Were B.F. Westcott and F.J.A. Hort Apostate Heretics?

When KJVO advocates build their case for their understanding of textual criticism, they will generally raise two arguments: Heretics are responsible for corrupting the manuscripts used for translating modern day versions like the NASB or NIV and Westcott and Hort, the two 19th century British textual critics responsible for the Revised Version published in 1881, were heretical men involved in all sorts of diabolical wickedness.

With the last article, I reviewed the claim that heretical men corrupted the biblical manuscripts used for translating the modern versions. With this post, I would like to examine the claims leveled against Westcott and Hort.

Before I do that, let me answer two important questions: who were those men and what did they do to earn such negative attention from KJVO advocates? Drs. Brooke Foss Westcott (see picture above) and Fenton John Anthony Hort were two Cambridge Greek scholars who labored 28 years together on organizing and refining the principles used for weighing the value of textual manuscripts.

Their work built upon that of previous textual scholars, but in addition, they included the recent findings of the Alexandrian manuscripts, Sinaiticus and Vaticanus. They printed their work in a two-volume edition called The New Testament in the Original Greek. Later, their research was instrumental in the publication of the first major English translation since the King James, the Revised Version.

Both men were conservative, Anglican churchmen who wrote extensively against the anti-theistic higher criticism coming from the European seminaries, particularly Germany. Dr. Westcott later became the Bishop of Durham. KJVO advocates vilify Westcott and Hort because their Greek text was a break away from the Received Text used in the translation of the KJV and included what they consider to be heretical manuscripts from the Alexandrian family.

All KJVO literature will have an extended section detailing the alleged heresies of these two men. They are in a sense the key theological villains in the KJVO mythology. Their work on NT textual criticism is proclaimed to be practically satanic: an attempt to corrupt the NT documents and replace them with a sinful, demonically inspired production designed to destroy the souls of men.

They are blamed for the shift away from the Textus Receptus and the embracing of a modern, eclectic Greek text used for the translation of all modern versions of the 20th century. They are also accused of being the root of every theological woe and doctrinal deviancy we experience in our modern church. No KJVO advocate ever treats them with the least bit of kindness or sympathy. Even the tamest KJV apologist will hurl contempt upon their character.

For example, Bible For Today president and KJVO advocate, D.A. Waite, writes (with bold letters, mind you) that “these two men were apostates, liberal and unbelievers” (Defending the KJB, pg. 41). He has even compiled a booklet entitled The Theological Heresies of Westcott and Hort, in which he allegedly cites extensively from five of their books in order to demonstrate his charge of heresy. He charges them with denying the deity of Christ and rejecting the inspiration and infallibility of the Bible among other things.

Another KJVO proponent, William Grady, claims to have read their biographies and in his book entitled Final Authority, he devotes an entire chapter to them called Vessels of Dishonor. He writes that Westcott and Hort were “a pair of unsaved liberals, whose open Vatican sympathies cast them as the consummate Jesuit priests.”

In truth, the research of both these men, as well as that of an entire choir of KJVO advocates who distort the lives of Westcott and Hort, is basically a hodge-podge of citations ripped from their contexts, along with the ignoring of fact and the concealment of the truth, all interpreted through a rigid, legalistic modern day fundamentalism.

Probably the absolute worse to slander their character, however, has to be Gail Riplinger. It could be argued that she has set the unsurpassed standard for bashing them. Mrs. Riplinger has no training in the original, biblical languages, nor any understanding of genuine textual criticism; yet, in her book New Age Bible Versions, she devotes three chapters totaling 66 pages where she selectively cites from the collective works of Westcott and Hort in order to manufacture lies against them. In fact, her fabricated falsehoods she presents in these chapters are enough to destroy what amount of credibility she had as an author and expose her as being a false teacher if anyone were to check her research against what is known to be true.

Mrs. Riplinger writes about their alleged theological heresies, but in addition to charging them as being doctrinal apostates, she claims these two men were heavily involved with the occultic underground in London where they attend the meetings of sinister secret societies and partook in seances and the channeling of demonic spirits.

She further alleges that the purpose of their Revised Version was not to present a fresh, English translation based upon the newest research in the field of textual criticism, but to produce a new age Bible designed to supplant the true Christian faith. She attempts to link them, particularly Dr. Westcott, with the Theosophy Society in England and one of its main founders H.P. Blavatsky. This contrived connection convicts him as an anti-Christ new ager and the reason why all Christians should throw out their modern Bible translations and return to reading the KJV alone.

It would be an immense chore to track down and refute every one of the scurrilous charges leveled against Drs. Westcott and Hort. Dr. Westcott usually receives the greatest attention from KJV only zealots because of his notoriety as an Anglican bishop and the fact his work has been published more extensively than Dr. Hort. I would commend the research of Mr. James May who has done the Bible-believing church a great favor by pouring over some 4,000 pages of Dr. Westcott’s writings and shown the manufactured revisionism against this Christian scholar on the part of KJV onlyists. His papers can be downloaded at the KJV only site and much of my material for this post is drawn from them.

With this introduction in mind, I would like to answer the two most distorted accusations made by KJVO apologists against these two men, especially Dr. Westcott.

1) Drs. Westcott and Hort were liberal unbelievers who denied essential Christian doctrine.

It is claimed by KJVO advocates that these men denied the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, His virgin birth, the inspiration of the scriptures, and a host of other essential doctrines that identify the Christian faith. Generally, KJVO literature selectively cite from their works, weaving together cherry-picked quotations so as to devise their heresy. The habit of KJVO apologists to simply make up a dissenter’s beliefs if no true guilt can be found is reason enough to read with extreme caution and serious discernment any of their material.

I will let the readers benefit from Mr. May’s excellent work in the matters of Dr. Westcott’s orthodoxy. But for our purposes here, the example of his affirmation of Christ’s deity will suffice to show how he was a theologically sound Christian.

James May writes in the introduction to his study on this subject that,

B.F. Westcott asserted the deity of Jesus Christ so many different times, in so many different ways, under such a variety of headings, that writing a paper to prove his position may appear to be an exercise in the obvious … It is so plain that Westcott believed in the deity of Christ that all who read Westcott’s writings (or profess to read them) have no excuse for claiming otherwise.

All anyone has to do is just read through his two major commentaries, Hebrews and the Gospel of John, and it will become quickly apparent that Dr. Westcott affirmed the divinity of our Lord. Note these citations with my added emphasis:

He who was God became flesh: He who was with God tabernacled among us (comp. 1 John i:2) He who was in the beginning, became (in time), (Gospel of John, p. 2)

No idea of inferiority of nature is suggested by the form of expression, which simply affirms the true deity of the Word, (Gospel of John, p. 3).

They offer the fullest view which man can gain of the Person of the Lord in its absolute unity, truly human and truly divine, (Epistles of John, p. 128)

He [Christ] is at once Creator and Heir of all things, (Hebrews, p.7).

Let us cling to our faith in Him, Whom we openly confess, as truly human, truly divine, (Hebrews, p. 106).

These are just a smattering of quotes; many more can be presented, but space does not allow. It is clear, just with the reading of those handful of quotations, that Dr. Westcott was no closet, occult loving Gnostic heretic. He both affirmed and defended the divinity and the humanity of Jesus Christ. To suggest otherwise is to bear false witness.

2) Westcott and Hort were both actively involved with the underground occult in London.

Out of all of the lies perpetrated against those two men, the most outlandish are the charges they were heavily involved in the secret occult in London. A good portion of Mrs. Riplinger’s book is her absurd conspiracy theory that attempts to tie together in a piecemeal fashion her fevered speculations as to how Westcott and Hort were members of all sorts of sinister, Lucifarian organizations. Her charges, however, are products of her warped imagination and have no basis in reality.

In one instance, she foolishly misidentifies B.F. Westcott with a W.W. Westcott, a man who was involved with occultic organizations, but has no relation to the NT scholar and Bishop of Durham. I noted that ridiculous comparison in my introductory article to this series, so I direct the reader to it.

Mrs. Riplinger also attempts to make a connection with two college societies where Westcott was a member. As an aside, it must be kept in mind how campus societies are ubiquitous in high, academic college, so membership in these societies or clubs would be commonplace. There is nothing necessarily sinister with being associated with a variety of academic societies.

KJVO apologists always discuss two clubs in which Dr. Westcott was a member during his days in college: The Hermes Club and the Ghostly Guild. Allow me to look at each one of them in turn.

First is the Hermes Club. In 1845, while at Cambridge as an undergraduate, Dr. Westcott was a part of an essay reading club that started under the name of The Philological Society. The club had as its primary purpose to read and discuss topics concerning classic Greek and Latin literature. Sometime at a later point, the club took up the name of Hermes until it was disbanded in 1848.

KJVO apologists desirous to find some dark, nefarious goings-on with that group capitalize upon the change of name from The Philological Society to the Hermes club. Mrs. Riplinger titles the section of her book detailing the society as Hermes: Alias Satan.

It is wrongly assumed by KJVO fundamentalists, who are generally unlearned in classic subjects to begin with, that the name Hermes automatically equates to Satan. This is not the case at all. Hermes was considered the god of eloquence, the chief speaker for all the other gods of the Greek and Roman pantheon. This is even seen in the narrative of Acts when the people of Lystra identified Barnabas as being Zeus and Paul, who did most of the talking, as Hermes (Acts 14:12). The KJV obscures the Greek Hermes by using the Latin translation, Mercurius.

Moreover, Dr. Wescott’s son, Arthur, who was his biographer, lists the titles of the essays he presented to the society in the first volume of his father’s biography:

The Lydian Origin of the Etruscans

The Nominative Absolute

The Roman Games of (or at) Ball

The so-called Aoristic Use of the Perfect in Latin

The Funeral Ceremonies of the Romans

The Eleatic School of Philosophy

The Mythology of the Homeric Poems

The Theology of Aristotle

Theramenes

In their entirety, there really is nothing sinister at all with the subjects presented by Dr. Westcott. In all honesty, one would conclude that they are boring unless one has an interest in classical Greek and Latin. Yet, KJVO apologists pick and choose the most ominous sounding and attach the charge of “Satanism” to them. This accusation is simply dishonest and is a desperate attempt to find witches when none even exist.

The second is the Ghostly Guild. The more evil sounding of the two “satanic” clubs in which Drs. Westcott and Hort were members is the Ghostly Guild. In 1851, they were invited to join a club whose purpose was to investigate first-hand accounts of supernatural phenomena and determine if any of it was real or false. The primary motivation for the club had to do with the then cultural popularity with spiritualism, seances, and other bizarre supernatural occurrences.

The spiritualism movement began in 1848 when a farmer in the rural New York state town of Hydesville began experiencing what he claimed were intelligent rappings. No one could explain the rappings and many thought it was the dead attempting to communicate with the living. (Apparently, no one thought it could be a hoax). The farmer, Mr. J.D. Fox, had two daughters, Kate and Maggie, who claimed to have intimate connections with the dead and from that point on, they began their successful careers as spiritualist mediums. Spiritualism grew rapidly so that by 1853 there were ten periodicals dedicated to the subject with millions of enthusiasts.

There is not a whole lot of information about the Ghostly Guild and what it accomplished, if anything. Thus, it is foolish speculation on the part of KJVO proponents to suggest to their readers that its members were into wearing sheep leggings and dancing around a sacrificial altar while communing with the dead. If anything, the club was more of a debunking group of skeptics. It would be similar today if a group of Christians decided to investigate the claims of UFO abductees or Benny Hinn’s faith healings.

Two interesting postscripts come to us about Westcott’s involvement with the Ghostly Guild.

First, his son Arthur tells us in his biography that his father ceased to be interested in the club and believed the pursuit of spiritualism only led to no good. Then secondly is a letter from the hand of Dr. Westcott himself in response to a new spiritualistic publication called Borderland.

Before the magazine went to print for the first edition, the publisher, William Stead, sent out a circular requesting testimonials about any supernatural phenomena from the various Anglican bishops and B.F. Westcott just happened to be one of those bishops. He, however, wrote back an interesting reply that was published in volume 1, number 1 of Borderland in July 1893:

Many years ago I had occasion to investigate spiritualistic phenomena with some care [more than likely the Ghostly Guild], and I came to a clear conclusion, which I feel bound to express in answer to your circular. It appears to me that in this, as in all spiritual questions, Holy Scripture is our supreme guide. I observe, then, that while spiritual ministries are constantly recorded in the Bible, there is not the faintest encouragement to seek them. The case, indeed, is far otherwise. I cannot, therefore, but regard every voluntary approach to beings such as those who are supposed to hold communication with men through mediums as unlawful and perilous. I find in the fact of the Incarnation all that man (so far as I can see) requires for life and hope. (emphasis mine).

In closing, I hope one can see that the charges of new age apostasy against B.F. Westcott and F.J.A. Hort is pure fantasy. In a word, it is a desperate fiction. In order to salvage what little credibility their KJVO apologetics have for arguing in favor of God preserving His revelation only in the KJV, they have to attack the character of the two men used of the Lord to further modern day textual criticism.

It is true Drs. Westcott and Hort held to theological convictions modern day fundamental independent Baptists would find odious, like infant baptism and baptismal regeneration. However, to make up lies against their personal character just to try and convince people their research is unworthy to be respected is sinful.

Drs. Westcott and Hort did have contemporaries who disagreed with their textual conclusions. Both Dean John Burgon and H.C. Hoskier were critical of their methods of weighing the Alexandrian readings over and against specific Received Text readings. They wrote extensively against their work, as well as the work of the other men involved in the translation of the Revised Version of 1881. There is room for academic disagreement with their work. Yet, never did any of Westcott and Hort’s contemporary detractors ever charge them personally with apostasy from the Christian faith or level accusations against their secret society affiliations. The silence of these strong opponents in these two areas is deafening.

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8 thoughts on “Were B.F. Westcott and F.J.A. Hort Apostate Heretics?

  1. Fred, I’d not be in agreement with the people you’ve quoted, nor with the charges they raise against Westcott and Hort..

    But anyone who reads Hort’s Introduction and is paying attention knows he was unsound on the doctrine of the canon of Scripture and implicitly rejected any kind of Divine providence or intervention in the transmission of the text.

    He’s in the Lord’s hands now, of course, which makes much of the discussion of what he believed largely irrelevant. What isn’t irrelevant is that his textual work was built upon a flawed Bibliology (canonicity) and that flawed Bibliology still underpins the assumptions of modern textual critics.

  2. Pingback: F.J.A. Hort and Seances | hipandthigh

  3. Pingback: Were Westcott & Hort Occultists? | End Time Musings

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