaea. However, there are Alexandrian readings and western readings in the ante-Nicene Fathers; plenty of them. Secondly, Byzantine readings are not supported by intrinsic evidence, what the author would have done or transcriptional evidence; what a scribe would have done. Thus these readings are inferior. They said that the closer you looked the better the Alexandrian texts looked is what they were arguing. Then thirdly, only the Byzantine texts form conflates; the Alexandrian and Western always are the legs that the Byzantine conflations stand on. Never is the Byzantine text one of the legs. So if they conflate that, they combine two readings. They always have the combined readings but never the Western or Alexandrian have it. This shows that the Byzantine text is secondary. So, they argue that the Byzantine text is late and inferior and secondary and that three-fold cord isn’t easily broken. It not only dethroned the Textus Receptus but also the majority text or what is called the Byzantine Text. Now you get some majority texts advocates forcing themselves into the mix.

When they say that there is no distinctive Byzantine readings in the ante-Nicene Fathers, Dean Burgon responded by spending years working on the quotations by the church fathers and he comes up with 86,000 quotations of the early church fathers and thus tries to demonstrate that the Byzantine texts is indeed quoted by these church fathers. But there are a couple of problems with this; in many places, they say, ‘but as our Lord said.’ It doesn’t tell you whether it is Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. The wording may be identical to what is found in Matthew’s Gospel in the Byzantine texts or it could be identical to what is found in Mark’s Gospel in the Alexandrian texts. So Burgon just said that this was a Byzantine text, but there wasn’t anything demonstrated. The second point which is much more serious, he used the late manuscripts that were available; he didn’t do any critical work on them. Gordon Fee made the statement that the more you examine these church fathers, the earlier manuscripts you get, they always move away from the Byzantine texts; why would that be the case? Everybody admits that the Byzantine texts by the 9th century became the majority texts. It was kind of the ecclesiastical standard. So, if you are copying out a church father’s writings, what do you do? Typically there would Scripture texts in there some place and then you would get a commentary. So, what a scribe would often do apparently is to set aside the area for the Scripture and then he would go through it based on a manuscript that they knew; they would then copy out that manuscript. This is Origen’s commentary in John. Then they would copy out what Origen had to say and put it in the margins because they didn’t exactly know it. Many times what Origen says in his commentary doesn’t line up with the text they are commenting on because it is a Byzantine text. So when you look at the church fathers, frequently the texts of the fathers are far more important than the Scripture texts because that was done by later scribes.

H. Origen and the Byzantine Standard 

I was just talking to a fellow at Birmingham University a few weeks back. He was studying at Dublin doing work on Origen. He said that he can’t believe how many medieval manuscripts just conform Origen’s texts to the Byzantine standard. Everyone knows, including majority text people that Origen did not follow the Byzantine texts. It is about pure as it gets in terms of following the Alexandrian. When it comes to no distinct Byzantine readings, Burgon says there are. Secondly, there are no distinctive reasons found because there are too few literary remains of ante-Nicene Byzantine fathers. The problem is there were plenty of church fathers who spent time in the Byzantine regions and would have become acquainted with those readings but never mention them. This suggests that the Byzantine text did not exist before Nicaea. The next point is that Byzantine readings are not supported by intrinsic evidence that an author has to say or transcription of which a scribe is likely to do. And the response has been that internal evidence has been too subjective to count or yes, these Byzantine readings are supported by this. Well, the internal evidence is somewhat subjective, but neither are manuscripts completely objective. There seems to be an almost cultic thinking that every manuscript must be the Word of God! No, instead, it is an errant copy of the inerrant Word of God. This is the case with all hand-written manuscripts. Every manuscript has mistakes in them. In many places, internal evidence isn’t subjective at all. It is what we know that the scribes did. Human psychology is the same today as it was back then; we know how people worked and if you spend an hour or two collating manuscripts, you see obvious mistakes. You know what scribes were about. So, in response that yes, these Byzantine readings actually do exist, I think that it is true. This is one area where Westcott and Hort were a little too hasty about. There are some Byzantine readings that are superior to Alexandrian readings. There are two passages in particular: Matthew 24:36 and Philippians 1:14. I have looked at Philippians 1:14 earlier and we will look at Matthew 24:36 in another lecture.

I. Philippians 1:14 

In Philippians 1:14 you have, ‘and most of the brothers and sisters, having confidence in the Lord because of my imprisonment, now more than ever dare to speak the word fearlessly.’ You have those four great manuscripts that Dean Burgon felt were rather vile and done by heretics, but instead they add the Word of God. So, speak the ‘Word of God’ fearlessly. Scribes tended to add clarifying notes but here you have the Alexandrian manuscripts adding the clarifying notes. Later manuscripts add the Word of the Lord, but the Byzantine, the majority of manuscripts as well as P46, an early important Alexandrian manuscript adds nothing. P46 was not known in the day of Westcott and Hort. So they rejected the Byzantine readings as not being good; it has to be the ‘Word of God.’ The fact is, scholars today would say, no this is the place where the Byzantine texts almost by itself is clearer. I think it does happen on occasion. But there are no more than ten or twenty places. Finally, only the Byzantine texts form conflates is what Hort argued. The Alexandrian and the Western are always the legs that the Byzantine inflation stands on; never is the Byzantine one of the legs. This is their view of things; Hort’s genealogical argument, you have the autographs in the Alexandrian and Western text types, both done in the 2nd century and the Byzantine archetype done in the 4th century.

J. Luke 24:53 

To show this, I will use a couple of illustrations. The second one will be more complex. We looked at Luke 24:53; the last verse of Luke, ‘and were continually in the temple courts blessing God.’ This has to do with blessing God or praising God or blessing and praising God. What we discovered is the Alexandrian manuscripts have praising and the Western has blessing whereas the Byzantine has praising and blessing. How do we know which is better between the Alexandrian and Western? Hort argues that the Alexandrian is a purer stream of transmission whereas the Western was carelessly done and I think most would agree with this. And P75, a very early manuscript of Luke and John now confirms that was what the Alexandrian reading was very earlier on. So, between those two readings, Alexandrian and Western; the Alexandrian is superior. But what is to say that the Byzantine isn’t authentic? Isn’t it possible that the Alexandrian and Western only wrote down half of the wording? Didn’t you have the text say blessing and praising God and the Alexandrian only picked up one half and the Western picked up the other half. Well, that is a possibility, but this text alone of all of Westcott and Hort’s illustrations could do that. There are no others that could do that. I chose it because it is easy to grasp but I will give you more complex texts and this will be the last thing that I talk about and then we will look at the summary of this whole thing.

K. Luke 9:10 

In Luke 9:10, says that Jesus and his disciples withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida. This is from the Alexandrian text. In the Western text, it says to a deserted place called Bethsaida and in the Byzantine text, to a deserted place of a town called Bethsaida. Now it is virtually impossible for the Alexandrian and the Western text forms to accidentally drop out part of the reading and here is why. If you have the town; the word for town in the Alexandrian text is in the accusative but if it is a deserted place of a town, it gets put into the genitive which is what the Byzantine text. So, let us assume for the sake of argument, the Byzantine is the original; this is what an Alexandrian scribe would have to do accidentally. He would have to skip over “topon eremon.” The first one he writes down is poleos but he then decides that it isn’t going to be poleos and so instead puts in polen. All this by accident not realizing that he skipped over two words that he has no reason to skip over and thus changes the genitive to the accusative and then he sees kaloumnes and when he sees this, again a feminine genitive, now he changes it to the feminine accusative and then he sees Bethsaida which is in the normative and there is reasons for that in the Byzantine text and he changes that to the accusative. So he is making all sorts of changes, skips a couple of words, changes the case endings on the following three words without realizing that he has made a mistake. Is that even possible? I can’t imagine it. The Western text has the same kind of thing. He writes down topon eremon, a deserted place and now you have this accusative and it is neuter rather than feminine because place is masculine while city or town in feminine. So you have topon eremon and then he skips over poleos and then he gets to kaloumnes and puts in kaloumnen instead. It makes no sense to think that these scribes could ever possibly make that many mistakes in this sort of cluster of places that so conveniently breaks down into two separate renditions of the Byzantine text must have had originally. This is the kind of conflation that Westcott and Hort showed over and over again. This proves that the Byzantine is secondary.

L. Summary

So, Westcott and Hort argue that the Byzantine text was late; there are no ante-Nicene distinctive Byzantine readings. It was an inferior not having good internal readings; this is where I have some disagreement with it and secondary, always the recipient of other readings is to make a conflate reading.

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