Reprinted from Target, January 1994]

Were Westcott & Hort
Members of a Ghost Society?

By Robert L. Sumner


There is a network of publications that, by quoting each other, are mass instigators of misinformation, each seeming to feel that his own publication is the last line of defense before the capitulation of Fundamentalism to the Enemy.  As an illustration of what we are talking about, in the July/August 1993 issue of Battle Cry, the publication of Californian cartoonist Jack Chick, there was an article with a two-column heading “Son of Biblical Text Editor Westcott Says: ‘My Father Was A Spiritualist’.  Here are the opening two paragraphs:

Writing that his father had a lifelong ‘faith in what for lack of a better name, one must call Spiritualism,’ the son of famed biblical Greek text editor B. F. Westcott admits to a considerable public alarm at his father’s activity.

Westcott and his famed partner, Hort, were among the founders of the Ghost Society in the 1850s. Fascinated by the spirit world, their club was dedicated to pursuing knowledge of ghostly encounters with spirits.

Is this information true of false? Well, let’s just say it is a prime example of what these fellows do with a tiny germ of truth, twisting it to give their readers a false picture and make the victim look bad--in this case, 19th century men who have been dead a combined total of 195 years (Brooke Foss Westcott died in 1901 and Fenton John Anthony Hort in 1892), men no longer around to defend their honor. To get at the truth, note the following:

1) The Guild was not formed (Westcott’s association was short lived, as we assume was Hort’s) when the two were mature biblicists seeking to restore the New Testament Greek text, but when they were still students at the University of Cambridge. 

2) The author of the article above erred in the name.  It was not the “Ghost Society,” but the “Ghostlie Guild.”  In short, it seems to have been exactly the kind of humorous name a bunch of college kids would give such a society.  While an error in the name is not of earth-shaking import, it does show the inattention to detail of which these heresy hunters are often guilty.

3) The Guild was not formed so that its members could communicate with ghosts.  Quite the contrary, it was intended as a scientific society “established for the investigation of all supernatural appearances and effects.”  Its members were to collect all such accounts possible, investigate them, discard those obviously false, and seek to document any that might be true.  Members were instructed, in dealing with alleged accounts, to “request written communications, with full details of persons, times, and places,” although the informers’ names would not be used “without special permission.”  Still, a guild member “making any communication should be acquainted with the names, and should pledge himself for the truth of the narrative from his own knowledge or conviction.”  Even as college kids, then, Westcott and Hort were not participating in seances, playing with ouija boards, becoming involved in crystal-gazing, or sampling any other form of clairvoyance.  It was first, last and ever a scientific study into the phenomenon of the spirit world.

4) One could not doubt the reality of some of these apparitions and spectacles without denying the existence of biblical demons.  We refuse to do that.

5) Perhaps the most blatant misrepresentation in the entire Battle Cry article was in the opening sentence of paragraph one (see above).  Here is what Arthur Westcott actually wrote about his father: “What happened to this Guild in the end I have not discovered.  My father ceased to interest himself in these matters, not altogether, I believe, from want of faith in what, for lack of a better name, one must call Spiritualism, but because he was seriously convinced that such investigations led to no good.”  Do you not see how the words of the son were twisted by the writer of the unsigned article?  He said Westcott had a lifelong faith in Spiritualism.  The son said his “father ceased to interest himself in these matters.”  All the son was saying was that his father never ceased to believe in the existence and ministry of demons.  Nor have we.  The longer we live the more we are convinced of their reality.  (And we hope no future heresy hinter will write an article after my decease calling me a Spiritualist.  I am not!  Nor is there evidence that either Westcott or Hort were!)

Why, pray tell, did the anonymous writer omit the phrase that would have ruined his expose: “[Westcott] was seriously convinced that such investigations led to no good.”  Yes, why?

We don’t mind writers exposing error.  What we object to is distorting, slanting, twisting information so that it presents a false picture in order to make the “Enemy” look bad.  Go ahead, fight the W-H Text if you think it is bad.  Show how it is bad.  Fight the translations made from it honestly, fairly, and in a Christian spirit of love.  In other words, if you are going to fight, fight like a man!

And when you discover you’ve erred, correct it.  (We wonder how many in the “good ole boy” network who published the Chick error, after reading this, will make a correction in their paper?  Don’t hold your breath!)