Part 1 of four:    Categories of Evidence

That the transmitted text of Scripture now reads in some places other than what the author wrote is something the assiduous student is led to suspect. Such places of doubtful reading, which seem to be particularly prominent in Acts, can arise from the scribe's mishearing during dictation, from careless omissions when sight copying and even well intentioned insertions by copyists. But genuine portions of the original manuscript can also get moved out of position; and it is only these which are the subject of this investigation. 

A proposal to correct a dubious passage on the ground of mere opinion, or even of a hunch, is inadmissible, but a speculative suggestion based on a small amount of evidence does deserve some consideration. While a single category of evidence can suggest possibility, the adding to it of a further class of evidence may well amount to probability. The strength of evidence needed to identify a passage wrongly located is very much less than required to recover with any confidence its original place. But both sets of evidence are called for, and they will mutually confirm one another when found. 

To justify the questioning of the existing place of a text requires evidence in at least one of the following categories:-

(a) Historical discordance

(b) Contextual incongruity

(c) Exegetieal incompatibility

To reasonably ascertain the likely original position of such a piece of text calls for two or more classes of evidence. For this purpose the complements of (a), (b) & (c) are available, and in addition also :-

(d) Verbal interrelationship

(e) Format compatibility

The last mentioned requires to be fully explained. So let it be realised at once that, apart from the highly improbable idea of deliberate corruption, the only way a text displacement can occur is by fracturing of the master manuscript and subsequent faulty repositioning. Papyrus is much more subject to dilapidation and fragmenting than is vellum, but with both materials the parts most liable to suffer are the bottoms of columns, and to a slightly lesser degree the tops of the columns also. So these places are the most likely locations from which any displacements will have come. This fact, though not of itself conclusive, does provide supporting evidence which can be termed Format Compatibility. 

The question now arises as to how can it be ascertained what the columns in the autographic text of Acts were like. To make guesses is pointless but there is evidence from which with reasonable certainty their form and content as to number of letters can be deduced. 

It has long been observed that in Acts there are six panel summaries which appear to be brief reviews of apostolic progress. They were noted by Moffatt in 1810 in his Introduction to the Literature of the New Testament. Half of a century later, in their book, The Structure of Luke and Acts., G.H.C.Macgregor and A.B.Morton advanced the proposition that the autograph of canonical Acts was the expansion of a primitive text conflated with other material, and that this was transferred systematically into predetermined columns which, when any apace occurred, were completed by these observed summaries. 

Accepting the validity of this theory makes available an evidential basis for calculating the number of columns, but the task of doing so would prove to be insurmountable were it not that firstly, a considerable number of similarly expanded column endings have been detected; and secondly, a letter numbered Greek text is available in that of the Concordant Publishing Concern, devised by Adolf E.Knoch on the basis of Weymouth's Resultant Greek Testament.

In his commentary on the Greek text of Acts F.F.Bruce remarks, as to the alleged displacement of 26/8, that it is difficult to see just how it could have come about. Yet it is not really so difficult to account for when it is understood that the only way displacement can take place is when a detached fragment is wrongly replaced. Such an error is unlikely if the manuscript is in the form of a codex, as the backing portion provides a double check. It is also unlikely when multiple copies exist and can be referred to. But if it be supposed that the original papyrus scroll of Acts was the exclusive personal possession of an individual, maybe even Theophilus, after many years it would have survived only in a condition of much dilapidation. Eventually it comes to the attention of a competent scribe so as to make a fair copy. but first he has to restore the positions of the many fragments. In this he may well succeed in most instances yet fail in a few places. However, his fair copy with its few displacements from then on becomes the master from which all further copies will trace their origin. In such a situation there can never be extant any manuscript reading exactly what the author wrote. 

This verse 8 is clearly an alien in chapter 26. It is an emotive aside in a cool rational discourse by Paul to Agrippa which proceeds unruffled in v.9 It is a question never answered. It concerns a subject never introduced, viz resurrection. It is addressed to "you" in the plural (Gk. humin). whereas in v.2 "you" is singular (Gk. sou) . In his New Translation Moffatt, with boldness quite unjustified, asserts that this displaced verse 8 was originally found between verses 22 and 23. This writer challenges the correctness of that view; for while Paul is still addressing Agrippa personally 'humin' is out of keeping. 

There is ample evidence to identify the most likely original position of 26/8 as following verse 6 of chapter 23. Here the subject of resurrection has been introduced: Paul's emotive cry in v.6 is compatible with the similar one which is 26/8: the plural 'you' is directed to the Sadducees of the Sanhedrin; the outcome indicated in v.7 is just what this rhetorical question would be expected to evoke; there is to be observed the typically Pauline word-play with 'krinomai' and 'krinetai'.  Additional evidence from format is shown in that this position comes at the bottom of Column 167, for which see Table A.

The Authentic New Testament of H.J.Schonfield includes this note regarding the end of Acts: 'he last paragraph may be a copyist's addition to compensate for the worn and defective end of the original scroll'. This writer does not agree with Dr. Schonfield about a loss of material at this point, but he does agree with him that verses 30 and 31 of chapter 28 are a misfit here.

Clearly there is contextual incongruity with these two closing verses, as a term of 'two years' is introduced with no ensuing purpose.  The variant reading of Miniscules 137, 641 and 1518, namely 'Iodaious te kai EllEnas' most likely was in the earliest copies but probably came to be discarded due to its inaptness in this context. More importantly, there is Exegetical Incompatibility in that Paul here is said to be 'proclaiming' (Gk. kErussO) the Kingdom of God which, following the judgemental declaration he had just made in Rome upon this Jewish Diaspora (which represented The House of Judah), was not appropriate any longer. The Kingdom of God could well have been still among what Paul was 'teaching'; but this is not what is here stated.

These difficulties can be resolved, however, by recognising that these two last verses of Acts are a displacement from chapter 24 where they came between verses 23 and 24. In this location there is no Contextual Incongruity, as the 'two years' are here seen to be the duration of Paul's relative freedom after which he is again put into chains as  Felix relinquishes office. The situation at that time in Caesarea is in full accordance with the character of the earlier Acts period ministry of Paul when he proclaimed The Kingdom of God 'to the Jew first and also to the Greek'.  That ministry he himself outlines to the elders of Ephesus in Acts 20:18-26. 

In addition to the above there is also evidence from verbal interrelationship, for the 'not to hinder' (Gk. kOluin) of 24:23 finds its counterpart in the 'unhindered' (akOlutOs) of 28/31.  Supporting evidence by Format Compatibility is also available in that this passage would appear at the bottom of column 178, for which refer to Table A.


Manuscript Columns. ACTS


Transition Verses


Part 2 of four   Recovering Autographic Form

This is an exercise to try to find the probable number of columns in the original MS by means of discernible column endings, notably those recognised as summaries at  6/7, 9/31, 12/24, 16/5, 19/20 and 28/31, the last considered to be misplaced from an earlier position. In addition to these a further one was noted by Macgregor at  2/47 about I960; and also at 4/4, 5/14 and possibly 8/4 by the writer in 1985. Recent intensive investigation reveals a considerable number of places where a column ending seems likely, now termed Transition Verses since not all are in the nature of summaries. 

In view of the greater probability of displacements in the latter part of the text only in the first two thirds were used from which to deduce the likely number of columns and their average letter content. This content is derived from the letter number scheme of the Concordant Version which shows a total for the Book of Acts of some 96250. Table A  lists the Transition Verses along with the CV letter number at that position. 

A cursory examination of Table A shows that there are thirteen instances of evident single columns before 19/20 containing letter totals of from 388 to 530. Their mean value is 466 letters per column. Using this figure it is possible to calculate the number of columns relating to the summaries thus : -


Table B

6/7      : 17588 -        0  =  17588.:   -/466  =  37.74 :   say 38

9/31    : 30260 - 17588  =  12672.:      "     =  27.19 :     "   27

12/24  : 40870 - 30260  =  10610.:      "     =  22.77 :     "   23

16/5    : 52664 - 40870  =  11794.:      "     =  25.31 :     "   25

I9/20   : 64234 - 52664  =  11570.:      "     =  24.83 :     "   25



These calculations determine with a fair degree of certainty that the summaries at 6/7,  9/31, 12/24, 16/5 and 19/20 pertain to the endings of Columns 38, 65, 88, 113 and 138 respectively of the original manuscript of Acts. From this data it becomes possible to allocate the intermediate columns at the places where apparent transition verses occur and enter letter content. 

There seems to be no accountable reason why the end of Column 138 should be exactly two thirds of the entire text, and no attempt has been made to fit it into that pattern; but the evidence from the distribution of letters is so striking that it has to be accepted that the last third is just that, and so comprises 69 columns. The allocations of columns is completed on this basis. 

It will be observed that the suggested original positions of the passages discussed in Part 1 do in fact appear at the bottom of columns where fractures of the manuscript are most likely to occur. That adjacent columns seem not to have suffered in the some way is to be attributed to their restoration having been accurately carried out. 

In view of the sound evidential basis from which this reconstruction has been built it is submitted that the number of original columns cannot differ from the 207 which here emerge. The letters per column may have ranged from 462 to 472, with an average of say 467. 

The fibrous constitution of papyrus results in fragments almost certainly having only complete lines of text. Assuming a line of eleven letters, the 45 letters of 26/8 would have been four lines, and the 195 letters of 28/30,31 would have been eighteen lines. It is thus probable that a column comprised 42 lines each of 10 to 13 letters. This accords well with Codex Vaticanus and its 42 lines per column, and Codex Sinaiticus with 12 letters per line. But the Acts autograph could not have been a codex and must have been a scroll. 

There seems to be no valid reason to reject v.29 as the final verse.


Part 3 of four    Review of Evidence


Column 167                            Column 178

 On the left hand is set out just how Column 167 would have appeared. In translation it might read thus : 

"And Paul, knowing that the one part were of Sadducees but the other of Pharisees, cried out in the Sanhedrin. 'Gentlemen. Brethren !  I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; it is about a hope and a resurrection of dead ones I am judged: Why is it by you judged incredible if God raises dead ones ?   But this speaking of his created a dissension of the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the gathering was divided. For the Sadducees say there is no resurrection".

 Column 178 would have had the form shown on the right, reading so- 

"Fellx --- commanded the centurion to keep him and let him have liberty, and to hinder none of his own folk to attend to him. And he remained two whole years in his own hired lodging and welcomed all who came to him. both Jews and Greeks, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching the things about the Lord Jesus Christ with total unhindered freedom of speech"

With the establishing of the format of the Book of Acts a structure is now available by which other dislocations may be more readily discovered. These would be suspected where the content of a column is not within the compass of 462 to 472 letters. 

An example of this can be noted at Ref.Oi of Table A,  where the mean content before this point is 484 letters, but after it 439.5 letters.  Moffatt would place the 59 letters, of 5/12a after 5/14, i.e. after 01.  Now if with this displaced item is included verse 11, there becomes 126 letters, needing to be removed from before to after Ref Oi. Thus 3389 - 126 = 3263 = 7 x 466 :   and 3516 + 126 = 3642 = 8 x 455.  This passage then will read thus : 

"And they of the same mind were all in Solomon's Porch. But of the rest no one presumed to link himself with them; nevertheless, the people magnified them. And believers, were the more added to the Lord --- multitudes both of men and women. / And great fear came on the whole assembly and on all who heard these things. Now by the hands. of the apostles. were many signs and wonders done among the people, so that they brought out the sick into the streets -- "


Part 4 of four   Biblical Criticism

The term criticism does not imply adverse comment, but an appraisal of evidence by scientific methods.. The exploring of probable sources of material embodied by an author in a biblical writing, known as an autograph, is called Literary or Higher Criticism. It is a valid research procedure when it is used scientifically and honestly, and anyone who, after investigation concludes Titus 1:12  is quoting Epimenides, or that Roman. 9:29. has been taken from the Septuagint, is engaging in Higher Criticism. The investigation of apparent deviations from the autograph caused by centuries of re-copying of the manuscripts is called Textual or Lower Criticism, into which classification this present exercise must be placed. 

This writer and investigator holds that the autographs, of Scripture alone are what constitutes God's Word, inerrant and inspired even as to its actual words --- which thus make him a fundamentalist. This position has to be sustained not just by opinion but, as with criticism, on the basis of evidence; for although we cannot be assured of a perfect original text, what is available deviates so insignifically as to amply testify both to its integrity and to the perfection of its Divine Author. 

There are those who permit themselves to ignore some of this evidence, or impose their own bias on its assessment. Such fall into two quite unrelated categories yet they have in common that opinion takes precedence over evidence. 

In the one class are those extreme fundamentalists, so-called, who impose rigid preconceived views on the understanding of Scripture and/or insist, in spite of conflicting evidence, that the New Testament autographs have been providentially preserved in the Byzantine Text, or in one or other of its forms. In the other class are those known as modern theologians who use, or rather misuse, Higher Criticism to question the veracity and integrity of Scripture, disregarding all intrinsic counter evidence. In both instances opinions are allowed to override evidence. 

A true scientific attitude takes into reckoning every kind of evidence. One who did just that, one who made a significant contribution to a knowledge of Scripture, both as to textual criticism and to the teaching of its Spiritual message, was Samuel Prideaux Tregelles, esteemed Editor of the Greek Testament. His commendation to the Bible student in the Preface to his Hebrew Grammar is :-- 

"Let the doctrine, of the Bible - the love of God the Father in giving his blessed and only-begotten Son to die, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life - be received into the heart by the power of the Holy Ghost; and then the Bible is not to us that which we can subject to our opinions and feelings ;   but it is valued as the authoritative communication of God's will"

Maurice Lloyd Glasgow October 1990

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