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The eunuch’s baptism

by
01 July 2009

Out of the question: The eunuch's baptism

Your answers

Some ancient manuscripts omit v.37 from Acts 8 — a mistake and then copied, perhaps? Since it must be counted the most significant verse of the story of Philip and the eunuch — and included in the Tyndale and King James Bibles — why the omission nowadays? Can, or should, any adult be baptised a Christian without the profession (made by the eunuch in some versions of the Bible) that he or she believes Jesus Christ to be the Son of God?

In fact, v.37 is not in the vast majority of manuscripts, ranging from a third-century papyrus to the standard Byzantine text. Only a few scattered MSS include it (though the reading was unknown to Irenaeus), and there are two significantly different versions of it: in one MS Philip says, “If you believe with all your heart you will be saved,” and the Eunuch, “I believe in Christ the son of God.”

It is a general principle of textual criticism to prefer of two readings the one more likely to have given rise to the other. If v.37 had stood in the original, it is hard to see why anybody would have omitted it. On the other hand, it does not have any of the features that might have led a scribe’s eye to jump and leave it out by accident. More probably, then, it came into the text from somebody who, like the questioner, thought that it ought to be there.

The early translations, of course, were made from the so-called Textus Receptus, which was based on a very small number of authorities, and is now only of historical interest.

Justin Pinkess, Edgbaston, Birmingham

Whether the eunuch’s statement of belief in Jesus as the son of God should be in the text of the Bible should be determined by the manuscript evidence.

Whether baptism should be conditional on the belief is another matter. I have not come across anyone who believes Jesus was literally the son of God; indeed, most Christians in my experience find quite offensive the suggestion that God had sex with Mary. Any other meaning to the term is less than literal, and open to a variety of interpretations.

More important, the idea of treating this affirmation, or any proposition about the past, as the essential criterion of baptism into the Church today turns Christianity into a backward-looking movement.

(The Revd) Jonathan Clatworthy, Liverpool

Your questions

Who appoints or elects honorary canons or prebendaries to our cathedrals, and why do there appear to be no non-stipendiary clergy among their ranks? M. F.

Address: Out of the Question, Church Times, 13-17 Long Lane, London EC1A 9PN.

questions@churchtimes.co.uk

 

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