Who Was Dean John William Burgon?
A pamphlet compiled by Dr. and Mrs. D. A. Waite
and based on the 2-volume biography by Edward M. Goulburn
Defense of the Scriptures. Over a
hundred years ago there was a warrior and fighter for the Scriptures. His name was
John William Burgon. This champion was from a different time and century from you
and me; nevertheless, he was a staunch defender of Bibliology. As you know, this
discipline is the bedrock of all theology. [Bibliology refers to the doctrine of
It is interesting to note that Burgon not only pointed out what the Word
of God said, but also defended the Word of God against all errors within his own church.
Lack of Promotion. John William
Burgon was a battler. He applied what he knew, and it cost him something. He
did not get promoted. He was not on the English Revised Version committee of
1881. He was not made a professor, canon, or Bishop of his church. Neither was
he made the head of a college. Why? Because he "rocked too many
boats"! He loved the Book!
Birth and Early Life. John William
Burgon, the Dean of Chichester, was born on August 21, 1813, in Smyrna, a province
of Greece. He has been called "the champion of the impossible." His
mother, Catherine Marguerite de Cramer, of French descent, was the daughter of an Austrian
consul. Thomas Burgon, his British-born father, was a successful London merchant
connected with the commerce of the city of London, a collector and connoisseur of ancient
John, one of six children, was a product of the "home school."
For the first eleven years of his life, his mother was his teacher. His siblings
were Sarah Caroline, Thomas Charles, Emily Mary, Helen Eliza, and Catherine Margaret.
Young Scholarship. Young John had
an inborn propensity to use pen and pencil. Before he was two, he could speak only a
few words, but two of these words were in Greek. As he imitated writing on a page,
he called out, grafw, grafw [graphO, graphO--" I am writing, I am writing!"]
John had always wanted to be educated and to be a minister, but he had to remain with his
father in the family business. When that business failed, John was free to follow his
desire to study at Oxford University. While many of his contemporaries had finished
their formal education, thirty-year-old Burgon was just beginning his university studies.
Latin and Greek Studies. Besides
memorizing Latin, Burgon did exercises in Latin and Greek history daily. He was a
master of classical Greek, studying Thucydides, Aeschylus, and the Agamemnon.
He also grappled with such classical Greek writers as Aristotle, Aeschylus, and
Herodotus. He has been quoted as saying, "Old Aristotle I like better as I
understand him more."
Needless to say, John William Burgon was a well
trained man! Besides all this advanced philosophical study, Dean Burgon read
two chapters of the Old Testament daily, and often said, "I cannot feel
Sweet Temper and Strong Heart.
During a theological upheaval within his seminary, John Burgon wrote a fellow
seminarian the following:
"Our course is clear in good and evil report to
stick to our colors, praying for sweet tempers and strong hearts; and, if need be
advancing nothing that one does not feel sure of, and when once advanced, dying rather
Burgon stood for what God stood for, for what Christ stood for, and
for what the Apostle Paul stood for.
Grandfather's Stand. In 1799, John
Burgon's grandfather took an interesting stand in a French Church of St. Polycarp at
Smyrna. The church was going to be overrun by the Turks. His grandfather, who
was in the Austrian army, heard of this take-over. He did not want that church to be
desecrated by the heathen Turks.
Upon learning the news, he quickly put on his
uniform, pulled on his boots, grabbed the Austrian flag, and rushed to the church,
taking his post by the door. Straightway his determined grandfather removed the two
guards that were stationed there and said:
"Nobody is going to enter here
because I'm not going to let you Turks desecrate this church!"
The Turks' superior
officer came quickly. He remonstrated with John Burgon's grandfather and stated
flatly that the Turkish soldiers were not moving from their posts.
With haste the
brave grandfather drew his sword and vowed,
"No one will enter this church
without pulling down the Austrian flag first." [his eyes blazing and his head held
high] "And if you do, it will be over my dead body!"
Grandfather's Determination. The
Grandfather's determination was the same kind found in the fiber of John William
Burgon's life. As his brave ancestor, Dean Burgon was also a stalwart for right,
truth, and the Faith.
Years later, just as his grandfather had done, Dean
Burgon grasped the banner of Divine truth and planted himself resolutely in the doorway of
the Faith. He vowed that the rationalists' desecrating feet should never enter,
except by pulling down the banner, nor cross the threshold, except over his own dead body.
Concern for Students. When Burgon
was a pastor, he not only preached two or three times on Sunday, but also had
at seven o'clock in the early morning with the Oxford students. They came in
the evening to study also.
Eight times in a term, Pastor Burgon met with young
men. For four years he taught them the book of Genesis without completing the book
during that time. Ninety-six nights of teaching! Not a word, a
sentence, or a chapter was skipped. His plan was to make the Bible its own
commentary. He was a teacher of minute details. The result was that his
students came to know other books of the Bible at the same time.
Watchdog's Bark. On all the great
theological and textual questions that arose, Burgon's trumpet gave no uncertain
sound. On every question and there were many he delivered himself with courage as
one who was convinced himself, and sought to convince others also. Someone
"What a splendid watchdog he is. How loud and furiously he
barks when the smallest danger threatens the church or the Faith which is entrusted to the
church's keeping. It is the business of a watchdog to bark furiously and to even
flay at the throat of thieves."
Without a doubt, Burgon, was not only a student
of the Scriptures, but also a defender of the Scriptures.
Protest of Apostasy Within His Own Church.
His defenses against apostasy within his own church were remarkable and very
brave. As far as the record is concerned, Westcott and Hort were silent in all the
eleven church controversies in which Burgon found himself.
1. Burgon defended the Bible against
rationalism. He stood for the integrity of the Word of God as the church had
2. Burgon stood fast against Dr. Temple,
a bishop in his Anglican Church. Temple was a writer of apostate ideas for Essays
and Reviews. When Burgon was fifty-seven years of age, he stood against
Temple. Affection for the man was not allowed to prevail where the maintenance of
the faith was concerned.
3. Burgon battled against the Unitarian,
Dr. Vance Smith, of the 1881 English Revised Version Committee of the Bible. Smith's
views were intolerable. Burgon even wrote Bishop Ellicott, the Chairman, and
suggested that he get that man off the revision committee or get off himself! Burgon
"You have knowingly associated yourself with one who has openly
denied the Eternal Godhead of our Lord and the inspiration of the Word."
4. Burgon protested the removal of the
Athanasian Creed as the theological basis for his church.
5. Burgon opposed Dean Stanley, who
wanted to be a teacher at Oxford, because he was a rationalist and a Latitudinarian.
A Latitudinarian is one who seeks to destroy revealed truth.
6. Burgon opposed the Romanizing of the
Anglican church. He was against the apostasy of his own church and against those who
were seeking to have it adopt doctrines and practices of Roman Catholicism.
7. Burgon opposed one of his church's
publications on prophecy because the author believed that prophecy by Biblical writers
(defined as knowledge of events before they happened) was impossible.
8. Burgon opposed Oxford University's
test bill. The University was trying to remove the Church of England's Thirty-Nine
Articles of Faith as a test for every student. Only the divinity students had to
agree to it not the others.
9. Burgon was against the Darwinian
theory of evolution.
10. Burgon did not approve of the
spiritualization of Genesis by Professor Prichard who wrote that the Genesis creation was
only a "poem." Burgon contended that Genesis was history in the strictest
11. Burgon was against the New
Reformation that attempted to change theology and Biblical interpretation.
Boldness. In 1876, at the age of sixty-three, Dean Burgon wrote a letter to a Bachelor of Arts
student as follows:
"Be zealous for the truth; be not ashamed to confess
Christ; be bold on His behalf."
Legacy for Today. Today we have the same
Bible battle as Burgon had in his day. The battle moved from the controversy on the
text of Scripture, to the controversy on the authenticity of Scripture, to the
controversy on how does one interpret or translate Scripture. Even in Dean
Burgon's day Bishop Brooke Foss Westcott and Fenton John Anthony Hort were on the wrong
side of all three of these controversies.
If we change the Biblical text
today, tomorrow we will have a horrible battle on our hands. As we enter the next
century, beware of the seeping poison of textual changes from pulpit to pew and from
preacher to people.
Experimenting with a paraphrase today could greatly harm a
person tomorrow. Puffing on a cigarette today could bring cancer tomorrow.
Snorting cocaine today could mean death tomorrow.
Systematic Treatise. At the age of
seventy-three, two years before his death, Dean Burgon began writing his systematic
defense of the Traditional Text of Scripture. It was to be a thorough going treatise
on Biblical Textual Criticism in two volumes. He argued with himself before
"It will take a long time.
I know it.
The rest of your life.
I know it.
It will cost a great deal of money.
I know it
And you will never finish it.
I know it.
No one will ever appreciate it.
I know it.
I WILL DO IT!"
He was right. Few did appreciate it. But Dean Burgon was a determined
man. He thought to himself,
"Why don't I do for the whole New Testament
what I have done for the Gospel of Mark?" [Referring to his book, Last Twelve
Verses of Mark]
Treatise Reprinted. This resulted
in the books, The Traditional Text (Volume I), and The Causes of Corruption of the
Traditional Text (Volume II), both of which were posthumously finished by his close
associate, Rev. Edward Miller. The Dean Burgon Society has reprinted them in
hardback as #1159 @ $16+S&H and #1160 @ $15+S&H respectively. It is
satisfying to notice that researcher, Dean John W. Burgon, was always careful to
defend the character of the Scriptures. He treated those Sacred Words as if he were
dealing with a dear living friend.
Quotations of the Church Fathers.
As a result of his research, Burgon compiled an index of sixteen folio volumes of more
than 86,000 quotations of or allusions to Scripture which were used by the Church
Fathers. These indexes were about 12" by 18" by 3" in size.
They are presently in London's British Museum. They have been catalogued by
Dean Burgon and his associates. Each quotation or allusion is color-coded to show
the exact page and version of the Church Fathers from which they were derived. These
are very valuable indexes, but as yet are unpublished.
Who were some of the
Church Fathers? This is another name for the leaders of the early church,
whether pro-Textus Receptus or not. They were men such as Origen, Jerome,
Athanasius, Cyprian, Clement of Alexander, Augustine, Tertullian, and
In the writings of the Church Fathers whom Burgon researched, he
found that these early leaders quoted from various Greek and Latin texts of
Scripture. Remember that the purpose of researching the Church Fathers was not
necessarily to give word for word quotations of the Bible. It was to show that a
writer, in referring to the Bible in a personal letter or document, had used a certain
verse, a series of verses, or even one word or two that he found in his copy of Scripture.
In many instances, this exact quotation or allusion showed whether the writer had
before him the Textus Receptus-type of text or a Westcott and Hort-type of text. So,
we may conclude that these early Fathers, regardless of their individual faith or
convictions, had specific New Testament texts in their hands which help us immeasurably.
Disdain of Westcott and Hort's Views.
Why did Westcott and Hort knock the Church Fathers? Because many of the
writings of the Church Fathers contained words which were contrary to those preferred by
these liberal Anglican clergymen. There were approximately seventy-six Church
Fathers who died before 400 A.D. whose writings made frequent reference to the New
Testament. Yet, Westcott (of the nineteenth century) and D. A. Carson (of the
twentieth century) said that the Greek texts used before 400 A.D. did not reflect the
Traditional or Byzantine text, but only the Westcott and Hort-type of text. Westcott
and Carson refused to see the evidence. Not only did quotations of these seventy-six
Church Fathers from the Textus Receptus prior to 400 A.D. exist, but these Textus Receptus
quotations were in the Majority. Not only were they in a simple majority, but were
in a majority ratio of 3 to 2 (60% to 40%)! In fact, Dr. Jack Moorman when
researching this independently, found the ratio to be 70% to 30%! (See Early Church
Fathers and the A.V. (#2136 @ $6+S&H)
For instance--take this hypothetical
case--if there were 500 quotations altogether, we would discover that 300 Textus
Receptus-type of manuscripts were quoted from, and only 200 Westcott and Hort-type of
manuscripts were quoted from by the Church Fathers. Instead of having no
reference to the Textus Receptus before 400 A.D., we find more texts alluded to of the
kind on which our King James Bible is based than those on which the E.R.V.,
A.S.V., N.A.S.V., or N.I.V. are based. This should encourage and buttress our Authorized
Version (KJB) convictions!
Cause of Death. The doctor said the
cause of Burgon's death was nervous fatigue resulting in prolonged mental work produced by
strain to the nervous system. Though his labor was great, and though his days had
been shortened because of such labor, John William Burgon had great fondness for his
writings. He pondered over them from daybreak until night. He taught what he
believed and he believed what he taught.
Dearest "Friends" at Death.
Two days before Dean Burgon died, he asked to have his great portfolios--his life's
work--placed on an adjoining bed in his sick room. At first, members of his family
rejected his request; but soon they humored him and granted his dying desire. He
promised that he would not touch or read his manuscripts. He only wanted to see
them. Burgon whispered:
"When a man dies, he wants to say good-bye to his
When Burgon died, his goal was not reached.
Burning Zeal for God's Word. Dean
John William Burgon's enemies had called him "a defender of lost causes."
The following was said in the sermon given at his funeral:
"It was his burning zeal for the Word of God which stirred him to come forward as a
champion in a cause which he thought was being betrayed by those who should have been its
Edward M. Goulburn, in his biography, The Life of Dean John William Burgon, wrote:
"All my memories of Dean Burgon are bound up with the Bible. . . I have never left
him without feeling stimulated and reproved."
Faith in Bible Preservation. The
following words of Dean Burgon have been quoted often:
"Either the whole Bible is
inspired, the Words as well as the sentences, the syllables as well as the Words,
the letters as well as the syllables, every 'jot' and every 'tittle' of it, or the whole
of it must be abandoned, since no part of it can be certainly depended upon as an
Challenge to Us Today. Dean
Burgon's work was left unfinished. There is still a task that lies ahead of us
today. We must pick up the banner of Divine Truth and resolutely plant ourselves in
the doorway of the Faith. We must stand, as he did, for the Authorized King James
Bible and its underlying Hebrew and Greek words.
DO NOT GIVE UP THE WORDS THAT
Books By or About Dean Burgon
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of our DBS
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#2839 Who Was Dean John William Burgon? ($1.50)>
pamphlet as above>
[ ] #DB0611 The Revision Revised by Dean Burgon ($25 + $5) hardback;
[ ] #DB1139 The Last 12 Verses of Mark by Dean Burgon ($15+$4) perfect bound;
[ ] #DB1159 The Traditional Text by Dean Burgon ($16 + $4) hardback; 384 pages
[ ] #DB1160 Causes of Corruption by Dean Burgon ($15 + $4) hardback; 360 pages
[ ] #DB1220 Inspiration and Interpretation, by Dean Burgon ($25+$5) hardback;
[ ] #0804 Dean Burgon's Revision Warnings For T.R. & KJB, by Dr.
Waite ($7+$3); 120 pages