Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Westcott & Hort Misquotes

I was browsing the website of a church I used to attend in VA some years ago. On their website, they link to an article from the Dean Burgon society to help explain their KJVO position.
Basically, the article employs several arguments- including an argument from preservation, and the majority argument, both of which are dealt with in my "New Bible Versions" link to the right.
It also gives the false impression that all modern versions employ dynamic translation. However, it also engages in the standard bashing of men associated with new versions, misrepresenting them like so many others before.

From the article:
"Secondly, current day New Version Potentate Princeton Theological Seminary Professor Bruce Metzger has a low regard for the Scriptures as well."

"New Version Potentate." What is the purpose of this?

"He doubts Moses alone authored the Pentateuch. As Co-editor of the New Oxford Annoted Bible RSV he wrote or approved of notes asserting that the Pentateuch is 'a matrix of myth, legend, and history' that 'took shape over a long period of time' and is 'not to be read as history.' Job is called an 'ancient folktale.' And the book of Isaiah was written by as least three men. Jonah is called 'popular legend.'"

Metzger's views on the literalness of parts of the OT does not cancel out his belief in inspiration.

"Then add to that that Metzger claims that the Gospels are composed of material gathered from oral tradition. The problem is, he completely ignores the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the testimony of the Bible itself!"

Do you not expect that the gospel writers had already heard many details about the life of Christ prior to writing the Gospels? This does not in any way cancel out divine inspiration. He is merely pointing out what they had to work with. The Bible is like Christ, both human and Divine; the human character of its authors vetted and imprinted with the sure guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Of course, Westcott and Hort get rather severe treatment as well. The following is from the Westcott and Hort Resource Centre, and presents the truth behind three misquotations in this article.


"I reject the word infallibility of Holy Scripture overwhelming." (Westcott, The Life and Letters of Brook Foss Westcott, Vol. I, p.207)

This misquote comes in several flavours. Sometimes you will see it with or without a hyphen (sometimes the hyphen is removed to make it appear even more like a continuous thought, a complete sentence). Other times, you may also see the word "overwhelming" changed to "overwhelmingly", in an attempt to fix the grammar problem that arises from chopping off the first half of the original sentence. Both alterations are attempts to remove the clues that something is amiss with the quote - and there is definitely something amiss.

It comes from Life and Letters of Westcott, Vol. I, p.207, and here it is in entirety (misquote in bold, context in underline):

"My dear Hort - I am very glad to have seen both your note and Lightfoot's - glad too that we have had such an opportunity of openly speaking. For I too "must disclaim setting forth infallibility" in the front of my convictions. All I hold is, that the more I learn, the more I am convinced that fresh doubts come from my own ignorance, and that at present I find the presumption in favor of the absolute truth - I reject the word infallibility - of Holy Scripture overwhelming. Of course I feel difficulties which at present I cannot solve, and which I never hope to solve."

This quote is part of a three-way discussion between Westcott, Hort and Lightfoot, when they were initially considering working together to produce a commentary of the entire New Testament. Part of the discussion is lost, but a couple of letters from Hort remain (see misquote #3 below for part of one of them). The quote as originally presented was not the complete sentence, but was prefaced with with an affirmation of "the absolute truth of Holy Scripture". Any "difficulties" and "doubts" he sees in scripture "come from my own ignorance" - i.e. when he sees a problem, he recognizes and admits that the problem is with him, not with Scripture.

Also, how can he reject the infallibility of Scripture and affirm the "absolute truth" of Scripture in the same sentence? Note that Westcott is not rejecting the concept in inerrant scripture (as numerous other quotes demonstrate), but rather he has problems with the word "infallibility", which he felt was limited and "mechanical". Elsewhere, Westcott said "Mere mechanical infallibility is but a poor substitute for a plenary Inspiriation, which finds its expression in the right relation between partial human knowledge and absolute Divine truth." (Introduction to the Study of the Gospels, Westcott, p.41). By saying "I reject the word infallibility", he is not saying he rejects the idea that scripture is inerrant, but rather dislikes the word because he feels it is inadequate and doesn't go far enough - he feels it is "poor substitute for plenary Inspiration".


"I never read an account of a miracle but I seem instinctively to feel its improbability and discover some want of evidence in the account of it." (Life and Letters of Westcott, Volume I, pg. 52).

Before discussing the contents of the quote, I would like to point out that this quote of Westcott's was made when he was 22 years of age while he was a student, and approximately 34 years prior to the publication of Greek New Testament of 1881. How many current authors that oppose Westcott and Hort, such as Ruckman, Gipp, Fuller, etc., would like to be held to the quotes they made when they were that young? Probably none. Beliefs can change quite a bit in 34 years, as evidenced in most Christians.

Context reveals the point of the quote. Here is the entire journal entry, and the next:

"11th August. - James i. I do not recollect noticing the second verse ever before in the way I have. How sincerely do I wish that I could "rejoice in temptation." I never read an account of a miracle but I seem instinctively to feel its improbability, and discover some want of evidence in the account of it. The day is extremely warm.

31st August. - Hooker. V.S.D. Oh, the weakness of my faith compared with that of others! So wild, so sceptical am I. I cannot yield. Lord, look on me ; teach me Thy truth, and let me care for nothing else in evil report and good. Let me uphold nothing as necessary, but only Thy truth."

Here Westcott, as a 22-year-old student, is lamenting his own weaknesses. He is not expressing his disbelieve in miracles, but admitting a natural tendency to want an explanation - that he struggled with simply accepting them by faith. That doesn't mean he did not accept by faith the accounts of the miracles, but rather that his first reaction (which he did not let determine his view on miracles) was to desire some evidence of them. In later years, Westcott went on to write many books, and wrote many things specifically about the absolute truth of the miracles as recorded in Scripture. He even wrote a book solely on this subject about 12 years later, called "Characteristics of the Gospel Miracles" in 1859.


"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" (Life and Letters of Hort, Vol. II, pg. 69)

This quote comes from a letter Westcott wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury, on March 4, 1890. The surrounding context from the letter is below (underlining added):

" The picture which you draw is sad, but I too, in my way, know that this is true. We want - and I know that I want, which is something - a living faith. When we are quite sure that God is speaking today - and He is speaking - we shall not grow wild in discussing how He once spoke.
I have purposely refrained from reading Lux Mundi, but I am quite sure that our Christian faith ought not to be perilled on any predetermined view of what the history and character of the documents contained in the O.T. must be. What we are bound to hold is that the O.T., substaintially as we receive it, is the Divine record of the discipline of Israel. This is remains, whatever criticism may determine or leave undetermined as to constituent parts. 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 that 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 should 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.)"

Westcott believed it was not literal prose, but poetical, and that "Poetry is, I think, a thousand times more true than History" - Westcott believed that it was true, just in poetical form instead of simply literal historical prose. He affirmed that the O.T. is the Divine record, given by God. He affirmed that the first three chapters of Genesis, although he did not take them literally as a record of six 24-hour periods, disclose a Gospel (he even wrote an essay, "The Gospel of Creation"). He affirmed the reality of Adam, the Fall, etc. (see this link for some quotes). He affirmed that God speaks in the language and style of the people he is speaking to - and the ancient Hebrews had a strong fondess for different styles, including poetic, apocalyptic, etc. Although his view on the first three chapters of Genesis is not the same as many modern Evangelicals, it was typical of the church of his day, and many in the church both before and after him, including most other Anglicans (which would most probably include Burgon, the KJV translators, etc.). To hold this quote as heretical is to hold the vast majority of the historical church as likewise heretical.

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