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Textual Criticism
of the New Testament
The Confession of the Ethiopian
(Acts 8:37, text)
By Rod Ross

ACTS 8:37 is in the KING JAMES VERSION and the NEW KING JAMES
VERSION., being found in THE TEXTUS RECEPTUS. The verse is omitted in the
Greek texts of WESTCOTT/HORT, NESTLE’S, UNITED BIBLE SOCIEITIES and
the MAJORITY TEXT; and it is omitted by the AMERICAN STANDARD VERSION,
NEW AMERICAN STANDARD, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, REVISED
STANDARD VERSION, and NEW ENGLISH BIBLE, as well as others.

The first matter of business in determining the validity of a passage is realizing
what evidence needs to be examined in order to come to a conclusion. We will
discuss these further as we examine them.] There are three things that most
textual critics examine.
1. Does the passage fit into the flow of the context?
2. Is the literary style of the passage compatible with the supposed
author? And, lastly and most important; 3. What evidence do we find for
the passage in the manuscripts, lectionaries, ancient versions, and
quotations of early writers?

THE FLOW OF THE CONTEXT

“And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the
south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert.
And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great
authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her
treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship,  Was returning, and sitting
in his chariot read Esaias the prophet. Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near,
and join thyself to this chariot. And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read
the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? And he
said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that
he would come up and sit with him.  The place of the scripture which he read was
this, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his
shearer, so opened he not his mouth: In his humiliation his judgment was taken
away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth.
And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the
prophet this? of himself, or of some other man? Then Philip opened his mouth,
and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. And as they
went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See,
here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? 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.  And he commanded the chariot to stand
still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he
baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the
Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his
way rejoicing. But Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached
in all the cities, till he came to Caesarea.” (ACTS 8:26-40 KJV)

The passage discusses the occasion of Phillip the evangelist teaching the
Ethiopian Eunuch/Treasurer at the urging of the Holy Spirit. The Ethiopian had
been to Jerusalem to worship. He was reading from the prophet Isaiah as he
rode along on the return trip. The passage was a prophecy of the coming
Messiah (Christ).

“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is
brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb,
so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and
who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living:
for the transgression of my people was he stricken.” (ISAIAH 53:7-8 KJV)
It would have been difficult to find a better verse to start preaching Jesus to the
Ethiopian.

Phillip’s question is one that every reader of scripture needs to ask, “Do you
understand what you read?” Reading would not impart a blessing without
understanding.

The Ethiopian’s answer needs to be understood by any who would look at
prophecy, “How can I understand it, unless someone guides me?” The guide to
understanding the Old Testament prophecies is the New Testament, written
under inspiration of the Holy Spirit [ROMANS 10:10-17]. Phillip here answers by
inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Beginning with this scripture, he describes the
fulfillment of this prophecy in Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, the Messiah, the Son
of the living God.

Phillip had come to the chariot of the Ethiopian and entered as it continued to
travel. When they came to a certain body of water, in response to Phillip’s
teaching, the Ethiopian asked, “What keeps me from being baptized [immersed]?”
Jesus had taught “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every
creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth
not shall be damned.” (MARK 16:15-16 KJV) Belief is necessary to be baptized,
rather than dunked. The only means, that is available for determining whether
someone believes or not, is their own statement. Thus, “That if thou shalt
confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God
hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man
believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto
salvation.” (ROMANS 10:9-10 KJV)

The first part of verse 37 has Phillip answering the Ethiopian’s question. Without
verse 37, the question is asked, but no answer given. In the latter part of the
verse, the Ethiopian responses to Phillip’s answer.

Following the confession of faith, Phillip baptized the Ethiopian. He could not
have scripturally baptized the Ethiopian, if he did not believe; and, he could not
know whether he believed, unless he told him. Verse 37 fits into the flow of the
context.

IS THE LITERARY STYLE OF THE PASSAGE COMPATIBLE WITH THE
SUPPOSED AUTHOR?

Bruce Metzger, in his textual commentary [A TEXTUAL COMMENTARY ON THE
GREEK NEW TESTAMENT: A COMPANION VOLUME TO THE UNITED BIBLE
SOCIETIES’ GREEK NEW TESTAMENT (THIRD EDITION); United Bible Societies,
London, New York; copyright 1971], states: “…  It should be noted too that
ton
Iaasoun Christon
is not a Lukan expression.” (p. 359).
The only objection to the literary style of this passage is “… that
ton Iaasoun
Christon
 is not a Lukan expression.” Consider the usage of the following verses:

ACTS 5:42
ACTS 11:17
ACTS 18:5
ACTS 18:28
ACTS 20:21
ACTS 28:31

It is noted that Luke uses Christ Jesus more often than Jesus Christ; but, it must
also be noted that he does use the formula Jesus Christ, along with the article
(even if it includes Lord). Therefore, there is nothing in this usage to cause one
to doubt the passage, unless they doubt it to begin with.

Does an author always use the same word order? Does a preacher or teacher
always say Jesus Christ? Does he not also say Christ Jesus? Does the fact that
he uses the one more often than the other mean that he never uses the other?
The same latitude which is used in language today ought to be allowed in the
scripture as well.

WHAT EVIDENCE DO WE FIND FOR THE PASSAGE IN THE MANUSCRIPTS,
LECTIONARIES, ANCIENT VERSIONS, AND QUOTATIONS OF EARLY
WRITERS?

The earliest manuscript that contains the passage in question is E (LAUDIANUS)
from the 6th century. A (SINAITICUS), B (VATICANUS) FROM THE 4TH
CENTIURY, A (ALEXANDRINUS) AND C (EPHRAEMI RESCRIPTUS) from the 5th
century, as well as PSI from the 8th or 9th century, P  AND 049 from the 9th
century, 056 AND 0142 from the 10th century. In addition P45 (CHESTER
BEATTY) from the 3rd century and P74 (P. BODMER XVII) from the 7th century.
Metzger states: “… Although the earliest known New Testament manuscript which
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).”
(pp. 359-360).

When this evidence is first glanced at, it is wondered why the passage was ever
included in the New Testament. After all, it isn’t until the 10th century that the
passage is regularly found in Greek manuscripts, although it must be admitted
that the number of manuscripts from earlier times is scant.

However, when you see that the majority of early versions or translations into
other languages include the passage, starting with certain copies OF THE
HARCLEAN SYRIAC, THE CLEMENTINE VULGATE, PS-AUGUTINE, ARMENIAN,
GEORGIAN, LAUDINUS, SCHLETTSTADTENSIS, LEGIONENSIS,
ARDMACHANUS, PHILADELPHIENSIS, COLBERTINUS, AND GIGAS, an eyebrow
is raised. Opposing it are THE PESHITTA SYRIAC, certain copies of THE
HARCLEAN SYRIAC, THE SAHIDIC COPTIC, THE BOHAIRIC COPTIC, THE
WORDSWORTH-WHITE VULGATE AND THE ETHIOPIC. Why did these
translations include it if there was no manuscript evidence?
In addition, the early writers almost unanimously include the passage:
IRENAEUS, TERTULLIAN, CYPRIAN, AMBROSIASTER, PACIAN, AMBROSE,
AUGUSTINE, BEDE (says it is in the Greek manuscripts), AND THEOPHLACT.

Why did they include the passage if there was no manuscript evidence? It should
be noted that the testimony of early writers usually means that it was present in
several manuscripts, and they made a conscious decision to include it.

The majority of the Lectionaries from both schools (THE SYNAXARION, the so-
called “movable year” beginning with easter; and THE MENOLOGIAN, “the fixed
year” beginning September 1) do not include the passage. Only one lectionary is
listed by THE UBS 3RD EDITION, L59. But, this is not surprising since these are
a collection of partial passages.

When you look at the evidence over all, it is comparatively even.

In the 2nd century (and possibly as late the the 7th century), THE SYRIAC
HARCLEAN includes and omits in copies, and THE SYRIAC PESHITTA omits the
passage.

In the 3rd century, IRENAEUS, TERTULLIAN AND CYPRIAN all include the
passage (and by inference the manuscripts which they used), while THE
CHESTER BEATTY P45 PAPYRUS AND THE COPTIC VERSIONS (BOTH
SAHIDIC AND BOHAIRIC) which may date as late as the 6th century omit it.

In the 4th century the tide turns, with THE CLEMENTINE VULGATE VERSION, PS-
AUGUSTINE OLD LATIN VERSION, ARMENIAN VERSION, AMBROSIASTER,
PACIAN AND AMBROSE including the passage, WHILE ALEPH THE SINAITICUS
UNCIAL, B THE VATICANUS UNCIAL, AND THE WORDSWORTH-WHITE
VULGATE VERSION omit the passage.

In the 5th century, THE GEORGIAN VERSION AND AUGUSTINE include the
passage, while A THE ALEXANDRINUS, C THE EPHRAEMI RESCRIPTUS along
with CHRYSOSTOM omit it.

In the 6th century, E LAUDIANUS AND LAUDINUS OLD LATIN VERSION includes
the verse, and THE ETHIOPIC VERSION omits it.

In the 7th century, THE SCHLETTSTANDTENSIS OLD LATIN VERSION AND
LOGIONENSIS OLD LATIN VERSION include the passage, while P74 P BODMER
XVII PAPYRUS omits it.

In the 8th century, GREEK MANUSCRIPTS ACCORDING TO BEDE include the
passage, and PSI UNCIAL omits it.

In the 9th century, ARMACHANUS OLD LATIN VERSION includes the passage
while 049 UNCIAL AND 33? UNCIAL include it. There is some question as to
whether the passage is omitted by 33 UNCIAL.

In the 10th century, 1739 MINUSCULE includes the passage, and 056 UNCIAL
AND 0142 UNCIAL omit it.

In the 11th century, MINUSCULES 945 AND 104? and some copies of
THEOPHLACT include the passage, while the passage is omitted by
MINUSCULES 181, 436, 451, 81, 1505, AND 104? and some copies of
THEOPHYLACT.

In the 12th century, THE MINUSCULE 88 questionably includes the passage, as
does THE LECTIONARY L59, PHILADELPHIENSIS OLD LATIN VERSION AND
COLBERTINUS OLD LATIN VERSION, while possibly THE MINUSCULE 88, along
with 326, 330, 1241, AND 2127.

In the 13th century, THE OLD LATIN VERSION GIGAS includes the verse, while
THE MINUSCULES 614 AND 2492 exclude it.

In the 14th century, THE MINUSCULE 1877 AND 629 have the verse, while THE
MINUSCULE 2495 excluded it.

CONCLUSION

What tips the scales in this instance is the context. Something is definitely
missing without the verse in question. The flow of the passage is interrupted
without the question of Phillip and the response of the Ethiopian.

We could go further into the details of the evidence and the character of their
readings, but this should suffice for the time.