The ‘missing’ verse in Acts chapter 8


  • Question 215, from Mark, United Kingdom

    Hey freelance theology. I just spotted there’s no Acts 8:37 in the New Living Translation, any thoughts?

    Acts chapter 8 verse 37 is part of the conversation between the apostle Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch who is identified as a ‘God-fearer’, that is a non-Jew who believed in the Jewish God. When the eunuch asks if there is anything that would prevent him from being baptised, verse 37 says:

    ‘Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”’

    Eunuchs were excluded from the Jewish religion of the time, so this verse shows that those people who were previously considered unable to fully be part of the chosen people were included in the fledgling church. However, this verse only appears in some manuscripts, with the New King James Version (which does include the verse) noting that “It is found in Western texts, including the Latin tradition”.

    Biblical books were copied by hand and it was possible for mistakes to be made. Usually these are very obviously minor spelling errors or omissions, but there are times when it seems likely certain additions were made. The Biblical scholar FF Bruce notes that “The chief characteristic of the Western text is its tendency to expansion.” (Bruce, 1991, p.176) Bruce provides an example of such an insertion in Luke chapter 5 (which is not included in the New King James Version). There is also a textual giveaway that this verse is a later addition as Jesus is referred to as ‘the Jesus Christ’, which is different to how Jesus is usually referred to in the rest of Acts.

    There are not very many verses like this that only appear in certain original manuscripts and very few have much theological importance. This verse may have been added later because it would seem improper for the eunuch to be baptised without making a profession of faith.

    The New Living Translation (completed in 1996), like other modern translations such as the New International Version (translated in 1994), tend to rely on interpreting the manuscripts that are believed to be older, and more reliable, than the Western text. Verses like this that do not appear in those texts are often included as footnotes. However, the New King James Version is based on Authorised (King James) Version, which was translated using the best available texts at the time and includes the verse. Other versions that omit the verse include the Revised Standard Version (from 1946), while some more modern translations like the Living Bible (published in 1971) include it but have a footnote to say it is missing in many original manuscripts.

    From a theological perspective the direct question whether the eunuch’s would prevent him from becoming a Christian, when it had already prevented him from becoming a full Jew, may seem important. However, the story without verse 37 includes Philip baptising him, so the question is not necessary to make the point that the new covenant is more inclusive than the old one.

    What is interesting about this verse being added is that it shows the later theological concerns as the church develops – namely to underline the inclusivity of Christianity and to define what a proper declaration of faith should look like. As a result, this verse indicates the things early Christians felt were important, whether they were included in the Bible or not.

    References

    Bruce, FF. The Books and the Parchments. Revised Edition. Marshall-Pickering, 1991.

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