The Theory of Westcott and Hort
"The New Greek Text" Was Constructed
We feel that this little volume, so uncompromisingly
condemnatory as it is of the Version of 1881, and particularly of the Greek
Text upon which that Version is based, should not go forth without at least a
brief description of the theory upon which Drs. Westcott and Hort constructed
their "New Text." That theory is set forth by themselves in their long and
elaborate Introduction to the New Testament, which was published simultaneously
with the R.V. in 1881; and we need hardly say that, to themselves at least, and
doubtless to others besides, there appeared to be good and sufficient reasons
for the conclusions reached by them.
But to us it seems that their conclusions are based wholly upon inferences and conjectures, and not only so, but they are directly contrary to all the known and pertinent facts. Our suspicions are aroused to begin with, by the circumstance that Drs. Westcott and Hort have arrived at their conclusions by the exercise of that mysterious faculty of "critical intuition," wherewith the "higher critics" of modern times claim to be endowed, but of the nature and workings of which they can give no explanation whatever. We refer to the faculty whereby certain scholars of the German School of higher criticism claim ability to discern that various books of the Bible such as Genesis, Isaiah, and even the Gospels are of composite character, the work of various authors and editors, who (they tell us) welded together several independent documents (whereof all trace has disappeared), and for the existence of which, or of any one of them, there is not a scintilla of proof.
The same marvelous and mysterious faculty of "critical intuition" enables the possessors thereof (so they assure us) to resolve these (supposedly) composite documents into their original constituent elements, and even to assign to each of these "originals" the approximate date when it was first composed.
In like manner Drs. Westcott and Hort set forth, at prodigious length, what they are pleased to denominate their theory of "Conflation." Indeed that blessed word- probably new to nearly all of our readers-is made to carry most of the dead weight of their theory, which theory certainly has the attribute of novelty, Whatever else it may lack. But we hasten to explain that while Drs. Westcott and Hort admit that our Textus Receptus, in practically the form in which we now have it, existed in and previous to the fourth century, and that it was "dominant" in Syria and elsewhere, they tell us that it is (and was) a "conflation," that is to say a composite text, formed by the blowing together (which is what the word "conflate" means) of two previously existing Texts.
Do they offer any proof of this? None whatever. They simply discerned it by means of the mysterious faculty of critical intuition. But how do we know that they possess this ability, and have used it correctly in this case? We have their own word for it-nothing more. But inasmuch as the method whereby the modern school of "higher criticism," which originated in the last century in Germany, reaches its "results" is doubtless quite new to most of our readers, we owe it to them to make our explanation of the Westcott and Hort theory, (which bears a close family resemblance to that now famous method), as plain and simple as possible. And this we will do, if God permit.
Thus far we have only the word of two scholars for it, which is,
(1) that they have discerned that the Received text was formed by the "conflation," or fusing together, sometime previous to the 4th century, of two primitive Texts of Scripture; and
(2) that they (the aforesaid scholars) have been able (how, they do not explain, and presumably we should be unable to understand the process if they did) to resolve this composite Text into its original constituent elements.
But this is only the first step in the procedure, which brings us at last to the conclusion that the Text of Westcott and Hort of 1870-1881 is the true Text of the original Scripture, and therefore should be adopted in the place of the Received Text. The only thing they set forth as a warrant for this first Step of the process is that, after a careful scrutiny of the entire Received Text, they find seven passages, some of them short phrases or single words, which look to them as if they night have been formed by the welding together of several originally diverse readings. Other scholars find nothing in these passages to indicate "conflation". But if there were the clearest evidences thereof in those seven scattered passages, what proof would that afford that the entire Text was a "conflation" of two distinct pre-existing Texts? None whatever. Therefore, the Westcott and Hort "theory" (if it were proper to designate it by that term) breaks down completely at the initial stage.
But we proceed to trace the process-which is interesting at least as an intellectual curiosity-through its successive stages. Having assumed the existence of two distinct primitive Texts, earlier than what they are pleased to call the "domiern" the corrupted Text" (which corresponds to our Received Text), they give them the names "Western" and "Neutral," respectively. Now, inasmuch as these "primitive Texts" are wholly the creatures of their scholarly imagination, they have the indisputable right to bestow upon them whatever names they please. But we must ever keep in mind that there is not a shadow of proof that these primitive texts," or either of them, ever existed. What is, however, overwhelmingly established, and is admitted by Drs. Westcott and Hort, is that a text, practically identical with our Received Text, existed, and was "dominant" in Antioch and elsewhere, in and before the 4th century.
The next in the string of pure conjectures and bold assumptions whereby Dr. Hort (for the theory appears to be his personal contribution to the joint enterprise) arrives at his conclusion, is that, of the two supposed primitive Texts, the "Neutral" was the purer Text, and the "Western" the corrupted Text. The speculation is now getting far out of reach. For how can we have even a conjectural opinion as to which of two supposed Texts was the purer, when neither of them is known to have existed at all? Surely Dean Burgon is amply justified in saying that the entire speculation is "an excursion into cloud-land; a dream, and nothing more."
But we have not yet reached the end of the matter. For what avails it to know that the supposed "Neutral Text" existed in the Ali century, and that it was a correct representation of the original inspired Writings, if that "Neutral Text" no longer exists? But Dr. Hort is equal to the difficulty; for he completes the long chain of guesswork by declaring that Codex B (Vaticanus) is a representative of the supposed "Neutral" Text. Is there anything in the nature of proof offered in support of this radical assertion? Nothing whatever. And how could there be? For until we have proof that the (wholly imaginary) "Neutral Text" had an actual existence, and that it existed before the Received (or so-called "Syrian") Text came into being, how can we even consider the question whether or not the Vatican Codex is a survivor of that "Neutral Text"? Dean Burgon is not amiss when he characterizes the whole theory as "mere moonshine."
Indeed, it seems to us to be either a case of solemn trifling with a matter of supreme importance, or a deliberate attempt to lead astray the English-speaking nations, and through them the whole world, and that without the support of a scintilla of real proof, but rather in the face of all the pertinent facts. As Dean Burgon, in his exhaustive analysis of Dr. Hort's theory,says: "Bold assertions abound (as usual with this repected writer) but proof, he never attempts any. Not a particle of 'evidence' is adduced" And again: "But we demur to this weak imagination (which only by courtesy can be called a 'theory') on every ground, and are constrained to remonstrate with our would-be guides at every step. They assume everything. They prove nothing. And the facts of the case lend them no favour at all."
Truly, that with which we are here dealing is not a theory, but a dream; a thing composed entirely of gratuitous assumptions, "destitute not only of proof, but even of probability." Such is the clever device, the bit of intellectual legerdemain, whereby a group of scholars were persuaded to accept a single Ms. of the 4th century (for Dr. Hort rests practically his entire case upon the Codex Vaticanus) as being proof of an imaginary text, supposedly more ancient than that which is acknowledged as "dominant" over wide areas long before that copy was made.
The following by Dean Burgon is worthy of particular notice: "The one great fact which especially troubles him (Dr. Hort) and his joint editor (as well it may) is the Traditional Greek Text of the New Testament Scriptures. Call this text Erasmian or Complutensian, the text of Stephens, or of Beza, or of the Elzevirs, call it the Received or the Traditional, or by whatever name you please-the fact remains that a text has come down to us which is attested by a general consensus Of ancient Copies, ancient Fathers, and ancient Versions. "Obtained from a variety of sources, this Text proves to be essentially the same in all. That it requires revision in respect to many of its lesser details is undeniable; but it is at least as certain that it is an excellent text as it stands, and that the use of it will never lead critical students of the Scriptures seriously astray. "In marked contrast with this (received) Text (which is identical with the text of every extant Lectionary of the Greek Church) is that contained in a little handful of documents of which the most famous are the Codices Vaticanus and Sinaiticus."
The editors of the R. V. have systematically magnified the merits of those viciously corrupt manuscripts, while they haw, at le same time, sedulously ignored their many glaring and scandalous defects and blemishes, manifestly determined, by right or by wrong, to establish their paramount authority, when it is in any way possible to do so. And when that is clearly impossible, then their purpose apparently is "to treat their errors as the ancient Egyptians treated their cats, dogs, monkeys, beetles, and other vermin, namely, to embalm them, and pay them divine honours. Such, for the last fifty years, has been the practice of the dominant school of textual criticism among ourselves' see Bishop Ellicott in Defence
But what have the Revisers themselves to say to all this? And how do they attempt to justify their conclusions and the methods whereby those conclusions were reached? Our readers will doubtless be asking these questions; and we are able to answer them in the most authoritative way, for the chairman of the Revision Committee, Bishop Ellicott, has himself put forth two replies to the criticisms of the R.V. published by Dean Burgon and others. One of Bishop Ellicott's papers appeared in 1882. The other was a matured defence, in the form of a book, The Revised Version of Holy Scripture, published in 1901, just twenty years after the first edition of the R.V.
An examination of what Bishop Ellicott has thus put forth in defense of the work of his committee tends to confirm, rather than to weaken, the objections we have herein advanced. Thus, in respect to the matter which we esteem of chief importance, that is to say, the adoption by the Committee of a "New Greek Text," which follows closely that of Westcott and Hort, Bishop Ellicott rests his case entirely upon the opinions of Lachmann, Tischendorf, and Tregelles, assuming their favorite principle of "ancient witnesses only" to be sound, and making no attempt whatever to meet the facts and arguments to the contrary, as urged by Scrivener, Burgon, Cook, Beckett, Salmon, Malan, and others.
Now the matter in dispute is precisely this, whether the guiding principle of Lachmann and his two successors, which had its spring in the school of German criticism just then starting on its devastating career, is a sound and safe principle to follow? Bishop Ellicott, in both his published defences, studiously avoids this issue. When, therefore, we consider the tremendous attack made upon that critical principle by scholars of the first rank, and that Bishop Ellicott, in attempting to answer them, ignored that part of the case altogether, we are quite warranted in drawing the conclusion that the objections urged against that principle are unanswerable. But more than that, Bishop Ellicott himself had urged in print the very same objections against the method of Lachmann and his modern school of textual criticism. For, in his work On Revision etc. (1870), the learned Bishop had declared that Lachmann's was "a Text composed on the narrowest and most exclusive principles;" that it was really based on little more than four manuscripts."
Moreover, concerning Tischendorf he had said: "The case of Tischendorf is still more easily disposed of. Which of this most inconstant critic's Texts are we to select? Surely not the last, in which an exaggerated preference for a single manuscript has betrayed him into an almost childlike infirmity of judgment." Tregelles also he had condemned in terms equally uncompromising. Yet, when the defense of the R.V. depended upon it, this learned scholar, who was-more than any other individual-responsible for the form finally given to it, can do no other or better than to appeal to the opinion of the very same modern and radical editors whose work he had himself previously declared to be unworthy of confidence!
At the time Bishop Ellicott's defence of 1882 was prepared, Westcott and Hort had just published their "New Greek Text," and the supporting "theory;" and so Bishop Ellicott sought to avail himself thereof, and did so by the plea that those who objected to the R.V. ought to meet that theory. He did not have to wait long, for Dean Burgon's smashing attack, strongly supported by the ablest textual critic of the day (Dr. Scrivener) and others, appeared about the same time. To all this Bishop Ellicott made no response (so far as we are aware) until in 1901 he published the book named above. Turning to that volume we find that again he ignores entirely the main issue.
Moreover, we find that now, instead of endorsing Dr. Hort, upon whom he leaned so hard in 1882, and by whom the whole Revision Committee was led astray, he virtually throws him overboard For he cites a work of Dr. Salmon, of Trinity College, Dublin (1897), in which (to quote the Bishop's own words) "the difficulties and anomalies and apparent perversities in the text of Westcott and Hort are compared with the decisions of the Revisers." He finds himself unable, as he admits, to "resist the conviction that Dr. Salmon, in his interesting Criticism of the Text of the New Testament, has successfully indicated three or more particulars which must cause some arrest in our final judgment on the text of Westcott and Hort."
The three particulars which Bishop Ellicott points out, which are exceedingly important, are these (we quote the Bishop's own words): "In the first place it cannot be denied that, in the introductory volume, Dr. Hort has shown too distinct a tendency to elevate probable hypotheses into the realm of established facts," which is just another way of saying that Dr. Hort depended upon guesswork, as Dean Burgon had pointed out in 1883. "In the second place, in the really important matter of the nomenclature of the ancient types of Text ... it does not seem possible to accept the titles of the four-fold division of these families of manuscripts which has been adopted by Westcott and Hort.... The objections to this arrangement and to this nomenclature are, as Dr. Salmon very clearly shows, both reasonable and serious."
So saying Bishop Ellicott throws overboard what (as we have shown above) is vital to Dr. Hort's theory. "The third drawback to the unqualified acceptance of the Text of Westcott and Hort is their continuous and studied disregard of Western authorities.... To this grave drawback Dr. Salmon has devoted a chapter to which the attention of the student may very profitably be directed. I am persuaded that, if there should be any fresh discovery of textual authorities, it is by no means unlikely that they may be of a 'Western' character, and if so, that many decisions in the Text of Westcott and Hort will have to be modified by some editor of the future. lit any rate, taking the critical evidence as we now find it, we cannot but feel that Dr. Salmon has made out his case."
These admissions are creditable to the honesty and candour of the one who made them; but as regards their bearing upon the subject of our present inquiry, it seems clear that, considering how greatly to the interest of the Bishop and his cause it was to uphold the critical theories of Dr. Hort, and to maintain his authority as an editor those admissions afford very strong reason indeed for the belief that Dean Burgon's drastic criticism of the Westcott and Hort Text, and of their "theory" as well, was fully warranted. Bishop Ellicott advances the feeble plea, in extenuation of the undue influence which Dr. Hort exerted over the Revision Committee, that in only 64 passages did they accept the readings of Westcott and Hort where they had not "and the support of Lachmann, or Tischendorf, or Tregelles." This shows, upon the confession of the chairman of the Revision Committee, just what support can be claimed for the "New Greek Text." Hereby we are informed that it rests sometimes on Westcott and Hort alone, but that it usually has the support of at least one of the three modern editors, each of whom has staked his all upon the viciously unsound principle of following exclusively the two depraved 4th century Codices.
Now, since we have Bishop Ellicott's own admission that these modern editors, each and all, are unreliable, it is not too much to say that the attempt to defend the R.V. has utterly collapsed, and that the objections of Dean Burgon and others remain indeed "unanswered and unanswerable."
A Comparison as to Style
In comparing the two Versions in respect to their literary merits, the Bishop of Lincoln, in a conference address, said: "To pass from one to the other is, as it were, to alight from a well-built and well-hung carriage, which glides easily over a macadamized road, and to get into one which has bad springs or none at all, and in which you are jolted in ruts with aching bones, and over the stones of a newly mended and rarely traversed road." And Dean Burgon has this to say: "The A.V. should have been jealously retained wherever it was possible: but on the contrary every familiar cadence has been dislocated; the congenial flow of almost every verse of Scripture has been almost hopelessly marred. So many of those little connecting words, which give life and continuity to a narrative, have been vexatiously displaced, so that a perpetual sense of annoyance is created. The countless minute alterations, which have been needlessly introduced into every familiar page, prove at last as tormenting as a swarm of flies to a weary traveller on a summer's day. To speak plainly, the book has been made unreadable."
And Bishop Wordsworth expresses himself thus: "I fear we must say in candour that in the Revised Version we meet in every page with small changes which are vexations, teasing, and irritating, even the more so because they are small; which seem almost to be made for the sake of change" And this is not only the view of Bible scholars. A writer in a recent edition of a popular household magazine expresses, in the words that follow, what is undoubtedly the view of a great host of Bible readers. Speaking of one of the modern speech versions she said: "The one thing concerning it to which 1 object is that the sonorous sweep and beauty of the Bible are eliminated in an effort to be more literal in translation. So ingrained in my mentality is the King James Version, that any word of change in it hits me like a blow."
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