Westcott and Hort springboard higher criticism to USA

Steven Avery

Evangelical Textual Criticism
Peter F. Montero IV

What TR-only advocates often seem to miss is that men like Westcott and Hort, despite a few compromises (especially on the part of Hort), saw themselves as responding to the higher criticism coming from Germany and indeed played a huge role in keeping it from gaining the foothold that it did.

This did not pass the smell test.

We turn to:

B. B. Warfield, Common-Sense Philosophy and Biblical Criticism (1991)
Theodore P. Letis

Warfield, on the other hand, was the first professor at Princeton to allow his Common-Sense Philosophy the role of reconstructing the text according to the canons of German criticism.10 Moreover, this German approach to reconstructing the text shared an organic connection with the more radical higher criticism. It demanded that Scripture be approached "as any other literature," and it legitimized the use of the radical technique of conjectural emendation—the very foundation of the higher critical method. p. 2-3

Hort was big on conjectural emendations, which he called primitive corruptions.


p. 4

C. W. Hodge, unlike his father, was less willing to acknowledge, if indeed he was aware of it at all, the connection in Griesbach's method with the higher critical framework. He naively believed Griesbach to be working "entirely free from prejudice in his labors."” As a matter of fact, Johann Salomo Semler (1725-1791), Griesbach's mentor and one of the decisive architects of the higher-critical method, had provided Griesbach with his text critical principles.” Semler believed the canon and text to be accidents of history; he saw neither as inspired nor authoritative, since both reflected the local concerns of their various authors and redactors. p. 5

long ending to Mark's Gospel ... Certainly the textual data for this passage consisted of hard "facts," but these "facts" permitted two opposing reconstructions or interpretations. Warfield, along with C.W. Hodge before him (to a lesser extent),” adopted what was the German conclusion. This position supported the higher critical interpretation regarding the doctrinal development of the Gospels: this section was added late to provide the oldest Gospel account with a supernatural conclusion, in harmony with the later Gospel treatments of the resurrection. p. 7

Westcott and Hort were, in turn, merely adopting the method of Griesbach, whose name they venerated "above that of every other textual critic of the New Testament.",9 While they felt they must make a few adjustments to his theories, they made clear it is his approach they adopt, holding that "no valid objection can, we believe, be brought to bear against the greater part of Griesbach's historical view."40 p. 8

Warfield ... accepted their claim to have reconstructed a "neutral" text, based on principles established by the German critics themselves and so beyond the pale of their criticism. The two English scholars claimed to have discovered "seemingly the pure stock from which all others in existence appear to have diverged."41 Furthermore, they arrived at such a determination without calling on the help of theology. This made their arguments all the more compelling.

In Enlightenment fashion, therefore, Warfield said that in text critical matters, the faithful follow the same method as the Germans, treating Scripture like any other piece of literature, without reference to either inspiration, or the uniqueness of the Bible. This he had learned from Westcott and Hort, who argued, "The principles of criticism explained...hold good for all ancient texts preserved in a plurality of documents. In dealing with the text of the New Testament no new principle what- ever is needed or legitimate."42 p. 8

Another aspect of the German method that Warfield adopted via Westcott and Hort was the practice of conjectural emendation.44 ... One reason the Princetonians were sensitive to this issue is because it is precisely here that an organic link is formed with the higher criticism. p. 8-9

44 On this see Warfield's review of Westcott and Hort, pp. 347f., where he remarks, "It may be said here, again, that thus a wide door is opened for the entrance of deceitful dealing with the Word of Life. The danger is apparent and imminent. But we cannot arbitrarily close the door lest we incur the same charge" p. 347. Cf. also his treatment of this in his handbook, pp. 207ff ...

The following are the two references given for Warfield on conjectural emendation:

The Presbyterian Review (1882)
The Greek Testament of Westcott and Hort
Review by Benjamin Warfield

We do not wish to conceal our belief, moreover, that in the very large majority of the cases † —perhaps in all—where Dr. Hort or Dr. Westcott or both consider that primitive error exists in the reconstructed text which must be removed by conjecture, we cannot feel that the claim of necessity for it is even very plausible, much less made out. It is, therefore, a matter of deep congratulation that they have not deformed their text with conjectural emendations, but have in every case printed the best attested reading, and relegated their emendations to the Appendix. By this means they have left the question just where it should rest; admitting the legitimacy of the method and indicating the passages where, in their judgment, there is need for it, they leave as questions open for discussion in each case: Whether there be a real necessity for it, and whether their attempted emendation is successful.


An Introduction to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament (1887)
Benjamin Warfield

Letis explains how Warfield used higher criticism arguments contra the Mark ending.

Ira V. Brown recognized that, "the way was prepared for acceptance of higher criticism by the appearance of the Revised Version of the Bible in 1881 (N.T.) and 1885 (O.T.).... p. 11

6 Only eight years after Warfield's death, Princeton was prepared to fully embrace even the higher criticism. ...


23 Griesbach had as one of his canons of criticism: “When there are many variant readings in one place, that reading which more than the others manifestly favors the dogmas of the orthodox is deservedly regarded as suspicious." Johann Jakob Griesbach, Novum Testamentum Graece (Halle, 1796), p. 62.

29 The non-conformist, Plymouth Brethren, S.P. Tregelles, had begun to turn attention to text critical matters in England, earlier in the century. In fact, Warfield may have been indebted to Tregelles for using the argument of divine providence to sanction the use of text criticism. Tregelles had argued, 'As God in his providence has preserved Holy Scripture to us, so can He vouchsafe the needed wisdom to |udge of its text simply on grounds of evidence.' An Account of the Printed Text of the Creek New Testament (London, 1854), p 186. Cf. also pp. 37f.; 176.

36 F.C. Conybeare, History of New Testament Criticism (London: Watts and Co., 1910), p. 77. Mark's long ending was one of the classic paradigms that allowed critics to extrapolate further in the quest for origins.

55 Ira V. Brown, "The Higher Criticism Comes to America, 1 800-1900," Journal of the Presbyterian Historical Society, 38 (December, I960): 197. N.M. Wheeler, who had challenged Warfield on his views treating the long ending of Mark, made the following observation in this regard: "This question [the "inauthenticity" of Mark's ending", too, will gain increasing emphasis and pertinence as plain Bible-studymg people become more familiar with the other similar phenomena in the New Testament, a familiarity which it is one of the functions of the Revised Version to transfer from the limited circle of scholars to the widening circle of intelligent Bible readers." op. cit. p. 4.

63 Most Reformed scholars today have recognized the impossibility and dishonesty of erecting such a wall of separation between higher and lower criticism. Harry Boer observes: "In view of the history of higher and lower criticism in the past one hundred years there is a profound irony in the relationship in which these two disciplines are regarded in the Church. Whereas higher criticism has a bad name in large parts of the Church, lower criticism has an eminently favorable name. Both kinds of criticism are governed by methods that...have an identical basic rational, scientific approach to their specific task.... The two forms of criticism are so interrelated and basic in the study of the Bible that it is impossible to use the one properly without acknowledging the legitimacy and necessity of the other." Harry R. Boer, The Bible and Higher Criticism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981), pp. 20; 18.
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Steven Avery

Peter J. Montoro IV
"Westcott and Hort... saw themselves as responding to the higher criticism coming from Germany and indeed played a huge role in keeping it from gaining the foothold that it did."

Peter, please share any sources that support this claim. Thanks!

Theodore Letis (1952-2005) looked at these questions in some depth:

B. B. Warfield, Common-Sense Philosophy and Biblical Criticism (1991)
Theodore Peter Letis

He connected the conjectural emendations (62 mentioned, likely from the primitive corruption section) from W&H and the Mark ending theories as both being springboards to the later inroads of higher criticism.

It is best to read the full article, although I have extracted some quotes here:

Westcott and Hort springboard higher criticism to USA


Steven Avery
Dutchess County, NY, USA
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