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Textual Ambiguity and Textual Variants in Acts

October 30, 2013

Over a year ago I provided a requested essay for a multi-author volume to appear in honour of a colleague in the field of NT studies.  In working up a previous essay on “Christology in Acts” for another multi-author volume, I had noticed a number of places where there were interesting textual variations among key witnesses.  So, I decided to focus on these for the later essay.  (The earlier essay appeared in Issues in Luke-Acts:  Selected Essays, eds. Sean A. Adams & Michael Pahl; Gorgias Press, 2012, pp. 217-37.)  I’m still awaiting publication of the later volume and my essay on these textual variants, so I’ve decided to give a summary of it here/now.  When it’s published, I’ll be able to put it up on this blog site.  For now, the following summary.

The first point to note is that in Luke-Acts the author seems to use “kyrios” in a deliberately dyadic manner, sometimes referring to God and other times to Jesus.  So, in a number of places, it’s not entirely or immediately clear who the referent is.  This, I propose, led some ancient readers of Acts in particular (that’s the focus in my essay) to attempt to resolve the ambiguity by specifying more clearly the referent, thus producing the textual variants that I note.  I provide a list of the variation-units that I discuss here:  Textual ambiguity in Acts–List of variation-units

A few points underscored for emphasis.  First, these textual variants seem pretty clearly to have arisen intentionally, not by accident.  So, they reflect the efforts of some ancient users of Acts to clarify the text, the sort of work that commentators and exegetes still do.  But these ancient readers inserted their clarification or reading of the text into the text itself.  These variants are, thus, “artifacts” of this ancient effort to understand the referents in these passages, the remnants of ancient exegetical/reading work.

Second, as suggested in the previous paragraph, those responsible for this are more likely readers of the text, not so likely copyists of it (“scribes”).  A number of the variants appear to reflect detailed study and reflection on the slightly larger context, both before and after the variation-unit.  So someone in each case had to take the time to do this.  I think this is not likely done by copyists, who essentially got on with the task of copying a text.  Instead, readers/users of Acts had the time to note ambiguities and reflect on how to resolve them.  Then, having “clarified” the text by making these deliberate changes, when that copy was copied on, the variants got inserted into the transmission-process.

Finally, I see no clear pattern or “drift” to the variants.  I mean that I don’t see any particular movement, e.g., replacing references to God with references to Jesus, or vice versa.  I don’t see any particular witness exhibiting any such drift either.  In one or two places doctrinal sensitivities may have been a factor, perhaps most likely in Acts 20:28, where the reading preferred in Nestle-Aland could have been taken as subject to a “patripassionist” reading (taking God, “the Father,” as having acquired the church “through his own blood”).  But even here, the aim in the variants was clearly to avoid what the readers likely regarded as phrasing that could be (from their standpoint) misunderstood (and the reading of the text that they sought to avoid would be, in fact, a misunderstanding of it).

In short, there is no indication of a programmatic “Orthodox Corruption of Scripture,” at least in the sense of some orchestrated effort to bend the text of Acts in some pronounced doctrinal direction.  (And in his study with that provocative title, Bart Ehrman admitted that the total number of variants that he could offer as likely reflecting doctrinal concerns was a very small portion of the many textual variants attested, Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, 46 n. 124, and that there was, in fact, no evidence of an organized “corruption” of the NT writings.)

But these variants are, nevertheless, very interesting, showing that ancient readers detected the same ambiguities in Acts that modern exegetes and commentators find.  To repeat my point, these variants are direct artifacts of ancient readers’ efforts to ponder the text and resolve such ambiguities.

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  1. István Pásztori-Kupán, I get what you are saying and I have dealt with these issues before. The first problem is sort of a catch 22. Yes, Jesus used Father frequently, but if Jesus did in fact use God’s name, and it was replaced later on, we have no idea how often he used it because that evidence was removed. We can for instance, after analyzing various verses were God is the definite subject and the word used was kyrios, estimate that the book of Matthew alone may have used God’s name around 25 times, including the words of Jesus. I couldn’t resist this, if you had quoted a little more of that prayer, we would see, “Our Father in the heavens, let your name be sanctified.” What did Jesus mean by the use of the word name?

    Stephen’s words were no doubt effected by the heavenly vision of Jesus he just had. And yes, God was in that vision too and Jesus was at the right hand of God, which shows his subordinate position to God. You had said, “why would Christians inquire further after God’s “true name” or identity?” The reason is that there is a great number of reasons for Christians to seek out God’s name. Here is just one of many examples, and if you believe in the Bible, this is a prophecy concerning the end times.

    (Ezekiel 39:6-7) “‘And I will send fire upon Magog and upon those who are inhabiting the islands in security; and people will have to know that I am YHWH. And my holy name I shall make known in the midst of my people Israel, and I shall no more let my holy name be profaned; and the nations will have to know that I am YHWH, the Holy One in Israel.’”

    And all the way to Revelation

    (Revelation 15:3-4) “Great and wonderful are your works, Lord God, the Almighty. Righteous and true are your ways, King of eternity. Who will not really fear you, Lord, and glorify your name, because you alone are loyal? For all the nations will come and worship before you, because your righteous decrees have been made manifest.”

    • Istvan, As I said, this is too big an issue to deal with in comments. But one small note: As a devout Jew of his time, Jesus likely referred to God as “father”, and likely used “adonay” or something such as the name-substitute.

  2. Larry, yes, I am well aware of the Jewish tradition of avoiding the pronunciation of God’s name. I have researched this specific issue for years. But as I’m sure you know, this was done out of reverence for the name. Indicating that the name still held great importance to the Jewish nation. And I am a bit surprised that a biblical scholar/historian would imply that avoiding a pronunciation, and substituting the proper name of a deity in religious texts with a different generic word is basically the same thing, or the logical outcome of events. To the Jewish mind, avoiding the pronunciation of God’s name, however misguided, was considered showing respect, to alter the sacred texts with a substitute name would be blasphemy. And yes, there are a number of small cases where the Jewish scribes, for similar reason as avoiding the pronunciation, altered God’s name to read elohim or adonay in the biblical texts. The Qumran scrolls you mention are mostly the non-biblical sectarian texts that avoided writing the name. So non-biblical texts aside, I don’t believe any Jewish scribe would have ever tamper with God’s name in the biblical texts on a large scale. And yes, there is a big difference between biblical and non-biblical texts, and the name was avoided in non-biblical texts. If you are correct concerning the Qumran scrolls, that the Jews at one time were ready and willing to replace the name in biblical texts with elohim or adonay, why do we not have any Hebrew manuscripts for the last 2,000 years that have any hint of a large scale replacement of the name? And that is my point, the evidence shows that biblical text made by Jews for Jews never substituted the name. On the other hand, when Christianity emerged, it only took a few decades to completely eradicate God’s name from the LXX. And my ultimate point is that Paul was one of these devout Jews who held God’s name in high regard. So the question is, did Paul and others consider his writings as inspired texts, or were they considered non-biblical texts? 2 Peter 3:16 seems to indicate that they were on the same level as these other scriptures.

    • Howard: Whew!!! Can you please try to be a bit more concise? And try to avoid making sweeping claims that are easily refuted with evidence. My statement about Qumran biblical writings using substitutes for YHWH is a fact, not opinion. See, e.g., Emanuel Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible (Minneapolis/Assen: Fortress Press/Van Gorcum, 1992), 216ff for Qumran practice.
      I repeat (what most scholars accept): Among Greek-speaking Roman-era Jews, “kyrios” was typically the verbal substitute for YHWH. And all evidence indicates that earliest Christians simply wrote that for YHWH, e.g., in citations in NT writings. I think we’re done with this matter.

      • Larry, ok enough. One last thing, notice I said “mostly” regarding the Qumran scrolls. And Emanuel Tov agrees according to the following citation.

        “Several Qumran texts, mainly of a nonbiblical, sectarian nature, display a special approach toward the writing of divine names, especially the Tetragrammaton (see 1QpHab in illustr. 3). As in rabbinic literature, most sectarian texts avoided representing the Tetragrammaton and אלהים as much as possible, finding alternative means of expression. This avoidance was described in detail by Stegemann, KURIOS and Skehan, “Divine Name” on the basis of the evidence available in 1978 and 1980 respectively, and the assumption of this avoidance is still true for most of the texts known today. For example, 1QS (1QSa, 1QSb) and 1QM do not use the Tetra-grammaton and, אל(ו)הים while אלוהינו occurs four times in 1QS (twice in quotations from Scripture) and twice in 1QM.” – Scribal Practices And Approaches Reflected In The Texts Found In The Judean Desert, Emanuel Tov, Page 224

        And he said basically the same thing in Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible (Minneapolis/Assen: Fortress Press/Van Gorcum, 1992), 216ff. He mentions 2 biblical texts and 10 nonbiblical texts. And it should be noted that in 1QIsa^a, the reason for the alteration of the text was because a second scribe from the Qumran community attempted to correct the first scribe, something to do with a long and short version of this section of scripture. It had nothing to do with trying to avoid the name in the text as the name appears several time just before the verse in question.

      • OK. Howard. I’ll let you have the last word on a matter that is tangential to my posting.

  3. I know my comment is going off topic, but I wanted to mention a few things about your response to Donald. Mostly regarding the following comment.

    “So, all things considered the most economical inference is that early believers simply wrote ‘kyrios’.”

    I know you disagree, but I think there is much more to this issue. You are basically saying that Paul and the other NT authors took it upon themselves to alter years of traditional Jewish scribal habits concerning the divine name without one word of explanation. To me, this issue is just as important as investigating how Jesus devotion developed within early Christianity. This is another case of early Christians doing something that traditional Jews would not do. Yes, it is true that some Jews used other words to circumvent the name, but there is no evidence that they completely eradicated it from any of their holy writings.

    Now many simply assume that the LXX altered this scribal tradition first, but that is simply false, at least as far as the facts are concerned. As you already know, the pre-Christian LXX fragments all contain the name in the places that were preserved which we would expect to find the name, not one surrogate is used. And yes, we can speculate that there might have been LXX manuscripts that did not use the name, or used kyrios, however there is no evidence to back up that speculation. As far as what I quoted from you above, I don’t know if you were just trying to avoid complications, but your comment actually includes two different inferences. The first is that the NT documents did not use the divine name, the second is that they used the full spelling kyrios. Again, you may have put it that way to keep it simple. However, going by the actual evidence, and correct me if I am wrong, but there is no evidence at all in either the NT writings or the LXX that the full spelling of kyrios was ever used in the first or second century. Again, as you know, these texts all use nomina sacra. And it makes perfect sense to speculate that the full spelling proceeded the abbreviated spelling. But again, there is no actual evidence to back up such a speculation. As far as the actual evidence goes, it looks like the divine name in the LXX went straight to nomina sacra.

    I’m just saying there is ambiguity here. We do not have any of Paul’s original writings, so we do not know for sure if Paul wrote the divine name, or the full word kyrios, or it’s nomina sacra. The earliest copies of Paul’s letters contain nomina sacra where we would expect to find either the divine name or the word kyrios, (his letters include other nomina sacra as well). So either Paul used nomina sacra in his original letters, or copyists altered what Paul originally wrote. So did the copyists abbreviate kyrios, or did they use KS (nomina sacra) as a surrogate for the divine name? Now I am taking about the very earliest copyists around the turn of the century, not later on when more and more nomina sacra were added for possibly different reasons. One interesting point to consider is that the Christian LXX uses the same nomina sacra KS, to replace the divine name that is found in the pre-Christian LXX (50-70 places) and the Hebrew (thousands of places).

    I know you are going to list the many problems you find here, but I was trying to be as brief as possible, and it is way too long as it is.

    • Howard, I’ve allowed your lengthy comment so that I can respond briefly by way of correction of a few things.
      –We have to go by the evidence, right? And our earliest evidence of early Christian practice is that they used “kyrios” in their texts for YHWH. So, either this is reflective of still earlier Christian practice, or else one posits some shift from an original practice, that supposedly earlier practice, however, being entirely speculation.
      –In using “kyrios” earliest (Jewish) believers were simply putting into writing the oral substitution for YHWH in Greek. It wasn’t so revolutionary. They weren’t copying OT scripture but writing their own new texts, e.g., Paul’s letters. In writing to gentile converts, had Paul used YHWH (Heb characters), it would likely have caused some puzzlement anyway.
      –As for “nomina sacra”, I’ve written on that extensively, e.g., a chapter in my book: The Earliest Christian Artifacts, 95-134. Interesting to note: This certainly appears to be a novel development distinctive to early Christian circles. So, novel scribal practices are fully demonstrated. The “nomina sacra” forms, e.g., “ΚΣ”, were read out “fully” as the words that they represent, so “kyrios” was pronounced. (As for the origins of the practice, I’ve given my reasons for suggesting that it may have begun with a distinctively-written form of Ιησους (“Jesus), specifically “ΙΗ” (lst two letters)). And, yes, Christian LXX manuscripts employ nomina sacra forms, e.g., for “Kyrios” and also for “Jesus/Joshua”, and “Theos”. That just means that they were copied by/for Christians.

      • I’m sorry for keeping this going, and I will try to be brief, but I believe you have unintentionally hit on the heart of the issue. You said, “In writing to gentile converts, had Paul used YHWH (Heb characters), it would likely have caused some puzzlement anyway.” What this statement implies is that gentile converts were never taught about God’s name in Hebrew or otherwise. God’s name was one of the most important factors of Judaism, which Paul was well aware. So what you are saying is that the early Christians not only borrowed the Jewish superstition, but expanded on it until Christians were utterly unaware that God even had a name? Which in fact led to the replacement of God’s name in nearly all translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, even though the name does in fact appear there. It just makes me wonder, if God’s name was to mean something to the Christians as it did for the Jews, wouldn’t you think it would be mentioned at least one time in the NT, even a Greek transliteration of it to explain to others who God was and so it wouldn’t fall into complete disuse? Other than the shortened form in the phrase Hallelujah, the full name is never used. I would think the complete abandonment of God’s name from the NT authors would merit more interest then it currently has received. Especially, if as some believe the name Jesus has overtaken it. And if your right that the NT authors simply wrote down the verbal replacement, then they are the ones responsible for the lack of knowledge concerning God’s name among Christians. On a theological level, this line of reasoning can only mean that God approved of, and wanted his name to fall into disuse. Is that what you and other scholars think?

      • Howard, I have no idea of what God may have wanted . . . of gentiles or anyone else! But on the one historical point, I reiterate: For a couple of centuries or more before Jesus devout Jews had avoided pronouncing YHWH, instead substituting “Adonay” or “Elohim” or in Greek “Kyrios”. That is, in Greek “kyrios” had come to function as God’s name, at least the name actually used/pronounced. So, the move to writing it in place of YHWH wasn’t so big as you assume. Similarly in pre-Christian biblical MSS (e.g., from Qumran), YHWH is often replaced with “Elohim” or sometimes just a series of dots. So, both in writing and orally YHWH was often “replaced” in Jewish practice of the time.

      • Dear Howard, apart from the explanation given above by Larry, I think that the issue of using God’s very name was by far not so big “a problem” for the Early Christians – especially the Gentiles – as we would suppose now. To begin with, Jesus constantly spoke of God as of “the Father”, so his choice of words would certainly be regarded as authoritative in such matters. The very prayer he teaches his disciples begins with “Our Father”, and not with e.g. “Mighty YHWH/Kyrios”. Further, I would not argue for the replacement of God’s name by that of Jesus (although I can see how Kyrios could have replaced YHWH well before NT times, especially amongst the hellenised Jews of the diaspora), although a clear example of Jesus’s adoration as a divine figure appears in the NT already. If we remember Stephen’s last words: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” (Κύριε Ἰησοῦ͵ δέξαι τὸ πνεῦμά μου). If this is not direct divine adoration (NB: being one’s final words!), I do not know what else is. Hence, after such an exclamation towards Jesus, commending one’s spirit into his hands, why would Christians inquire further after God’s “true name” or identity? The more so since it was Jesus again who told one of his disciples: “He who has seen me, has seen the Father” (John 14, 8-9). I would have further bits to add, but am trying to keep this reply short.

      • Istvan (& Howard): Your comment moves from the initial question (did earliest Jesus-followers write YHWH or “kyrios” in their texts?) to another big issue: How did the name “Jesus” function in earliest Christian circles. We can’t do justice to that here, certainly not “buried” in comments. I’ll post on the topic in due course, which will make the issue “visible”.
        As to your final statement, I think you’ll agree that it was the Jesus of the Gospel of John who “said” John 14:8-9. That’s not necessarily the same as saying that Jesus of Nazareth said it.

  4. Donald Jacobs permalink

    The reason why there are so many textual variants involving kurios in Acts is that the document originally used the divine name when referring to God and kurios when referring to Jesus. When the divine name was later replaced with kurios in many instances it was no longer clear who was meant. Later textual variation represents an attempt to clear up the confusion introduced into the text by the exclusion of the divine name. George Howard and David Trobisch have made this argument. It is the most satisfying explanation for the large number of textual variants involving kurios in Acts.

    • Donald: There is, in fact, no evidence for the proposal you cite. Pre-Christian Jewish manuscripts of OT writings in Greek typically preserve YHWH in Hebrew characters, yes. But we have no indication that early (Jewish) Christians did this in their own writings, such as Paul’s letters, or Acts or whatever. Moreover, we also know that in reading out/aloud the OT texts in Greek, YHWH was typically rendered orally as “kyrios”. So, all things considered the most economical inference is that early believers simply wrote “kyrios”. The textual variants in Acts can’t be best accounted for by the speculation that you mention. And so say the overwhelming body of scholars who’ve looked at the matter, for what it’s worth.

  5. Geoff Hudson permalink

    Is there any evidence that Acts or parts of it may have been written in Hebrew before being written in Greek?

    • Geoff: No.

      • Geoff Hudson permalink

        Ken Penner writes that a few words in Acts could be Hebrew here: Perhaps you could comment on his article.

      • Penner’s interesting study purports to tell us how ancient writers referred to Hebrew and Aramaic as languages. He then proposes that Paul addressed the crowd in the temple-scene in Acts in Hebrew, not Aramaic (as most English translators take the word here). That’s a totally different question from the one you posed earlier: Whether Acts was originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic. On the latter question, no. As to what language Paul used when addressing Jerusalem crowds, it would have depended on his purposes and what sort of crowd. But for a diverse crowd of pilgrims the major choices would have been Greek or Aramaic. Hebrew seems to have been spoken far less frequently than these.

      • Geoff Hudson permalink


        Can we widen the topic? Considering the very, very large body of the Scrolls found near the dead sea and around the Judean desert, why did the writers of the New Testament choose to write the latter in Greek when Hebrew would have been perfectly natural? Remember that the the Christian religion started off within Judaism.

      • OK, Geoff. A brief comment here, and perhaps something worth a post in due course. Let’s stay with evidence. We have none that suggests that any of the NT writings originated in any language other than Koine Greek. We have some later church tradition claiming a version of GMatthew in “Hebrew”, but this tradition is neither coherent nor uniform, and scholars tend to discount it. But, more importantly, we have no actual evidence, no manuscripts or fragments thereof, no first-century citation of Christian writings in Hebrew or Aramaic, and nothing in our Greek NT writings that requires or even suggests that they are translations of Hebrew or Aramaic texts.
        Why were they written in Greek? Well, because Greek was the international language of the time in the Roman world, and these writings were intended clearly to promote and reflect the remarkably trans-cultural and trans-local nature of the early Christian movement, which seems to have characterized it from very early on.
        For the writers of the NT, the primary question was how to communicate in a manner that would be effective for intended readers. So, e.g., Paul (who likely could read Hebrew and likely could speak Aramaic) wrote in Greek because he wrote to Greek-speaking circles (composed of gentiles and perhaps also some diaspora Jews).
        By contrast, the Qumran community seems to have been very much an intra-Jewish group, very uninterested in anything like the trans-local spread of the early Christian message. Qumran reflects a strong “scribal” ethos that involved re-assertion of Hebraic language in their texts.

    • There is one puzzling bit, which does not mean at all that parts of the Acts may have been written in Hebrew, yet is worth exploring per se. In Acts 26:14 in front of H. Agrippa II, Bernice and Festus Paul says that Jesus spoke to him in the Hebrew language, saying: “Saul, Saul, why are you persectuing me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” Now this latter sentence is included in some versions of Acts 9:5 as well, yet without the language being mentioned. As it is indeed an ancient Greek proverb, preceding the time of the NT with at least five centuries, one wonders whether a parallel saying existed in the Hebrew/Aramaic tradition and language(s), or it is simply a proof of Luke’s learnedness (whose Greek was certainly far better than e.g. that of John), who applied an entirely fitting “Gentile” saying upon Saul’s predicament.

      • As with the other speeches in Acts, Paul’s speech in Acts 26 strikes me as likely composed by the author as something fitting for the occasion.

    • Geoff Hudson permalink

      OK. Is there any evidence (such as Penner’s) that the writer of Acts knew Hebrew? If he did know Hebrew, why didn’t he use it throughout, not just for speeches?

      • Penner didn’t argue that the writer knew Hebrew, only that when he referred to Paul speaking “in the Hebrew language” (τῇ Ἐβραΐδι διαλέκτῳ; 21:40) the author meant “Hebrew”, not Aramaic. It’s nothing to do with the author’s own facility or use of either Semitic language, Geoff.

    • Geoff Hudson permalink


      You wrote: “Why were they written in Greek? Well, because Greek was the international language of the time in the Roman world, and these writings were intended clearly to promote and reflect the remarkably trans-cultural and trans-local nature of the early Christian movement, which seems to have characterized it from very early on.”

      This is the stock answer. So how did these poor, uneducated followers of Jesus suddenly become experts in the international language of the Roman world? And how were they so knowing and calculating to write for such a wide audience? The printing press was not invented. So again how were these manuscripts to be disseminated? How was their message to be heard. Reading from one manuscript would hardly start a revolution. There were not even a large number of scribes available to reproduce them, and no-one to pay the scribes wages.

      And would you class the UK as a part of the Roman world? I do not recall Greek ever being spoken here in early times. But I’ll bet some Brits learned Latin from their Roman masters. My understanding is that the Romans were proud of their language. There must be examples of other countries.

      It has to be a different story why Greek was used in the production of the first NT documents.

      • Geoff: Sometimes the “stock” answer is that because it’s what all the evidence points to, as in this case. Your comments against it (I’m afraid) only reflect a lack of knowledge of the ancient factors in question. E.g., not all followers of Jesus in the earliest years were “poor, uneducated” souls. Granted, most people in the Roman world (not just Jesus-followers!) weren’t well educated, but you don’t need a mass of such people to produce texts. A few can serve quite nicely.
        Second, it wasn’t necessary to be “experts” in Greek to write the NT writings. Classicists will typically regard the NT as a very simple level of Greek (as also seems reflected in some critical comments from hostile pagans in the early centuries). The NT writings reflect varying levels of literary sophistication, but hardly ever the level of the literary elite (with the possible exception of Hebrews).
        How were manuscripts disseminated? That’s well studied now, Geoff. See, esp. Harry Y. Gamble, Books and Readers in the Early church: A History of Early Christian Texts (Yale Univ Press, 1995). Manuscripts (Christian and others) were typically copied by individuals (not necessarily formally trained “scribes”), and the earliest copies we have reflect this, exhibiting “hands” that are competent but not calligraphic in ability. No one needed to pay. Often people made their own copies. See also, e.g., the article I wrote jointly with Chris Keith, “Writing and Book Production in the Hellenistic and Roman Periods,” in The New Cambridge History of the BIble: From the Beginnings to 600, eds. J. C. Paget & J. Schaper, pp. 63-80; and my book, The Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins (Eerdmans, 2005).
        As to what languages people used in Roman Britain, Geoff, that’s a complete irrelevance. But scholars estimate that in lst-century Rome there were more people speaking Greek than Latin!

      • Maybe you have to read Father Philippe Rolland, who thinks that the initial Gospel – « The Gospel of Jerusalem » or « The Gospel of the Twelve » – was written in a semitic language, and then translated twice in Greek, in two independant translations, both harmonized by Mark in his Gospel, Matthew and Luke using only one of these translations with Q elements for their reports.

      • Richard: Yeah, there have been oooodles of such speculations, assertions, kite-flying ideas, none of which has any evidence to back it. We have to work with what we know, what we have, and then make the most reasonable inferences from that. Nothing. Nothing at all, requires this proposal, and there is scant basis for even considering it, other than the early church tradition that I mentioned that there was some Hebrew version (!!) of the GMatthew originally.

    • Geoff Hudson permalink


      You wrote:”The NT writings reflect varying levels of literary sophistication, but hardly ever the level of the literary elite (with the possible exception of Hebrews).” I am wondering who the literary elite are you refer to? Where were the literary elite at the time, from whom the writers of the NT might have learned the sophistication of which you speak?

      • Geoff: I was comparing the level of sophistication in Greek in the NT with other texts from antiquity that demonstrate more complex, demanding levels. To take one example, the Greek of Philo of Alexandria has a much wider vocabulary and more complex sentences than we typically find in the NT. The entire vocabulary of the NT writings is scarcely more than 5000 words. The epistle to the Hebrews, however, among NT writings has more complex/demanding sentences (as any new reader of the Greek NT will attest!). People learned to read and write from others, usually teachers, sometimes in schools, sometimes private tutors, and there were varying levels of education. If you’re seriously interested, here are a couple of references:
        –Raffaella Cribiore, Gymnastics of the Mind: Greek Education in Hellenistic and Roman Egypt (Princeton: Princeton Universtity Press, 2001)
        –Teresa Morgan, Literate Education in the Hellenistic and Roman Worlds (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998)

  6. I made a similar list a while back, and my list includes the following verses that are not in your list. Do they apply? Acts 13:33 may not apply as Jesus is mentioned in the verse, only the word kyrios was omitted in some manuscripts.


    In reference to another point that was brought up, Psalm 110:1 in the LXX also contains the variant reading on the article.

    • Howard: I don’t get what you intend in citing these texts. In Acts 7:37 there’s only a reference to “theos” with no variants in N-A. In 8:22, likewise there is a textually secure “tou kyriou” (which, however, likely helped to form the ambiguity in 8:24, producing variants there as shown on my list. In 13:11, there’s a textually secure “hand of the Lord” (cheir kyriou), with no variants in that verse. In 13:33, the main variants are “Jesus” and “the Lord Jesus Christ”.
      As for LXX 109:1, for the reading “ho kyrios” as the speaker, there are no variants listed in the Rahlfs edition. But the variation in NT refs I take to be intentional.

      • I would like to make a few corrections. I now realize that you are only dealing in variants with strong support, my list simply listed all variants concerning kyrios, I did not go through them only looking for ones with strong support, I simply compared the two lists. However, I would like to add the support for the information I did supply, and I am not saying they have strong support, only that they exist.

        The following from Bruce Metzger discusses the variant in Acts 7:37. “The original text, ὁ θεός (P74 א A B D 81 vg cop^sa, bo eth), has undergone various expansions. Since the Septuagint reads κύριος before ὁ θεός (Dt 18.15), it was natural for scribes to insert the word here (C E H P al).” (Metzger, B. M., & United Bible Societies. (1994). A textual commentary on the Greek New Testament, p. 307.)

        In 8:22 you recognize the variant, but indicated the alternate reading is not strong enough to consider.

        In 13:11, after more research, it turns out that the variant reading concerning the definite article before kyrios, is between various Textus Receptus texts, namely, Stephens 1550 Textus Receptus and Scrivener 1894 Textus Receptus. Whether this variant comes from a manuscript, I do not know.

        As far as Psalm 109:1 in the LXX, Swete’s 1907 LXX critical apparatus, and the Old Greek Variants Project (CATSS), list Psalterium Graeco-Latinum Veronense, ‘a bilingual Psalter of Western origin and attributed to the sixth century, as omitting the article.

      • Howard: My paper wasn’t on textual variants in Acts in general, only on a number of instances where the variants reflect an attempt to “dis-ambiguate” the text. So, the variation-units to mention aren’t relevant to my project.

  7. So… the typo in “Issues in Luke-Acats: Selected Essays” has vanished… though I very wanted to have this “Acats of the Apostles” ;-)… But are you interested by what I think are typos in the pdf “Textual ambiguity in Acts–List of variation-units” ?

    Is 2:34 from Acts, or with Mt 22, 44, Mc 12, 36, Lc 20, 42, from Psalms ?… Since the only difference is the article, I think that no reader dared to modify the LXX, clarifying who are these Kurioi…

    • Richard, I’d be grateful if you can note typos in my list.
      I’m not sure that I get your question about Acts 2:34. The variants I note there are ο κυριος and κυριος (as the one who speaks to τω κυριω μου). In Acts, the articular form dominantly refers to Jesus. Yet here it’s clear that it’s God who is the referent. So, it appears that the articular form may have been seen as ambiguous. Oh, and early Christian readers were often quite ready to “modify” the LXX, at least in how they read it, as in their reading of LXX Psalm 109:1 (Heb: 110:1), where they obviously took the second “Lord” as the exalted Jesus (not the ancient king of Judah originally in view).

  8. Dear Larry,
    These textual variants are quite interesting and your observations put yet another “Orthodox conspiracy theory” concerning a biased ancient tampering with the NT texts to rest. Your post even made me “dig out” again Theodoret of Cyrus’ work On the Holy and Vivifying Trinity, written around 430, in which (in Ch. 26) he quotes Acts 20:28 in the following manner:

    “Take heed therefore to yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to pasture the Church of the Lord, which he had gained with His own blood.”
    [τὴν Ἐκκλησίαν τοῦ Κυρίου, ἣν περιεποιήσατο διὰ τοῦ αἵματος τοῦ ἰδίου]

    At the time, I also added the following note:
    “Theodoret here quotes a version preserved in a lot of manuscripts. It is hard to determine whether he deliberately avoids a ‘verbal Theopaschism’ (i.e. the expression ‘God’s own blood’) or simply the text was known to him in this form.”
    Your observations are “soothing” my one-time dilemma – albeit Theodoret was certainly more comfortable with the version he had cited. See István Pásztori-Kupán, Theodoret of Cyrus (London: Routledge, 2006), pp. 135 and p. 244, note 69 – a book, which appeared also due to your support and encouragement. Many thanks for that again!

    I would have another question, however, which certainly betrays my ignorance in the field. I know they cannot be considered as “textual variants”, yet a parallel analysis of the three accounts of Paul’s conversion in Acts (9: 1-9; 22: 4-11; 26: 11-15) reveals e.g. that his companions either saw the light, but did not hear the voice or vice versa. Is there a good explanation for this variation?
    The other interesting thing is of course the insertion of the classical proverb, probably deriving from Euripides or Aeschylus (Agamemnon, 1624): “do not kick against the goads [πρὸς κέντρα]”, which had been used to describe someone’s sheer madness to go against the will of the gods like the oxen against the goad of its master. Yet Saul thought he was doing God’s will by persecuting the Christians – hence, the reprehension coming from the Lord himself proving Saul to have been wrong.

    • Thanks, Istvan. I have no particular/special wisdom regarding the variation in the portrayal of the companions of “Saul of Tarsus” in the “Damascus Road” experience. I think that exegetes largely take these as simply descriptive variations from the author, who apparently did not regard them as significant. But I defer to those who may have given the matter more thought.

      • So it was, perhaps, not such a grave mistake on my part, when I said (exclusively as a rhetorical formula in a sermon) that based on the various accounts in the Acts, Paul did not have any proper ear- and/or eyewitnesses who could substantiate his claims to have had encountered Jesus. In consequence, he had to prove it through his lifetime’s work that he was indeed an apostle (see e.g. 1Cor 9: 1-3 and 15:10 etc.).

      • Not a bad suggestion to my mind.

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