Brooke Foss Westcott (1825-1903) and Fenton John Anthony Hort (1828-1892) have been highly controversial figures in biblical history.
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.”
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.
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!
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 historians 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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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 fictitious 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.
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 respecting 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Hort’s Twisted Belief
Along with Hort’s unregenerated misconceptions of basic Bible truths, there were his quirkish and sometimes quackish personal beliefs.
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.
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.).
He also said “David” is not a chronological but a spiritual person.
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.” 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.”
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.”
We may reasonably hope, by patient, resolute, faithful, united endeavour to find heaven about us here, the glory of our earthly life.
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.
Westcott and Hort were two non-Christian Anglican ministers. Fully steeped in the Alexandrian philosophy that “there is no perfect Bible”, they had a vicious distaste for the King James Bible and its Antiochian Greek text, the Textus Receptus.
Both believed that Heaven existed only in the mind of man.
Both believed it possible to communicate with the dead and made many attempts to do just that through a society which they organized and entitled “The Ghostly Guild.”
Westcott accepted and promoted prayers for the dead.
Both were admirers of Mary (Westcott going so far as to call his wife Sarah, “Mary”), and Hort was an admirer and proponent of Darwin and his theory of evolution.
It is obvious to even a casual observer why they were well equipped to guide the Revision Committee of 1871-1881 away from God’s Antiochian text and into the spell of Alexandria.
They had compiled their own Greek text from Alexandrian manuscripts, which, though unpublished and inferior to the Textus Receptus, they secreted little by little to the Revision Committee. The result being a totally new Alexandrian English Bible instead of a “revision” of the Authorized Version as it was claimed to be.
It has only been in recent years that scholars have examined their unbalanced theories concerning manuscript history and admitted that their agreements were weak to non-existent.
Sadly, both men died having never known the joy and peace of claiming Jesus Christ as their Saviour.