Friday, June 17, 2022

“Guest Post” from the Grave: William G. Pierpont on E.F. Hills


With the permission of Maurice Robinson, I am making available one of Pierpont’s unpublished papers, an evaluation of E.F. Hills’ defense of the textus receptus. Some formatting may have changed a bit, but I include here both text (to make it searchable) and images of the paper itself (for transparency).

Edward F. Hills’ Views on the N.T. Text

[by William G. Pierpont]

Dr. Hills’ agenda is openly and clearly expressed in the title of the four editions of his book “THE KING JAMES VERSION DEFENDED,” of which this reviewer used the first (1956) and the second (1973), together with several items of personal correspondence (the last dated 10 June 1981, shortly before his death). During this period his basic premises and conclusions remained resolutely unaltered, although expressed in somewhat different ways.

His reverence, sincerity, integrity and scholarship are unquestioned. His presentation of facts is balanced, fair and precise, and often interestingly made. It is his interpretation and use of the facts, as well as certain presuppositions which we must examine.

Starting from the confidence that God is the God of truth, he lays out his two primary principles as:

a) the autographs of the NT were Divinely inspired, and therefore in­fallible, and that
b) because of this God must see that they were providentially preser­ved. (The logic for this step rests on Mt. 5:17+, 24:35, etc.)

Therefore, textual criticism of the Scriptures is different from that of other books. Its principles must be drawn from Scripture itself—and from creeds and other Church writings which are in agreement with Scripture—and used in constructing theories for criticism itself.

Providential Preservation (PP) forms the center about which his further presentation revolves. Summarizing his "axioms", he declares that:-

1) The purpose of PP is to preserve the infallibility of the autograph­ic text, and that God must have done so in a public way, i.e., so that all may know where and what it is-- not hidden somewhere among the MSS and requiring to be searched out.
2) It is the Greek text which is thus preserved, not a translated ver­sion of it. (God never promised that a translation would be kept free of errors, great or small.) Further, there may not be competing authorities.
3) During the long centuries of hand copying, PP operated through the Greek-speaking Christian community, who understood and used the language.
4) PP operated through the testimony of the Holy Spirit: only through Bible-believing universal Christian preiesthood [sic], those who have taken a supernatural view of the text, applying to it standards of judgment di­rected by the Holy Spirit, and were thus enabled to distinguish the true from the false. This was not only through the Spirit’s testimony to the individual’s soul, but also in the collective priesthood of believers through the ages (continuing onward into the Protestant period). Thus errors entering were weeded out by Divine Providence and guidance.
5) From the very first, PP supplied a multitude of trustworthy copies which were read and recopied, while faulty and untrustworthy ones fell out of use and passed into oblivion. Thus the genuine text was kept safe in the vast majority of MSS.
6) Thus the consensus agreement of this vast majority of copies forms the Traditional Text (TT), which accurately represents the originals and is the Standard Text.

This vast majority of MSS thus contains an essentially uniform text, al­though hardly any two MSS agree exactly throughout by reason of little individual variations and errors. Their differences are often hard to detect, being rare and small. This verifies that each descended indepen­dently from its own ancient ancestor, and therefore the text itself is ancient and not medieval in origin.

[p. 2]

Up to this point we would question only axiom #4, that only Bible­ believing Christians were involved in transmission of the text. Even Dr. Hills questions it. He admits a period of "confusion" during the second and third centuries when "unspiritual persons" made both inten­tional and careless alterations in individual MSS, as well as giving rise to at least two "types" of spurious texts: the "Western" and the "Alexandrian". For a while both, but particularly the "Western" with its association with the capital and center of the Empire at Rome, seem to have become serious rivals to the true text. During this period he believes the genuine text survived mostly by means of MSS owned and copied by individuals and churches more remote from the main centers of culture. A further disturbance he believes came from Christians of non-Greek-speaking areas who depended on translations which were im­perfect and affected their understanding and judgment as to what was authentic and autographic. Such had some effect, he infers, on a few Greek MSS also. (Interestingly, he cites a study indicating that the later Egyptian Christians tended to obscure the early history of Chris­tianity there because of extensive heretical influences, of which they were ashamed.)

Further, he questions the Christianity of a number of known early Church Fathers, some of whom even considered apocryphal books as canonical. Also he observes that the Medieval Greek Church was far from Biblical. Axiom #4 is thus very questionable. Dr. Hills apparently did not have available the results of a number of studies of scribal habits which show so clearly that fidelity had been the major characteristic of oriental scribes from deep antiquity. Thus he did not need to call in axiom #4 in the way he stated it. He could have stated the high degree of scribal faithfulness was augmented by the reverence of scribes in most cases for the Divine text. (Admittedly, no doubt many unskilled copyists also worked, especially in the early centuries.)

Nevertheless, we cannot disagree that "down through the ages God has exercised a special, providential (but not mechanical) control over the copying of the Scriptures and their preservation and use, so that (with few exceptions) trustworthy respresentatives [sic] of the original text have been available to God’s people in every age." (We may well question whether this was true during the second and third centuries, however.— Did every true Christian know where and what the text was?)

At the point in textual history when the first Greek NT was printed, ’’the text of the Reformation” as he calls it, Dr. Hills introduces a new presupposition: the virtual perfection of the "Received Text" (TR). This is seen in the question: "Did God employ a defective instrument—a ’corrupted’ text— to bring about the mighty act of Reformation?” His answer: "It is inconceivable that the Divine Providence which had preserved the text during the long ages should blunder when at last this text was committed to printing." This question arose, as Dr. Hills is careful to point out, because the TR does not agree fully with the TT.

This is embarrassing, for he had so emphatically claimed that: a) the true text was transmitted solely via the Greek-speaking Church, and b) that God never guaranteed the accuracy of a translation— while the "corrections" to the TT which he mentions* derive obviously from the Latin Vulgate version, a translation of the Western or Roman Church. Not only translation, but re-translation were done. How could it be that the genuine text in these "few" places could have survived only in a translated version, and not in the TT? He meets this situation [p. 3] with the dogmatic assertion that in the TR (even that of Erasmus) we have by Divine Providence the God-directed' final "correction"(revision) of the TT, removing the few errors of any significance here and there. Perhaps he was more accurate when he said that Erasmus was influenced by the usage of the Latin-speaking Church in which he was reared to follow the Latin Vulgate sometimes rather than the TT of the MSS lying before him.
*) Dr. Hills does not even mention the far larger source of divergen­cies of the TR from the TT: those which had crept into the relatively few MSS used by the early editors from the minority group of Alexan­drian type MSS. Did he not know of these, or would their admission have completely destroyed his defense of the TR?
In order to admit "corrections" from this source (or others?) Dr. Hills lays down this rule: such readings from non-TT sources may be made part of the good text if they "seem to be improvements" in wording and if they in no way contradict or materially alter the sense or detract from the doctrinal richness of the TT. But if so, where does one stop? Is the door open?

Dr. Hills dilemma grows as he admits that the TR does contain errors. He mentions "these human imperfections in the text of Erasmus," many of which persisted into later editions. He was also faced with the well-known fact that the various editions of what is loosely called "the TR" differ in several hundred places from each other. To handle this he must affirm that: "in all essentials the TR’s of Erasmus, Stephanus and Elzevir are in full agreement with the TT." What then is accuracy? Not perfection.

He acknowledges further that there are simply some places where the tes­timony of the vast majority of MSS is so divided that we cannot be sure which of two readings is original.

Another equally serious embarrassment he faced is that the first honored editor at least, Erasmus, was not a Bible-believing Christian, but an out and out avowed humanist, raised in a Roman Catholic environment. This man performed, not just copying, but active editing functions.

Having admitted all this, Dr. Hills, it appears, would not permit any alterations, even to produce more complete agreement with the TT majority. No, such must be made only as footnotes to the TR text. The TR is the sacred Reformation Text! No improvement or correction dare be made!

What about the perfection of this "Reformation Text"? Does Dr. Hills need to defend the TR so rigorously on this account? Are not justifica­tion by faith and the sole authority of the Scriptures its key principles? If so, every MS and version known adequately support these points. Why then must Dr. Hills violate his own axioms in order to defend a text which needs no such defense? Why must he so overstate his case and destroy the "consistent" textual principles he so frequently demands up to this point?

It seems Dr. Hills had made the serious mistake to specifying how PP must operate. We would not quibble that the "tr was a further step in God's providence", but not in its supposed perfection. Rather it made a good, but not perfect text widely available for God's people.

Does the evidence show that God provided that each copy down through the ages was virtually perfect? Obviously not. Should we then demand that God should have so had to direct men, some of them at least unbelievers, to produce a printed text that is better than the (good) MSS they used for it?

[p. 4]

Dr. Hills insisted to the end that if one defends the TT, he must also defend the TR (whatever it is). Since one may not, by his own axioms, have two competing authorities, the TR must automatically be superior to the TT of the Greek MSS. Otherwise it is illogical.

A parallel situation exists for the KJV. He admits that it does not exactly agree with any edition of the TR, but has additional changes. Further it is a translation, a version. We do not contest his valuing its "literary quality", but we do wonder seriously how helpful its "religious language" is to the common person who seeks to understand it, or the Hebraistic and Hellenistic idiom often found on its pages to be­wilder the modern reader, or the Germanic Old-English grammar prevalent.

Finally, he says that if we defend the TR, we must also defend the KJV and not permit it to undergo any alterations of text whatever. Our only efforts at improvement must be confined to the margins.

Is it true, as he repeatedly would insist, that the usage of a text or a version (KJV only here) by God’s people over several centuries constitu­tes God's seal of approval upon that text or version? Or is this only a reverence for what has been familiar, tradition rather than truth itself?

No, Dr. Hills,, we cannot agree with the virtual perfection of the TR simply because it was "the text of the Reformation", nor with the KJV as the standard in the English-speak world where it is increasingly hard for the common man to understand without much help.

We cannot see that you have helped further the truth of God as contained in the multitude of Greek MSS Divine Providence has supplied us.

— — —

"By faith we know that the TT found in the vast majority of the Greek NT MSS is the True New Testament Text preserved providentially through the universal priesthood of believers.
"By faith also we know that the TR is the God-guided revision of this TT.
"Again by faith we take our stand upon the KJV as a faithful translation of the TR.
"Thus through consistently (?) Christian textual criticism we build our life and thought securely on the sure foundation, the unshakable rock of holy Scripture. Through this believing method of dealing with the NT text uncertainty is kept down to a minimum." (p.201, 1973 Ed.)

We cannot doubt the sincerity of Dr. Hills, but we must severely ques­tion the basis for his "by faith" statements, since they have no foun­dation in the Holy Scriptures themselves. It is not Divine Preservation which we question, but his prescription as to how it was accomplished. His faith in the TR and the KJV is his own construction, and it is a wobbly base on which to pin one’s whole faith. We cannot concur in these two faith statements. In order to defend them he has been most inconsistent. — And we are sorry.

[William G. Pierpont, 3 Jn. (January or June?) 1985]


  1. Thank you for making this available! I would like to draw your attention to a minor typo which can be easily corrected to

    "In order to admit "corrections" from this source (or others?) Dr. Hills lays down this rule: such readings from non-TT sources may be made part of the good text if they "seem to be improvements" in wording and if they m no way" - m no way should be in no way.

    1. I just fixed it; thanks for catching that!

  2. I thought it was interesting that Pierpont seemed to accept axioms 1 and 2, and primary principle b.

    Those seem to me to make a pretty shaky foundation to build on. I don't think the passages cited for primary principle be support the conclusions Hills drew from them. Nor do I think primary principle b logically follows from primary principle a, the way the wording implies.

  3. I don’t think I have seen anyone address the issue of manuscripts versus eclectic texts when discussing the TR. The 1872 book “BIBLIOTHECA NOVI TESTAMENTI GRAECI” by Eduard Reuss shows from a span of 1514 to 1650 there were 173 Greek NT published by 40 authors and a great majority have differences between them. Also some do not have Erasmus’s error at Rev 22:19 and only the Beza’s NT have the emendation at Rev 16:5. I believe when talking TR or TT this should be made apparent to the reader even though this would add more confusion to the layreader when they discover their Bible is translated from an eclectic text and not from a manuscript or codex. IMHO

    1. Thanks for this. If I remember correctly, Reuss didn't do complete collations either but had a series of test passages he checked in each edition.

  4. If this is an accurate portrayal of Hillis’ arguments for the TR and KJV then I am flabbergasted that proponents of the TR/Ecclesiastical/KJV rely on him as their experts. Dr. Robinson’s MT is a much surer foundation!

    1. Let's have Edward Freer Hills speak directly:


      The King James Bible Defended (1983 edition)
      Edward Freer Hills

      The special providence of God is particularly evident in the fact that the text of the Greek New Testament was first printed and published not in the East but in Western Europe where the influence of the Latin usage and of the Latin Vulgate was very strong. Through the influence of the Latin-speaking Church Erasmus and his successors were providentially guided to follow the Latin Vulgate here and there in those few places in which the Latin Church usage rather than the Greek Church usage had preserved the genuine reading. Hence the Textus Receptus was a further step in the providential preservation of the New Testament. In it the few errors of any consequence occurring in the Traditional Greek Text were corrected by the providence of God operating through the usage of the Latin speaking Church of Western Europe.

      ... during the 16th century when the New Testament text was being printed for the first time, God worked providentially through the usage of the Latin-speaking Church to influence Erasmus and the other editors and printers of that period to follow the Latin Vulgate in those few places in which the Latin Church usage rather than the Greek Church usage had preserved the genuine reading. ...

      There are also a few passages in which the Latin Vulgate has preserved the true reading rather than the Greek Traditional New Testament Text. As we shall see in the next chapter, these few true Latin Vulgate readings were later incorporated into the Textus Receptus, the first printed Greek New Testament text, under the guiding providence of God.


      Steven Avery
      Dutchess County, NY USA

    2. Clearly no one is anxious to get into a discussion of accuracy relating to two respected men who have both passed.

      William Grover Pierpont (1915-2003)
      Edward Freer Hills (1912-1981)

      Positions could have been in flux, they may have changed, the conversation may be recorded from a one-sided perspective.

      And I think it is very clear that there is a big difference between what is put in the book in 1983 by Hills, and/or his compiler, compared to how his position is represented in the post above.

      The book was originally published in 1956 but it is not easy to check that edition. It would be interesting to see if it has more of a Greek-primacy approach than the 1983 edition, which might help us understand the William Pierpont summary above.

      Anybody have the 1956 handy? Or even any intermediary edition before 1983.


      Steven Avery
      Dutchess County, NY USA

    3. One difficulty with accuracy as you put it is that Pierpont says his assessment is made with both editions "together with several items of personal correspondence"—it may be that Hills himself did vocalize these things in private but did not publish them in King James Version Defended. After all, he did explicitly claim that the Byzantine text was a later corruption in his doctoral dissertation (p. 89: "so here the pres­ence of these harmonizations in the Textus Receptus may be an indication that the Byzantine text descended, at least in part, from the Caesarean text."; p. 103: "Returning to the proposition that the Byzantine text is the result of a mixture of the Caesarean text with the Neutral text, we find that there is also a certain historical probability for this hypothesis."), but would anyone say that those statements reflected his actual, public views? Hills did write those statements though.

      I know there are some letters from Hills in the next batch of Pierpont correspondence that I am scanning, but I haven't made it to them yet. The only thing from Hills in what I have already scanned was a short paper on how to read Tischendorf's apparatus that Pierpont had sent to Hills for feedback and Hills sent back with notes, but that isn't helpful here.

      I will say that I searched the 1956 version for some keywords from what you quoted, and I couldn't find that quote—doesn't mean it isn't there, just that I couldn't find it. The 1956 edition of the book is almost 100 pages shorter than the 1973 edition though.

  5. The other day I couldn't find my keys. That made me late leaving. But then I arrived at just the right moment to find an old friend who needed my help. Was that just good fortune? Or was God at work?
    The later option might sound inspirational, but consider the implications: are we really imagining that God is in the habit of sneaking around my house hiding my keys?

    Maybe. Who really knows? But that's actually the point. As much as I might want something to have been the work of God, unless God himself takes the credit I think it's presumptuous - sinfully presumptuous - of us to give it to him.

    In Steven's citation above we see many examples of something that Hills and others in the KJV movement frequently seem to do: point to basic historical events and presumptuously attribute them to God's providence. It maybe wouldn't be so bad if they didn't then usually take the next step of deriving theological intention from that providence, all so that they can enlist the will of God in support of their own arguments.

    1. Hi Ryan, thanks for this. I'd agree with Hills on the existence of divine providence, but it's difficult for us to see God's purposes clearly when we're in the midst of them. It seems to me that Hills' position effectively has God's providence stopping in 1611, though Hills himself would say that God's providence continues with the defense of the KJV (I just found a letter to Pierpont in which Hills says this explicitly). Why that and not manuscript discoveries?

      I do see the presumption, but as I see it, it's not so much presuming that the data supports their case when rightly interpreted (though that too), it's that they presume what the data *is* before making conclusions about it. You see that in Hills's Believing Bible Study—you get lip-service paid to a handful of places where the TR ≠ the Majority text, but the rhetoric is strongly majority text/traditional text. It's as if the presumption is that the majority of manuscripts are all the same and all support the TR (except in these very few places), but that's not the evidence that God in his providence left for us. You can't interpret the evidence correctly if you don't know what it is in the first place.

  6. Regarding axiom 1) “The purpose of PP is to preserve the infallibility of the autographic text, and that God must have done so in a public way, i.e., so that all may know where and what it is-- not hidden somewhere among the MSS and requiring to be searched out.”
    Appeals to “God must have” and “all may know” are immediately falsified by the subsequent proposition that it cannot be “hidden somewhere among the MSS.” In other words, there is the admission here that some MSS differ, and so whoever copied these differences were among those who “didn’t know” and copied in violation of what “God must have done.” There seems to be a confidence that the vast majority “knew” against only a slim minority of copyists who “didn’t know” or that these copies made by those who “didn’t know” died out and were no longer copied.
    But the problem is the data is so much more complex. I am currently working on a large project to collate every continuous text manuscript that includes John 11. By my count, 1,824 MSS include at least a portion of John 11. As of today, I have collated 1,154 continuous text manuscripts (and 23 Lectionaries).
    Thus far, I have isolated at least 88 manuscript families, clusters, or pairs, that together represent 583 out of the 1154 manuscripts collated. These are identified as MSS that agree together at a higher percentage than each agrees with the MT. Then there are many MSS that display a mixed text with no close relatives, meaning the scribes who copied these also “didn’t know.” Then of the remaining MSS, these tend to agree with the 2005 R-P Majority text at a clip of about 948 to 953 words out of the 953 in John 11. Depending on one’s appetite for absolute precision in what God must have done, most of these MSS could get tossed out by the occasional nonsense reading, spelling variation of proper names, or variations around the ‘moveable nu’ or the addition or elision of the final vowel in certain words.
    And this is entirely limited to John 11. If a MS matches the MT perfectly, 953 out of 953, there still could be nonsense readings or other variations in other chapters of John, or the other books bound with it.
    I can affirm the good news that the text of John 11 is remarkably stable. There are only a few places where the precise nuance of meaning is in question, and these do not detract at all from being able to understand what was originally penned in John 11. The editors of both the NA/UBS text and the R-P Majority Text did a good job, given the goals of each of these texts. So far, I see only one MT reading that may turn out to be the minority reading. There is also one reading in the NA text that I personally would overturn based on the MS evidence collected and then applying the principles for textual criticism.
    But given the proposition that God must have made it so “all may know,” it appears that the actual scribes who did the copying were somehow among those who “didn’t know.”

    1. Hi Darrell, thanks for this informative comment. I think TR defenders would argue that since we don't know what all did exist at one point and has since been lost, we can't *know* from the manuscripts that still exist that God didn't do it in a public way. Of course I think this is terrible reasoning (for the very reasons you give).

      I heard someone say recently that when we say "God must have..." what we really mean is "If I were God I would have...". That's a terrible place to be theologically. Why not simply say that God has indeed given us sufficient access to his Word, and that this is indeed publicly accessible? That puts one's faith in God to provide and not in man to be able to identify infallibly which copy to believe—Faith is the substance of things hoped for, and hope that is seen is not hope. If we have to see it on our terms to believe it, what is that?