NB: Little of this literature has spiritual value, The value of this literature is elsewhere. A great deal of mythology circulates about the events of these years, and is sometimes used to concoct libels on the Christians. It is the task of some of those engaged in apologetic’s to look up the slanders and obtain the facts. A collection of the primary data such as this is of immediate service in this task. It is also interesting of itself, and those interested in finding out the facts of history for themselves will find it useful to have this data on hand. Roger Pearse
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THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES
Translated from the Codex Bezae with an Introduction on its Lucan Origin and importance by
Canon J. M. WILSON, D.D.
SOCIETY FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIAN KNOWLEDGE
NEW YORK AND TORONTO : THE MACMILLAN CO.
PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN
IT is necessary to state quite explicitly that this little work is not intended or thought of as a contribution to scholarship or criticism, or as bearing on the great problem of the origin and reconstruction of the Western Text. The whole subject, besides being far beyond my powers, is not yet ripe for settlement. Work on it by eminent scholars has been going on for years, and is proceeding apace in England, Germany and the U.S.A. New materials are being discovered. It will receive the devoted attention of scholars for years to come.
Scholars and textual critics have ample material put before them. My sole aim is to give English readers of the New Testament some outline of the unusual interest connected with this problem of New Testament criticism; to indicate its importance and bearing on wide issues; and to place before them for the first time, in the case of one book, materials for judging for themselves one of the chief arguments used for what appears the most probable solution. In a word my aim is to promote Christian knowledge. To critics I would say: In every work regard the writer’s end, Since none can compass more than they intend.
I acknowledge most gratefully the permission granted me by the Delegates and Syndics of the University Presses to make use of the Revised Version in the translation of the Acts of the Apostles given in this book.
James M. WILSON.
College, Worcester. July 1923.
A glance at the translation that follows will shew the difference between this text and those from which our ordinary English versions are taken. The words in thick type are in the Codex Bezae, briefly referred to as D, but not in our ordinary text; and the words in square brackets are in our ordinary text, but not in D. The object of this arrangement is to enable readers of the English New Testament to form a judgment on one of the most interesting and important problems of New Testament criticism lately brought before scholars, the Lucan origin of this remarkable text of the Acts. The lack of Greek scholarship, and that of other technical knowledge, do not disqualify anyone from forming an intelligent and independent opinion on one solution offered of the main question at issue.
The main question is this. There must be some reason for the striking difference between this text and that with which we are familiar. It has come to be believed by some scholars that there is conclusive evidence, both external and internal, that St Luke wrote a first draft of the Acts, and then revised, rewrote, and somewhat shortened it in the copy which he sent to Theophilus at Antioch; and that each of these texts was preserved and naturally copied, again and again, for the use of Churches; and that thus there came to exist from the earliest period two texts of the Acts, a longer and a shorter, a Western—-so called from its chief circulation in the West—-and an Antiochian.
The oldest MSS. of the Acts that happen to survive (none are older, however, than the fourth century), and the great majority of the later MSS., are all Antiochian; and it is |2 from these that both our Authorised and Revised Versions were translated. But it has chanced that a few MSS. survive which were derived from St Luke’s first and longer draft; and of these the Codex Bezae, known as D, now at Cambridge, is the oldest. These few and exceptional MSS. have been generally regarded, very naturally, but mistakenly, as full of strange later interpolations, and have therefore been disregarded as textual authorities. The belief that I speak of now is that the longer text, here for the first time shewn in English, is derived from St Luke’s original and longer draft; and that the shorter text of our ordinary versions was formed from it by St Luke’s own excision of what could be spared.
I will state at once why these additions and this correction, though small in extent, are of such general interest and importance. It is not only because they clear up some long-standing obscurities, but that they are decisive as to the early date of the writing of the Acts, and consequently of the early dates of the Gospels. How important it is to be assured of these early dates needs no enforcement. It is obvious that early Christian writings, derived from personal knowledge or from contemporary testimony, are of a wholly different value, as evidence for the truth of the historic basis of our Christian faith, from writings of a hundred, or seventy, or even forty years later.
I have said that the additional matter and an omission in this text of the Acts are decisive as to the early date of its composition, if this text is accepted as really Lucan in origin. My own judgment on this question could carry no |3 weight. But I will quote on this point two of the admittedly highest authorities on New Testament criticism, both of them reluctant witnesses, Harnack and Schmiedel.
Harnack in 1911 (Date of the Acts…, p. 93) writes: “I have now come to believe that there is a high probability in favour of an early date for the Lukan writings.” He goes on to assign to the composition of them a date before the destruction of Jerusalem. He had previously written (Acts of the Apostles, Crown Edn. p. 250) that he had agreed with almost everyone in accepting the Eastern form of the decree in Acts xv. as the original. “Since that time, and, I may say, with great reluctance, and after long consideration, I have arrived at a different conclusion. I am not fond of correcting myself; but magis amica veritas.” It was chiefly the external evidence that convinced Harnack.
And Dr P. S. Schmiedel, in his article on the Acts in the Encyclopaedia Biblica, after urging every possible argument for a late date, states his conclusion as follows: “The date of Acts must accordingly be set down as somewhere between 105 and 130; or if the Gospel of Luke presupposes acquaintance with all the writings of Josephus, between no and 130.” But then follows this remarkable sentence: “The conclusions reached in the foregoing sections would have to be withdrawn however, if the views recently put forth by Blass on the Western text of the Acts of the Apostles should prove to be correct.”
Blass, it may be here stated, was an eminent German Professor of Classical Literature, not a theologian or a specialised New Testament critic, who in 1895 edited the Acts in precisely the same impartial spirit in which he had edited other ancient writings, purely as a matter of scientific criticism; and his view’s are those expressed above in the second section. Blass rests his conclusion on the external and internal evidences equally.
This is enough to shew the importance of the question I am thus, after many years of reflection, endeavouring to bring before readers of the English New Testament for their information and judgment. |4
The question, I repeat, is this. There did exist, and was widely known, from the second century onward, an enlarged text of the Acts which had much in common with D or the Codex Bezae. This is now admitted by all scholars. This text is commonly described as the Western text, and for brevity and convenience is referred to as the β text. The shorter or Antiochian text is similarly known as the a text. Was the longer text made from the shorter by additions, made by some later unauthorised transcribers, as has been till lately assumed? Or was the shorter text derived from the longer by excisions made by St Luke himself on revision; the excisions being made, it is now suggested, of what could be spared as redundant or unimportant, or for the improvement of style, or as corrections on second thoughts? It is to lay before English readers the internal evidence for the latter hypothesis, furnished by the MS. itself, that this translation is made.
There is obviously no a priori improbability in the latter supposition, though it is unfamiliar in New Testament criticism. There have been duplicate original texts in the case of other authors. This general question is not one for Greek and Latin scholars only, though there may be some points on which they may have something special to say; for example, to shew that the additional matter is Lucan in language and literary style; but it appeals to common experience, to the experience of everyone who has written, and then revised, a letter or article or document of any importance.
The reader may now pass on to read carefully this text of the Acts of the Apostles, with the question stated above always present to his mind for judgment: “Does the perusal confirm, or does it not, the suggestion that I am reading a text derived from an early draft of the Acts written by Luke himself; and that on revision and rewriting he struck out the words in thick type, and inserted those within square brackets?” |5
The introduction might, as I have suggested, end here. But it is probable that many readers would be assisted by some remarks on the nature of the excisions and additions, and be glad to have their attention drawn to the importance of some of them; and that they would also wish to know something more of the contents and history of this Codex Bezae; and of the proofs of the early wide circulation of an enlarged and authoritative Western text. They would also probably wish to know something of the origin and reception among scholars of this, at present unfamiliar, view of its importance. The literature of the subject is very extensive, and is being added to every year. I am not attempting to say all that could be said or to give a bibliography of the subject; but only enough to whet the reader’s appetite for more.
A chief reason for omission in revision appears to be the desire for brevity—-simply to shorten the book. Words, therefore, and clauses, that on reading over again seemed superfluous or unimportant are left out. It must be remembered that a roll of papyrus had its limitations of convenient size; and the first and third Gospels and the Acts, even in its shorter form, were perhaps near to that limit. Two or three examples, which I will take from the first few verses of chap. i, will sufficiently illustrate this class of omission, which may be seen in nearly every page.
In i. 2 the β text reads “the apostles whom he had chosen and ordered to proclaim the gospel.” In the a text the words ” and ordered to proclaim the gospel” do not appear; they were omitted as superfluous.
In i. 4 the β text reads “the promise of the Father which ye heard, saith he, from my mouth.” In the a text this is similarly shortened into “which ye heard from me.”
In i. 5 the β text reads “Ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost, and which ye are about to receive after these |6 not many days until the Pentecost.” In the a text this is simplified into “not many days hence.”
The words omitted in i. 5 are of considerable value. They explain why ” when the day of Pentecost was now come, they were all together in one place,” and what they expected.
All these verses are quoted as Scripture by Augustine and others from the β text.
Some of the passages struck out on revision, in order to shorten the text, as historically unimportant are of value as shewing the writer’s intimate knowledge of the circumstances. They thus have a bearing on questions of date of composition and of authorship. I can find space in this introduction for only a few examples, but the significance of the omitted words must always be considered.
Note for example the frequent excision of notices of time, notices it may be observed very characteristic of St Luke’s style. In xvi. 4 the words “at the same time” are struck out. In xvi. 11 “on the morrow,” and in xvii. 19 “after some days” are similarly struck out: the last being of some interest as shewing that Paul had been teaching at Athens for some time before they took him to the Areopagus. See also xv. 30, xviii. 19. We may put here the curious excision from xix. 9 that Paul lectured daily in the School of Tyrannus “from eleven o’clock till four.”
Such excisions as these notes of time are quite what one would expect from an author who is rewriting and desirous of shortening his own work; but it is difficult to think of them, from the other point of view, as interpolations by later copyists.
Among such omissions, trifling in themselves, is that in xii. 10 in which the β text tells us that, on going out of the prison, Peter and the angel “went down the seven steps,” before “passing through one street.” A detail like this, |7 however, and the knowledge shewn of Mary’s house, and of the citadel, and its stairs, indicate that the writer was well acquainted with Jerusalem.
It will be noticed that many passages are more or less rewritten, partly with a view to shorten them, partly from considerations of style. I will give one instance only, from ii. 37. The β text reads “Then all who had come together when they heard this were pricked in their heart, and some of them said to Peter and the apostles, Men and brethren, what therefore shall we do? Shew us.” Compare this with our Revised Version taken from the a text. Twenty-eight Greek words have been reduced to eighteen.
There are many such examples of rewriting and compressing or omitting. See v. 39, vi. 10, 11, x. 24-26, xi. 2, xvi. 35-end, xix. 14, xx. 18. Chapters xiv to xxi should be read as a whole in order to give a fair impression.
It is, I think, noticeable that omissions are relatively few and short where St Luke is apparently relying on information, documentary or verbal, obtained from others, as in the early chapters. One such slight excision is of some interest.
In vii. 58 the β text reads “The witnesses laid their garments at the feet of a certain young man whose name was Saul.” On revision St Luke omitted the word “certain.” Does not this omission imply that St Luke was quoting from a document which had been written before “the young man whose name was Saul” had come to be well known? But when St Luke was writing and revising it seemed out of place so to speak of St Paul. The β text therefore has perhaps preserved a valuable indication, lost in the revision, that the evidence on which St Luke was relying was very early, nearly if not quite contemporary with the facts.
But how impossible that a subsequent copyist should have gratuitously interpolated here the little word “certain”! |8
I have said that the excisions seem to be on a larger scale where St Luke is revising his own personal recollections. This is specially true of his earlier recollections. Note, for example, with this thought in mind, some of the details given in chap. xvi of β, respecting the imprisonment at Philippi of which St Luke was plainly an eye-witness. The narrative in its form in β is very graphic. Or to give slight examples, look at xx. 12. What a touch of reality the story of St Paul’s parting from the elders gains from the little incident that it was “as they were bidding Paul farewell“ that they brought the young man alive, and were not a little comforted. Or the story of the riot at Ephesus (xix. 28) from the mention that “they ran into the street.” What copyist could have thought of interpolating these?
This observation suggests an interesting inference. For if chaps. xiii, xiv, and xv are also read in this text with this thought in mind, it can scarcely fail, I think, to occur to anyone as it did, I think, to Irenaeus1. * lrenaeus describes Luke as inseparable from Paul, and a fellow-workman. See Rendel Harris, Four Lectures on the Western Text, p. 88., that St Luke may have been with St Paul during part at least of that missionary journey. Even the ordinary text, from xiii. 4 onwards, in its description of the start from Antioch, the visit to Cyprus, the interview with Sergius Paulus, the treatment of Elymas, and the experiences at Perga, the Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe, and the return to the Syrian Antioch, is so graphic and detailed as to assure us that it rests on the testimony, even if it is not itself the description, of an eye-witness. But the β text gives some noteworthy special touches in addition. Note in particular that the proconsul was hearing Barnabas and Saul “with the greatest pleasure ” in xiii. 8; and in xiii. 41 how a hush of “silence” fell on all in the Synagogue when St Paul had finished speaking. There is a variation in the β text of xiii. 26 accounted for if St Luke was present. In reporting |9 St Paul’s speech at Antioch (xiii. 26) the β text reads “Brethren, Children of the stock of Abraham, and those among ‘us,’ who fear God, to us is the word of this salvation sent forth.” A similar indication of St Luke’s presence was allowed to remain in the a text of xiv. 22 “that through many tribulations ‘we’ must enter the Kingdom of God.” Certainly no other missionary tour of St Paul is related with such detail, except in cases where St Luke was certainly present. Compare the brief accounts given in xv. 41-xvi. 6, xviii. 20-23, xx. 1-3.
If the acceptance of the β text as genuinely Lucan did no more than turn the balance of judgment in favour of St Luke’s presence during part at least of this missionary tour, it would enhance not a little the interest of the story.
I shall now select the two most important special readings of D, and accepting them as of genuine Lucan authority, indicate some of the inferences to be drawn from them. All that has gone before in this Introduction is only intended to illustrate the internal proof, which the MS. itself furnishes, that these and other statements of the β text must be regarded as unquestionably Lucan, and therefore as the historically valuable words of a contemporary, and as part of our New Testament.
In xi. 28 the β text reads ” Now in these days there came down prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch; and there was much rejoicing; and when we were gathered together Agabus spoke, etc.” It may be noted that this passage also is quoted in this form by Augustine and others as Scripture. Now the words in italics are omitted in the a text, and they imply that St Luke was at Antioch at that time. There is no such implication remaining in the a text. We learn this fact from the β text alone. |10
There are many points on which this fact throws light.
(α) It obviously adds to the probability, spoken of in the last section, of St Luke’s having accompanied St Paul on the first missionary tour.
(b) It confirms, or it may be a source of, Jerome’s statement that St Luke’s home was at Antioch, and the similar tradition that Theophilus lived at Antioch.
(c) It explains the singular prominence given in the Acts to the affairs of the Church of Antioch. People come to Antioch, and go from Antioch. A whole section of the Acts has its centre at Antioch. It explains St Luke’s knowledge of the personnel “in the Church that was there” (xiii. 1) —-i.e. not mere visitors. We know the names of some of the prophets and teachers there—-Barnabas, and Symeon, and Lucius, and Manaen, and Saul. In the list of seven deacons the home of one only is mentioned, Nicolas of Antioch. We know nothing from the Acts of the similar Churches that may have existed in Galilee, and at Samaria, Joppa, Caesarea, Tyre, Sidon, Damascus, Alexandria, Cyrene, Cilicia (xv. 23 and 41) and must have existed at Jerusalem. This fact brings out the unity and authorship of the book, and throws some light on its purpose. The scope of the writer is limited. Its title in Greek and Latin MSS. is “Acts of Apostles.” It does not profess to give an account of the work of the twelve, or a sketch of the growth of the whole Church.
(d) It adds considerably to the historic trustworthiness of the details related as to the deputation from Antioch to the Church at Jerusalem to consider the great problem raised by the existence of ardent Gentile Churches, and the resulting decree of the Council. We have here the testimony of one who, if not, as seems probable, actually present, was at least in intimate relation at the time with the chief actors.
(e) But there are remoter and very illuminating consequences of our knowing certainly that St Luke was at Antioch at that time. For we read that one of his associates in the Church of Antioch was “Manaen, the foster-brother,” as the R.V. translates the word, “of Herod the tetrarch.” Now Manaen is a most interesting person. Dean Plumptre |11 was, I believe, the first to point out, on the authority of Josephus, that when Herod the Great was made King of Judea, he invited the child (or grandchild) of an old friend of his, also named Manaen, to come and live at his court, and be brought up with his own young son, Herod, the future tetrarch. That child was Manaen. The young Herod and the young Manaen were brought up as children and boys together; as youths they visited Greece and Rome together: and subsequently Manaen lived with Herod at his court in Tiberias. They were inseparables and intimate friends during the period of our Lord’s public ministry. It is this Manaen, Herod’s foster-brother, who, a very few years later, appears as one of the prophets or teachers of the Church at Antioch. How this transformation was brought about may perhaps be traced.
The fact of St Luke’s association with Manaen throws much light on one of the sources of the Gospels. It instantly explains and confirms St Luke’s remarkable knowledge of occurrences in the court of Herod; such as the help given to our Lord by Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna (St Luke viii. 3); and the scene (St Luke xxiii. 8) of our Lord’s trial before Herod. From some source—-unless indeed it was pure imagination, like that of a novelist—-St Luke knew not occurrences only, but motives; he knew that “Herod was exceeding glad to see Jesus”; that he ” had been for a long time desirous to see him”; that “he hoped to have seen some miracle done by him”; that Herod “questioned him in many words”; that “Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day.” Of course it was Manaen, Herod’s inseparable, who doubtless was present with Herod, who was St Luke’s informant. Manaen was in fact one of “the eyewitnesses and ministers of the word” to whom St Luke refers in his preface (i. 2). Those words exactly describe him.
We shall, of course, not forget that St Mark was also at Antioch at this time (Acts xii. 25, xiii. 5), nor shall we fail |12 to see that Manaen was also St Mark’s authority for the singularly graphic and accurate account (St Mark vi. 14-29) of Herod’s birthday feast, of those who were present at it, of the dancing, the oath, the beheading, and the subsequent honourable burial of John “in a tomb” by his disciples; and in particular of the motives and feelings of the principal actors in it. If this is not all sheer romance it must have been supplied by someone present. Who but Manaen? The early association also of the two evangelists is known only through the β text; and this in itself is of no small interest.
I am tempted to give another illustration from St Luke’s gospel of his knowing some details through Manaen. It is slight, and might easily be overlooked, but it is not the less convincing on that account. St Matthew, in xi. 2 relates an incident thus: “Now when John heard in the prison the works of the Christ he sent by his disciples, and said unto him, Art thou he that should come, etc. ? ” The same incident is told by St Luke with some additional detail as follows (vii. 18): ” The disciples of John told him of all these things. And John calling unto him a certain two of his disciples sent them to the Lord, saying, etc.” Now this passage is recognised by all critics as part of an original document, used by St Matthew and St Luke, and by many identified with a collection of our Lord’s sayings, reported by an early writer, Papias, to have been made by St Matthew: memoranda in fact, made probably at the time, after the manner of the disciples of a Rabbi. This document, as one of the sources of the first and third gospels, is commonly referred to as Q, standing for Quelle, a source. The form in which it appears in St Matthew is just what we should expect from notes, made by a disciple at the time, of the sayings of our Lord that followed the incident. St Luke had this document before him, and used it largely, as is known. But in this instance he introduced some additional incidents of the story, plainly from the point of view of |13 John. It was “John’s disciples,” not a mere gaoler, that had told him: he “called two of them”—-a “certain” two, as the Greek has it—-which means that St Luke could name them. This information must have come from some disciple of John. Moreover, it is evident that they were men of high rank, men from the court of Herod: for “as they went their way,” as St Matthew puts it, or “when they were departed,” as St Luke expresses it, our Lord spoke of the men “clothed in soft raiment” and living “in king’s courts.” Was not one of the two Manaen? Was not this one of the incidents that led to his becoming an avowed disciple of Christ after the tetrarch’s death?
I am sure I shall be pardoned for adding one more highly probable conjecture as to information supplied to the Church by Manaen, and a decisive event in his life.
In St John iv. 46-end we read the story of “the nobleman whose son was sick at Capernaum.” Nobleman! What a strange title! It is a title unknown to Jew or Greek or Roman. Nobleman! What does it mean? The word plainly puzzled the translators of both our versions. They suggest in the margin “courtier,” “ruler,” “king’s officer.” As a title, or description of rank or office, it is, I believe, found nowhere else in Greek literature. It means simply ” royal,” a royal personage, but not a king. Now what description could be more appropriate for one who was in the unique position of foster-brother and inseparable companion of the king? It is more, I think, than a probable conjecture that Manaen was the “nobleman,” the “royal,” who besought Jesus “to come down and heal his son.”
There are circumstances which support this conjecture, or, as I should prefer to say, confirm this identification. If the conversation with the servants in vv. 51, 52 is not sheer invention, it must have come from the “nobleman” himself. The incident also occurred very early in our Lord’s Galilaean ministry, for it is mentioned that “this was the second miracle that Jesus did, having come out of Judaea |14 into Galilee.” How could a man in high position in the court have heard thus early of Jesus? and heard it on testimony that made him resolve at once to act upon it? He must have heard of Jesus from John the Baptist. Manaen may have been with the “soldiers on service” of St Luke iii. 14 who asked John “And what shall we do?” Manaen would certainly be drawn to the ascetic John by hereditary sympathies, for his father or grandfather, the friend of Herod the Great, was an Essene.
Some such explanation there must be for the manifestly exceptional treatment of John as a prisoner, for the free access to him of his disciples, for the existence at Herod’s court of disciples both of John and of Christ, men and women of high position, and for Manaen’s early hearing of Jesus. May we not then with reasonable probability trace the conversion of Manaen first to the influence of John the Baptist; then to the interview with Jesus at Cana, and the immediate and simultaneous recovery of his son; then to his again seeing Jesus at work, when he went as one of John’s messengers; and finally to his seeing Him before Herod’s judgment-seat?
This identification of the “nobleman” of St John’s Gospel with Manaen of the Acts is not, however, entirely dependent on the acceptance of the β version of the Acts as Lucan; for St Mark was also associated with Manaen at Antioch; and, indeed, Manaen must have been far too conspicuous a convert in the early Church for his story not to have been widely known. But the completeness of the chain of circumstances that brought Manaen to Christ, and an increase of the feeling that we are throughout in contact with real events, are due to the acceptance of the β text of Acts xi. 28, and are of no little interest and value. We are on solid ground.
I now pass to the second of the two special readings of D and the β text in general, the omission mentioned above in sections 4 and 12, which is even more important in its results. |15
The ordinary text of xv. 28, 29, gives the decree of the great Council of Jerusalem as follows: “It seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; that ye abstain from things sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication; from which if ye keep yourselves it shall be well with you. Fare ye well.” In the β text the opening words are the same; but those that follow are: “that ye abstain from things sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from fornication; and that whatsoever ye would not should be done to you ye do not to others; from which if ye keep yourselves it shall be well with you. Fare ye well, being sustained by the Holy Spirit.” The important point of difference is not the omission in a of the last clauses, interesting as that is; but the absence from β of the words “things strangled,” both in this chapter and again in xxi. 25. The questions arise, Which of the texts is really Lucan? or Are both really Lucan? and Which of the two rightly reproduces the text of the decree?
The importance of the difference may not be immediately obvious, but reflection will show that it is very great. For the words “things strangled,” if they were in the original text of the decree of the Council, would place it beyond doubt that the Council enacted a food-law for Gentile Christians. It would have declared that no Gentile could be recognised as a member of the Church of Christ unless he observed a Jewish food-law in not eating the flesh of any animal that had been strangled. Moreover, this being plainly a food-law, the prohibition of “blood” was taken to be also a food-law, that blood might not be eaten in any form; and the abstinence from meat which had been offered to idols has also been taken as a food-law. How can the question between the two texts be decided? |16
On the one side, in favour of the correctness of the text to which we are all accustomed, is the overwhelming preponderance of the numbers of the MSS. surviving which support it, and among these are the earliest, the fourth-century MSS. If the question is to be decided on the ground of the numbers and antiquity of the MSS. which support the words “things strangled,” the β text, which does not include them, has no case.
But, on the other hand, the most ancient testimony other than that of surviving MSS., is as decidedly in favour of the β text. Here we touch on the external evidence. It is the β text that is quoted, Scrivener (Introd. p. lxiii) tells us, “by Irenaeus, Tertullian, Cyprian, Ambrose, Pacian, Jerome (who speaks of the omitted words as occurring in some copies), Augustine,” and others. It is the β text that was translated into the early Latin, Syriac, and Sahidic and other versions. The β text is used by Ephrem in his commentary2. * Rendel Harris, Four Lectures, p. 27; Chase, The old Syriac Element.. It is the β text that is assumed in the Apology of Aristides in the middle of the second century. This is of great importance. No proof could be more complete of the wide early acceptance of the β text, and of its admitted authority as Scripture, specially in the West. Some of the Eastern writers quote from the a text. But even Clement of Alexandria is shewn (Journal of Theol. Studies, Jan. 1900, p. 292) to have used a text akin to D.
The β text, moreover, of chap. xv, if read as a whole, is even more manifestly than the a text, the work of someone who was either present at the Council, or got his information from those that were. These are very cogent arguments.
Let us also reflect on some of the difficulties which are involved in accepting the words “things strangled” as having been in the original decree.
There is the incongruity, which must have struck everyone, of coupling with these food-laws the prohibition of |17 fornication, as if it was on a level with them. There is the unaccountable omission of all mention of circumcision, which from xv. 5 we see was the thing chiefly insisted on. There is the inconsistency of saying in the decree that “they would not trouble them which from among the Gentiles turn to God,” and then imposing on them food-laws which there is evidence to shew were not generally observed among the Jews of the Dispersion, as seems also to have been admitted by St Peter, xv. 10. There is the statement, in the Bezan text, of Acts xxi. 25, “we sent giving judgment that they should observe nothing of that sort.” There is the strange statement in xv. 31 that when the decree was reported at Antioch ” the multitude rejoiced for the consolation.” There is the still more inexplicable fact that St Paul, shortly afterwards, when the question about the eating of meat” sold in the shambles ” (1 Cor. x. 25) which had been offered to idols, does not allude to this decree, while he absolutely forbids (1 Cor. x. 20,21) sharing in idol feasts. And, finally, there is the fact that no Western Father, or apologist, or hostile critic, ever alludes to such a food-law as enjoined on Christians. If it ever existed it was ignored from the first. That such a food-law should have formed part of the decree is, on such grounds as these, so incredible, that critics have always regarded this chapter as their chief support for denying the early date and Lucan authorship of at least this part of the Acts. Harnack, for example, who up to 1899 accepted the a text as giving the original form of the decree, wrote that “the statement was so inconsistent with facts that to suppose the writer to have been a companion of St Paul was quite inadmissible.”
From such reasoning as this critics have been of late led to the conclusion that the β text gives the true form of the decree. For if the words “things strangled” were not in the decree, the natural interpretation of the decree, would, beyond all question, have been that it forbade the three great sins of idolatry, murder, and fornication; and was in |18 fact a purely moral law: idolatry, of which the outward expression was sharing in the “sacramental communion with the idol,” the temple feast, which St Paul describes (1 Cor. x. 18-22) as “communion with devils”; murder, commonly spoken of as blood-shedding or blood, as in St Matt. xxiii. 35 and often in the Septuagint; and fornication. These are the crimes forbidden to all Gentile Christians by the decree; associated here as in Rev. xxii. 15, “Without are the fornicators, and the murderers, and the idolaters.” The decree was a simple moral law, summarised, emphasised and consecrated by the quotation of our Lord’s words from the Sermon on the Mount, naturally thrown into the negative form—-“Whatsoever ye would not that should be done to you ye do not to others.” This might well be hailed with joy everywhere. It was the final emancipation of Christianity from Judaism. Christianity had never been bound to the temple and the Sacrificial priesthood of the Jews. Now it was publicly transformed from a tribal or national religion to one that was universal; and the declaration is that the mark of the universal religion was to be faith in Christ’s Revelation of God, along with morality and the observance of the golden rule.
The acceptance of the β text shews the greatness of the Council of Jerusalem. Well may Harnack say, “The Scribe who first wrote the little word ‘strangled’ opposite ‘blood’ on the margin of his exemplar created a flood, which has for almost 2000 years swamped the correct interpretation of the whole passage….We can close whole libraries of commentaries and investigations, as documents of the history of a gigantic error!…The importance of Codex D (Bezae)—-supported to be sure by all the Western authorities—-is here brought into great prominence.”
But how did the words “things strangled” get into the a or Antiochian text? This is not known. Harnack offers the conjecture given in the last section; that it was a mistaken explanation of the word “blood,” put by someone in |19 the margin of a MS., and regarded by some subsequent copyist as denoting an accidental omission, and by him inserted in the text itself. Additions to the author’s text have sometimes originated in this way. Or it may have been a deliberate interpolation on the part of someone of “the sect of the Pharisees who believed,” who wished to get apostolic authority for insisting on this part of the ceremonial law. This suggestion receives some support from the significant omissions in the later text of Acts xxi. 25. The β text there makes it clear that the decree was that the Gentiles were to observe nothing of the Jewish Ceremonial: “we sent giving judgment that they should observe nothing of that sort except to guard themselves from idol sacrifices, and from blood and from fornication.” But, whatever its origin may have been, we may now feel sure that the Apostolic Council guaranteed for ever the Gentile Churches entire freedom from Jewish ceremonial law. This is in accordance with history. The Church from the first understood the Apostolic document as an ethical rule. Jewish morality was to be insisted on as a law of God; but Jewish ceremonial was not.
I have now given a sketch of the internal evidence from the omissions made in rewriting the β text that it is of Lucan authorship, and some of the important results that follow from accepting it as such. This is the main point; which the reader will, I think, after due study, come to regard as finally established.
But this leads me to repeat that the grounds for so accepting it are only outlined and illustrated in this Introduction. No one can appreciate the full force of the cumulative internal evidence till he has read the whole text, and satisfied himself that of the numerous excisions, short or long, all are explicable on the hypothesis that an author is revising and somewhat shortening his own work, and that most of these omitted words or phrases are so superfluous, and so entirely free from any doctrinal tendency, as to make it |20 extremely unlikely, to say the least, that any copyist should have thought it worth his while to interpolate them. The rewritten passages also lead to the same conclusion. On comparing them no one, I, think, can bring himself to believe that the β text is derived from rewriting the a.
It will, of course, be understood that the Bezan texts which we possess were copied from older MSS., which in their turn were copied from others; and that our Greek text has thus been subjected to many influences, and does not exactly reproduce the text as it left St Luke’s hand. It is well, however, to remember Hort’s saying that the doubtful words scarcely exceed one-thousandth of the whole N.T.: and we may feel sure that the substance of this text is Lucan. To discover the most probable underlying text or, in this case, texts is the highly skilled work of the textual critic.
The external evidence also, derived from ancient references to the β text, and from its use in early versions—-the evidence which converted Harnack—-must be carefully weighed. But this I am not called to expound in detail here, or to enforce.
There is a class of minor differences between the two texts, in which one word is substituted for another, which is in most cases a synonym. These changes are in general, I suppose, matters of style or rhythm; as if an English writer on revision preferred “he beheld” to “he saw”: or “he went away” to “he departed thence.” I do not reproduce these minor changes except in a few instances.
But there is one change of a word, which I have not seen noticed, which is of considerable interest. It is not a change to a synonym, and it suggests careful and scientific accuracy on the part of St Luke. In v. 15, 16, after the account of their laying sick people in the street so that the shadow of Peter might fall on them as he passed by, the β text continues: “for they were set free from every sickness which each one of them had”; and goes on to say that all who were brought into Jerusalem were “cured.” Both these |21 statements were, it may be assumed, in the authority from which St Luke is quoting: and he inserted them in his first draft. But on revision and rewriting I imagine that he felt this to be an over-statement. He therefore left out the first clause altogether; and instead of a word which means “cured” he used a word which strictly means “attended to,” “relieved,” “medically treated.” I must explain that there are two Greek words, not really synonymous, though sometimes they may be loosely used as such; and both are translated in our versions “healed” or “cured,” which, I suppose, mean the same thing. But St Luke was a physician, and uses them accurately. He observes the distinction. He perhaps knew Galen’s maxim quoted by Harnack, that “a physician ought first to cure his own symptoms, and then attempt to treat those of others.” In Acts xxviii. 8, 9, the distinction is marked. St Luke tells us that St Paul cured the father of Publius, and that the rest of the people who had diseases in the island came and were “medically treated“; by St Luke doubtless as well as by St Paul, for he writes that “they honoured us with many honours.” But in St Luke’s Gospel (ix. 11) he writes differently of our Lord, and says that ” them that had need of medical treatment (or relief) he cured.” The alteration of the word, therefore, in St Luke’s revision of Acts v. 16 is significant. It maybe noted that St Luke uses the word” attended to” in Acts xvii. 25, where the revisers translate it “served.” ” Neither is God ‘served‘ by men’s hands as though he needed anything.” The same word is so used by Plato, and we ourselves speak of Divine service. It is to be regretted, I think, that the revisers did not see their way to mark this distinction.
Besides the excisions from the draft, shewn by thick type in the version that follows, and besides the rewriting of some passages not so easily shewn in detail, and besides the occasional change of a word into a synonym, not generally indicated at all, there are additions made in the revised, or a text, shewn by square brackets. |22
These are much less numerous than the excisions, and of less importance; but so far as they go they will be seen to be consistent with, and indeed to confirm, the hypothesis of revision by the author. In most cases they are very slight, and seem to be purely literary, in order to link the sentences better, or to prevent a misapprehension. See, for example, iv. 14, 15, 17 and xi. 7, 9, 12, 17. In some cases it is to make a quotation more full, or to give the reference, as in ii. 16-20. In a few cases the addition is of some significance. In iv. 1 the additional words “the captain of the temple,” shew that at this early period the attention of the Roman garrison had been called to the new movement. And in xvii. 18, after “he seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods,” the addition of the words “because he preached unto them Jesus and the resurrection” seems to be an explanation of the plural “gods,” and to suggest that some of his hearers thought that the Anastasis or resurrection preached by St Paul was a goddess.
I have now finished this outline of the internal evidence that is furnished by the version itself as to its being derived from St Luke’s first draft of the book, written prior to the revision from which the a text has been derived.
The reader will now probably wish to know something more about the Codex Bezae itself; its nature, date and history, the views that have been entertained by critics as to its textual and historical value, and in particular the origin and reception of the view lately revived by Blass which I am advocating in this Introduction. But these subjects lie outside the scope of this little work. I am not writing a critical account of the Codex. I have already said that I wish to give only enough to whet the reader’s appetite for more.
The completest account of this MS., of its history, collations, and editions, and of the critical problems it raises, down to the date 1864, is contained in the Introduction to Scrivener’s edition of the Codex (Bezae Codex Cantabrigiensis, edited with a critical introduction, annotations and facsimiles, by Frederick H. Scrivener, M.A. (Deighton, Bell and Co., 1864). This work is indispensable to anyone |23 who wishes to study the subject critically. In that Introduction of 64 quarto pages of small print he gives all the facts known prior to that date with marvellous accuracy, a minute examination of its variations from the a text, and of the changes and comments made by later scribes, “some ten or twelve in number”; and this is followed by the full text of the MS. and notes. But a very brief outline of some matters may here be given.
The Codex Bezae is a MS. volume, written on vellum, its pages being 10 inches high and 8 inches broad. Each page contains 33 lines. The letters are all capitals, those of the Latin very like the Greek; the words in general not divided from one another by a space. The left-hand page, the page of honour, is the Greek text; the right-hand page is the Latin. The volume originally contained the four Gospels, placed in the usual Western order, Matthew, John, Luke, Mark (the apostles having precedence), and the Catholic Epistles. But a considerable number of leaves are missing. In the Acts are missing viii. 29 to x. 14; xxi. 2-10, 16-18; xxii. 10-20; and all that follow xxii. 29, about a quarter of the whole book. Many leaves are in bad condition, and some passages wholly or quite illegible.
The text is divided into lines of curiously different lengths or stichoi, a division shewn by Scrivener to be copied from older MSS., and more carefully copied in the Acts than in some of the Gospels. The division is evidently literary, in order to assist the reader and the listener. This will be best seen by an example. I take Acts xvii. 11: “Some therefore of them believed, But some did not believe:
But when those from Thessalonica knew, Jews, that the word of God was proclaimed At Beroea, and that they believed, They came also thither, and there stirring up And troubling the multitude, did not cease.” |24
The number of letters in a line in the Greek text ranges from eight in Acts xiii. 16, to forty-four in xiii. 31.
Scrivener gives three pages of facsimile; and these, and his introduction, shew that the MS. has passed through many hands, not less than twelve, of correctors and others, who made erasions and interlinear corrections, and also added liturgical notes in the margin as to the lessons read in the Church services. The lines and text of the Latin and Greek in general correspond.
The volume was presented to the University of Cambridge on 6 Dec. 1581 by Theodore Beza, the well-known French Reformer, and is now preserved in the University Library. Scrivener gives a list of its collations and editions prior to his own; and in 1899 the University of Cambridge published a magnificent photographic facsimile of the whole MS. This edition was reviewed by Mr (now Sir) F. G. Kenyon of the British Museum in the Journal of Theological Studies for Jan. 1900. He there discusses the date and country in which it was probably written. The handwriting he describes as rough and irregular; and though a date in the sixth century is regarded as more probable, evidence which pushed it into the fifth century would be accepted without difficulty. He considers that the most probable birthplace of the MS., i.e. the place where it was copied from an older manuscript, was Southern Gaul, the Church of the Greek Missionaries Pothinus and Irenasus of about A.D. 170. The liturgical notes shew that the Greek text was used in the services. Both the Latin and Greek texts are full of grammatical mistakes and mis-spellings, and shew that the writer was not familiar with the correct forms of these languages; they indicate country and dialect uses, rather than a literary centre as the origin of the MS. The Latin appears to be the vernacular or rustic Latin, as it was passing into the spoken language of the South of France in the fifth century. It should be added that Professor Burkitt has subsequently given good reasons in the Journal of Theological Studies for assigning the MS. to the fifth century. Its history prior to 1581 is not known: but there is good reason for surmising that it was part of the plunder of the |25 city of Lyons in 1562, and in particular of the monastery there of St Irenaeus; and that it was given to Beza. He speaks of it as “found” there when the civil war broke out in 1562. “Outward appearance,” says Scrivener, “and internal indications, point to Gaul as the native country of Codex Bezae, nor is there any reason for thinking that it ever left that country till it was carried into Italy in 1546.”
The history of the hypothesis that St Luke wrote two copies of the Acts, and that D is derived from the earlier, which was also the longer, is briefly as follows:
A French scholar, Jean Le Clerc (born 1657), after studying the unique peculiarities of this Codex, suggested, early in the eighteenth century, as a probable but novel explanation of them, that St Luke made two copies of the Acts, and that while all other existing Greek MSS., which had up to that time been collated, had been made from one, Codex Bezae alone was derived from the other. This hypothesis was, I have read, supported by a Dutch scholar, Hemsterhuis, but by no one else, and it dropped out of sight.
The suggestion was made, whether independently or not I do not know, in 1848 by a German scholar, Bornemann, that Luke kept a private diary in which he noted doings of the apostles; that the diary was afterwards found, and extracts from it inserted in some copies. He afterwards thought that D was Luke’s original work; and he further shewed that the shorter text was derived from the longer by excision, and not the shorter from the longer by interpolation. His papers attracted little attention, and once more the suggestion dropped out of sight. It may perhaps have been felt that the suggestion was difficult to harmonize with the belief universally held of Divine verbal inspiration of Scripture.
Again, in 1895, a well-known German classical scholar, Blass, re-examined the whole question in the light of the very much more extensive and accurate knowledge of MSS. and versions and quotations then available; and he came |26 to the same conclusion; adding that the original copy was probably retained at Rome, and that copies of it circulated widely in the West, while the revised copy was sent to Theophilus at Antioch, and its copies were circulated in the East.
But Blass went much further than his predecessors were able to do. He attempted to reconstruct the Western text of the Acts, using for that purpose all the other sources of information as to that early text that I spoke of in Section 18, the result of another half-century of keen and widespread study and collation of texts. The two texts of Codex Bezae, it must be remembered, though the chief are not the sole authority for the early Western text. He used the others, of which he gives a list, not only to supply the text where some leaves of D are missing, but conjecturally to correct errors in D. Variations in the Western text appeared early. For example, in ii. 9 for Judaea Jerome quotes Syria, and Tertullian Armenia. Blass’s conjectures have naturally been disputed, as will be seen in the article in the Encyclopaedia Biblica quoted in Section 4, and in some cases probably with success. But no one has, I believe, shaken his main contention. The reconstruction of the Western text is still an unaccomplished work. The ripest scholarship, the widest knowledge of ancient versions and commentaries, and the devotion of years will be needed for this text.
It is an obvious question why, if the β text was so widely circulated and had such authority in the earliest centuries, the MSS. that preserved it should have so largely disappeared. This question is partly answered by Westcott and Hort (N.T. vol. II. p. 142, ed. 1881), and to this volume I refer the reader. It is certain that the β text was widely circulated in the earliest centuries, and that it survived long in the West. Bede’s quotations from the Acts for example, shew that he used that text; and King Alfred’s Preface to his laws contains a plain quotation from the β text of the Council of Jerusalem. |27
The rarity of surviving Western MSS. may be connected with the earlier date of monachism and monastic libraries in the East than in the West, and with their somewhat greater immunity from pillage. Few indeed are the fragments of English MSS. of the New Testament that have survived from the early days of the English Church3. * But see Westcott and Hort, II. Chap. ii. Section C. Ed. 1881..
But it was to some extent an accident that the unknown MSS. used by Cardinal Ximenes for the Complutensian Text in 1514, and for the three or four MSS. which Erasmus used for his Greek Testament (1515-1535), and which thus formed the basis of the text of our Authorised Version, were of the a type; and somewhat of an accident that the oldest surviving MSS., the Sinaitic, and Vatican and Alexandrian, and Codex Ephrcemi are all of the same type.
The question will naturally be asked whether the MS. of St Luke’s Gospel in Codex Bezae may also be regarded as derived from a first draft, and to be truly Lucan. I have not studied this question at all, and offer no opinion, and I do not know whether it has been recently examined. But there are interesting variations in this MS. of St Luke’s Gospel which suggest that it is a not impossible hypothesis.
For example, there is the well-known saying attributed to our Lord, usually placed among the uncanonical agrapha. It occurs in vi. 5. After the words “He said unto them, The Son of man is lord of the sabbath,” D adds “On the same day seeing someone working on the sabbath, he said to him, Man, if thou knowest what thou art doing blessed art thou; but if thou knowest not, thou art cursed and a transgressor of the law.” St Luke may have thought on revision that this was probably incorrectly reported, and had better be omitted.
And in xiii. 7-9 there may be an instance of rewriting in order to improve the style. D reads: “Behold it is three years since I have come seeking fruit on this fig-tree and I |28 find none. Bring the axe. Cut it down. Why does it cumber the ground? But he answering saith to him, Lord, let it alone this year also till I shall dig about it, and throw on it a basket of dung; and if it bear fruit, well, but if not for the future thou shalt cut it down.”
In xvi. 19 D reads, before the parable of Dives and Lazarus, “And he spake also another parable.”
And there is at least one little touch in D which must have come from an eye-witness, in xxiii. 42, where, of the dying robber on the cross, the text in D reads “And, turning to the Lord, he said to him, Lord, remember me in the day of thy kingdom.” The question calls for careful examination.
There is another, and very interesting question, which is sure to occur to the reader—-Why so satisfactory and simple a solution of the problem of the curious variations in Codex Bezas was not accepted by that company of eminent scholars and critics who were in 1870 entrusted by Convocation with the duty of preparing a Revised Version of the New Testament.
The real answer may be that the suggestions put forward by Le Clerc, and Borneman, mentioned above in Section 27, were not present to their minds. They had dropped out of sight. And it must be remembered that the work of Blass had not then been written.
But a sufficient reason is given in the Revisers’ Preface to the New Testament, to which I refer the reader. It will be there seen that among the “Principles and Rules” for the revisers were (1) that they were to introduce as few alterations as possible into the text of the Authorised Version consistently with faithfulness; (4) that the text to be adopted was to be that for which the evidence was decidedly preponderating; and (5) that they were to make no change in the text except on the approval of two-thirds of the revisers present. It cannot be doubted that in 1880 the evidence for the a text decidedly preponderated. |29
At that time the highest authorities on the text of the New Testament were Westcott and Hort, and in particular the latter. They published in 1881 a carefully revised text of the New Testament in two volumes; the Introduction to which fully and clearly explains their principles and methods. It will, I think, be long before that Introduction is out of date. They were fully aware of the existence and antiquity and authority of the Western text, and of its peculiarities, as the following quotations shew; but, as far as I can remember, the suggestion of there having been two Lucan originals does not seem to have been present to their minds. It had dropped out of sight.
In vol. 1. p. 544, they clearly state that the textual value of a MS. depends not on its own antiquity, nor on the number of its supporters, but on the authority of its earliest traceable progenitor. “One early document,” they write, “may have left a single descendant, another a hundred or a thousand:…No available presumptions…can be obtained from number alone, that is, from number not as yet interpreted by descent.”
On p. 547 they write: “A text virtually identical with the prevalent Greek text of the Middle Ages was used by Chrysostom and other Antiochian Fathers in the latter part of the fourth century.” But they go on to say that “…The writings of Origen, which carry us to the middle of the third century, and even earlier, establish the prior existence of at least 3 types of text… The most clearly marked of these is one that has long been conventionally known as ‘Western.'” And again (1. 548): “The rapid and wide propagation of the Western text is the most striking phenomenon of textual history in the three centuries following the death of the Apostles. The first clear evidence (Marcion, Justin) shews us a text containing definitely Western readings before the middle of the second century. …The text used by all the Ante-Nicene Greek writers not connected with Alexandria (Irenaeus, etc.) is substantially |30 Western. Even in the two chief Alexandrians, Clement and Origcn, especially in some of Origen’s writings, Western quotations hold a conspicuous place, while in Eusebius they are on the whole predominant….The Old Latin Versions were Western from the first….The Old Syriac, and every ancient version, was affected by it.”
It is plain that Dr Hort was perfectly familiar with all the relevant facts then known. Could anyone have urged the claims of the Western text on external grounds more effectively? But the explanation now before us of the perplexing facts seems never to have occurred to him. He writes of the Codex D on page 548, “The chief and constant characteristic is a love of paraphrase….Words and even clauses are changed, omitted, and inserted with surprising freedom…. Readiness to adopt alterations or additions from sources extraneous to the books which ultimately became canonical. These various tendencies must have been in action for some time.” But he comforts himself with the remark that “the Western licence did not prevail everywhere, and MSS. unaffected by its results were still copied.”
On p. 554 he inadvertently, if we may venture to use such a word of anything Dr Hort ever wrote, speaks of the Western text as containing “interesting matter omitted in the other Pre-Syrian texts, yet manifestly not due to the inventiveness of scribes.” He speaks of them on p. 565 as “come from an extraneous source.”
How close he was to the answer to the riddle! How he would have welcomed it!
No one in any age has studied the Codex with so wide a knowledge and such accuracy as Mr Scrivener. His final remarks are therefore of great value. He wrote in 1864 as follows (p. lxiv). After speaking of the Latin text of the Codex and its date and origin he proceeds: “The Greek text, on the other hand, we believe to bear distinct traces of an origin far more remote. Itself immediately derived |31 from a Manuscript whose stichometry was arranged just like its own (see p. xxiii) it must ultimately be referred to an exemplar wherein the verses, now so irregular and confused, were first distributed according to an orderly system (see p. xvii), and such an original would most likely belong to the third century at the latest. In respect, moreover, to its rare and peculiar readings, the close resemblance of Codex Bezae to the text of the Syriac versions (with which it could hardly have been compared later than the second century), and to that of the old Latin, yet unrevised by Jerome, as employed by Cyprian and Augustine in Africa, by the translator of Irenaeus, by Hilary, and Lucifer and Ambrose in the North-West—-such resemblance (far too common to be the result of chance) persuades us to regard with the deepest interest this venerable monument of Christian learning; inasmuch as the modification of the inspired writings which it preserves, whatever critics may eventually decide respecting its genuineness and purity, was at once widely diffused and largely received by the holiest men in the best ages of the Primitive Church.”
Scrivener wrote, of course, before the time of Blass; he was, however, acquainted with Bornemann’s work mentioned above in Section 27: but, like Tischendorf, he seems not to have treated it very seriously. Tischendorf doubted whether it was not written as a jest. Scrivener retained the traditional view that “the characteristic feature of Codex D was its perpetual tendency to interpolation, its adding to the received text.” But that he felt this explanation inadequate he shews in many ways. He speaks, for example, of these additions as “whether genuine or spurious.” His view is, in fact, not inconsistent with that of Blass. But his chief aim was to shew, by constant detailed comparison with ancient versions and early writers, that the Greek text of Codex Bezae, as it stands, is in the main identical with the text that was current, both in the East and West as early as the second century. And this aim he achieved, and it is a result of the first importance, for the text could not have won such wide currency so early unless it possessed strong claims for genuineness. |32
I purposely do not quote such opinions as I happen to know of more recent and living authorities on textual criticism of the New Testament. It is partly because I am not in a position to do so at all completely: any selection that I could give of names of such British and American, and a fortiori of German, French and Dutch scholars, would be imperfect and therefore misleading. But the main reason is that the new light enlarges and strengthens the external evidence for the early date and value of a Western text with which I am not here concerned. The question I deal with here is the internal evidence; and it is largely a literary, and even commonsense, question. I am, however, aware that in Great Britain the subject has not as yet attracted the general attention which I am sure it deserves.
In Section 4 of this Introduction I quoted the words of a leading and representative scholar, Dr P. S. Schmiedel, in which he stated that his conclusions as to the late date (A.D. 105-130) to be assigned to the Acts would have to be withdrawn if Blass’s views were accepted. Harnack has similarly altered his date, and names A.D. 57 to 59. This change of assigned dates is so great and so surprising as to be scarcely intelligible until it is understood how the main arguments for the late date are not only met but removed by the β text. The reader may naturally ask What are these arguments? Why should anyone doubt that the date of completing the writing of the book was the end of the two years of St Paul’s imprisonment at Rome (Acts xxviii. 30)? If written later, why is there no mention or hint of any subsequent event?
The reader must be referred to Schmiedel’s article in the Encyclopedia Biblica and similar works. I cannot pretend to do the arguments justice; for I do not feel that they carry much, if any, weight. But perhaps the following, though very brief, is not an unfair sketch of them. |33
1. If the ordinary text of the decree of the Council of Jerusalem is that of the original writer it is so inconsistent with historical facts that it could not have been written by any contemporary.
This is weighty: but it is removed altogether if the β text is accepted, as has been shewn above, and as is admitted by Schmiedel.
2. It is certain that the Acts was written after the Gospel of St Luke. But in chap. xxi of that Gospel a prediction is attributed to our Lord of the details of the siege of Jerusalem under Titus, which correspond, it is urged, too precisely to the facts to have been a prediction. The Gospel, it is argued, was therefore written after A.D. 70; and the Acts still later.
On this I would refer the reader to Knowling’s Introduction to his edition of the Acts in the Expositor’s Bible. But I may remark that this argument carries little weight with those who note that our Lord plainly had Daniel chap. ix in mind; and also bear in mind that such events were regarded as probable long before they took place. Knowling quotes other instances of prediction; and, I think, it was Blass who remarked that it was harder for Savonarola to predict a Luther, than for Christ to predict a Titus.
3. There are passages in St Luke’s writings which may indicate an acquaintance with Josephus. This is a very precarious argument.
4. But the fundamental reason for insisting on a late date is perhaps the half-conscious a priori conviction that no contemporary evidence for events outside the familiar order of nature, and in particular for the unexplained phenomena attending the resurrection of our Lord, is possible. It is first assumed that the events related did not really happen. Time must, therefore, be allowed for legends to grow up, invented to support a belief which had no real historical foundation: and therefore, it is argued; that Gospels and the Acts must be late products of Christian piety indeed, but also of Christian credulity. And it seems to me that some critics, to whom it would be absurd to |34 attribute any such prepossessions, are so anxious not to allow themselves to be prejudiced in the opposite sense, that they underestimate the obvious and clear arguments for an early date.
Finally, it remains that I should state somewhat more explicitly the general results of accepting the Bezan text of the Acts as even more purely Lucan and historical than the Antiochian text; though it is certainly far less free than the best Antiochian texts from trifling errors of transcription, and what is known as conflation.
It will put an end to the long disputes over the authorship and date of the Acts. We shall hear no more of the Acts being non-Lucan in compilation or authorship, and no more of such dates for it as A.D. no to 130, or even of A.D. 80 or 70. The obstacles that made scholars hesitate to accept the obvious arguments for an early date have been removed. This is the primary result; and it is of the first importance, because it carries with it such weighty consequences.
It would be foreign to my purpose, and take too much space, to do more here than barely indicate those obvious arguments, but some such summary may be useful. For a thorough presentation of them I would refer the reader to a paper by the Rev. R. Rackham in the Journal of Theological Studies for October 1899.
It is surely impossible that a writer who had described so fully St Paul’s defence before his Roman provincial judges at Caesarea, and their treatment of his cause, could, if the subsequent trial before the Emperor Nero had taken place, have omitted to mention it. To tell in detail the story of an appeal, made many years previously, and not even to allude to the result, is a literary impossibility. It would be to tell a well-planned story, and omit its climax.
Perhaps it may be said in reply that the writer contemplated a third and later volume which was to report the climax. Yes: but the tone, the presentiments, of vol. II. |35 could not fail to be affected by the writer’s knowledge of that climax, whether it was St Paul’s martyrdom, or his liberation, had it already taken place. It is impossible that the atmosphere of the years before the trial and before the overthrow of Jerusalem could have been, by any dramatic effort, reproduced after it. Compare the peaceful close of the Acts, written before these events, and the lurid passionate tone of some chapters in the Revelation. Or think of the account in the Acts of St Paul’s last visit to Jerusalem, with all going on as usual. Could that have been written years after the Temple and city had been destroyed, the nation scattered, and the Church of Christians no longer there? Impossible! And how disproportionate in detail if written many years later, would be the last few chapters!
The whole position had altered completely between A.D. 60 and A.D. 80, not to speak of A.D. 130. When the Acts was being written the questions at issue were still the relations between Pharisaic and Gentile Christians, about Hellenists and proselytes, about the recognition of a Gentile Christianity as possible. But by A.D. 80 those questions had been settled. When the Acts was being written the Jews were persecuting the Christian Gentiles: but by A.D. 80 both Jews and Christians were alike the object of persecution. When the Acts was being written there were hopes that Christianity would be soon, through the appeal to Nero, a permitted religion in the empire: by A.D. 80 it had been decided that it was not permitted.
It is argued that there are inconsistencies between the narrative of the Acts and some of St Paul’s Epistles. But both are incomplete accounts, and the apparent inconsistencies might disappear if we knew the whole story, and allowance made for failure of knowledge and memory. And the inconsistencies are proofs that the writer of the Acts had not before him copies of the Epistles. No later writer on the Acts of the Apostles would have failed to consult them.
The Bezan text contributes much, as the reader of it will see, to the impression the book conveys of personal knowledge : there are frequent touches of colour in the narrative |36 which, in combination with manifest simplicity and truthfulness, are impossible in anyone but a contemporary and eye-witness.
The net result of such considerations, of the correctness of which the Bezan text supplies the final assurance, is that the Acts was written about A.D. 57 to 59, at Rome. But this throws back the date of the Gospel of St Luke, say to A.D. 56 or 57, when St Luke was at Caesarea and its neighbourhood, and could gather and test his materials. And even then “many had taken in hand to draw up narratives ” of Christ’s words and actions. One of these many was doubtless his friend and old companion St Mark, whose Gospel is thus thrown back to at least an early date in the sixth decade of the century.
And behind the gospels is the document Q, imbedded, but discernible, in the Gospels of St Matthew and Luke. It bears the marks of a still earlier time. We have good authority for believing that St Matthew made a collection of our Lord’s sayings. It may be identified with Q. A late great Bishop of Manchester, Dr Moorhouse, a most careful student of New Testament criticism, wrote to me—-the letter is published in his life—-“that the most serious reason for doubting whether we have not in document Q a contemporary report of our Lord’s teaching is that it is almost too good news to be true. What a relief it would be to feel that in about one-third of the contents of St Matthew we have—–without doubt, and without the admixture of traditional accretions—-the very words of our Lord.”
I know that we must beware of prejudices, of making the wish the father to the thought. But we are not bound to say that any hypothesis or conclusion is too good to be true, if the evidence for it is convincing.
And among the collateral evidences for the early dates of the historic documents of our faith, and among the glimpses obtainable of the firsthand sources from which they were derived, and for preserving the only true record of the momentous decision of the great Council of Jerusalem, the Magna Charta of the Church, the text of the Acts of the Apostles preserved in the Codex Bezae holds a unique place. |37
Finally, the acceptance of these early dates is an indication that one stage of New Testament criticism is ending, and another beginning. We have for many decades past watched the evaporation under criticism of certain elements in the New Testament narratives. We are now beginning to witness the crystallisation of the solid and imperishable residue.
This text was transcribed by Roger Pearse, Ipswich, UK, 2006. All material on this page is in the public domain - copy freely. Original Source: tertullian.org