A Lingering Stain

Critics will defend the integrity of the modern Bible versions by declaring that Westcott & Hort’s 1881 Greek New Testament translation was largely abandoned by the scholars of the 20th century. Now, as is so often the case, the truth is quite a bit different…

You see, in spite of the cries of modern version advocates, what we find instead is a great number of similarities between the modern New Testament translations and the 1881 Westcott-Hort Greek New Testament translation. For instance, consider how their work stands in comparison to the official United Bible Societies Greek New Testament:

  • Both either delete or question a comparable number of verses (45 to 48, respectively)
  • Both remove a comparable number of important verse sections (185 to 193, respectively)
  • Both delete a comparable number of names and titles for the Lord (212 to 221, respectively)

The name behind the work may be different, and the old players replaced by a younger generation, but make no mistake, Westcott and Hort’s contribution and the methods they utilized to spawn it are alive and well! A quick dip into the words of several influential researchers does nothing but reinforce this reality.

One such figure is Bruce Metzger. A highly influential author and researcher in the field, and one of the editors of the United Bible Societies Greek New Testament, Metzger admitted, “The International committee that produced the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament, not only adopted the Westcott and Hort edition as it’s basic text, but followed their methodology in giving attention to both external and internal consideration.”¹ 

Bible scholar and seminary professor, Dr. Zane Hodges, in his own assessment of the situation, wrote:

Modern textual criticism is psychologically ‘addicted’ to Westcott and Hort. Westcott and Hort, in turn, were rationalists in their approach to the textual problem in the New Testament and employed techniques within which rationalism and every other kind of bias are free to operate. The result of it all is a methodological quagmire where objective controls on the conclusions of critics are nearly nonexistent. It goes without saying that no Bible-believing Christian who is willing to extend the implications of his faith to textual matters can have the slightest grounds for confidence in contemporary critical texts”² 

We find a similar sentiment in the words of Ernest Cadman Colwell. This famous scholar, known for his many written contributions to the field, declared:

The dead hand of Fenton John Anthony Hort lies heavy upon us. In the early years of this century Kirsopp Lake described Hort’s work as a failure, though a glorious one. But Hort did not fail to reach his major goal. He dethroned the Textus Receptus. …Hort’s success in this task and the cogency of his tightly reasoned theory shaped—and still shapes—the thinking of those who approach the textual criticism of the NT through the English language”³ 

In the end, the whole matter boils down to the nature of Westcott & Hort’s techniques, the foundation of their methods, and the red scar they left on the modern field of manuscript evaluation. Proponents of Westcott and Hort’s work are free to deny the impact those two had on the discipline of textual criticism, yet prominent scholars have voiced otherwise. Is the Westcott & Hort translation problematic? Probably. Are their techniques doubtful? Certainly. Is there an obvious departure from the traditional renderings of the Scripture in the newer versions; differences that are born of the same foundations set in place by Westcott & Hort? Without a doubt.

In some way or another, we find that the list of modern versions are born either directly from the translation of those two men, or otherwise have been based on texts “refined” through the same lense as Westcott & Hort had once looked. What versions in particular? To name a few, there are:

  • American Standard Version (1900)
  • Ferrar Fenton Bible (1903)
  • The Revised Standard (1946-1952)
  • New World Translation (1961)
  • New American Standard (1963-1971)
  • New American Bible (1970)
  • New English Bible (1970)
  • The Living Bible (1971)
  • Good News Bible (1976)
  • New International Version (1978)
  • New Revised Standard (1989)
  • Revised English Bible (1989)
  • World English Bible (2000)
  • English Standard Version (2001)

037 - Modern -Refined- Bible Translations

References:

  1. The Westcott and Hort Greek New Testament–Yesterday and Today, Metzger, cited by James Brooks, Bible Interpreters of the 20th Century, p. 264
  2. Zane C. Hodges, “Rationalism and Contemporary New Testament Textual Criticism,” Bibliotheca Sacra, January 1971, pp. 27-35
  3. Ernest Cadman Colwell, “Scribal Habits in Early Papyri: A Study in the Corruption of the Text,” The Bible in Modern Scholarship, ed. J.P. Hyatt, New York: Abingdon Press, 1965, p. 370

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