Westcott & Hort Versus the Textus Receptus: Which is Superior? (Part 2)

Reprinted with permission from As I See It, which is available free by writing to the editor at dkutilek@juno.com. Read Part 1.

The question remains to be resolved: how shall we define textus receptus? It has been customary in England to employ the 1550 text of Stephanus as the exemplar of the textus receptus (just as an Elzevir text was so adopted on the continent of Europe), and so we will follow this custom. For our purposes here, the term textus receptus means the 1550 edition of the Greek New Testament published by Robertus Stephanus.

The Westcott and Hort text is much simpler to define. This is the Greek New Testament edited by B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort and first published in 1881, with numerous reprints in the century since. It is probably the single most famous of the so-called critical texts, perhaps because of the scholarly eminence of its editors, perhaps because it was issued the same year as the English Revised Version which followed a text rather like the Westcott-Hort text.

It needs to be stated clearly that the text of Westcott and Hort was not the first printed Greek Testament that deliberately and substantially departed from the textus receptus on the basis of manuscript evidence. Westcott and Hort were preceded in the late 1700s by Griesbach, and in the 1800s by Lachmann, Alford, Tregelles, and Tischendorf (and others), all of whose texts made numerous revisions in the textus receptus on the basis of manuscript evidence; these texts, especially the last three named, are very frequently in agreement with Westcott and Hort, against the textus receptus.1

Likewise, it is important to recognize that the English Revised New Testament which came out in 1881 was not directly based on the text of Westcott and Hort, although in many particulars they are the same. The Greek text followed by the Revisers was compiled and published in 1882 in an edition with the KJV and ERV in parallel columns.2 It is true that the Westcott-Hort text and the English Revised New Testament of 1881 are rather similar to each other, but they are not identical.

Though the Westcott-Hort text was the “standard” critical text for a generation or two, it is no longer considered such by any one, and has not been for many years. The “standard” text or texts today are the Nestle or Nestle-Aland text (1st edition, 1898; 27th edition, 1993) and/or the various editions of The Greek New Testament published by the United Bible Societies (1st edition, 1966; 4th edition, 1993). The last two editions of each of these sport an identical text, a new “received text,” so to speak.

It is true that the Westcott-Hort text is part of the heritage of both the Nestle texts and the UBS texts. Eberhard Nestle originally used as his text the consensus reading of three editions of the Greek New Testament in his day, Tischendorf, Westcott and Hort, and Weymouth, later substituting Weiss for Weymouth.3 The UBS editors used the Westcott-Hort text as their starting point and departed from it as their evaluation of manuscript evidence required.4

None of the major modern English Bible translations made since World War II used the Westcott-Hort text as its base. This includes translations done by theological conservatives—the New American Standard Bible, the New International Version, the New King James, for examples—and translations done by theological liberals—the Revised Standard Version, the New English Bible, the Good News Bible, etc. The only English Bible translation currently in print that the writer is aware of which is based on the Westcott-Hort text is the New World Translation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.5

In a very real sense, the question of which is superior, Westcott and Hort, or the textus receptus, is passé, since neither is recognized by experts in the field as the standard text. However, since modern printed Greek texts are in the same respective families of text, namely the Alexandrian (Nestle, et al.) and the Byzantine (majority text), it is suitable to ask, “which one is superior, i.e., which comes closest to presenting the Greek text in its original form?”

What is perhaps the strongest argument in favor of the Westcott-Hort text vis-à-vis the textus receptus, is the fact that it has firm support from the oldest extant Greek manuscripts, plus the earliest of the versions or translations, as well as the early Christian writers of the 2nd through 4th centuries.

Age of manuscripts is probably the most objective factor in the process of textual criticism. When Westcott and Hort compiled their text, they employed the two oldest then-known manuscripts, Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, as their text base. Since their day, a good number of manuscripts as old and in some cases a century and more older than these two manuscripts have been discovered. With a general uniformity, these early manuscripts have supported the Alexandrian text-type which the Westcott-Hort text presents.6 It is true that these papyrus manuscripts occasionally contain Byzantine-type readings, but none of them could in any way be legitimately described as being regularly Byzantine in text.7 The agreement of some of the papyri with Vaticanus, especially p75 of the early third century, has been quite remarkable.

From the early versions, the critical texts have strong support in the various Coptic versions of the third and later centuries, plus frequent support in the Old Latin versions and the oldest forms of the Syriac, in particular the Sinaitic and Curetonian manuscripts whose text form dates to the second or third century (though there are also strong Western elements in the Old Latin and the early Syriac).8 Jerome’s revision of the Old Latin, the Vulgate made before 400 A.D., also gives frequent support to the Alexandrian text. Of early Christian writers before the fourth century, the Alexandrian text has substantial support, especially in the writings of Origen, whose Scripture quotations are exceedingly numerous.

On the other hand, the Byzantine text-type, of which the textus receptus is a rough approximation, can boast of being presented in the vast majority of surviving manuscripts, as well as several important versions of the New Testament from the fourth century or later, and as being the text usually found in the quotations of Greek writers in the fifth century and after. The most notable version support for the Byzantine text is in the Peshitta Syriac and the fourth century Gothic version (though each of these versions has significant departures from the Byzantine text). A second-century date for the Peshitta used to be advocated, but study of the Biblical quotations in the writings of Syrian Fathers Aphraates and Ephraem has demonstrated that neither of these leaders used the Peshitta, and so it must date from after their time, i.e., to the late fourth century or after. Therefore, this chief support for a claimed second-century date for the Byzantine text-type has been shown to be invalid.

On the down side, the distinctively Alexandrian text almost disappears from the manuscripts after the 9th century, following, not insignificantly, the violent and destructive Moslem conquest of Mesopotamia, the Holy Land and Levant, and all of North Africa, destroying or enslaving the Christian community in all these locations, destroying churches and Bible manuscripts. On the other hand, the Byzantine manuscripts, though very numerous, did not become the “majority” text until the ninth century, and though outnumbering Alexandrian manuscripts by more than 10:1, are also for the far greater part considerably younger than them, most being 1,000 years and more removed from the originals.


1 See the page notes in The Englishman’s Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1970. Reprint of 1877 edition). Caspar Rene Gregory states that in the Epistle to the Hebrews, when the texts of Tregelles, Tischendorf and Westcott-Hort are compared, Tregelles stands alone in only ten very minor matters, Westcott-Hort in seven, and Tischendorf only four. Canon and Text of the New Testament (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1907), p. 527.

2 The New Testament of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (Oxford: University Press, 1882).

3 Barbara and Kurt Aland, et al., editors, Novum Testamentum Graece (Stuttgart: Deutsch Bibelgesellschaft, 1993. 27th edition), “Introduction,” p. 44.

4 Kurt Aland, et al., editors, The Greek New Testament (London: United Bible Societies, 1966), preface, p. 5.

5 New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures (Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 1969. Revised edition). The title page states: “a modern-language translation of the Westcott-Hort Greek Text.”

6 See the listing of papyrus manuscripts in Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968. Second edition), pp.247-256. Metzger characterizes about three-fourths of these manuscripts as Alexandrian, with the rest being called Western or mixed in text; none carries a Byzantine-type text.

7 See Harry A. Sturz, The Byzantine Text-Type & New Testament Textual Crticism (Nashville: Nelson, 1984) for an extended treatment of these Byzantine readings in the papyri and other early manuscripts.

8 For extended treatment of all the translations of the New Testament in the first millennium A.D., see Bruce M. Metzger, The Early Versions of the New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977).

Douglas K. Kutilek Bio

Doug Kutilek is the editor of www.kjvonly.org, which opposes KJVOism. He has been researching and writing in the area of Bible texts and versions for more than 35 years. He has a BA in Bible from Baptist Bible College (Springfield, MO), an MA in Hebrew Bible from Hebrew Union College and a ThM in Bible exposition from Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). His writings have appeared in numerous publications.

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There are 9 Comments

TylerR's picture


Can you discuss the article, instead of just linking to a David Cloud article which criticizes James White and says the new editions of the NT are evil? 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

Craig's picture

TylerR wrote:

Can you discuss the article, instead of just linking to a David Cloud article which criticizes James White and says the new editions of the NT are evil?

Sorry. Just trying to present another viewpoint. Maybe the Sharper Iron folks can post an article from someone with a pro KJV stance. It doesn't have to be David Cloud.

Rob Fall's picture

the debate has gone on for so long that comments need to be specific rather than just generic.  IOW, specifically how is the OP deficient?

Craig wrote:

Sorry. Just trying to present another viewpoint. Maybe the Sharper Iron folks can post an article from someone with a pro KJV stance. It doesn't have to be David Cloud.

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

Ron Bean's picture

There are some who have found deficiencies in both W & H and the TR and have opted for a majority text view. 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

JD Miller's picture

I have really appreciated these articles.  Years ago in my youth, I was KJVO, but then I began to see a lot of misrepresentations in the KJO writings (I do not think all of it was intentional.  I think that often misinformation was passed along thinking that the truth was being passed along.  I did that myself).  

One of the big talking points of the KJO movement was that the Alexandrian text is evil because what comes out of Alexandria must be evil; therefore when Kutilek references the Alexandrian text it is likely that those who are committed to the KJO position will feel justified in rejecting the new texts as well.  Of course this is an emotional argument based on the propaganda that Alexandria must be evil, but much of the KJO approach is based on emotion driven by innuendo, half truths, and even outright lies (I finally began to really question the whole movement when I was trying to prove KJOism by going through Gail Riplingers book "New Age Bible Versions" and looking up all the differences between the KJV and the modern versions.  I found out that she was lying about changes that had been made in the modern versions, because on numerous occasions when I would look up a passage that she said was missing, it was not missing.  

There is a real challenge in conversing with someone who is heavily involved in the KJO position.   If you try to get them to read Kutilek's articles they will likely think that he is just an instrument of Satan put here to lead them astray and they will be afraid to even consider another position.  Cults often try to scare their followers into mistrusting outsiders in order to keep them under their control.  Having been in the KJO movement and having read the KJO literature extensively I see a lot in common with the isolationism of the cults by causing mistrust of others.  This is why it is so hard to even get someone within KJOism to listen to and opposing position.  Many think that by questioning the KJO position that they are questioning the Bible itself and thus questioning God and therefore they would not want to compromise by even reading Kutilek.  I do not want to imply that all KJO people are like this, but there is enough of this influence amongst KJVOism to make it a factor that we should be aware of.


Pastor Joe Roof's picture

Hey!  Paul and Silas refused to use Wescott and Hort and so should we!


JNoël's picture

Something that has always bothered me about the argument supporting the critical text is that available extant manuscripts are older, therefore they must be closer to the originals.

"Age of manuscripts is probably the most objective factor in the process of textual criticism."

This is a spurious argument, because older is only better until one even older still is found - which may or may not support the existing "oldest" manuscripts.

I am not saying the existing "oldest" manuscripts aren't the most like the autographs, but I am saying it is impossible to prove either way, so the argument is moot.

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

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