The Inside Story of Westcott and Hort

Charles Seet

Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation (Ps 24:3–5).

Their Lives and Work

Brooke Foss Westcott (1825–1901), and Fenton J A Hort (1828–1892) were two renowned Anglican scholars at Cambridge University. They were known to be the chief architects of the critical theory which resulted in the revised Greek Testament which has replaced the Textus Receptus (TR) or Received Text. At the age of 23, in late 1851, Hort wrote to a friend: “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; it is a blessing there are such early ones.” This early prejudice against the TR began Hort’s life-long crusade against it, and efforts to see it replaced with the Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Sinaiticus. Scarcely more than a year later, the plan of a joint revision of the text of the Greek Testament was first agreed upon with Westcott.

In 1857, five Anglican clergymen started efforts to secure a revision of the English Bible. Being aware of this, Westcott and Hort worked together on the Greek text for twenty years, preparing for the day when they would be appointed to sit on the New Testament revision committee. They also concocted an imaginary theory (150 pages long) that would be tight enough to convince others to favour a change in the Greek text. The false assumptions are these:

  1. They assumed that between 250 AD and 350 AD there was a revision of the Greek text which produced the Majority text. Discordant manuscripts were blended together to form this text, and thus many additional verses and passages were added.
  2. They say that this revision caused the original text to be lost (until the Vatican and Sinai codices were found).
  3. They say that this was a conspiracy by the whole Orthodox church which has successfully suppressed the original up to and including the present time.

These are the standard arguments against the Text of the King James Version (KJV). They are not fair. They are not honest. They do not deal with the actual facts of the case which show that the earlier manuscripts were probably from a mutilated text produced by the heretical sect called the Adoptionists (a form of gnosticism) late in the second century AD (described in Eusebius’ History). Orthodox churches recognised these shorter texts as false ones and did not use them. They continued to preserve and make copies of the true text (which is the Majority Text).

In 1870, The Church of England finally passed a resolution to revise the English Bible. The New Testament revision committee finally consisted of 25 scholars (though only about 16 eventually attended the meetings) which included Westcott and Hort. The committee worked for ten years in the Jerusalem chamber, and these two scholars swept the Revision Committee along with them after work commenced. In fact, the “Cambridge trio” (Westcott, Hort and Lightfoot) colluded with others to dominate the meetings with their views of the text and to defeat any who opposed them. Their letters reveal this conspiracy:

Westcott wrote to Hort, May 28, 1870, “Your note came with one from Ellicott this morning…. Though I think that Convocation is not competent to initiate such a measure, yet I feel that as ‘we three’ are together it would be wrong not to ‘make the best of it’ as Lightfoot says … There is some hope that alternative readings might find a place in the margin” (Westcott, Life of Westcott, I:231).

Westcott wrote to Lightfoot, June 4, 1870: “Ought we not to have a conference before the first meeting for Revision? There are many points on which it is important that we should be agreed” (Westcott, Life of Westcott, I:391).

Hort wrote to Williams: “The errors and prejudices, which we agree in wishing to remove, can surely be more wholesomely and also more effectually reached by individual efforts of an indirect kind than by combined open assault. At present very many orthodox but rational men are being unawares acted on by influences which will assuredly bear good fruit in due time, if the process is allowed to go on quietly; and I cannot help fearing that a premature crisis would frighten back many into the merest traditionalism” (Hort, Life of Hort, I:400).

The only voice defending the Textus Receptus was Dr Scrivener, probably the foremost scholar of the day in the manuscripts of the Greek New Testament and the history of the Text. But he was systematically outvoted by the Cambridge trio and outdone by Hort’s powerful debating skill. When the revision was completed, they had altered the Greek Text in 5337 places, thus violating the original rule that had been set for the committee of not altering the Greek Text unless absolutely necessary to do so.

Today, even naturalistic critics have come to the conclusion that the Westcott and Hort critical theory is erroneous at every point. Epp confesses that “we simply do not have a theory of the text.” K W Clark says of the Westcott and Hort text: “The textual history postulated for the Textus Receptus which we now trust has been exploded.” And again, “The textual history that the Westcott-Hort text represents is no longer tenable in the light of newer discoveries and fuller textual analysis. In the effort to construct a congruent history, our failure suggests that we have lost the way, that we have reached a dead end, and that only a new and different insight will enable us to break through.”

Their Beliefs

According to D A Waite, Westcott and Hort denied certain fundamental doctrines of the Christian Faith (see D A Waite, Heresies of Westcott and Hort [Collingswood: The Bible For Today, 1979]). The two scholars held modernistic views.

Hort clearly believed in the new theory of evolution. He wrote to the Rev John Ellerton, April 3, 1860: “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” (Hort, Life of Hort, I:416).

Westcott did not believe in the literal interpretation of the creation account of Genesis. Westcott wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury on Old Testament criticism, March 4, 1890: “No one now, I suppose, holds that the first three chapters of Genesis, for example, give a literal history—I could never understand how any one reading them with open eyes could think they did” (Westcott, Life of Westcott, II:69).

Both Westcott and Hort were in favour of the worship of Mary. They were both heavily influenced by the “Oxford Movement” of Cardinal Newman. Cardinal Newman, whom they greatly admired, was a high churchman who led many back into the Roman Catholic Church. According to Benjamin Wilkerson: “By the year 1870, so powerful had become the influence of the Oxford Movement, that a theological bias in favour of Rome was affecting men in high authority. Many of the most sacred institutions of Protestant England had been assailed and some of them had been completely changed. The attack on the Thirty-nine Articles by Tract 90, and the subversion of fundamental Protestant doctrines within the Church of England had been so bold and thorough, that an attempt to substitute a version which would theologically and legally discredit our common Protestant Version would not be a surprise.”

Westcott and Hort, in their own words, openly confessed their adoration of Mary. Westcott wrote from France to his fiancee, 1847: “After leaving the monastery, we shaped our course to a little oratory which we discovered on the summit of a neighbouring hill…. Fortunately we found the door open. It is very small, with one kneeling place; and behind a screen was a ‘Pieta’ the size of life [ie a Virgin and dead Christ]…. Had I been alone I could have knelt there for hours” (Westcott, Life of Westcott, I:81).

Westcott wrote to Archbishop Benson, November 17, 1865: “I wish I could see to what forgotten truth Mariolatry bears witness” (Westcott, Life of Westcott, II:50).

Hort wrote to Westcott: “I am very far from pretending to understand completely the oft-renewed vitality of Mariolatry” (Hort, Life of Hort, II:49)

Hort wrote to Westcott, October 17, 1865: “I have been persuaded for many years that Mary-worship and ‘Jesus’-worship have very much in common in their causes and their results” (Hort, Life of Hort, II:50).

Their Secret Beliefs and Practices

Although the integrity of Gail Riplinger’s work New Age Bible Versions (Ohio: AV Publications, 1993), has been questioned with charges that she has made up a lot of the information or got them from unreliable sources, it may be worth to mention her findings, based on the biographies of Westcott and Hort written by their sons, that:

  1. As a Cambridge undergraduate Westcott organised a club which he named Hermes, a mythological guide of departed souls to Hades. This club met from 1845–48 and was evidently a precursor to the Ghost Club.
  2. Westcott and Hort were among the founders of the Ghost Club (or “Bogie Club” as scoffers called it) in 1850, with the purpose of investigating “ghosts and all supernatural appearances of effects, being disposed to believe such things really exist.” Such practices are condemned in the Scriptures in Deut 18:11.
  3. Both of them were friends of Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud, and Carl Jung who were enemies of the cause of Christ.
Their Fruit

Some have alleged that the background of Westcott and Hort is totally irrelevant to the issue concerning modern versions like the New International Version (NIV). But this allegation is untrue. Bringing up their background is not just an ad hominem argument. If Westcott and Hort had not been the kind of men they were, but had been true, regenerate, God-fearing, Bible-believing scholars like Dr Scrivener, how different the New Testament of the Revised Version (RV) would have been. There would have been no critical theory concocted to sway the committee into rejecting the Textus Receptus. There would have been no pressure to remove portions of Scripture that are not found in the “early manuscripts.” Indeed, the RV might have been an improvement on the KJV if its text had not been altered, and modern translations today would have been based on the Majority text. The background of the two Cambridge scholars has therefore made a very important difference in the recent history of the English Bible.

The foregoing information on the lives and beliefs of the two men have demonstrated that they were hardly objective in their bigoted rejection of the Textus Receptus, but were deeply prejudiced against it by their liberal theology, anti-Protestant and anti-Evangelical stance, and by their low view of Scripture. Yet institutions and seminaries have continued to accept and use their views and dicta as if they were the totally objective and unbiased judgements of expert textual critics, even when later naturalistic critics have pointed out how erroneous they are.

Moreover, the apostate spirit that motivated Westcott and Hort, as seen in their alleged disobedience to God’s Law prohibiting necromancy and spiritism, their persistent rejection of fundamental doctrines, and their elevation of humanistic scholarship above the authority of God’s Word, makes them very dangerous to the church. They should never have been allowed to come near to the precious Scriptures with their editorial scalpels. By tampering with the very sustenance that the flock needs in order to survive, they have inflicted much damage on the church for generations to come. They entered in as grievous wolves, not sparing the flock (Acts 20:29).

After Westcott and Hort published their revised Greek New Testament, the only other available printed editions of the Greek text are the United Bible Society’s Greek New Testament (UBSGNT) and Nestle’s Greek New Testament. Both of these are derived from the Westcott and Hort text. Although the later editions claim to be eclectic, the vestiges of Westcott and Hort remain. For instance, the UBSGNT editions persist in questioning the authenticity of the last 12 verses of Mark (Mark 16:9–20), the passage on the woman taken in adultery (John 7:53–8:11), and the Johannine Comma (1 John 5:7–8), following Westcott and Hort.

The New Testament of all modern English translations except the NKJV are based on these editions of the Greek New Testament. Besides that, Bible translators all over the world are using these Greek New Testaments for their translation work. All of these therefore bear the unmistakable legacy of Westcott and Hort to some extent. Thus, the damage done by them has been very extensive.


In conclusion, let it be said that no matter how good any modern version of the New Testament is in other ways, it is clearly blemished if the work of Westcott and Hort is present in it. The presence of their work means that it is based on a defective text. Those who want to honour the Word of God must not promote the use of any of these versions by the church, not because the content of the version is evil in itself, but because the attitude of being contented to use a blemished version rather than an existing unblemished one, dishonours God. If God has taken the trouble to preserve for His people a good Greek text of the New Testament for 18 centuries, how dishonouring it would be to Him if His people now chose instead to change over to a version that is based on a defective text.

Let the biblical story of Nadab and Abihu be a lesson to all:

And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which he commanded them not. And there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said unto Aaron, This is it that the LORD spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace. And Moses called Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Uzziel the uncle of Aaron, and said unto them, Come near, carry your brethren from before the sanctuary out of the camp. So they went near, and carried them in their coats out of the camp; as Moses had said. And Moses said unto Aaron, and unto Eleazar and unto Ithamar, his sons, Uncover not your heads, neither rend your clothes; lest ye die, and lest wrath come upon all the people: but let your brethren, the whole house of Israel, bewail the burning which the LORD hath kindled” (Lev 10:1–6).

Published in The Burning Bush, Volume 4 Number 1, January 1998