Fenton John Anthony Hort (1828 – 1892) World Renowned New Testament Textual Scholar

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hortFENTON JOHN ANTHONY HORT renown for [his] studies of New Testament manuscripts and the publication of their critical edition of the New Testament. In 1881, after twenty-eight years of work, Westcott and Hort published the text of the Greek New Testament (with an introduction and appendixes) titled The New Testament in the Original Greek.” (Wegner, 2006, p. 215)

(April 23, 1828 – November 30, 1892), English theologian, was born in Dublin on the 23rd of April 1828, the great-grandson of Josiah Hort, archbishop of Tuam in the 18th century.

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In 1846 he passed from Rugby to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was the contemporary of E. W. Benson, B. F. Westcott, and J. B. Lightfoot. The four men became lifelong friends and fellow-workers. In 1850 Hort took his degree, being third in the classical tripos, and in 1852 he became fellow of his college. In 1854, in conjunction with J. E. B. Mayor and Lightfoot, he established the Journal of Classical and Sacred Philology and plunged eagerly into theological and patristic study. He had been brought up in the strictest principles of the Evangelical school, but at Rugby, he fell under the influence of Arnold and Tait, and his acquaintance with Maurice and Kingsley finally gave his opinions a direction towards Liberalism.

In 1857, he married, and accepted the college living of St. Ippolyts, near Hitchin, in Hertfordshire, where he remained for fifteen years. During his residence there he took some part in the discussions on university reform, continued his studies, and wrote essays for various periodicals. In 1870, he was appointed a member of the committee for revising the translation of the New Testament, and in 1871 he delivered the Hulsean lectures before the university. Their title was The Way, the Truth, and the Life, but they were not prepared for publication until many years after their delivery. In 1872, he accepted a fellowship and lectureship at Emmanuel College; in 1878 he was made Hulsean professor of divinity, and in 1887 Lady Margaret reader in divinity.

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In the meantime, he had published, with his friend Westcott, an edition of the text of the New Testament. The Revision Committee had very largely accepted this text, even before its publication, as a basis for their translation of the New Testament. The work on its appearance created an immense sensation among scholars and was vehemently attacked in many quarters, but on the whole, it was received as being much the nearest approximation yet made to the original text of the New Testament. The introduction was the work of Hort, and its depth and fullness convinced all who read it that they were under the guidance of a master. Hort died on the 30th of November 1892, worn out by intense mental labor.

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Bruce M. Metzger explains the immense impact that the critical text of Westcott and Hort,

It was the corrupt Byzantine form of text that provided the basis for almost all translations of the New Testament into modern languages down to the nineteenth century. During the eighteenth century, scholars assembled a great amount of information from many Greek manuscripts, as well as from versional and patristic witnesses. But, except for three or four editors who timidly corrected some of the more blatant errors of the Textus Receptus, this debased form of the New Testament text was reprinted in edition after edition. It was only in the first part of the nineteenth century (1831) that a German classical scholar, Karl Lachmann, ventured to apply to the New Testament the criteria that he had used in editing texts of the classics. Subsequently, other critical editions appeared, including those prepared by Constantin von Tischendorf, whose eighth edition (1869–72) remains a monumental thesaurus of variant readings, and the influential edition prepared by two Cambridge scholars, B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort (1881). It is the latter edition that was taken as the basis for the present United Bible Societies’ edition. During the twentieth century, with the discovery of several New Testament manuscripts much older than any that had hitherto been available, it has become possible to produce editions of the New Testament that approximate ever more closely to what is regarded as the wording of the original documents.—Bruce Manning Metzger, United Bible Societies, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition a Companion Volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (4th Rev. Ed.) (London; New York: United Bible Societies, 1994), xxiv.

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Next to his Greek Testament, his best-known work is The Christian Ecclesia (1897). Other publications are: Judaistic Christianity (1894); Village Sermons (two series); Cambridge and other Sermons; Prolegoinena to . . . Romans and Ephesians (1895); The Ante-Nicene Fathers (1895); and two Dissertations, on the reading μονογενησ θεοσ, in John i. 18, and on The Constantiaopolitan and other Eastern Creeds in the Fourth Century. All are models of exact scholarship and skillful use of materials. His Life and Letters were edited by his son, Sir Arthur Hort, Bart. (1896)

Theories of Westcott and Hort

In 1881 two English scholars, B.F. Westcott and F.J.A. Hort published a very influential edition of the Greek Testament: The New Testament in the Original Greek (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1881). The Introduction and Appendix of Notes on Select Readings volume of the original edition were written by Dr. Hort, and in it he set forth the arguments and general theories upon which the text was reconstructed and provided explanations for many specific textual decisions.

Westcott and Hort brought the main tendency of nineteenth-century textual criticism—the exaltation of the oldest Greek copies—to its culmination. They firmly set aside the Latin witnesses along with the later Greek manuscripts; but the oldest known Greek copies, Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus, they elevated to a pristine class called “Neutral,” and very nearly identified them with the original manuscripts. It cannot be said, however, that Westcott and Hort were simply following a tendency here, for they realized that if such weight were to be given to only two manuscripts, a theory must be offered to explain how the text given in them had so early disappeared from the manuscript tradition. And so Hort offered in the Introduction of their text a theoretical history of the manuscript tradition that met the needs of the case, or at least, so it seemed to many scholars.

They theorized that the “Neutral” text was the most primitive type, carefully copied for use in the worship services of the churches. The “Western” text-type arose early on as an uncontrolled popular edition and persisted mainly in the Latin witnesses after Greek copies were no longer being produced in Italy. The “Byzantine” group, which includes the mass of later copies, began in the fourth century as an official church-sponsored edition of the New Testament, written probably in Antioch, which combined the various readings of the Western and Neutral groups. This edition was so effectively propagated throughout Europe that both the older “Neutral” and “Western” text-types ceased to be copied in the European scriptoriums, and eventually decayed. The Neutral text survived for a while in Egypt, but then suffered corruption and became the “Alexandrian” type. Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus are relics of the Neutral type. A considerable amount of speculation is involved in this argument, but Westcott & Hort further bolstered their text with detailed arguments from two other directions, presenting “external” arguments (from the oldest manuscripts, as in Lachmann) and “internal” arguments (from the tendencies of scribes, as in the rules of Griesbach). External and internal arguments were also made to support one another by the principle, “Readings are to be preferred that are found in a manuscript that habitually contains superior readings:” superior, that is, as determined by the rules of internal criticism. The text of Westcott & Hort, therefore, had the appearance of resting firmly upon three-legged arguments, and it was considered by many scholars to be the best possible text.

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Whatever may be the merits of Westcott and Hort’s theory, the success of their text was largely due to personal influence and advantageous timing. In the 1860s the two most ancient copies, Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, were both published for the first time, creating a public sensation. At about that time, Westcott and Hort began work on their text, and so in 1870, the year that a critical revision of the King James version was commissioned by the church authorities in England, they were able to distribute to the members of the revision committee a draft copy of their text. They both served on the revision committee, and they published their text in 1881, the same year that the revision was published. For ten years, then, Westcott and Hort continually advocated their views in favor of the texts of Sinaiticus and Vaticanus in regular meetings of the most influential scholars of Great Britain and America, and it is hardly surprising that their text should be so well regarded when it appeared. In fact, two generations passed before most scholars would recognize that the genealogical theories of Westcott and Hort were without adequate empirical foundation.

The text of Westcott & Hort was most vigorously assailed by John William Burgon, Dean of Chichester, and more temperately criticized by many others. The common theme of criticism was the lack of historical basis for their hypothesis of an early “Byzantine” recension in Antioch.

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

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