Chapter 8: Westcott and Hort — 1 of 3
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:
«As I was writing the last words a note came from Westcott. He too mentions having had fears, which he now pronounces ‘groundless,’ on the strength of our last conversation, in which he discovered that I did ‘recognize’ ‘Providente’ in biblical writings. Most strongly I recognize it; but I am not prepared to say that it necessarily involves absolute infallibility. So I still await judgment.»
And further commented to a colleague:
«But I am not able to go as far as you in asserting the absolute infallibility of a canonical writing.»92
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:
«The discussion which immediately precedes these four lines naturally leads to another enigma most intimately connected with that of everlasting penalties, namely that of the personality of the devil.» It was Coleridge who some three years ago first raised any doubts in my mind on the subject — doubts which have never yet been at all set at rest, one way or the other. You yourself are very cautious in your language.
«Now if there be a devil, he cannot merely bear a corrupted and marred image of God; he must be wholly evil, his name evil, his every energy and act evil. Would it not be a violation of the divine attributes for the Word to be actively the support of such a nature as that?»98
Rev. Hort also shrunk from the belief in a literal, eternal «hell.»
«I think Maurice’s letter to me sufficiently showed that we have no sure knowledge respecting the duration of future punishment, and that the word ‘eternal’ has a far higher meaning than the merely material one of excessively long duration; extinction always grates against my mind as something impossible.»99
«Certainly in my case it proceeds from no personal dread; when I have been living most godlessly, I have never been able to frighten myself with visions of a distant future, even while I ‘held’ the doctrine.»100
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:
«I agree with you in thinking it a pity that Maurice verbally repudiates purgatory, but I fully and unwaveringly agree with him in the three cardinal points of the controversy: (1) that eternity is independent of duration; (2) that the power of repentance is not limited to this life; (3) that it is not revealed whether or not all will ultimately repent. The modern denial of the second has, I suppose, had more to do with the despiritualizing of theology then almost anything that could be named.»101
Also while advising a young student he wrote:
«The idea of purgation, of cleansing as by fire, seems to me inseparable from what the Bible teaches us of the Divine chastisements; and, though little is directly said resecting the future state, it seems to me incredible that the Divine chastisements should in this respect change their character when this visible life is ended.
«I do not hold it contradictory to the Article to think that the condemned doctrine has not been wholly injurious, inasmuch as it has kept alive some sort of belief in a great and important truth.»102
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.
«The fact is, I do not see how God’s justice can be satisfied without every man’s suffering in his own person the full penalty for his sins.»103
In fact, Hort considered the teachings of Christ’s atonement as heresy!
«Certainly nothing can be more unscriptural than the modern limiting of Christ’s bearing our sins and sufferings to His death; but indeed that is only one aspect of an almost universal heresy.»104
The fact is, that Hort believed Satan more worthy of accepting Christ’s payment for sins than God.
«I confess I have no repugnance to the primitive doctrine of a ransom paid to Satan, though neither am I prepared to give full assent to it. But I can see no other possible form in which the doctrine of a ransom is at all tenable; anything is better than the notion of a ransom paid to the Father.»105
Dr. Hort also believed that the Roman Catholic teaching of «baptismal regeneration» was more correct than the «evangelical» teaching.
«…at the same time in language stating that we maintain ‘Baptismal Regeneration’ as the most important of doctrines … the pure ‘Romish’ view seems to me nearer, and more likely to lead to, the truth than the Evangelical.»106
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:
«You were not only born into the world of men. You were also born of Christian parents in a Christian land. While yet an infant you were claimed for God by being made in Baptism an unconscious member of His Church, the great Divine Society which has lived on unceasingly from the Apostles’ time till now. You have been surrounded by Christian influences; taught to lift up your eyes to the Father in heaven as your own Father; to feel yourself in a wonderful sense a member or part of Christ, united to Him by strange invisible bonds; to know that you have as your birthright a share in the kingdom of heaven.»108
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:
«…I dare not prophesy about America, but I cannot say that I see much as yet to soften my deep hatred of democracy in all its forms.»109
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:
«I care more for England and for Europe than for America, how much more than for all the niggers in the world! And I contend that the highest morality requires me to do so. Some thirty years ago Niebuhr wrote to this effect: ‘Whatever people may say to the contrary, the American empire is standing menace to the whole civilization of Europe and sooner or later one or the other must perish.’ Every year has, I think, brought fresh proof of the entire truth of these words. American doctrine (only too well echoed from Europe itself, though felt to be at variance with the institutions of Europe) destroys the root of everything vitally precious which man has by painful growth been learning from the earliest times till now, and tends only to reduce us to the gorilla state. The American empire seems to me mainly an embodiment of American doctrine, its leading principle being lawless force. Surely, if ever Babylon or Rome were rightly cursed it cannot be wrong to desire and pray from the bottom of one’s heart that the American Union may be shivered to pieces.
«I do not for a moment forget what slavery is, or the frightful effects which Olmsted has shown it to be producing on white society in the South; but I hate it much more for its influence on the whites than on the niggers themselves. The refusal of education to them is abominable; how far they are capable of being ennobled by it is not clear. As yet everywhere (not in slavery only) they have surely shown themselves only as an immeasurably inferior race, just human and no more, their religion frothy and sensuous, their highest virtues, those of a good Newfoundland dog.»110
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:
«Think of my going with Gray yesterday afternoon to hear ‘Moody and Sankey’ at the Haymarket. I am very glad to have been, but should not care to go again. All was much as I expected, except that the music was inferior, and altogether Sankey did not leave a favourable impression. Moody had great sincerity, earnestness, and good sense, with some American humour which he mostly keeps under restraint, but in matter is quite conventional and commonplace. Much the most remarkable thing is the congregation or rather audience.»112
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:
«I have pretty well made up my mind to devote my three or four years up here to the study of this subject of Communism.»113
«I can only say that it was through the region of pure politics that I myself approach Communism.»114
«To be without responsibility, to be in no degree our ‘brother’s keeper,’ would be the heaviest curse imaginable.»115
«Surely every man is meant to be God’s steward of every blessing and ‘talent’ (power, wealth, influence, station, birth, etc. etc.) which He gives him, for the benefit of his neighbours.»116
Also suspect is Hort’s delving into the supernatural along with his good friend, Brooke Foss Westcott, and others in what was called the ‘Ghostly Guild’ (more on this later).
«Westcott, Gorham, C.B., Scott, Benson, Bradshaw, Luard, etc., and I have started a society for the investigation of ghosts and all supernatural appearances and effects, being all disposed to believe that such things really exist, and ought to be discriminated from hoaxes and mere subjective delusions; we shall be happy to obtain any good accounts well authenticated with names. Westcott is drawing up a schedule of questions. Cope calls us the ‘Cock and Bull Club;’ our own temporary name is the ‘Ghostly Guild.’ «117
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:
«Pontresina, Hotel Krone; homely, but very clean and comfortable; … beer excellent.»118
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:
«No one now, I suppose, holds that the first three chapters of Genesis, for example, give a literal history — I could never understand how anyone reading them with open eyes could think they did — yet they disclose to us a Gospel. So it is probably elsewhere. Are we not going through a trial in regard to the use of popular language on literary subjects like that through which we went, not without sad losses in regard to the use of popular language on physical subjects? If you feel now that it was, to speak humanly, necessary that the Lord should speak of the ‘sun rising,’ it was no less necessary that he would use the names ‘Moses’ and ‘David’ as His contemporaries used them. There was no critical question at issue. (Poetry is, I think, a thousand times more true than History; this is a private parenthesis for myself alone.)» 120
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
«Yet the unseen is the largest part of life. Heaven lies about us now in infancy alone; and by swift, silent pauses for thought, for recollection, for aspiration, we cannot only keep fresh the influence of that diviner atmosphere, but breathe it more habitually.» 125
«We may reasonably hope, by patient, resolute, faithful, united endeavour to find heaven about us here, the glory of our earthly life.» 126
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.