The Spirit Fell on the Eunuch? (Textual Variant in Acts 8:39)

I have long known about the Eunuch’s missing confession in modern translations. Acts 8:37 is “missing” in most modern translations of the New Testament.

“And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” (Acts 8:37 KJV)

The secondary nature of this reading is clear from it not being in the earliest witnesses; it does not show up until the sixth century. Additionally, it has several minor variants within the text itself in the manuscripts that contain it–a telltale sign for a shaky history of transmission. Metzger’s Textual Commentary offers the following explanation:

There is no reason why scribes should have omitted the material, if it had originally stood in the text. It should be noted too that τὸν Ἰησοῦν Χριστόν is not a Lukan expression.

The formula πιστεύω … Χριστόν was doubtless used by the early church in baptismal ceremonies, and may have been written in the margin of a copy of Acts. Its insertion into the text seems to have been due to the feeling that Philip would not have baptized the Ethiopian without securing a confession of faith, which needed to be expressed in the narrative. Although the earliest known New Testament manuscript that contains the words dates from the sixth century (ms. E), the tradition of the Ethiopian’s confession of faith in Christ was current as early as the latter part of the second century, for Irenaeus quotes part of it (Against Heresies, iii.xii.8).

Although the passage does not appear in the late medieval manuscript on which Erasmus chiefly depended for his edition (ms. 2), it stands in the margin of another (ms. 4), from which he inserted it into his text because he “judged that it had been omitted by the carelessness of scribes (arbitror omissum librariorum incuria).”

The last paragraph explains how the verse got into the manuscripts used in the earliest English translations. Erasmus is largely responsible for creating a text erroneously known later as the Textus Receptus. (The verse is even lacking in the Latin Vulgate).

Of course, as I said, this variant is well known by text critics. Yet in verse 39 there is another rather interesting variant that never showed up in any English translation. The text with the variation (marked in red) reads,

When they came up out of the water, the Spirit Holy fell on the Eunuch and the angel of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. (Acts 8:39 NRSV).

The adjective “holy” in normal Greek fashion comes after the noun.

While most of the witnesses are late; one is important and early. In Codex Alexandrinus the first hand scribe entered it as a correction. While I’m not arguing for its originality, it does show how the scribe—who first added the text—read the text. The scribe, probably based of how Luke presents the Holy Spirit in Acts (e. g., Acts 10:44; 11:15), found it to be a reasonable expectation that the Eunuch visibly received the the Holy Spirit. Without this addition, the text of Acts 8 is silent on the Eunuch’s reception of the Holy Spirit.

Advertisements

20 Comments

Filed under New Testament, Textual Criticism, Uncategorized

20 responses to “The Spirit Fell on the Eunuch? (Textual Variant in Acts 8:39)

  1. Roger Woods

    Stan, that is interesting. I’d not heard of it but will do some work with in. I’m teaching Luke/Acts at RC right now. It will be an interesting discussion point when we follow the theme of the Spirit through Luke/Acts. Thanks.

    Roger

    • snhelton

      Roger, I was actually looking at 8.37 again and noticed the reading in 8.39. I had never seen it before myself but since I’m interested in Luke’s presentation of the Holy Spirit, I was intrigued by the reading.

  2. David

    Until publication of the Revised Standard Version New Testament in 1946 (Old Testament in 1952), people knew what the Bible was. It was the authorized King James Version. With the plethora of modern translations, society has experienced a debacle in biblical ignorance, immorality, declining standards of integrity, and confusion on what the Word of God is.

    But in any translation of Acts 8, you find that in Verse 35 Philip preached “Jesus” and that, presto, in Verse 36 the Eunuch asked to be baptized. We do not know what else Philip may have preached about Jesus, but it is obvious that preaching Jesus meant preaching something about baptism. Contrast that observation with what you hear nowadays in a lot of sermons purporting to be about “Jesus.” Many contemporary preachers will do anything to obviate preaching what Philip deliberately included.

  3. Johnny

    The ASV of 1901 which was a variation of the RV of 1881 and upon which the RSV was based was the first major “modern speech” translation using the Critical Text rather than the Received Text. The textual variants in question by the RSV were the same in the ASV.

    • snhelton

      Johnny, I believe you have the genealogy of the English translations correct, though a lot more could be said about the relationship between the version, but Jack P. Lewis covers that ground in his now classic, From the KJV to the NIV. Probably time for another edition of that useful work. Where I think we have to be careful is that the “received text” merely represents one stage in the direction of a critical text. The Textus Receptus represents a few late manuscripts. The other point is that there is not just one “critical text.” The RV was too early for the finished work of Westcott and Hort and I’m not sure how much the ASV used W-H. Also given the time from the ASV (1901) and the RSV (1946-52), it would follow that the later translation had access to the most manuscript evidence.

  4. David

    But in any translation of Acts 8, you find that in Verse 35 Philip preached “Jesus” and that, presto, in Verse 36 the Eunuch asked to be baptized. We do not know what else Philip may have preached about Jesus, but it is obvious that preaching Jesus meant preaching something about baptism. Contrast that observation with what you hear nowadays in a lot of sermons purporting to be about “Jesus.” Many contemporary preachers will do anything to obviate preaching what Philip deliberately included.

  5. “… but went on his way rejoicing.” Some of my 3rd Wave friends suggest that the Spirit did indeed fall on the eunuch – who by the customs of Judaism (Deut 23.1) wouldn’t have been allowed into the Temple area. Rejected at the Temple, but accepted by the Spirit, along the same lines as the Samaritans in Acts 8. The eunuch’s rejoicing would be another manifestation of the Spirit indicating a palpable receiving, comparable to glossolalia/prophecy … your thoughts?

    • snhelton

      Two observations; first, your 3rd wave friends are consistent with Luke’s emphasis and that of the explicit interpolation of the scribe. That one receives the Holy Spirit (various language used throughout Acts: fall on, come upon, poured out, etc) is normative for Luke. When that does not happen, it is perceived there is a problem (earlier in Acts 8 and in 19). Furthermore in the ministry of Jesus, Luke has already linked joy/rejoicing with the Holy Spirit (Luke 10.21; cf. also Acts 13.52). Secondly, because the presence of the HS can be expressed in multiple way, it would be inconsistent with Luke’s presentation to insist on any of the expressions, like speaking in tongues vs. rejoicing, as the definitive sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit.

    • snhelton

      Another observation about this text is that since we know the Eunuch was reading Isa 53 . . . had he kept reading on into Isa 56 as he went on his way rejoicing, he would have come to this passage: “Do not let the foreigner joined to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely separate me from his people”; and do not let the eunuch say, “I am just a dry tree.” For thus says the LORD: To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant— these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. Thus says the Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.” (Isaiah 56:3–8 NRSV)

  6. David

    (1) What MSS was Jerome looking at when he translated the Vulgate?

    (2) Did Jerome have an early source which has since been lost?

    (3) Is there not room to believe that maybe the Vulgate actually arose in part from MSS which antedate the MSS which are now considered early?

    (4) If the Holy Spirit shepherded the preserved word into the form which we know today, is it not logical to assume that the lexical choices in the Authorized King James Version are more authentically the word of God than are the more-recent discoveries?

    • snhelton

      David, those are some interesting questions.
      1. I don’t know which MSS used for the Vulgate (though the full Vulgate was not all Jerome’s work). But I do have a sense of what kind of MSS would have been at this disposal since he is probably using the library at Caesarea Maritima. Jerome is quite aware of variations in the MSS as he comments on several of these.
      2 and 3. I’m sure we have lost MSS that Jerome used; but I doubt that we have lost any of the “readings” in those MSS. At the very least, if Jerome incorporated those reading in the Vulgate, the Greek behind the Vulgate may still be discernible. Besides, we have far earlier versions, which certainly have readings earlier than even our Greek MSS. These include the Syriac, the Coptic, and even the Old Latin, of which the Vulgate was to be a revision.
      4. This questions moves from weighing text critical choices we have because we have the MSS to a theological presupposition. While I believe God uses “all” translation to communicate his word at various times and places, I would stop short of any translation being more authentically the word of God than another translation. Like textual variants, each must be judged case by case. Furthermore, a more recent discovery does not automatically get pride of place. The data with which text critics work is more vast than most know.

  7. I’m coming to this a bit late, but it is not exactly true to claim that Acts 8:37 is not “in the earliest witnesses.” One must exclude patristic sources for that to be true. Irenaeus (c. 182, Against Heresies Book 3, 12:8) and Cyprian (mid-200’s, Treatise 12, 3:43) both utilize this verse. And that’s pretty early testimony. Can you think of any testimony about Acts 8 :26ff. that is earlier??

    This verse is in G67 (Codex Glazier), too, which has been assigned a production-date in the 300’s or 400’s.

    Metzger says that “There is no reason why scribes should have omitted the material,” but this is the sort of thing he always says when he has not sufficient applied his imagination. The existence of an early copy that was used in church-services, in which these words were accompanied by symbols indicating that they were to be recited on special occasions (such as a proselye’s initial confession of faith), could account for the loss of the passage; all that would be needed is a copyist who used such a copy as his exemplar and misinterpreted the symbols as if they meant to omit the text they accompanied.

    And “Jesus Christ” is indeed not a Lukan expression; if authentic, it is the expression of an Ethiopian, as told by Philip and recorded by Luke. One might also note that by the same token, “Jesus Christ” is not a Marcan expression, being used only once, in Mk. 1:1. (Plus, “Jesus Christ,” in 9:34, 10:36, and 11:17, is pretty close; Metzger was really reaching for objections.)

    One might also note that there is a strong likelihood that Codex D would include the verse, if the page containing this part of Acts were extant, so it is only by luck that Metzger gets to say that no NT manuscript until the 500’s (E) contains the verse. (Which, in light of G67, is still not true!)

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

    • snhelton

      James,

      Thanks for you comments to my post.

      You write: “The existence of an early copy that was used in church-services, in which these words were accompanied by symbols indicating that they were to be recited on special occasions (such as a proselye’s initial confession of faith), could account for the loss of the passage; all that would be needed is a copyist who used such a copy as his exemplar and misinterpreted the symbols as if they meant to omit the text they accompanied.”

      Can you provide any examples of this in of our extant MSS?

      I will reply to some of your other comments later when I have more time.

      Stan

      • Stan,

        Are you asking for an example of a MS with this exact passage accompanied by symbols indicating that they were to be recited on special occasions? No; I can’t present any such examples (although I haven’t sifted through all the extant copies of Acts). But likewise Metzger could not name copies that had Acts 8:37 in the margin — at least, he did not do so; he theorized that the contents of the verse “may have been written in the margin of a copy of Acts.”

        On a side-note: regarding the relationship between the 1881 Revised Version and the Westcott-Hort text, some of your statements here in the comments may be brought into sharper focus by a comparison to Phillip Schaff’s description of the revision-process as described in his 1883 “A Companion to the Greek Testament and the English Version.”

        Yours in Christ,

        James Snapp, Jr.

  8. John Rokos

    I remember hearing Oxford Professor G D Kilpatrick taking this variant seriously in a lecture in 1969, on the basis of only one manuscript (presumably A – He may not have had access to the others).

  9. snhelton

    John, Thanks for sharing that story. It does appear that several other witnesses attest the reading: 323 945 1739 1891.

    • John Rokos

      I should have added
      1 He thought “the Spirit of the Lord took up Philip” was a strange thing for the Holy Spirit to be doing (He didn’t mention that OT Obadiah had evoked that concept – but THAT Obadiah, though a believer, was not an inspired prophet), which is why he looked in the manuscripts he had to hand for something else.
      2. He thought the Holy Spirit coming on someone just after baptism was the usual thing – As a baptist, I’d say that, but for an Anglican like him.
      3. He commented that the Greek translated “Holy fell on the Eunuch and the angel” was just the right length to constitute a line in a manuscript and that the first copyist, then copied by subsequent scribes, could have simply jumped over that line.
      The lecture was given during a visit to SIL Merstham, Surrey.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s