Sunday, April 3, 2011

Westcott & Hort

Fenton John Anthony Hort (1828 -1892) and Brooke Foss Westcott (1825 - 1901) were Anglican priests, contemporaries and friends whose attitudes toward Christianity were closer to Catholicism than to Protestantism. Feeling strongly that the "Evangelical" approach to scripture lacked the "deep spiritual truths of Reason," they felt a need for a new Greek text that was more in harmony with the "pure Romish view" than with the "villianous" Recieved Text from which the King James Bible was translated. The Received Text, or Textus Receptus, which had been in existence since the late 3rd century, was a collection of original  letters to the early church by Paul and the apostles. These letters were compiled and translated into Greek by a man named Lucian for the express purpose of protecting God's word from the corruption of Gnosticism that was emanating from Alexandria in waves.

Little is known of Lucian today, but according to the Christian author Benjamin Wilkinson:

"...Lucian's day was an age of apostasy when a flood of depravations was systematically attempting to devastate both the Bible manuscripts and Bible theology. Origen, of the Alexandrian college, made his editions and commentaries of the Bible a secure retreat for all errors, and deformed them with philosophical speculations introducing casuistry and lying. Lucian's unrivalled success in verifying, safeguarding, and transmitting those divine writings left a heritage for which all generations should be thankful." (Truth Triumphant, Benjamin Wilkinson, p. 50)  

As is typical of God's truth down through the ages, Lucian's efforts were buried under a mountain of ecclesiastical rhetoric until the advent of Erasmus, a brilliant Dutch theologian who lived around the time of Martin Luther. Recognizing errors in the Latin Vulgate from a few old Greek manuscripts in his possession, Erasmus published a Greek-Latin Parallel New Testament in 1516. This parallel version...

"focused attention on just how corrupt and inaccurate the Latin Vulgate had become, and how important it was to go back and use the original Greek (New Testament) and original Hebrew (Old Testament) languages to maintain accuracy."/

Typical of how philosophy often supersedes the letter in theological circles, Westcott and Hort despised the Received Text in favor of a more liberal approach, e.g. baptism. (While Evangelicals/Protestants view baptism from the biblical perspective of the full immersion of consenting adults, the more liberal approach favors the christening of infants.)

Energized by their desire to steer Christian thinking into more philosophical channels, Westcott and Hort began work on their Greek New Testament in 1853. A decision by the Southern Convocation of the Church of England in 1870 to revise the Authorized, or King James, Version presented the opportunity Westcott and Hort were seeking to introduce their own "more accurate" Greek New Testament. By subterfuge and by stacking the committee in their favor, Westcott and Hort's Greek Text prevailed. And though the Revised Version did not thrive as a preferred translation, the spurious text upon which it was based has since become the text of choice for virtually every modern translation. 

Following are a few selected quotes from their own correspondence that show where their intentions and the tenor of their beliefs lay. The wording is often confusing so bracketed text and underlining are inserted for clarification.

1851 Dec. 29,30th - Hort: "I had no idea till the last few weeks of the importance of texts, having read so little Greek Testament, and dragged on with the villainous Textus Receptus... Think of that vile Textus Receptus leaning entirely on late MSS..." (Life, Vol.I, p.211)

 1861 Apr. 12th - Hort to Westcott: "...this may be cowardice - I have a sort of craving that our text should be cast upon the world before we deal with matters likely to brand us with suspicion. I mean, a text, issued by men already known for what will undoubtedly be treated as dangerous heresy, will have great difficulties in finding its way to regions which it might otherwise hope to reach, and whence it would not be easily banished by subsequent alarms." (Life, Vol.I, p.445).

1864 Sept. 23rd - Hort: "I remember shocking you and Lightfoot not so very long ago by expressing a belief that 'Protestantism' is only parenthetical and temporary..." (Life, Vol.II, p.30,31).

1848 July 6th - Hort: "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 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.76-78).

1865 Oct. 17th - Hort: "I have been persuaded for many years that Mary-worship and 'Jesus'-worship have very much in common in their causes and their results." (Life, Vol.II, p.50).

1847 Jan., 2nd Sunday after Epiphany - Westcott: "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 self-devotion, 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).

1858 Oct. 21st - Hort: Further I agree with [Evangelicals] in condemning many leading specific doctrines of the popular theology as, to say the least, containing much superstition and immorality of a very pernmicious kind. But I fear that in our own positive theology we should diverge widely... The positive doctrines even of the 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" (Life, Vol.I, p.400).

1860 Apr. 3rd - Hort: "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).

Oct. 15th - Hort: "...Certainly nothing can be more unscriptural than... Christ's bearing our sins and sufferings to His death; but indeed that is only one aspect of an almost universal heresy." (Life, Vol.I, p.430).