Acts 6:8. Grace or Faith?
In Acts 6 the history of the first martyr, Stephen is recorded. In verse five where he is chosen as the first of the seven deacons, he is mentioned as “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit”. But in verse eight the older versions of the Bible differ from the modern.
KJV: “And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.”
NIV: “Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.”
Bruce M. Metzger (The Text of the New Testament, p221) gives the following manuscript evidence:
|301-400||Sin. B||Bohairic, Vulgate|
|401-500||A, D||Armenian, Ethiopic, Syriac|
|901-1600||20+ Minuscules||Many Minuscules|
Apart from the above table, Metzger mentions two more variations: The Codex Laudianus (±550A.D.) combines the two possibilities as “…grace and faith…” while codex Athous Laurae (±750) renders “…faith and grace of the Spirit…”
Looking at the manuscripts per se the five uncial Greek manuscripts prior to 700 A.D., both of Alexandrian and Western Text types, have “grace”. This reading is also supported by more than 20 later Greek minuscules. Most of the ancient Translations from Egypt through Ethiopia, Syria up to Russia and even the Vulgate also favour “grace”!
On the other hand “faith” is found in only two uncial manuscripts dating later than 800 A.D. and one Syriac manuscript from ±650 A.D. as well as many later Greek minuscules. Metzger mentions that Chrysostom (†407 A.D.) in his commentary on the New Testament uses “faith”. Could he have made a mistake remembering “faith” from verse 5, or did he in fact have a manuscript with that rendering before him?
The external evidence indicates “grace” as the most probable original word.
Internal investigation concerns itself with looking at the most probable explanation for the variation by looking at how a scribe might have caused the alteration. It is most improbable that the combination of the two words had been the original and therefore had been altered by two different scribes, one keeping “faith” and the other “grace”. Therefore either “grace” was changed to “faith” or vice versa.
Nothing in this pericope gives any reason for an intentional alteration, pointing to an unintentional cause. In verse five we read that Stephen was full of “faith” and of the Holy Spirit. The most probable explanation is that a scribe could have kept this word in his mind when moving from source to copy and unintentionally made the alteration.
Looking at the context and trying to discern what Luke most probably emphasized does not help a lot in this instance. He could have emphasized Stephen’s faith, bringing him to the willingness to be martyred for his faith in Jesus Christ. Equally Luke could have emphasized God’s grace on Stephen during this whole ordeal culminating in him seeing Jesus at the right hand of God (Acts 7:56) and praying to Jesus to receive his spirit and not hold this murder against his perpetrators (verses 59-60) Both “faith” and “grace” may have been the intention of Luke, though from the context I personally favour “grace”.
There are no manuscript grounds for the addition of “God’s” grace in the NIV and some other modern versions of the Bible. It was probably added to emphasize that “grace” was not a fruit Stephen possessed that he bestowed on his persecutors, but that it was the “grace” God bestowed on him. This type of paraphrasing addition is unnecessary.
May we all be full of faith and the Holy Spirit in order to be chosen to fulfil the calling God has for us, and filled by grace whenever our calling leads to some kind of persecution!
Remarks at the bottom of this page are welcome.