In Acts 23:1 – 10 Luke tells of the incident where Paul had been brought before the Jewish high council. In verse eight Luke mentions three matters that the Pharisees and Sadducees disagreed with one another. First he mentions the resurrection, then the existence of angels and spirits. Paul calls up the first one, stating that he is being on trial because of his hope in the resurrection. This caused division in the council.
But in the manuscripts we now find two versions. The one group of manuscripts mention only these three aspects Luke referred to. The other group of manuscripts adds another, viz. “…let us not fight against God.”
KJV: “And there arose a great cry. And the scribes who were on the Pharisees’ side arose and strove, saying, We find no evil in this man. But if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him, let us not fight against God.” (Atous, 800; Mutinensis, 850; Angelicus, 850; Porphyrianus, 850; and most of the minuscule Greek manuscripts after 900 A.D.)
NIV: There was a great uproar, and some of the teachers of the law who were Pharisees stood up and argued vigorously. “We find nothing wrong with this man,” they said. “What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” (Sinaiticus, 350; Vaticanus, 350; Alexandrinus, 450 Ephraemi, 450; Atous Laurae, 750; and some minuscules.)
According to the manuscript evidence the version without the fourth statement has much greater possibility to render the original autograph.
Looking at the context, we find a violent uproar. The two groups got so violent that the Roman commander had to rescue Paul out of their hands. (Vs. 10) It is most unlikely that in such circumstances someone would call upon the fighting group not to fight against God on the matter before them. Such an appeal is appropriate when there is coherence on the case before them, and only the decision could be against the will of God. An example is found in Acts 5:39: “…But if it is from God, you will not be able to destroy it, lest even you will be found fighters against God.”
The next question before us is to try and make out how such a variation could have come about. Either someone had removed this seemingly important request from his copy, if it had in fact been the original. This is most unlikely.
It is rather more possible that someone had made a note in his manuscript referring to a similar trial recorded previously in Acts 5:39 when Peter and the other apostles were on trial. In that case Gamaliel advised the Jewish high council who had been in agreement on the case, not to fight against God with their judgement. Such a gloss could easily be mistaken as something omitted from the text, and then inserted at the appropriate place by the next scribe. This is the most likely explanation for this variation appearing so late in manuscripts.
Therefore the version without this phrase has the greatest possibility to render the original autograph.
When one studies the manuscripts in general, one comes under the impression of how responsible scribes had been, though they did make mistakes. Mistakes leading to variations in the manuscripts at all times have logical explanations.
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