“Western Texts” of the Book of Acts

In a recent sermon, I remarked on the missing verse 37 from the book of Acts. In the previous verse, someone asks Philip if he can be baptized, and then, in verse 38, Philip is baptizing him. Is that it? Just ask, and you shall receive? Many traditions, including my own, say, no, there’s more to it.

Some manuscripts of Acts include a verse 37, which says something like this:

Philip said to him, “If you believe with all your heart, you can be.” The eunuch answered, “I believe that Jesus Christ is God’s Son.” (ceb)

The manuscripts that include the material in verse 37 are part of a collection of manuscripts called the “Western Text.” A detailed discussion by Bruce Metzger is available online, and a few lines from his conclusion might be the best summary:

After surveying the chief theories that have been offered to explain the origin of the Western text, one is impressed by the wide diversity of hypotheses and the lack of any generally accepted explanation.

These include many additions, long and short, of a substantive nature that reveal the hand of a reviser. Working upon a copy of the “Western” text in the first sense, the reviser, who was obviously a meticulous and well-informed scholar, eliminated seams and gaps and added historical, biographical, and geographical details. Apparently the reviser did his work at an early date, before the text of Acts had come to be generally regarded as a sacred text that must be preserved inviolate.

It follows … that “in none of the three cases does the ‘Western’ text of Acts preserve for us the ‘original’ text of that book….


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