Ethiopian eunuch

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Ethiopian eunuch

Postby Chris » Fri May 19, 2017 7:40 pm

I am teaching Acts 8: 26-40 this weekend. In case anybody asks, Howcum the Ethiopian had been castrated? I heard a preacher try to explain that, years ago, but I cant recall what he said. Some of you who went to seminary, surely have heard some speculation about this. I have looked this story up in 7 bibles, so far, and most have a footnote about why verse 37 is omitted, or they use verse 37 with an explanation that it isnt in earliest manuscripts. I find it interesting that the New Oxford annotated Bible skips from verse 36 to verse 38 without giving any explanation.
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Re: Ethiopian eunuch

Postby Haruo » Fri May 19, 2017 10:58 pm

To skip a verse without explanation sounds irresponsible to me.
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Re: Ethiopian eunuch

Postby Rvaughn » Fri May 19, 2017 10:59 pm

It is likely that the man from Ethiopia was a Jew by birth, and he was a least a Jewish proselyte. If he was a foreigner in the Queen's court, that might explain was he was castrated. At least we can see that was an action that was taken in a few cases in the Old Testament. 2 Kings 20:18, Isaiah 39:7, Jeremiah 38:7 and Daniel chapter 1 at least suggest this. Castration of servants would be a way to subdue the, and removing sexuality might be an important motivation for servants who would oversee of the king's harem (Esther 2:3, 4:4).
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Re: Ethiopian eunuch

Postby Haruo » Fri May 19, 2017 11:01 pm

But I don't think this apparent interpolation addresses the reason for the man's castration. One possibility that comes to mind is that eunuchs are less likely to sequester funds surreptitiously to enrich their offspring.
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Re: Ethiopian eunuch

Postby Chris » Fri May 19, 2017 11:09 pm

Since posting this, I have read a commentary (or footnote) that hints that the man could have been BORN with mutilated/deformed genitals. That had not occurred to me before. This can happen. https://www.gotquestions.org/hermaphrodites.html
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Re: Ethiopian eunuch

Postby Haruo » Sat May 20, 2017 1:00 am

Chris wrote:Since posting this, I have read a commentary (or footnote) that hints that the man could have been BORN with mutilated/deformed genitals. That had not occurred to me before. This can happen. https://www.gotquestions.org/hermaphrodites.html

That's certainly possible. On the other hand, many other possible scenarios/reasons can be imagined. I don't think the Bible addresses the matter, and I don't think there is enough information about Ethiopia in that era to have a real idea of whether there was some political or cultural reason why the Kandake might have been accustomed to having non-reproducing finance ministers.
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Re: Ethiopian eunuch

Postby Dave Roberts » Sat May 20, 2017 5:33 pm

They certainly did not want any questions about royal succession.
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Re: Ethiopian eunuch

Postby William Thornton » Sat May 20, 2017 7:51 pm

Verse 37 is not in any extant early MSS including Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, and papyri. One source said the earliest MSS is 6th century. Later addition as an attempt to expand on the eunuch's baptism. In a small group I'd attempt to explain the omission at some length. In a sermon just a sentence or two.
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Re: Ethiopian eunuch

Postby Rvaughn » Sat May 20, 2017 11:47 pm

Chris wrote:Since posting this, I have read a commentary (or footnote) that hints that the man could have been BORN with mutilated/deformed genitals. That had not occurred to me before. This can happen. https://www.gotquestions.org/hermaphrodites.html
This is certainly possible, but deliberate emasculation seems more likely to me. Seems this would be the one more likely to be known, whereas the other might not be known if you didn't go around telling folks.
William Thornton wrote:Verse 37 is not in any extant early MSS including Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, and papyri. One source said the earliest MSS is 6th century. Later addition as an attempt to expand on the eunuch's baptism. In a small group I'd attempt to explain the omission at some length. In a sermon just a sentence or two.
This is the same information I have found on the manuscripts -- found earliest in the 6th century, but is not in Sinaiticus (4th century), Vaticanus (4th century), Alexandrinus (5th century).

But two other sources (earlier than the manuscripts that omit it) suggest it was in some early manuscripts not now extant. In Against Heresies (3.12.8 ), Irenaeus (circa AD 180) makes what seems to be a reference to this as scripture:
8. But again: Whom did Philip preach to the eunuch of the queen of the Ethiopians, returning from Jerusalem, and reading Esaias the prophet, when he and this man were alone together? Was it not He of whom the prophet spoke: "He was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb dumb before the shearer, so He opened not the month? ""But who shall declare His nativity? for His life shall be taken away from the earth." [Philip declared] that this was Jesus, and that the Scripture was fulfilled in Him; as did also the believing eunuch himself: and, immediately requesting to be baptized, he said, "I believe Jesus Christ to be the Son of God."
http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/irenaeus-book3.html

About 70 years later Cyprian (circa AD 250) mentions the first part of what we know as verse 37 (in The Treatises of Cyprian, Treatise 12, Book 3.43):
43. That he who believes can immediately obtain (i.e., pardon and peace)
In the Acts of the Apostles: Lo, here is water; what is there which hinders me from being baptized? Then said Philip, If you believe with all your heart, you may.
http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/050712c.htm
With this evidence I don't think we should be so quick to omit this part of the text.

With Haruo, I don't think this verse addresses the reason for the man's castration -- but it (with v. 36) could address his wondering whether he might be excluded as in Judaism under strict adherence to the law, and the answer to it.
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Re: Ethiopian eunuch

Postby Rvaughn » Sun May 21, 2017 8:41 am

Doing a little more research on this verse, I noticed that Augustine also mentioned the eunuch's statement in a sermon:
That same Philip, who had baptized the men, and the Holy Ghost had not come upon them, unless the Apostles had met together and laid their hands upon them, baptized the officer, that is, the eunuch of queen Candace, who had worshipped in Jerusalem, and returning thence was reading in his chariot Isaiah the Prophet, and understood it not. Philip being admonished went up to his chariot, explained the Scripture, unfolded the faith, preached Christ. The eunuch believed on Christ, and said when they came unto a certain water, See water, who does hinder me to be baptized? Philip said to him, Do you believe in Jesus Christ? He answered, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Immediately he went down with him into the water. [bold emphasis mine, rlv]

12th paragraph of Sermon 49 on the New Testament http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/160349.htm This reference is not as early as the other two, but still shows church fathers knew these words and that they clearly pre-date the 6th century.
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Re: Ethiopian eunuch

Postby William Thornton » Sun May 21, 2017 12:34 pm

My Greek NT gives the omission of the verse an "A" meaning "virtually certain". I don't think that there's much new on it in regard to external evidence and it's rather obvious why later writers sought to insert the verse. That the TR includes it means that there are a good many apologists for its inclusion, evidence is secondary.

Interesting question...been a while since I looked into it.
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Re: Ethiopian eunuch

Postby Haruo » Sun May 21, 2017 5:10 pm

William Thornton wrote:My Greek NT gives the omission of the verse an "A" meaning "virtually certain". I don't think that there's much new on it in regard to external evidence and it's rather obvious why later writers sought to insert the verse. That the TR includes it means that there are a good many apologists for its inclusion, evidence is secondary.

Interesting question...been a while since I looked into it.

But Robert just cited three Patristic passages giving, assuming they are not later inventions, for its presence centuries earlier than the earliest attestation in extant MSS.
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Re: Ethiopian eunuch

Postby William Thornton » Sun May 21, 2017 7:28 pm

Haruo, my confidence would have to be with the critical text and the scholars that weigh the MSS evidence. Seems to me that indirect references from early authors, some of which are not explicit, would be weighed less than inclusion in actual MSS. Even the omitted verse itself has quite a number of variations in extant, later MSS. The explanation that later copyist so felt a need to expand on the eunuch's baptism seems quite plausible. Besides, very early on there were many apocryphal texts and pseudepigrapha circulating and I think I recall that Irenaeus would use some of these.

That said, it's tough to explain to a congregation how a verse in the KJV would be left out of newer translations.

Actually, I've been waiting years just to toss out some big words and impress folks here.
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eunuch scholars

Postby Stephen Fox » Sun May 21, 2017 8:47 pm

This has been an interesting examination of the texts, and or its omissions. Thornton is more of a scholar than I imagined him to be. I don't see how you manage these investigations while adhering to the rubric of inerrancy, as WA Criswell solved all the riddles 75 years ago if you believe the fundamentalist leadership who took over the whole shebang.

Still this is interesting. I like Haruo's imagination, which in the end is more that 80 percent of what passes for Scriptural originalism in any southern baptist pulpit on any given Sunday. To believe otherwise is to dismiss the hold Rick Burgess has over the laity in Alabama or to say 80 percent of Alabama Baptists are idiots and I don't think the latter is true.

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Re: Ethiopian eunuch

Postby Rvaughn » Sun May 21, 2017 10:28 pm

William Thornton wrote:Haruo, my confidence would have to be with the critical text and the scholars that weigh the MSS evidence. Seems to me that indirect references from early authors, some of which are not explicit, would be weighed less than inclusion in actual MSS. Even the omitted verse itself has quite a number of variations in extant, later MSS. The explanation that later copyist so felt a need to expand on the eunuch's baptism seems quite plausible. Besides, very early on there were many apocryphal texts and pseudepigrapha circulating and I think I recall that Irenaeus would use some of these.
I would not be surprised or blame anyone for taking the word of scholars that weigh the manuscript evidence above mine or others who question them. But I would add that Cyprian's reference does not seem to be indirect at all. He mentions the Acts of the Apostles and quotes the statement of Philip that appears in what we know as verse 37. That's fairly direct. Unless one shows this is a later invention or addition to the writings of Cyprian, considering the date, it ought to carry some weight. I wonder what these same scholars that say omitting the verse is "virtually certain" say about the mentions of this statement by Irenaeus, Cyprian, Augustine and others? Anyone know? Seems they have probably addressed it somewhere. Another line of questioning re apocryphal texts and pseudepigrapha is whether there are any of them that actually include what Irenaeus, Cyprian and Augustine are quoting?
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Re: Ethiopian eunuch

Postby William Thornton » Mon May 22, 2017 6:10 am

Rvaughn, I got rid of a lot of my commentaries and I had a few Greek text ones on Acts, one of my favorite books to preach, so I m short on some of the research. A mention by one of the Fathers of a text is by definition indirect. There are a few places where copyists, including some early ones, added a word or phrase because they thought some passage needed clarification or expansion. The question shouldn't be why a verse in one of the Fathers isn't included but why one that is absent from the important MSS is included and the burden should be on the former.

In this case I don't think that one should ignore the KJV apologists, those who are compelled to a certain conclusion in spite of evidence, when searching for answers.

I appreciate one of Stephen's more intelligible posts above. Inerrancy has always allowed for textual complications and uncertainties. I may be the only one here whose eyes have rested on the uncial script of the great Sinaiticus, as well as the Syriac Sinaitic. Such doesn't make me a scholar...but perhaps a travel braggart.
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Re: Ethiopian eunuch

Postby Rvaughn » Mon May 22, 2017 9:51 am

William, you said that "indirect references from early authors, some of which are not explicit, would be weighed less than inclusion in actual MSS." I think that is the case. That doesn't mean they have no weight at all. You also state that "mention by one of the Fathers of a text is by definition indirect." Well, I suppose that is according which definition/connotation of indirect you are using. I think most understand and agree that manuscripts are primary sources and that quotes by church fathers are secondary sources. But that was not my point. I am using country preacher language rather than scholarly lingo, because I am one and not the other. Nevertheless, Cyprian did make a reference (the act of mentioning something) which was direct. In a straightforward way he attributed the record of Philip's words to the Acts of the Apostles.

The most obvious conclusion from that "direct indirect reference" is that Cyprian had or had access to a copy of the Acts of the Apostles that contained this reading. That is not the only conclusion, but seems most likely to me. Not sure that there has been any general denial of this. Other possibilities might be that the copy of the Acts that Cyprian had access to had this added but it wasn't originally there in Luke's writing; that Cyprian misquoted or mis-remembered or misrepresented what the Acts said; that this writing of Cyprian had those words added to it later. Perhaps others I haven't thought of. My idea is that Cyprian, Irenaeus, Augustine and others who mention this text were working from copies that had those words. The difficulty with this conclusion, of course, is, if so, why did it then disappear from the majority of extant manuscripts?

I don't own A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament by Bruce Metzger, but some comments I found online suggest that he discusses Irenaeus quoting part of the Eunuch's confession of faith. Anyone have access to this?
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Re: Ethiopian eunuch

Postby William Thornton » Mon May 22, 2017 10:10 am

Rvaughn wrote:William, you said that "indirect references from early authors, some of which are not explicit, would be weighed less than inclusion in actual MSS." I think that is the case. That doesn't mean they have no weight at all. You also state that "mention by one of the Fathers of a text is by definition indirect." Well, I suppose that is according which definition/connotation of indirect you are using. I think most understand and agree that manuscripts are primary sources and that quotes by church fathers are secondary sources. But that was not my point. I am using country preacher language rather than scholarly lingo, because I am one and not the other. Nevertheless, Cyprian did make a reference (the act of mentioning something) which was direct. In a straightforward way he attributed the record of Philip's words to the Acts of the Apostles.

The most obvious conclusion from that "direct indirect reference" is that Cyprian had or had access to a copy of the Acts of the Apostles that contained this reading. That is not the only conclusion, but seems most likely to me. Not sure that there has been any general denial of this. Other possibilities might be that the copy of the Acts that Cyprian had access to had this added but it wasn't originally there in Luke's writing; that Cyprian misquoted or mis-remembered or misrepresented what the Acts said; that this writing of Cyprian had those words added to it later. Perhaps others I haven't thought of. My idea is that Cyprian, Irenaeus, Augustine and others who mention this text were working from copies that had those words. The difficulty with this conclusion, of course, is, if so, why did it then disappear from the majority of extant manuscripts?

I don't own A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament by Bruce Metzger, but some comments I found online suggest that he discusses Irenaeus quoting part of the Eunuch's confession of faith. Anyone have access to this?


I think the point is that whatever references to the text were made by sources, even the notable ones like Cyprian et al, are inferior to the actual mss. If they are referring to some collections of writings not extant then it would be a mistake to presume those superior. We still dig up mss occasionally but it would be a major find to change this passage in the critical text. I don't have a copy of the latest revised GNT and am assuming that the judgment of the passage hasn't changed since my earlier edition.

The references by the church fathers aren't sufficient in themselves to canonize the text. I think the best way to view this is not to presume from the secondary sources the verses validity and then to wonder "why [the verse] then disappear[ed]" but to seek to justify its inclusion from examination of the whole record of mss and other sources. It seems to be agreed that the verse was solid in one of the geographic transmissions but not in others. One of the general rules of the canon is that it includes only writings accepted broadly in the early church. This can be subjective but apparently the scholars don't think this verse offers a strong case.

This is pretty technical stuff but I can't find a good reason not to rely on the high degree of confidence ("virtual certainty") the Greek scholars have in the propriety of its omission. No doubt decisions by a committee of scholars includes disputed ones but the "A" rating of the decision doesn't put it in much of a gray area.

Met a guy named "Cyprian" a while back. He didn't seem to have much awareness of his name, though, after I brought it up.
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Never met "Cyprian"

Postby Stephen Fox » Mon May 22, 2017 12:41 pm

But I do hope to meet and possibly get the autograph of Logan Chapman, an 2017 Easley HS grad who took my Gaffney Indians out of the State playoffs this year. If not straight to MLB draft, Logan will go to the Carolina Gamecocks whose 70s Coach Bobby Richardson's political career I brickwalled with a single question in the remains of the Bernanke Pharmacy downton Gaffney in 76.

I repeat Dr.Thornton's erudition is evident in this exchange. I challenge him to read Adam Nicholson's God's Secretaries re the KJV by the end of the Summer. And I remain steadfast Molly Worthen has the high ground wih Cecil Sherman in these matters of text and fidelity.

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Re: Ethiopian eunuch

Postby Rvaughn » Mon May 22, 2017 10:40 pm

William Thornton wrote:The references by the church fathers aren't sufficient in themselves to canonize the text.
Of course, we aren't talking about canonizing some new verse. I'm slow to change, and don't consider having sufficient reason to do so. It is found in Greek mss in the 6th century; is a reading known to exist well before then; has been in English Bibles since Wycliffe of 1382; was found in most older "Reformation" Bibles such as Luther's Bible, Louis Segond, La Reina Valera, and so forth; and seems to make a cleaner reading of what one would expect in such a text. None of this proves it is in Luke's original autograph, but it takes more for me to make a change than what I have seen.

On the other hand, I lose nothing of my faith and practice if this verse were not in the Bible. All that I believe it teaches is found elsewhere in the New Testament. Not sure its absence affects too many, except perhaps some Churches of Christ who place great emphasis on "The Good Confession" based on this verse. Its presence might bother some who baptize babies, but I suspect most interpreters have made peace with it one way or another.
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Re: Ethiopian eunuch

Postby Rvaughn » Tue May 23, 2017 10:41 pm

In another thread Chris mentioned that The VOICE Bible says about the context of verses 36-28 that it is "possibly a reference to the Jewish prohibition of full participation in temple worship by men who have been castrated----a prohibition he likely encounters in this very visit to Jerusalem." That seems possible, based on Deuteronomy 23:1. But several commentators do not think this means denial of public worship, as Benson:
The meaning is, not that they should be debarred from the public worship of the true God, as the phrase sometimes signifies, for that privilege was granted to all nations indiscriminately, provided they renounced idolatry, Exodus 12:48; Leviticus 22:18; Numbers 9:14.
And verse 27 and 28 say that the eunuch had come to Jerusalem to worship and he was returning.

Thoughts?
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Re: Ethiopian eunuch

Postby Haruo » Tue May 23, 2017 11:45 pm

Everyone could worship the true god, but not everyone could do so equally close up.
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