The King James Bible Defended

by Edward F. Hills



        If, indeed, we are in the midst of "a revival of the almost century-old view of J.W. Burgon" (Eldon Jay Epp, "New Testament Textual Criticism in America: Requiem for a Discipline," Journal of Biblical Literature 98 [March 1979]: 94-98.), the question naturally arises: How did such a development come to pass? Our answer in a large measure is to be found at the doorstep of Edward F. Hills (1912-1981), in his comprehensive work The King James Version Defended: A Christian View of the New Testament Manuscripts (1956). This publication was, in its day, an indication to the established school of New Testament text criticism that Burgon was not without an advocate from within its own ranks, even if such a position were only to be regarded as an anomaly (v. Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration [1968], p. 136 n. l; J. Harold Greenlee, Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism [1964], p. 82 n. 2).

Recently, however, his contribution has brought new entrants into the textual arena who have followed his lead (if not his entire methodology) and thus have opened for fresh debate a forum for the defense of the Byzantine text. Hills lived to see this gratifying development, noting thankfully that his work was finally being seen by some as more than just a "scholarly curiosity" (a la Greenlee op. cit.). On the contrary, he will now be regarded as the Father of this 20th century revival of the Majority Text.

It is, nevertheless, ironic that of all who have offered a contribution to the Byzantine text defense, Edward F. Hills is the only bonafide New Testament text critic to do so since the days of Scrivener, Burgon and Hoskier. Why then are his views not playing a larger role in this current stage of the debate? An answer in part is to be found in a sentiment expressed to this author by Gordon Fee when he was asked why Hills had been ignored in the lively exchange that took place in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (Vol. 21, nos. 1&2 1978). His response was that Hills' works were "museum pieces." This impression, no doubt, is a result of Hills choosing to publish himself, rather than go through the conventional publishing channels. But, the climate then—in 1956—was not that of today. It is, therefore, high time to dispel forever any such unrealistic and flippant impressions.

Moreover, the time has now come for this present edition to make its unique contribution felt. Unique in that, while Hills was the only recognized, published New Testament text critic to advocate the primacy of the Byzantine text either in his day or in the present, no one since has been more innovative than he was in attempting to integrate his confessional, theological perspective with the discipline of New Testament text criticism. This is a taboo that even the recent Majority Text advocates have attempted not to transgress, preferring to work from within a purely scientific framework. But Hills' training under J. Gresham Machen, John Murray, R. B. Kuiper and most especially, Cornelius Van Til, would not allow him to rest content with the neutral method to which he had been initiated at the University of Chicago and Harvard. Kuiper recognized the value of this integrational approach to a highly specialized discipline, in which few confessing evangelicals had ever distinguished themselves, in his preface to the first edition of this work:

For more than a decade he [Hills] has taken a special interest in New Testament Textual Criticism. The subject of his dissertation, written in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Th.D. degree was: The Caesarean Family of New Testament Manuscripts. The Journal of Biblical Literature has published three articles by him, each bearing directly on the field of his special interest: "Harmonizations in the Caesarean Text of Mark" in 1947, "The Interrelationship of the Caesarean Manuscripts" in 1949, and "A New Approach to the Old Egyptian Text" in 1950. Professor C. S. C. Williams of Oxford University took cognizance of the first of these articles in Alterations to the Text of the Synoptic Gospels and Acts (1951), and the second was referred to by G. Zuntz, another Oxford Professor, in The Text of the Epistles (1953).

It is evident that Dr. Hills is entitled to a hearing because of his scholarship. I think it no less evident that he deserves a respectful hearing because of his theological convictions. This is not just another book on New Testament Textual Criticism. On the contrary, its approach to that theme is decidedly unique. Dr. Hills founds his criticism of the New Testament text squarely and solidly on the historic doctrines of the divine inspiration and providential preservation of Holy Scripture, and it is his firm conviction that this is the only proper approach. Hence, he not only differs radically with those critics who have a lower evaluation of the Bible, but is also sharply critical of those scholars whose evaluation of the Bible is similar to his but who have, in his estimation, been persuaded that they ought not to stress the orthodox view of Scripture in their study of the New Testament text.

Underlying this position taken by Dr. Hills is a philosophy of truth. God is truth. Because God is one, truth exists as unity. And as God is the author of all diversity, truth also exists as diversity. In a word, there is the truth, and there are also truths. By reason, which is a precious gift of the common grace of God, the unbeliever can, and actually does, grasp many truths. But for the proper integration of truths and knowledge of the truth, faith in God, as He has revealed Himself in Holy Scriptures, is indispensable. Hence, in every department of learning the conclusions of reason must be governed and controlled by the truth which is revealed in God's Word and is perceived by faith. Any so-called neutral science which seems equally acceptable to the faithful and faithless but sustains no conscious relationship to the Scriptures is by that very token headed in the wrong direction.

Applied to the subject in hand this means that, while willingly granting that believers may well be indebted to unbelieving critics for a number of facts concerning the Scriptures, Dr. Hills insists that the interpretation and correlation of the facts can safely be entrusted only to believing students of the Word. That they too are fallible goes without saying.

Conservative Scholars have long taken that position with reference to the so-called higher criticism. Said James Orr under the head Criticism of the Bible in the 1915 edition of the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: "While invaluable as an aid in the domain of Biblical introduction (date, authorship, genuineness, contents, destination, etc.) it manifestly tends to widen out illimitably into regions where exact science cannot follow it, where often, the critic's imagination is his only "law". In the same article he also stated that "textual criticism has a well-defined field in which it is possible to apply exact canons of Judgment". However, the question may well be asked whether unbelieving critics have not in that discipline too at times given broad scope to their imagination. Significantly Orr went on to say: "Higher criticism extends its operations into the textual field, endeavoring to get behind the text of the existing sources, and to show how this 'grew' from simpler beginnings to what now is. Here, also, there is wide opening for arbitrariness". And of the Biblical criticism in general he said: "A chief cause of error in its application to the record of a supernatural revelation is the assumption that nothing supernatural can happen. This is the vitiating element in much of the newer criticism".

The assertion appears to be warranted that the position which was implicit in Dr. Orr's teaching forty years ago has become explicit in this book by Hills.

Recently Hills has received a degree of vindication from John H. Skilton, Professor of New Testament, Emeritus, and former head of the New Testament Department at Westminster Theological Seminary, for the conscious, theological element in his method:

For men who accept the Bible as the Word of God, inerrant in the original manuscripts, it should be out of the question to engage in the textual criticism of the Scriptures in a "neutral" fashion—as if the Bible were not what it claims to be . . . Whether one realizes it or not, one makes a decision for or against God at the beginning, middle, and end of all one's investigating and thinking. This is a point which Cornelius Van Til has been stressing in his apologetics and which Edward F. Hills has been appropriately making in his writings on textual criticism. All along the line it is necessary to insist, as Hills does, that 'Christian, believing Bible study should and does differ from neutral, unbelieving Bible study.' He is quite correct when he reminds us that 'to ignore...the divine inspiration and providential preservation of the New Testament and to treat its text like the text of any other book is to be guilty of a fundamental error which is bound to lead to erroneous conclusions.' (The New Testament Student Vol. 5,1982 pp. 5-6)

Finally, it must be stated that Hills did not hold to an uncritical, perfectionist view of the TR as some have assumed (Believing Bible Study 2d. ed. p. 83); nor did he advocate with absolute certainty the genuineness of the Johannine Comma (The King James Version Defended p. 209). What he did argue for, however, was a "canonical" view of the text (KJV Defended p. 106), because, in his experience, this was the only way to be assured of "maximum certainty" (KJV Defended pp. 224-225) versus the results of a purely naturalistic approach to the text of the New Testament.

Reformation Day 1983

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Theodore P. Letis