A Passage Where Textual Traditions Matter

It is never my intention to get too technical on this church blog.  But, in today’s first reading from Acts, there is an important technical point.  If you have a New American Bible, look at verse 37 of Acts 8 (or click here).

What did you notice?  … It’s not there, right?  Why does the New American Bible do this?

Well, as it stands, we don’t have original copies of the New Testament.  What we have are copies of copies (and so on) of the originals.  Some of those copies contain verse 37, but some of them don’t.  Many believe that the manuscripts that don’t have verse 37 are earlier and more authentic.

So, what do we miss if we don’t have verse 37: “And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ And he said in reply, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’ ”

This could significantly alter the meaning of the text if it was there.  So, this is a case in which tradition plays a pretty significant role.  Do we choose one textual tradition or the other?

Now, in general the text of the Bible has been fairly well preserved over the centuries, but this is not the only place where we have to make choices about textual traditions.  There are different versions of the books of Jeremiah, Job, and Proverbs that are significantly shorter than the ones that we find in most English translations of the Bible.

In John 7:53-8:11, we find another significant passage that we must make a decision about.  The end of Mark’s gospel has been subject to a great deal of debate.

As Catholics, matters like these foster within us a respect for tradition.  The only way that we have access to the Bible is through manuscript traditions that have been handed down to us.  Ultimately, we must make decisions about which traditions we will follow.  However, for us no tradition=no scripture.

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About Jeremy

I work at Holy Ghost Catholic Church in Hammond, LA. I teach part-time classes from time to time, through Loyola University in New Orleans, Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans and St. Joseph's Abbey and Seminary College. I also just finished a doctoral degree in Biblical languages through the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa.
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