Apr 13, 2009

A Look At Westcott


By Pastor Bruce Oyen
700 South Prairie
Miles City, MT 59301

In his book, HERESIES OF WESTCOTT AND HORT, D. A. Waite waged war against B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort, two men who were largely responsible for the revision of the English Bible in the 1800's.

On page one of his book, Waite plainly stated that if it can be proven that the subjects of his book were theological heretics, that would be sufficient reason to question the basis for their revision of the Bible.

While he has a valid point, worthy of serious consideration, I am convinced that Waite has not presented an objective look the beliefs of B. F. Westcott. I have reached this conclusion after comparing what Waite's book said Westcott believed with two of Westcott's books, and a sermon by him on the resurrection of Christ from the dead.

The reason that I am interested in this subject is a very simple one: even though Westcott did have some errors in his theology, he should not be subject to misrepresentation. He should be given credit for any correct beliefs he did have.

Well, what is the truth about B. F. Westcott? What did he really believe on some key doctrines, such as the deity of Christ and His resurrection? What kind of man was he?

Some biographical information about Westcott is found in Wilbur M. Smith's book, GREAT SERMONS ON THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST, published in 1964 by W. A. Wilde Company: "Of the Bishop's epochal writings, it is not necessary to speak in detail here. His commentaries on the Greek text of the Epistle to the Ephesians, Hebrews, and the John Epistles, are still treasure houses for those who are fortunate to possess them. And, of course, his commentary on the Gospel of John probably had a greater circulation and influence than any work on the Fourth Gospel to be published in the last half of the nineteenth century, and is still worth studying and quoting. No greater tribute could possibly be paid to the transparent character of the bishop and scholar than the fact that six of his sons were ordained into the ministry, four of whom went out as missionaries to India, and two of them becoming bishops themselves."

There is much more about Westcott in Smith's biographical sketch of him, and is well worth reading, along with Westcott's sermon about Christ's resurrection, found in the same book.

Now, should we conclude that Smith's positive statements about Westcott imply that he can be trusted in all aspects of his theology? Of course not. The truth is that Westcott had both good and bad points about his beliefs.

Preacher D. M. Lloyd-Jones did not hesitate to point out one of our subject's errors, even though he had words of respect for him, too.

In volume one of his sermons on First John, Lloyd-Jones has a sermon entitled, THE BLOOD OF CHRIST. On pages 139 & 140 of that book, published by Crossway Books, Lloyd-Jones said: "It is not for me to criticize a great teacher and expositor like Bishop Westcott, but there can be no doubt at all that he has been mainly responsible for this confusion. In his commentary on this epistle of John, he taught that the blood represents the life. He quotes the Old testament, where we are told that the life of the flesh is in the blood (Leviticus 17:11); so he says that really the effect of the shedding of blood is not so much death as the releasing of life. Therefore, he interprets the blood of Jesus Christ as the life of Jesus Christ - not His death but His life, and what we have here, therefore, he would have us believe, is that the life of Jesus Christ, the life that is in the blood, or the blood that represents the life, is cleansing us and delivering us from the power and the principle of sin that is within us and is responsible for so much."

The reason that Lloyd-Jones' statements are significant is that he was one who did not hesitate to censure those whom he felt deserved it.

For instance, on pages 310, 311, & 312 of his book, KNOWING THE TIMES, Lloyd-Jones speaks forthrightly about three well-known men whom he believes have questionable beliefs or practices. On page 310, Lloyd-Jones points out that Billy Graham's ecumenicalism has had a bad influence on the Christian public: "We must not become subject to a false, vague, nebulous, ecumenical type of thinking. There are certain factors which seem to me to be promoting this danger and threatening our whole position. And I must mention them. I believe that one of the most potent factors in this respect has been the Billy Graham campaigns . . . I believe that in a very subtle way the Graham campaign and other campaigns have had this kind of influence and have been shaking people's convictions as to what exactly it means to be an evangelical."

On page 311, Lloyd-Jones said the following about another well known author: "Having read his last book, which is called JESUS REDISCOVERED, I would not hesitate to say that Malcom Muggeridge is not a Christian at all. He does not believe in the virgin birth, he does not believe in the miracles as facts, he does not believe in the atonement, he does not believe in the literal physical resurrection, he does not believe in the person of the Holy Spirit, he does not believe in prayer, yet he is being used in evangelical conferences and meetings."

On page 312 Lloyd-Jones said: "I find that C. S. Lewis has almost become the patron saint of evangelicals. He was never an evangelical and said so quite plainly himself."

My point is obvious: If Westcott had been as theologically unsound as D. A. Waite said he was, Lloyd-Jones would not have been likely to refer to him as "a great teacher and expositor," but censure Graham, Muggeridge and Lewis.

Someone else who commended Westcott, to some extent at least, was C. H. Spurgeon. In his book, COMMENTING AND COMMENTARIES, Spurgeon gave our subject's book, INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY OF THE GOSPELS, his highest rating. Here is what Spurgeon wrote about Westcott's book, which was published when he was only thirty-five years old: "Worthy of high commendation. The author knows the German writers, but is not defiled by their skepticism. He is a man of deep thought, but displays no pride of intellect. A man had better be a thorough student to value this introduction. It is not an introduction to the Gospels, or to the reading of them, but to their study."

Now contrast that commendation with what Spurgeon put in his book about John W. Burgon's five -volume work, PLAIN COMMENTARY FOR DEVOTIONAL READING:

Spurgeon says: "Ryle says: 'This is an excellent, suggestive, and devout work; but I cannot agree with the author when he touches upon subjects such as the Church, the sacraments, and the ministry.'" John W. Burgon is the man after whom D. A. Waite named his Dean Burgon Society.

The foregoing paragraphs were intended to point out some important things about B. F. Westcott, so that we might get the facts about him.

In the following paragraphs, we will consider three of the many beliefs that Waite said our subject was wrong on so that we will get the truth about those matters.

Westcott and the Deity of Christ

What is the unvarnished truth about Westcott's view of the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ? On page 23 of his book, HERESIES OF WESTCOTT AND HORT, D. A. Waite wrote, "Westcott and Hort deny or question the DEITY of the Lord Jesus Christ." I did not have access to Hort's works, but after a thorough examination of Westcott's commentaries on John's Gospel and First Epistle, I have concluded that Westcott clearly affirmed belief in the deity of Christ, in contrast to Waite's claim.

Westcott's Introduction to John's Gospel

Consider these quotes from Westcott in his introduction to John's Gospel:

Page 44: "Christ the Incarnate Word is the perfect revelation of the Father: as God, He reveals God."

Page 52: "In this respect much of the teaching of the Lord's discourses depends upon the careful recognition of the emphatic reference to His undivided Personality. Yea and if I (..) judge - I, who am truly God, and truly man - my judgment is true; for I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me (vii. 16)."

Westcott's Commentary on John's Gospel

Westcott's commentary is replete with affirmations of the deity of Christ, as the following quotes certainly prove.

Waite objects to Westcott's use of the term "divinity" being applied to Christ, according to page 27 of his book. But Westcott used that term in the same way that the translators of the King James Version used it with reference to Christ. The 1611KJV says, in its introduction to the first chapter of John's Gospel, "The Divinity, Humanity, and Office of Jesus Christ."

Furthermore, Westcott used the term "divinity" in the same way that conservative theologians of the past used it when they expounded on the deity of Christ. This can be verified by reference to Hodge's SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY, and to A. H. Strong's SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY.

Moreover, Westcott also wrote of the "deity" of Christ in his commentary on John's Gospel. Thus he used the terms interchangeably, unless it can be proved otherwise.

In his comments on John 1:1, Westcott wrote, "No idea of inferiority of nature is suggested by the form of expression, which simply affirms the true deity of the Word." See also page 33 of the same commentary.

Consider other affirmations of Christ's divinity from Westcott's commentary on John's Gospel:

Page 2: The heading for John, chapter one reads, "The Word in His Absolute, Eternal Being."

Page 2: "He who 'was God' became flesh: He who 'was with God,' tabernacled among us (comp. 1 John 1:2): He who 'was in the beginning,' became (in time)."

Page 2: "the absolute, eternal, immanent relations of the Persons of the Godhead furnish the basis for revelation. Because the Word was personally distinct from 'God,' and yet essentially 'God,' he could make Him known."

Page 3: ". . . while in the third clause (of John 1:3) 'the Word' is declared to be 'God,' and so included in the unity of the Godhead."

Page 4: Concerning John 1:3, Westcott wrote, "the thought to be brought out is that of the vast multiplicity of created things (spirits, matter, & c). Of all these no one came into being without the Word."

Page 10: Concerning John 1:14, Westcott stated: "His personality is divine. But at the same time we must affirm that His humanity is real and complete . . . The mode of the Lord's existence on earth was truly human and subject to all the conditions of human existence; but He never ceased to be God. And the nature which He so assumed He retains in its perfection."

Page 15: "The knowledge of God, which Christ had as God, He set forth to men as man." (Concerning John 1:18).

Page 106: Concerning John 6:51, Westcott stated, "He is truly God and truly man . . ."

Page 140: Concerning John 8:58, Westcott stated, "Abraham came into being as man; Christ is essentially as God . . . The phrase marks a timeless existence. In this connection 'I was' would have expressed simple priority. Thus there is in the phrase the contrast between the created and the uncreated, the temporal and the eternal."

Page 159: Concerning John 10:33, Westcott wrote, "It was not, they reply, simple blasphemy, derogation from the honor due to God, but the assumption by man of the divine prerogatives, which called for their action."

Page 200: Concerning John 14:1, Westcott stated, "The simultaneous injunction of faith in God and in Christ under the same conditions implies the divinity of Christ."

Page 210: Concerning John 14:28, Westcott said, "The superior greatness of the Father must therefore be interpreted in regard to the absolute relations of the Father and Son without violation of the one equal Godhead."

Page 239: Concerning John 17:3, Westcott wrote, "Cyril of Alexandria (ad loc.) justly remarks that the knowledge of God as Father really involves a knowledge of the Son as God."

Page 297: Concerning John 20:28, Westcott stated, "The words are beyond question addressed to Christ . . . and cannot but be understood as a confession of belief as to His person . . . expressed in the form of an impassioned address. The discipline of self-questioning, followed by the revelation of tender compassion and divine knowledge, enabled St. Thomas to rise to the loftiest view of the Lord given in the Gospels . . .

The record of this confession therefore forms the appropriate close to his narrative; and the words which follow show that the Lord accepted the declaration of His divinity as the true expression of faith. He never speaks of Himself directly as God (comp. v. 18), but the aim of His revelation was to lead men to see God in him."

The foregoing quotes are SOME of the statements from Westcott's commentary on John's Gospel which plainly reveal that he believed in the deity of Christ.
Further documentation can be obtained by carefully reading his commentary.

Westcott's Commentary on the Epistles of John

In his commentary on John's epistles, Westcott made many statements affirming his belief in the deity of Christ. But in order to avoid being wordy, I will give only two quotes to that effect:

Page 75: Concerning 1 John 2:22, Westcott said: "The denial of the personal union of true manhood and true Godhead in Christ involves the denial of the essential relations of Fatherhood and Sonship in the Divine Nature.

The conception of this relation in the immanent Trinity prepares the way for the fact of the Incarnation; and conversely, the fact of the Incarnation gives reality to the moral conceptions of God as active Love without which Theism becomes a formula."

Page 153: Concerning I John 4:14 & 15, Westcott wrote: "In the Holy Trinity we conceive of the perfect union of the Father and the Son as realized through the Spirit."

Have you ever heard of anyone affirming belief in the Holy Trinity who also denied the divinity of Christ?

Readers are encouraged to read the following pages in Westcott's commentary on John's first epistle for more documentation of the subject under consideration: pp. 33-37 of the Introduction; and in the commentary, read pp. 8, 11, 21, 43, 47, 60, 73, 75, 83, 90, 100-101, 103, 126, 128, 130, 133, 141-142, 149, 151, 153, 165-166, 168, 170-172, 181, 184, 186, 219-220.

Westcott and Christ's Resurrection

On page 32 of his book, HERESIES OF WESTCOTT AND HORT, D. A. Waite wrote: "Westcott and Hort Deny or Have a False Meaning to the LITERAL, BODILY RESURRECTION of the Lord Jesus Christ, and Resurrection in General."

While I may not be able to endorse all that those men wrote on the subject, I believe Waite has misrepresented B. F. Westcott.

For instance, what should we make of Westcott's statements on John 20:17? He stated: "The words imply . . . that Mary started up and ran to Christ, perhaps to clasp his feet (comp. Matthew 28:9), and the exact form . . . implies that she was already clinging to Him when he spoke."

Did Westcott think Mary clung to an imaginary body?
Westcott also said, "under other circumstances the Lord invited the disciples to 'handle' His person; Luke 24:39; v. 27; comp. 1 John 1:1."

Moreover, if Westcott was wrong about Christ's resurrection, why did Paul E. Little quote from Westcott's work, THE GOSPEL OF THE RESURRECTION, in his book, KNOW WHY YOU BELIEVE, in the chapter, Did Christ Rise From the Dead?, to support his belief in the literal resurrection of Christ?

At the end of that chapter, Little said: "In summary, then, we can agree with Canon Westcott, for years a brilliant scholar at Cambridge, who said, 'Indeed, taking all the evidence together, it is not too much to say that there is no historic incident better or more variously supported than the resurrection of Christ. Nothing but the antecedent assumption that it must be false could have suggested the idea of deficiency in the proof of it."

Westcott and Baptismal Regeneration

In his book, D. A. Waite wrote: "Westcott believed the heresy that the church ordinance of water baptism was 'the condition of regeneration.' This is more heresy. Since when is 'WATER BAPTISM' the 'CONDITION OF REGENERATION'?! It is by the grace of God, through personal FAITH in the Lord Jesus Christ; that is the ONLY condition of regeneration known in Scripture! (Ephesians 2:8-10)."

Waite is correct that baptismal regeneration is a heresy. But the King James translators believed that HERESY, too! They were members of the Church of England, whose official doctrine affirmed belief in the HERESY of baptismal regeneration! Schaff's THE CREEDS OF CHRISTENDOM contains the doctrinal statement of the Church of England as adhered to by the aforementioned translators of the King James Version. Here is what their catechism stated:

"Question: What is your name?

"Answer: N. or M.

"Question: Who gave you this name?

"Answer: My Godfathers and my Godmothers in my Baptism; wherein I was made a member of Christ, the child of God and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven."

The point is simple: If we are going to discredit Westcott for his heretical view of baptism, we must do the same for the translators of the King James Version. But I, for one, will not quit using the beloved King James Version just because its translators were not altogether orthodox in their beliefs.

The Conclusion of the Whole Matter

The objective truth about B. F. Westcott is that he is not always a reliable guide to follow. He had his good points and his bad points. But that is the objective truth about D. A. Waite, too. He cannot always be trusted to present evidence in an impartial manner. That certainly does not promote the cause Christ, and it gives a black eye to those who want to promote the King James Version in a respectable manner.

This article was previously titled, THE UNVARNISHED TRUTH ABOUT B. F. WESTCOTT. It is presented here with a new name and with a few changes in wording.

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