HOW ACCURATE WAS/IS THE 1881 WESTCOTT AND HORT GREEK NEW TESTAMENT?

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The New Testament in the Original Greek is a Greek-language version of the New Testament published in 1881. It is also known as the Westcott and Hort text, after its editors Brooke Foss Westcott (1825–1901) and Fenton John Anthony Hort (1828–1892). (Textual scholars use the abbreviation “WH“.)[1] It is a critical text (master Greek text of the NT seeking to ascertain the original wording of the original documents), compiled from some of the oldest New Testament fragments and texts that had been discovered at the time. The two editors worked together for 28 years.

Westcott and Hort state: “[It is] our belief that even among the numerous unquestionably spurious readings of the New Testament there are no signs of deliberate falsification of the text for dogmatic purposes.”[2] They find that without orthographic differences, doubtful textual variants exist only in one-sixtieth of the whole New Testament (with most of them being comparatively trivial variations), with the substantial variations forming hardly more than one-thousandth of the entire text.[3]

According to Hort, “Knowledge of Documents should precede Final Judgments upon Readings.” The two editors favored two manuscripts: Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus. They also believed that the combination of Codex Bezae with the Old Latin and the Old Syriac represents the original form of the New Testament text, especially when it is shorter than other forms of the text, such as the majority of the Byzantine text-type.[4] In this, they followed one of the primary principles of their textual criticism ruleslectio brevior, sometimes a little to far, as in the theory of Western non-interpolations, which has since been rejected.[5]

Hort wrote in the introduction to his edition of the Greek text:

They are all omissions, or, to speak more correctly, non-interpolations, of various length: that is to say, the original record has here, to the best of our belief, suffered interpolation in all the extant Non-Western texts. The almost universal tendency of transcribers to make their text as full as possible, and to eschew omissions, is amply exemplified in the New Testament. Omissions of genuine words and clauses in the Alexandrian and Syrian texts are very rare, and always easy to explain. [Hort uses the word ‘Syrian’ to denote the large class of later manuscripts now more commonly called ‘Byzantine.’] In the Western text, with which we are here concerned, they are bolder and more numerous, but still almost always capable of being traced to a desire of giving a clearer and more vigorous presentation of the sense. But hardly any of the omissions now in question can be so explained, none in a satisfactory manner. On the other hand the doubtful words are superfluous, and in some cases intrinsically suspicious, to say the least; while the motive for their insertion is usually obvious. With a single peculiar exception (Matt. xxvii 49), in which the extraneous words are omitted by the Syrian as well as by the Western text, the Western noninterpolations are confined to the last three chapters of St Luke. [B.F. Westcott and F.J.A. Hort, The New Testament in the Original Greek, vol. II, Introduction and Appendix (Cambridge and London, 1881; 2nd ed., 1896), p. 176.]

9781949586121 BIBLE DIFFICULTIES THE NEW TESTAMENT DOCUMENTS

WH Edition

Westcott and Hort distinguished four text types in their studies. The most recent is the Syrian, or Byzantine text-type (eastern), of which the newest example is the Textus Receptus and thus from the critical text view is less likely reliable. The Western text-type is much older but tends to paraphrase, so according to the critical text view also lacks dependability. The Alexandrian text-type, exemplified in the Codex Ephraemi, exhibits a polished Greek style. The two scholars identified their favorite text type as “Neutral text”, exemplified by two 4th-century manuscripts, the Codex Vaticanus (known to scholars since the 15th century), and the Codex Sinaiticus (discovered in 1859), both of which they relied on heavily (albeit not exclusively) for this edition. This text has only a few changes of the original.[6] This edition is based on the critical works, especially of Tischendorf and Tregelles.[7] The minuscules play a minimal role in this edition.[8]

Westcott and Hort worked on their Testament from 1853 until its completion in 1881.[9] It was followed by an Introduction and Appendix by Hort appearing in a second volume in 1882. In 1892, a revised edition was released by F. C. Burkitt. Francis Crawford Burkitt, Fellowship of the British Academy (FBA) (1864 – 1935) was an English theologian and scholar. As Norris Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge from 1905 until shortly before his death, Burkitt was a sturdy critic of the notion of a distinct “Caesarean Text” of the New Testament put forward by B. H. Streeter and others.

BIBLE DIFFICULTIES

Reception of Westcott and Hort

The edition of Westcott and Hort began a new epoch in the history of textual criticism.[6] Most critical editions published after Westcott and Hort share their preference of the Alexandrian text-type and therefore are similar to The New Testament in the Original Greek. An exception is the text edited by Hermann von Soden. Soden’s edition stands much closer to the text of Tischendorf than to the text of Westcott and Hort. All editions of Nestle-Aland remain close in textual character to the text WH. Aland reports that, while NA25 text shows, for example, 2,047 differences from von Soden, 1,996 from Vogels, 1,268 from Tischendorf, 1,161 from Bover, and 770 from Merk, it contains only 558 differences from WH text.[10]

The P52 PROJECT THE NEW TESTAMENT DOCUMENTS 4th ed. MISREPRESENTING JESUS

According to Bruce M. Metzger, “the general validity of their critical principles and procedures is widely acknowledged by scholars today.”[11] In 1981 Metzger said:

“The international committee that produced the United Bible Societies Greek New Testament, not only adopted the Westcott and Hort edition as its basic text but followed their methodology in giving attention to both external and internal consideration.”[12]

Philip Comfort gave this opinion:

The text produced by Westcott and Hort is still to this day, even with so many more manuscript discoveries, a very close reproduction of the primitive text of the New Testament. Of course, I think they gave too much weight to Codex Vaticanus alone, and this needs to be tempered. This criticism aside, the Westcott and Hort text is extremely reliable. (…) In many instances where I would disagree with the wording in the Nestle / UBS text in favor of a particular variant reading, I would later check with the Westcott and Hort text and realize that they had often come to the same decision. (…) Of course, the manuscript discoveries of the past one hundred years have changed things, but it is remarkable how often they have affirmed the decisions of Westcott and Hort.[13]

APOSTOLIC FATHERS Lightfoot APOSTOLIC FATHERS

The current Nestle-Aland edition, in its 28th edition, abbreviated NA28, is 99.5 percent the same as Westcott and Hort’s 1881 edition, even with an enormous amount of manuscript discoveries and hundreds of world-renowned textual scholars that take us back to the second and third centuries C.E. evidence in our quest to ascertain the original wording of the original text. Thus, in 138 years as of 2019, so little change evidences the labors of Westcott and Hort to be nothing short of miraculous.

WESTCOTT AND HORT VINDICATED

Textual scholars pretty much mocked Westcott and Hort (WH) believing that they were overzealousness, seeing it as bias too, at least until the 1950s. WH released their critical text in 1881, Hort said that Vaticanus preserved “not only a very ancient text but a very pure line of a very ancient text.” (Westcott and Hort 1882, 251) Later scholars argued that Vaticanus was a scholarly recension: a critical revision or edited text. However, P75 has vindicated Westcott and Hort because of its virtual identity with Vaticanus; it establishes that Vaticanus is essentially a copy of a second-century text, and likely, a copy of the original text, with the exception of a few minor points.

P75 contains most of Luke and John, dating from 175 C.E. to 225 C.E Vaticanus is designated internationally by the symbol “B” (and 03) and is known as an uncial manuscript written on parchment. It is dated to the mid-fourth-century C.E. [c. 350] and originally contained the entire Bible in Greek. At present, Vaticanus’ New Testament is missing parts of Hebrews (Hebrews 9:14 to 13:25), all of First and Second Timothy, Titus, Philemon, and Revelation. Originally, this codex probably had approximately 820 leaves, of which 759 remain.

What kind of weight or evidence do these two manuscripts carry in the eyes of textual scholars? Vaticanus 1209 is a key source for our modern translations. When determining an original reading, this manuscript can stand against other external evidence that would seem to the non-professional to be much more significant. P75 also is one of the weightiest manuscripts that we have and is virtually identical to Vaticanus 1209, which dates 175 to 125 years later than P75. When textual scholars B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort released their critical text in 1881, Hort said that Vaticanus preserved “not only a very ancient text but a very pure line of a very ancient text.” (Westcott and Hort 1882, 251) Later scholars argued that Vaticanus was a scholarly recension: a critical revision or edited text. However, P75 has vindicated Westcott and Hort because of its virtual identity with Vaticanus; it establishes that Vaticanus is essentially a copy of a second-century text, and likely, a copy of the original text, with the exception of a few minor points.

4th ed. MISREPRESENTING JESUS The Complete Guide to Bible Translation-2

Kurt Aland[1] wrote, “P75 shows such a close affinity with the Codex Vaticanus that the supposition of a recension of the text at Alexandria, in the fourth century, can no longer be held.”[2] David C. Parker[3] says of P75 that “it is extremely important for two reasons: “like Vaticanus, it is carefully copied; it is also very early and is generally dated to a period between 175 and 225. Thus, it pre-dates Vaticanus by at least a century. A careful comparison between P75 and Vaticanus in Luke by C.M. Martini demonstrated that P75 was an earlier copy of the same careful Alexandrian text. It is sometimes called proto-Alexandrian. It is our earliest example of a controlled text, one which was not intentionally or extensively changed in successive copying. Its discovery and study have provided proof that the Alexandrian text had already come into existence in the third century.” (Parker 1997, 61) Let us look at the remarks of a few more textual scholars: J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel Wallace,

Even some of the early manuscripts show compelling evidence of being copies of a much earlier source. Consider again Codex Vaticanus, whose text is very much like that of P75 (B and P75 are much closer to each other than B is to [Codex Sinaiticus]). Yet the papyrus is at least a century older than Vaticanus. When P75 was discovered in the 1950s, some entertained the possibility that Vaticanus could have been a copy of P75, but this view is no longer acceptable since the wording of Vaticanus is certainly more primitive than that of P75 in several places.’ They both must go back to a still earlier common ancestor, probably one that is from the early second century. (Komoszewski, M. Sawyer and Wallace 2006, 78)

[1]  (1915 – 1994) was a Professor of New Testament Research and Church History. He founded the Institute for New Testament Textual Research in Münster and served as its first director for many years (1959–83). He was one of the principal editors of The Greek New Testament for the United Bible Societies.

[2]  K. Aland, “The Significance of the Papyri for New Testament Research,” 336.

[3] Professor of Theology and the Director of the Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing at the Department of Theology and Religion, University of Birmingham. Scholar of New Testament textual criticism and Greek and Latin paleography.

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Comfort comments on how we can know that Vaticanus is not a copy of P75: “As was previously noted, Calvin Porter clearly established the fact that P75 displays the kind of text that was used in making codex Vaticanus. However, it is unlikely that the scribe of B used P75 as his exemplar because the scribe of B copied from a manuscript whose line length was 12–14 letters per line. We know this because when the scribe of Codex Vaticanus made large omissions, they were typically 12–14 letters long.[4] The average line length for P75 is about 29–32 letters per line. Therefore, the scribe of B must have used a manuscript like P75, but not P75 itself.”[5]

[4] Brooke F. Westcott and Fenton J. A. Hort, Introduction to the New Testament in the Original Greek (New York: Harper & Bros., 1882; reprint, Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1988), 233–34.

[5] (Comfort and Barret, The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts 2001)

Again, one could say that Codex Vaticanus is the most valuable witness that we have for the Greek New Testament.[6] It is of course named Vaticanus because it has been stored in the Vatican library from a time prior to 1475.[7] For centuries, the Vatican authorities kept the B (03) a private treasure and discouraged work on it by outside scholars. Paul D. Wegner writes, “At the beginning of the nineteenth century Napoleon carried off this codex to Paris with other manuscripts as a war prize, but on his death in 1815 it was returned to the Vatican library. Constantine von Tischendorf applied for and finally obtained permission to see the manuscript in order to collate difficult passages. He copied out or remembered enough of the text to be able to publish an edition of Vaticanus in 1867. Later that century (1868–1881) the Vatican published a better copy of the codex, but in 1889–1890 a complete photographic facsimile of this manuscript superseded all earlier attempts.”[8]

[6] Kurt Aland; Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, trans. Erroll F. Rhodes (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), 109.

[7] Ibid. 47

[8] Paul D. Wegner, A Student’s Guide to Textual Criticism of the Bible: Its History Methods & Results (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 260.

The Epistle to the Hebrews Paul PAUL AND LUKE ON TRIAL

Critical Rules of Westcott & Hort

The following summary of principles is taken from the compilation in Epp and Fee, Studies in the Theory and Method of New Testament Textual Criticism (1993, pages 157-8). References in parentheses are to sections of Hort’s Introduction, from which the principles have been extracted.

  1. Older readings, manuscripts, or groups are to be preferred. (“The shorter the interval between the time of the autograph and the end of the period of transmission in question, the stronger the presumption that earlier date implies greater purity of text.”) (2.59; cf. 2.5-6, 31)
  2. Readings are approved or rejected by reason of the quality, and not the number, of their supporting witnesses. (“No available presumptions whatever as to text can be obtained from number alone, that is, from number not as yet interpreted by descent.”) (2.44)
  3. A reading combining two simple, alternative readings is later than the two readings comprising the conflation, and manuscripts rarely or never supporting conflate reading are text antecedent to mixture and are of special value. (2.49-50).
  4. The reading is to be preferred that makes the best sense, that is, that best conforms to the grammar and is most congruous with the purport of the rest of the sentence and of the larger context. (2.20)
  5. The reading is to be preferred that best conforms to the usual style of the author and to that author’s material in other passages. (2.20)
  6. The reading is to be preferred that most fitly explains the existence of the others. (2.22-23)
  7. The reading is less likely to be original that combines the appearance of an improvement in the sense with the absence of its reality; the scribal alteration will have an apparent excellence, while the original will have the highest real excellence. (2.27, 29)
  8. The reading is less likely to be original that shows a disposition to smooth away difficulties (another way of stating that the harder reading is preferable). (2.28)
  9. Readings are to be preferred that are found in a manuscript that habitually contains superior readings as determined by intrinsic and transcriptional probability. Certainty is increased if such a better manuscript is found also to be an older manuscript (2.32-33) and if such a manuscript habitually contains reading that prove themselves antecedent to mixture and independent of external contamination by other, inferior texts (2.150-51). The same principles apply to groups of manuscripts (2.260-61).

From the 1911 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica

See Also CAN WE TRUST THE WESTCOTT AND HORT 1881 GREEK TEXT?: WERE WESTCOTT AND HORT OCCULTIST UNBELIEVERS?

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[1] Epp, Eldon J.; Fee, Gordon D. (1993). Studies in the Theory and Method of New Testament Textual Criticism. Studies and documents. 45. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 22. ISBN 9780802827739. Retrieved Tuesday, October 29, 2019. The Westcott-Hort text (WH) of 1881 […] resulted from a skilful plan of attack and a sophisticated strategy for undermining the validitity of the TR [textus receptus].

[2] Brooke Foss Westcott, Fenton John Anthony Hort, ”The New Testament in the Original Greek: Introduction, Appendix, p. 282.

[3] Westcott and Hort. The New Testament in the Original Greek: Introduction Appendix., p.2

[4] Kurt Aland and Barbara Aland (1995). The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism. Translated by Erroll F. Rhodes. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans. p. 236.

[5] Kurt Aland and Barbara AlandThe Text of the New Testament, Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1995, p. 33

[6] H. Schumacher, A Handbook of Scripture Study (B. Herder Book Co.: St. Louis-London 1923), p. 53.

[7] H. Schumacher, A Handbook of Scripture Study (B. Herder Book Co.: St. Louis-London 1923), p. 53.

[8] Michael W. Holmes, From Nestle to the `Editio Critica Maior`, in: The Bible as Book: The Transmission of the Greek Text, London 2003, p. 128.

[9] Bruce M. Metzger; Bart D. Ehrman (2005). The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption and Restoration. New York – Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 174.

[10] K. Aland & B. Aland, Text of the New Testament, pp. 26-30.

[11] Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, p. 136.

[12] B. M. Metzger, cited by James Brooks, Bible Interpreters of the 20th century, p. 264.

[13]  Philip Comfort, Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography & Textual Criticism, (Nashville, 2005), p. 100.

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