Why Some Translations Include Acts 8:37 and Others Don’t

Textual Criticism Manuscript

You’re in church for worship, and your pastor is preaching through the book of Acts. The day’s text is Acts 8, the part about Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. Your pastor is reading from the ESV, and you’re following along in your NKJV.

The translations are a little different, but you can usually follow. The pastor reads:

36 And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” 38 And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. (Acts 8:36–38, ESV)

Following along in your NKJV, you see:

36 Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” 37 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.” 38 So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. (Acts 8:36–38, NKJV, emphasis added)

Why does the NKJV have Acts 8:37? And why doesn’t the ESV include the same content?

It all has to do with textual criticism.

How did we get the New Testament?

Ask just about any pastor or Bible scholar where the New Testament came from, and you’ll hear the story of thousands of manuscripts, many fragmentary, that witness the text of the New Testament. Textual Criticism is the field (some call it science, others say it’s an art) of how this vast collection of manuscript material comes together to inform one’s reading of the New Testament.

The footnotes in your Bible summarize the situation from the translators’ perspective and point out the presence or absence of the material called Acts 8:37. Most modern Bible translations will at least have a sentence or two on this type of textual issue.

If you want more than that, there are several resources in Logos Bible Software that can help you weigh the options and come to an understanding of the textual issues and possible solutions. The Logos team has assembled some of our best text-critical resources in the definitive Textual Variants Collection. It’s a great way to get started.

One type of resource you can turn to is a “textual commentary”. These books comment on the text-critical issues of the Bible. Some textual commentaries, such as the Lexham Textual Notes are high level, giving the reader an overview of the textual options. Others, such as Metzger’s Textual Commentary are fairly focused and use text-critical terminology in their discussion. Textual commentaries available in Logos include:

Get to know the Textual Variants section

In Logos 6, the Textual Variants section of the Exegetical Guide provides links from your passage to the discussion in the textual commentaries you have in your library. In this video, Todd Bishop, one of our Logos Pros, shows you how the Textual Variants section can help you dig into textual criticism.

Get started with textual criticism

As you saw in the video, this type of situation happens in more places than just Acts 8:37. Have you ever had the same question about Matthew 18:11? Or John 5:3? On the general issue of how textual critics understand the earliest knowable state of the Greek New Testament, there are a few books that are helpful:

Next time you run into the presence or absence of a verse like Acts 8:37, don’t take it as a challenge or a conspiracy. The editors of the translation have good reasons for the path they chose and will usually leave a note to clue you in. With a little work, some consulting of textual commentaries, and some wider understanding of how thousands of manuscripts inform our understanding of the Greek New Testament, you can examine the evidence yourself and come to your own conclusion.

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To instantly fill your library with resources that power the Textual Variants section, get the Textual Variants Collection—a definitive assembly of text-critical resources at a great discount. Get it now!

Comments

  1. Excellent post.

  2. Elevating textual critics above the received canonical text is a presupossition that denies sola scriptura.

  3. actually it doesn't, it just considers "received" to be when it was actually received rather than some arbitrary date 1500 years later.

  4. Arthur Gregory says:

    The position that you take of “the received canonical text” means that the pope can add or subtract from the text any time he wants. For example, the KJV use of I John 5:7 was clearly added 1200 years after John wrote his letter and was only included because the pope insisted on it. Erasmus himself commented on this history.

    • Mark Armstrong says:

      If we had the autographs we wouldn’t need textual criticism. What we do have are manuscripts and fragments with (usually) minor variation. Textual criticism is a cohesive way of identifying and evaluating the textual differences. Your Greek NT has a very helpful apparatus for drawing your own conclusions. This has nothing to do with the Pope, or anyone else, adding or subtracting words. That’s not textual criticism that’s “textual fraud”.

      • Arthur Gregory says:

        Textual criticism is certainly helpful in comparing differences, but many issues are simply a matter that the pope decided to include a particular text in the Latin version of the Middle Ages that were forwarded into the KJV. (6000 cases of not using the “best text” in the NT). Textual criticism reveals this but does not tell us what to do about it. Erasmus did not have many of the texts we have today but he did note that I John 5:7 was not included in any Greek text before 1200 (and no verifiable text has been found since then). The pope (through a cardinal) directed Erasmus to include this text anyway. You may call that action “fraud” but it is not always so easy to tell the difference between “fraud” and “personal preference”.

  5. Koshy Thomas says:

    Baptism by Immersion is definitely taught in the Bible from John the Baptizer.
    John 3:23 NASB
    John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there; and people were coming and were being baptized–
    Baptism has always been part of the gospel preaching from the beginning and I am sure that 8:37 was part of the original.

    Acts 2; 8,9, 10 (even re-baptism in Jesus’ name)

    Much of today’s gospel is missing repentance, true faith in Jesus, baptism in water, baptism in Spirit, judgement, etc

  6. Jeff Moss says:

    A very useful, bring-it-all-together post. Thanks, Rick.

    As an adjunct to all the options suggested, there is another that was suggested to me a year or two ago when I wrote to Morris Proctor with a query, though I have modified his suggestion by adding one component. It provides a simple and quick view of ‘textual variations’ and others may be interested.

    MY VERSION: In essence, the option involves creating a saved Layout with four panels in this order (left to right): NKJV (based on the Byzantine or Received Text); Text Comparison set to compare NA28, TR1550MR (i.e., Stephen’s Received Text 1550 with morphology); Text Comparison set to compare TR1550MR, NA28; and the ESV (a leading version based on the critical text). I have the Link Set (in resource icon menu, top left of panel) for all panels nominated as A (which is the NKJV for me) so that all panels automatically synchronize when I enter the passage specifications in the NKJV panel. As a default, I have the interlinear open for both translations.

    FORMAT RATIONALE: I chose this format because it is more likely that the NKJV will include text that the ESV leaves out. Having the two Text Comparison panels provides two different views of the textual variations because the reference text (the first text) is different.

    CREATING A LAYOUT YOURSELF: To add the four panels to a blank Logos 6 screen (i.e., Home page off), simply open panels for the two Bible translations (drag and drop from your Library, so you only get the Bible text itself) then drag Text Comparison from the Tools menu into the center (between the two translations) and repeat that step so you have two TC panels. Specify NA28, TR1550MR for one TC panel and TR1550MR, NA28 for the other.

    REFINING THE LAYOUT: For space reasons, it’s best to turn off the left menu listing all the books in each translation and open it only if needed. To even out the columns, click on Layouts in the Logos toolbar (far right) and from the menu panel that opens select the icon at the top showing three vertical columns. This should produce columns of similar width and TC columns that are wide enough for the two Greek texts to appear side-by-side, making comparison easier. Make sure you use Link Set for each panel to set one of your columns as the reference column in which you enter the passage you wish to examine (nominate the panel or column that works best for you, and it needs to be the same column throughout).

    The example passages noted by Rick and in the video are helpful to use for testing: Matthew 18:11; John 5:3; Acts 8:36-38.

    SAVING THE LAYOUT: Once the layout is completed to your satisfaction, click again on Layouts in the toolbar. Your layout will show at the top of the screenshots at the right. Click on ‘Save as named layout,’ enter the name by which you want to identify it (mine is labelled: TR + NA28 comparison). Once saved, the named layout will appear in a list at the left in the Layout menu so you can access it quickly. If you wish to modify the layout for future use – particularly if you want to leave it set at a particular passage, such as John 5:3 – click on Layout and select ‘Update active’ in the right column. This will save the revised version of the active layout and will display John 5:3, for example, when you next open it.

    I use this layout often to get a quick and simple view of ‘textual variations’ so hope others may find it useful.

    • Jeff,

      As an extremely novice user of Logos I found your post to be very interesting. I hope I can follow your directions and get this working for me as I dig a bit deeper into textual variation. Thanks for taking the time to post this information.

      • Jeff Moss says:

        Glad to hear you found the idea useful, Steve, and all the best as you put together your own layout. It certainly provides a very quick and useful tool for identifying textual variants in any NT passage you may be reading or working on. It is also easy to update your Text Comparison columns if the texts are updated (for example, recently I updated the critical text from NA27 to NA28 when it became available on Logos).

  7. Richard says:

    What is written from here to “in earth” in 1Jn. 5:8 is not in some early MSS., but this is no proof that it was not in the original book as here recorded. Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage (200-258 A.D.), quotes this as being written by John (vol. V, 418,423, Ante-Nicene Fathers). Vigilius of Thapsus quotes it in the 5th century. The Codex Montfortii and the Vulgate contain it. The words are in perfect harmony with the doctrine of the Trinity. –D

  8. Mark Jones says:

    Being new to Logos, and having no Greek or Hebrew studies, what resources are available to distinguish the differences in text for me?

    • Arthur Gregory says:

      Most modern versions (e.g. NASB) include the major textual variations in the margins in English. As other posts have noted Logos provides many ways to analyze the details in English, including the opinions of many scholars. The traditional and reliable academic compilation of textual variations is “The Greek New Testament” (Fourth Revised Edition -Aland, etc.) but this gives the actual Greek texts and not the translation. Dating and evaluating the texts is a whole different discipline but not worth the time for most followers who want to know what Jesus said.

  9. You must have "sold out" over the weekend, because it shows as no longer being sold. What resources were in it?

  10. hay que leer mas de esto

  11. The product should be back now!

  12. 6 May ’15_The study of Textual variants – takes time away from Jesus; try using your heart mixed with Holy Ghost and ‘ASK’. There are too many roads that magnify the intellect and starve our spiritual relationship. Fat heads that will some day need some pruning? V. out!

  13. Baptism is a requirement of God. – Mark 16:16
    Jesus Himself stated that we are to teach the whole world how to be saved, and then in the next verse He tells us how, Belief AND Baptism. – Mark 16:15-16

    Baptism is not a pouring, or a sprinkling, you find neither of these in the New Testament, but Acts 2 and 8 clearly show full body IMMERSION.

    Baptism is a requirement for salvation, and is even explained for us in Acts 2:38 when Peter declared that any person who desired to be a Christian had to believe, REPENT AND be Baptized, for the REMISSION of their sins.

    Question, if there was no Baptism to wash the sins away, then what happened to all those believers sins?

    Salvation is dependent upon following Christ, if you love Him you will do His Will – John 14:15

    If you ignore His commandments, Baptism included, then you are not truly a Christian.

  14. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that Jesus is not the "the son of God", because Jesus is the son of Mary – messiah son of Joseph!? The first of two prophesied messiahs who would precede the messiah true son of David.

  15. Very interesting, thank you.