Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Acts 18:17

ἐπιλαβόμενοι δὲ πάντες Σωσθένην τὸν ἀρχισυνάγωγον ἔτυπτον ἔμπροσθεν τοῦ βήματος· καὶ οὐδὲν τούτων τῷ Γαλλίωνι ἔμελεν. (Acts 18:17 BGT)

Ἐπιλαβόμενοι δὲ πάντες οἱ Ἕλληνες Σωσθένην τὸν ἀρχισυνάγωγον ἔτυπτον ἔμπροσθεν τοῦ βήματος. Καὶ οὐδὲν τούτων τῷ Γαλλίωνι ἔμελλεν (Act 18:17 BYZ)

And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of this. (Act 18:17 ESV)

Then all the Greeks took Sosthenes, the chief ruler of the synagogue, and beat him before the judgment seat. And Gallio cared for none of those things. (Act 18:17 KJV)


Textual note:

πάντες: p74 א A B itc, dem, p, ph, ro, w vg, copbo.

πάντες οἱ Ἕλληνες: D E Ψ 33 181 614 945 1175 1409 1739 1891 2344 Byz [L P] ...

πάντες οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι: 36 307 453 610 1678

I have recently preached a sermon on Acts 18:1-17, which can be accessed here. In this text, one thing that I had to do was to decide how to deal with the textual variants in the text. There is one other textual variant that alters the meaning of the text in verse 5, but I judged it was not worth going into that. For Acts 18:17 however, the variant does seem important enough that I had to make a short note in the sermon at least concerning the variant, although I don't know if anyone in the congregation was interested in it.

The textual variant here concerns who was it that beat up Sosthenes the chief ruler of the synagogue (τὸν ἀρχισυνάγωγον). The Critical Text that is mostly preferred by most modern translators only has the ambiguous word πάντες ("all"). The King James and New King James versions follow the Majority Text and have the words πάντες οἱ Ἕλληνες ("all the Greeks"). Not reflected in any translation (and rightly so) is the variant πάντες οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι ("all the Jews"), which is stated as being found only in 5 miniscules.

It is a caricature that modern translators are blind devotees to Westcort and Hort, two early British textual scholars. It is however true that modern textual criticism prioritizes earlier manuscripts over later ones, regardless of the number of manuscripts under consideration. After all, it is not the number of copies that matter, for one manuscript copied numerous times in later manuscripts is still considered as one text for the sake of determining the correct reading of the Scriptures. In this case, the critical text reading is supported by many earlier manuscripts, not just Codex Sinaiticus (א) but also at least one papyrus (p74), whereas the Majority text reading has only three majuscules (D, E, Ψ) and a plethora of later miniscules. Thus, the critical reading is to be preferred here because of better and earlier attestation.

When one looks at the variants, it is also easier to understand how the variants can come about if πάντες is the original text. The verse in the Critical Text and in the ESV is ambiguous because we are still left wondering who is the "all" that is beating up Sosthenes. It is not a surprise if later scribes would add in the phrase οἱ Ἕλληνες ("the Greeks") as an explanation first, which was then inserted into the later miniscules. The fact that 5 miniscules have the alternative phrase πάντες οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι shows us that at least some Byzantine Greek scholars understood the "all" to be predicated of the Jews, and thus amend the text accordingly. It is therefore easier for us to understand how the variants could come about as Byzantine scholars attempt to understand who are the "all" referred to in Acts 18:17.

It should not be too surprising that this variant is important because it affects how we are to understand Acts 18:17, and what exactly is happening in this narrative. If it were the Greeks assaulting Sosthenes, then one exegetes the passage differently than if it were the Jews that were assaulting Sosthenes. While taking the ambiguous text, it seems to me that the overall sense of the text is to interpret it as referring to the Jews, thus "all" equals "all the Jews." For, first, we see in the return to Gallio's reaction in the later part of verse 17 that the beating up of Sosthenes is related to the charge against Paul and the fact that Gallio threw out the case. Therefore, second, while the action of Greeks beating Sosthenes is plausible, for Greeks to beat up Sosthenes because of charges against Paul is rather implausible. Thirdly, the beating up of Sosthenes was meant to provoke Gallio, and therefore the later part of verse 17 tells us that Gallio decided not to be provoked. How would the Greeks beating up Sosthenes provoke Gallio after Gallio had declared the charges against Paul a purely internal matter? It is only if we read it as the Jews beating up Sosthenes then we see some division among the Jews being stirred up, coupled with assault, in an attempt to provoke Gallio into action on internal Jewish matters, which he had earlier declared he had no wish to be judge in. And thus, fourthly, interpreting the "all" as "all the Greeks" would make Gallio's inaction to the beating of Sosthenes senseless and even cruel, as if Gallio was totally heartless and indifferent to the Jews. This contradicts Gallio's explicit statements that the reason why he refused to adjudicate on the charges against Paul was because he did not want to judge on what he perceived to be internal religious matters. It is only if we see Gallio's inaction as a refusal to be provoked by Jews beating up their fellow Jew Sosthenes that Gallio's actions makes sense.

From both a textual and contextual perspective therefore, Acts 18:17 is speaking of "all", that is all the Jews, beating up Sosthenes. The Majority Text reading is therefore in error here, and therefore sermons that are preached based upon the King James and New King James rendering of Acts 18:17 will be in error. This is most certainly an argument against using the King James version today, but, more importantly, the importance of proper exegesis from the original languages for pastors and preachers of the Word.

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