THE TESTIMONY OF DR. EDWARD F. HILLS
Edward Freer Hills (1912-1981) was a respected Presbyterian scholar. He was a distinguished Latin and Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Yale University. He also earned the Th.B. degree from Westminster Theological Seminary and the Th.M. degree from Columbia Theological Seminary. After doing doctoral work at the University of Chicago in New Testament textual criticism, he completed his program at Harvard, earning the Th.D. in this field. Though largely ignored by professional textual critics and translators, Hills has encouraged thousands of pastors, evangelists, missionaries, and Bible teachers by his defense of the Received Text and his exposure of the unbelief of modern textual criticism. In 1956 he published The King James Version Defended: A Christian View of the New Testament Manuscripts. Key chapters include “A Short History of Unbelief,” “A Christian View of the Biblical Text,” “The Facts of New Testament Textual Criticism,” “Dean Burgon and the Traditional New Testament Text,” and “The Textus Receptus and the King James Version.”
Hills devastated the Westcott-Text theories and exposed the rationalistic foundation of the entire modern version superstructure.
Following is Hills testimony about how he came to a “faith position” on the text-translation issue:
I have been interested in the problem of New Testament textual criticism since my high school days in the 1920’s. At that time I began to read the commentaries of Charles Hodge, books that were a part of my Presbyterian heritage. I noticed that Hodge would sometimes mention variant readings, most however, just to show that he was knowledgeable, for he rarely departed from ‘the common text’ (textus receptus) and ‘our English version’ (King James). Even so my curiosity was roused, so that in 1931, when I was a sophomore at Yale University I took down C.R. Gregory’s Canon and Text of the NT from a library shelf and began to read. I was dismayed at the large number of verses that, according to Gregory and his teachers Westcott and Hort, must be rejected from the Word of God. Nor was I much conformed by Gregory’s assurance that the necessary damage had been done and the rest of the text had been placed on an unassailable basis. How could I be sure of this? It seemed to me that the only way to gain assurance on this point was to go to Westminster Seminary and study the question under the tutelage of Dr. Machen, who preached in New Haven rather frequently in those days, talking to Yale students at least twice.
When I began to study New Testament textual criticism at Westminster (under Dr. Stonehouse) I found that the first day or so was mainly devoted to praising Dr. B.B. Warfield. He was lauded for being among the first to recognize the ‘epoch making’ importance of the theory of Westcott and Hort and for establishing the Westcott and Hort tradition at Princeton Seminary, a tradition which was now being faithfully perpetuated at Westminster Seminary. To me, however, all this was very puzzling. Dr. Warfield was a renowned defender of the Reformed faith and of the Westminster Confession, yet in the department of New Testament textual criticism he agreed entirely with liberals such as Westcott, Hort and C.R. Gregory. He professed to agree with the statement of the Westminster Confession that the Scriptures by God’s ‘singular care and providence’ had been ‘kept pure in all ages’, but it was obvious that this providential preservation of the Scripture was of no importance to Dr. Warfield when he actually began to deal with the problems of the New Testament. When he engaged in New Testament textual criticism, Dr. Warfield ignored the providential preservation of the Scriptures and treated the text of the New Testament as he would the text of any book or writing. ‘It matters not whether the writing before us be a letter from a friend, or an inscription from Carchemish, or a copy of a morning newspaper, or Shakespeare, or Homer, or the Bible.’
I may be reading back into my student days some of my later thinking, but it seems to me that even at that time I could see that the logic of Warfield’s naturalistic New Testament textual criticism led steadily downward toward modernism and unbelief. For if the providential preservation of the Scriptures was not important for the study of the New Testament text, then it could not have been important for the history of the New Testament text. And if it had not been important for the history of the New Testament, then it must have been non-existent. It could not have been a fact. And if the providential preservation of the Scriptures was not a fact, why should the infallible inspiration of the Scriptures be regarded as a fact? Why would God infallibly inspire a book and then decline to preserve it providentially? For example, why would God infallibly inspire the Gospel of Mark and then permit (as Warfield thought possible) the ending of it (describing the resurrection appearances of Christ) to be lost?
Why was Dr. Warfield so inconsistent in the realm of New Testament textual criticism? Dr. Van Til’s course in apologetics enabled me to supply the answer to this question. Dr. Warfield’s inconsistency was part of his scholastic inheritance, an error which had been handed down to him from the middle-ages. Let me explain. During the middle-ages the school men tried to reconcile the philosophy of Aristotle with the dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church by separating faith from reason and praying from thinking. While dealing with dogma, faith and prayer were appropriate, but the study of philosophy was reason’s province. So the medieval school men contended, and soon this doctrine of the separation of faith from reason became generally accepted throughout the medieval Roman Catholic Church.
The Protestant Reformers were fully occupied with other matters. Hence they spent but little time combating this medieval, Roman Catholic error of the separation of faith and reason. Hence this false scholastic doctrine survived the Reformation and soon became embedded in the thinking of conservative Protestants everywhere. In the 18th century Butler and Paley built their apologetic systems on this false principle of the separation of faith and reason, and in the 19th century, at Princeton and other conservative theological seminaries, this scholastic principle even governed the curriculum and the way in which the several subjects were taught. Systematic theology, practical theology and homiletics were placed in one box labeled FAITH. All the other subjects, including New Testament textual criticism, biblical introduction, apologetics and philosophy, were placed in another box labeled REASON.
We see now why Dr. Warfield was so inconsistent. We see why he felt himself at liberty to adopt the naturalistic theories of Westcott and Hort and did not perceive that in so doing he was contradicting the Westminster Confession and even his own teaching in the realm of systematic theology. The reason was that Dr. Warfield kept these subjects in separate boxes. Like an authentic, medieval scholastic, he kept his systematic theology and the Westminster Confession in his FAITH box and his New Testament textual criticism in his REASON box. Since he never tried to mingle the contents of these two boxes, he was never fully aware of the discrepancies in his thinking.
When I began to study New Testament textual criticism at Westminster in 1935, I noticed another thing. Almost as much time was spent in disparaging Dean Burgon as in praising Dr. Warfield. This again aroused my curiosity. Who was this Dean Burgon? Upon investigation, I found that he had been a British scholar that had not fitted into the usual scholastic mold. He had not kept his theology and his New Testament textual criticism in two separate boxes, but had actually dared to make his theology the guiding principle of his New Testament textual criticism. For this he was pronounced ‘unscholarly.’
Actually, however, he was merely following the logic of faith. He believed that the New Testament was the infallibly inspired Word of God. Hence it had been preserved down through the ages by God’s special providence, not secretly in holes and caves and on forgotten library shelves but publicly in the usage of God’s Church. Hence the text found in the vast majority of the New Testament manuscripts is the true text because this is the text that has been used by God’s Church. As soon as I began to read Burgon’s works, I was impressed by this logic of faith and also by the learned arguments by which Burgon refuted the contention of Tischendorf, Tregelles, Westcott, Hort, etc. Finally, after some years of hesitation, I definitely committed myself to his view in 1952.
Therefore, the true New Testament text is found today in the majority of the Greek New Testament manuscripts, in the Textus Receptus, and in the King James Version and other faithful translations of the Textus Receptus. And therefore also this same preserving providence operating today through the agency of all those true believers, however humble, who retain and defend the King James Version.