Acts 8:37

I never knew this before, but there is a verse of Acts that has been excised from the text by most scholars. The verse gives Philip’s response to the Ethiopian eunuch’s request for baptism. It reads:

“Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ And he replied, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God.'” Acts 8:37 ESV

The verse is apparently only attested by the Erasmus manuscript of 1527 and a handful of Old Latin texts. The Erasmus text actually reads a little differently:

“Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may be saved.’ And he replied, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God.'”

The KJV is one of the only English versions that use the verse. Most English Bibles include the verse in a footnote. If you google “Acts 8:37,” look out! There are a whole bunch of KJV-only websites that claim any Bible without Acts 8:37 is counterfeit. Hence the important question arises: Is Acts 8:37 part of the canon according to the Church?

The verse appears in the original Vulgate, but now the Church omits the verse in the Nova Vulgata, which is the new and improved Vulgate published under Pope John Paul II in the 1980’s. The official text approved by the Holy See does not contain the verse. The weird thing is that the Catechism references the verse in paragraph 454.

Pius XII sets the tone for Catholic teaching on textual criticism regarding questions like this. He teaches that we are to accept the best in textual criticism in this paragraph 17 from Divino Afflante Spiritu:
“The great importance which should be attached to this kind of criticism was aptly pointed out by Augustine, when, among the precepts to be recommended to the student of the Sacred Books, he put in the first place the care to possess a corrected text. “The correction of the codices” – so says this most distinguished Doctor of the Church – “should first of all engage the attention of those who wish to know the Divine Scripture so that the uncollected may give place to the corrected.”[23] In the present day indeed this art, which is called textual criticism and which is used with great and praiseworthy results in the editions of profane writings, is also quite rightly employed in the case of the Sacred Books, because of that very reverence which is due to the Divine Oracles. For its very purpose is to insure that the sacred text be restored, as perfectly as possible, be purified from the corruptions due to the carelessness of the copyists and be freed, as far as may be done, from glosses and omissions, from the interchange and repetition of words and from all other kinds of mistakes, which are wont to make their way gradually into writings handed down through many centuries.”

So, it seems that Acts 8:37 is on the outside looking in. As far as I know the Church has not definitively pronounced on the issue and I don’t think she ever will because the verse is not that important. But it is interesting that the canon is a little fuzzy around the edges. First, we accepted it in the Vulgate, now we have put it out of the canon in the Nova Vulgata and yet it still gets quoted in the Catechism. There’s a very interesting discussion of the manuscript support for the verse at this Baptist site. So I think the verse is still in question, but probably is not canonical. Weird, huh?

3 thoughts on “Acts 8:37

  1. James Snapp, Jr.

    Acts 8:37 was utilized by Irenaeus (c. 180’s), and by Cyprian (mid-250’s), and is included in Coptic manuscript G67 (late 300’s or early 400’s), and is supported by a variety of Old Latin witnesses. It was also used by Augustine. It is supported by about 15% of the extant Greek manuscripts, including #1739, which has ancestry going back at least to the 400’s and probably to the library at Caesarea that contained MSS used by Origen and Eusebius.
    So the case for the authenticity of Acts 8:37 is quite a bit stronger than some of your sources seem to want you to think it is.

  2. John Canfield

    ‘As far as I know the Church has not definitively pronounced on the issue and I don’t think she ever will because the verse is not that important.’
    I find it interesting regarding the content of this verse (regardless of its criticism) that you would label it as ‘unimportant’. The issue of belief in Jesus as a condition for baptism is one of vital importance to the Church of Jesus Christ. How can ANY (not anger, just emphasis, italics don’t work here:) verse dealing with it be dismissed then as unimportant? How far do you carry your snipping of Scripture until you have none at all?

  3. catholicbiblestudent Post author

    @John: This really isn’t an issues of “snipping Scripture” but of textual criticism. We have many manuscripts of the New Testament and those manuscripts differ. Deciding on a point like this becomes an almost insoluble problem–is it original or not? We don’t know for sure one way or another and probably never will. However, the Church has established very clear rules and doctrine surrounding Baptism and the necessity for faith. The principle that you must believe can easily be derived from other NT passages, so Acts 8:37 is not a doctrinal linch-pin.

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