Thursday, February 11, 2021

Predicting Scribal Glosses in Acts 17.26


I recently bought a new book on the Bible in the American Civil War. Among other things, the author does some great work detailing the most quoted Bible verses in sermons, newspapers, pamphlets, books, and the like in both North and South. 

The most quoted verse by the North was Acts 17.26: “And [God] hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation.” The first half of v. 26 was regularly used to attack slavery by Northern pastors and writers. Ironically (and sadly), the second half was later used to defend segregation

The reception of this verse, however, isn’t my interest here. Rather, it’s the variant. The problem is that our earliest witnesses do not have the word “blood” (αιματος). The two main readings, from the ECM, are:

  1. εποιησεν τε εξ ενος    P74V. 01. 02. 03. 33. 35*. 81. 181. 323. 629. 630. 1739. 1875. 1891. 2200. 2718. L1178. Clem. CosmIn. L:V. 54. 58. 189.
  2. εποιησεν τε εξ ενος αιματος    (05). (08). 014. 020. 025. 049. 0142. 1. 5. 18. 35C. 43. 61. 88. 93. 94. 103. 104. 180. 206. 254. 307. 319. 321. 326. 330. 365. 378. 383. 398. 424. 429. 431. 436. 441. 453. 459. 467. 468. 522. 607. 610. 614. 617. 621. 623. 636. 642. 665. 808. 876. 915. 945. 1127. 1241. 1243. 1251. 1292. 1359. 1448. 1490. 1501. 1505. 1509. 1563. 1609. 1611. 1642. 1678. 1704. 1718. 1729. 1735. 1751. 1827. 1831. 1832. 1837. 1838. 1842. 1852. 1874. 1890. 2138. 2147. 2243. 2298. 2344. 2374. 2412. 2495. 2652. 2774. 2805. 2818. L23. L60. L156. L587. L809. L1825. L2010. Chrys. IrLat. NilAnc(V). Thdrt. L:51. 61.
In his textual commentary, Metzger concedes that the shorter reading could easily be explained by accidental omission aided by the repetition of -ος. But the committee finally settled on the shorter reading on the strength of the external evidence. In his discussion, Metzger also notes what a factor that deserves more weight when he writes, “Likewise, there is some force in the consideration that αἵματος is not a very natural gloss on ἑνός—for that one would have expected ἀνθρώπου or something similar.”

This is indeed what we find scribes doing in John 18.39 where 1820, 2129, 2786, 1819 have δεσμιον after ενα (per Morrill’s apparatus). Also worth considering is that in John 11.50, 18.14 the original text has a form of ἄνθρωπος with the adjective (and we find the same in Rom 5.12, 15, 19). The only biblical texts I know that even have εἷς and αἷμα in the same verse are Lev 7.14, Ps 13.3, and 1 Jn 5.8 and in none of these are they grammatically related. All this adds weight to Metzger’s observation that αἵματος is not the obvious gloss here.

In the end, it’s a tough call and I still lean toward the shorter reading. But I might give it a C rating rather than the UBS’s B.

I’d love to hear what our readers might think.


  1. For what it's worth, Morrill notes (on p. 381 of his thesis) that GA 1819, 1820, and 2129 are copies of Cyril of Alexandria's commentary on John. A gloss coming from a commentary is not too surprising, but it's neat that we have a good guess as to who came up with it!

  2. Peter, you claim, "The problem is that our earliest witnesses do not have the word “blood” (αιματος)."

    However, of the witnesses you list, isn't the single earliest one Irenaeus, who is a witness for including "of blood"?

    Being a patristic quotation, this witness has to come with a grain of salt. We might wonder how reliably the text of Irenaeus that's preserved in whatever witnesses preserve this portion of his writings is the same as what he wrote. Especially since in this case, we're reliant on a Latin translation of Irenaeus, and not his original Greek. And especially in a passage that quotes biblical text, we might wonder if it has been harmonized with the form of the biblical text the later scribe or translator copying or translating Irenaeus knew. In short, we might choose to date this particular witness to the date of the earliest copies of Irenaeus that have the reading, rather than the date of Irenaeus himself.

    However, we should at least look into the quotation before casting it aside to see if anything in the text supports the conclusion that Irenaeus himself did include "of blood."

    The only place I can find where Irenaeus quotes Acts 17:26 is in Adv. Haer. III.12.9, which, indeed, like much of Irenaeus, is only preserved for us in Latin translation, and not the Greek original.

    The passage can be read in English here:

    You can find it where fn. 3506 is given. That footnote is noteworthy, as it reads, "It will be observed that Scripture is here very loosely quoted."

    We can confirm the accuracy of that footnote by checking the Latin here (see the very bottom righthand corner):

    Compare the Latin text in Irenaeus's quotation with the Vulgate here:

    Likewise, compare it with the Latin of Codex Bezae here:

    Sure enough, though Irenaeus stays close enough to the biblical text to identify it as a definite quotation of the passage, the Latin witness we have has definitely not been harmonized with either the Vulgate or the Old Latin. This supports the conclusion that the Irenaeus did include "of blood" in his quotation of Acts 17:26.

    If we accept this conclusion then we have a 2nd century witness for the longer reading.

    1. That’s great. Thanks. I guess I was thinking earliest manuscripts but Irenaeus is quite relevant.

  3. It is rather interesting that the "Coherence at Variant Passages" diagrams have these two readings so evenly split. If I am understanding these diagrams correctly, then 629 and 2718 are the only cases where the longer reading has likely led to the shorter, despite the similar endings.