Tag Archives: Acts of the Apostles

Summary of “The Text of Acts in the Writings of Origen”

My thanks to Adam Harwood for posting a summary of my research on Origen on his site at http://www.adamharwood.com/?p=74.

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Filed under Early Church, New Testament, Textual Criticism

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.

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