A. C. Clark, in his preface to his critical edition of the Greek text of Acts of the Apostles (1933), comments on the unique problem of the Western (& Byz.) versus the Alexandrian (Aleph/B) text:
'THE Acts of the Apostles furnish the most interesting chapter in the story of what is generally called the ' Western text '. In the Introduction to this volume (para. 1), to which I refer the reader, I show that this term is a misnomer and conveys a false suggestion when employed of a text which was current in the East, as well as in the West, in the second century A.D. : which formed the basis of the oldest versions, Syriac as well as Latin, and was used by the most ancient Fathers. These facts are allowed by the most thoroughgoing opponents of the text in question, even by Dr. Hort, and no one has stated them with greater candour than the latest editor, Prof. Ropes, as may be seen from the passage which I quote from him (p. xviii).
I therefore venture to substitute the noncommittal symbol Z [W] for this question-begging term, and denote the agreement of the oldest Greek Uncials אABC by Γ [B] (= Graeci).
I now proceed to say a few words about the special problem of Acts. This is that in Acts [W] and [B] differ conspicuously in length. [W] has a longer and [B] a shorter text. The passages which appear in [W], but are absent from [B], are very numerous ; some of them are of considerable length, e.g. xi. 2, xvi. 39, xxv. 24-5. The question therefore in Acts which dwarfs all others is whether this extra matter is genuine or not.
Various solutions of this problem have been suggested. I will not here repeat what I have said in the Introduction (pp. xx f.), but will state quite briefly that I agree with Ropes when he says that only two solutions are possible. Either [W] is derived from [B], or [B] from [W]. He adopts the first alternative, I adopt the second. He considers that [W] was developed from [B] by expansion, I consider that [B] is an abridgement of [W]. I may remark that the solution adopted by Ropes is intrinsically less probable than that which he rejects, since it is easier to abridge than to invent fresh matter.
A further objection is that patristic evidence for [B] is lacking before the time of Origen, while the existence of [W] in the second century A.D. is proved by the evidence of the versions and the quotations of the early Fathers. It is an act of faith to suppose that [B] was prior to [W]. The probability is that it was a revision, made not very long before the time when it begins to be quoted. These, however, are a priori arguments upon which I do not wish to insist. There is other evidence which is yielded by codex. Bezae (D), the chief Greek authority for the [W] text in the Gospels and Acts.
This famous MS. has a peculiar feature, viz. that it is written in lines of irregular length (not, as is usual, in lines of equal length). It is usual to speak of them as ' sense-lines ', and this description fits fairly well the lines in Mt., Mk., and Acts, but it is inapplicable to those in Lk. and Jn. A description of these στιχοι as they are generally termed, will be found in the special article upon D (pp. 178-81). It is agreed that this system of division did not begin with D, but was inherited from an ancestor or a series of ancestors. The analysis which I have made, both of the Greek side of the MS. (D) and of the Latin side (Lat. d ), discloses a large number of corruptions, chiefly omissions of στιχοι, transpositions of στιχοι, and corruptions due to adjacent στιχοι(pp. 181-91), which testify to a number of intervening copies between D and a distant archetype. It is therefore quite possible that this peculiar method of line division goes back to remote antiquity.
After this prelude I proceed to state my own view, viz. that in Acts (not in the Gospels) [B] represents the work of an abbreviator who, having before him a MS. written in στιχοι similar to those found in D, frequently (not, of course, always) adopted the rough and ready method of striking out lines in his model, botching from time to time to produce a construction.
This solution did not come to me at once. The relation of [B] to [W] was first suggested to me by the observation that passages present in D, but absent from [B], very frequently occupy a line or lines in [W] , and that in many cases [B] appears to have been botched in order to provide a construction after an omission. The evidence given by botching is of especial importance. Instances will be found on pp. xxv-vi. The only explanation which I could at first suggest was that [B] was formed from [W] by a series of accidental omissions.
New light came from a palimpsest leaf which contains Cic. ad Fam. vi. 9. i 10. 6 in an abridged form (pp. xxviii-ix). This palimpsest omits a number of passages found in the minuscule MSS., and is on occasions impudently botched by the abbreviator in order to disguise the omissions. As the method which he followed was not apparent, I happened to apply an arithmetical test, which I have often found very illuminating when dealing with omissions. The method of application and the results of this test will be found on p. xxix. A clue was furnished by the first passages which I examined, and it soon became obvious that the abbreviator had cut out lines of his copy, botching when necessary. In my work The Descent of MSS., pp. 151-3, I have reconstituted the copy, showing the lines which were deleted and those which were retained. The same arithmetical unit is present in both.
The same test throws unexpected light upon a series of mysterious obels affixed in some MSS. to a number of passages in the speech of Demosthenes against Meidias (pp. xxx-xxxi). The results in this case are even more startling, since the evidence is spread over a larger area. I cannot see any other solution except that the obels were first affixed by an ancient critic who wished to abridge the speech and obelized passages which generally coincided with lines in his text.
I pass by some examples of minor importance, and will state briefly that I stake my case in the first place upon the evidence provided by the palimpsest of Cic. ad Fam.
My work The Descent of MSS. appeared fourteen years ago and has been widely circulated. During this period no critic, so far as I know, has pointed out any flaw in these calculations. I venture therefore to hope that they are sound. If so, they show that some ancient abbreviators - I insert the word ' some ' to prevent misapprehension or misrepresentation - when making an abridgement, sometimes resorted to the simple device of striking out lines in their text.
In view of this evidence I now ascribe the excisions in the [B] text of Acts to an abbreviator who very frequently struck out lines in his copy. The hypothesis of deliberate abbreviation clears up a number of difficulties which were left unexplained by the theory of accidental omission (p. xxxii).
The methods of the abbreviator are discussed on pp. xlv-lii. His most noticeable trait is his contempt for minute details. He was not interested in the ' seven steps ' which led up to the prison at Jerusalem (xii. ro) ; the hours of the day during which Paul preached at Ephesus (xix. 9) ; the statement that the rioters at Ephesus 'ran out into the street' (xix. 28); the information that Paul when sailing from Samos to Miletus broke his journey at Trogylia (xx. 15), or that on his journey from Caesarea to Jerusalem he spent a night in a village on the way (xxi. 16); that the ship carrying Paul drifted 'for fifteen days' after leaving Cyprus (xxvii. 5), or that, after Paul's arrival in Rome, ' the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard ' (A.V.) and that Paul was allowed to reside 'outside the camp' (xxviii. 16). His interest was in edification, not in topographical or chronological details. Hence his excisions are comparatively rare in the speeches and most common in the accounts of Paul's journeys. This dislike for detail caused him to substitute tame and colourless summaries for passages instinct with life and vigour, e.g. x. 25 (p. xxiii), xvi. 39, xxv. 24-5. A frequent result of his excisions is to produce obscurity. A typical example occurs in xv. 33 sq. (p. xlvii), where T omits v. 34, which explains how it was that Silas was still in Antioch (v. 40) after having previously received permission to go to Jerusalem ( v - 33)' Some writers consider this obscurity to be a laudable characteristic of Luke's style. Thus Ramsay remarks 'Luke expects much of his readers'. I cannot look on obscurity as a merit, but regard it as a fault which betrays the hand of an abbreviator.
Sometimes the cuts change the sense. Thus in xviii. 27, according to [W], Paul is invited by Corinthians residing in Ephesus to go with them to Corinth : according to [B], he went of his own will. In xix. i, according to [W], Paul wishes of his own accord to go to Jerusalem, but is told by the Spirit to return to Ephesus ; [B] merely states that he went to Ephesus, without any mention of his first plan or of the intervention of the Spirit. In xxiv. 8, according to [W], παρ'ου refers to Claudius Lysias ; according to [B], it refers to Paul. (For the absurdity of this reading cf. p. xlvii.) A more complicated case occurs in xv. i sq. (p. xlix).
Apart from these differences due to abridgement, there are irreconcilable variants. The most remarkable of these occurs in xx. 4, taken in conjunction
with xix. 29. In xix. 29 Gaius and Aristarchus are both Macedonians : in xx. 4 Aristarchus is said to be a native of Thessalonica, but Gaius, according to [B], is Δερβαιος, i.e. a native of Derbe in Asia Minor. The [W] reading is Δοβηριος, i.e. a native of Doberus (in Macedonia). For a full discussion of this striking passage, the importance of which has hitherto escaped the notice of scholars, I refer to pp. xlix-1 and note ad loc.
There are also cases in which the reading of [B] is absurd. A striking example is in ch. xiii, where, according to [B], a sorcerer is called Barjesus in v. 6, and this name is translated by Elymas in v. 8. Barjesus, however, can mean nothing but 'son of Jesus'. For a full discussion of this passage I refer to the notes.
It seems strange that so inferior a production as the abridged text should have been accepted by the Church. It must have suited the taste of the age in which it appeared and may have been made by someone who enjoyed a reputation in his own generation. It is not always the best text that gains immediate recognition. I venture to refer to a person of no particular importance, the African Father, Primasius. Two editiones principes of his works appeared in the same year (1544), one of which was printed at Paris and the other at Bale. The Paris edition was taken from a corrupt and mutilated MS. which disguises long omissions by unskilful botching. The Bale edition was founded on a good and fairly complete MS. It was, however, the Paris edition that was several times reproduced, while the Bale edition found no successor. (Descent of MSS., p. 104.)
If the considerations which have been advanced are sound, it follows that the supremacy of what are frequently called the 'Great Uncials ' (i.e. א and B) can no longer be maintained. The chief duty of an editor is to collect and combine the scattered evidence given by the various witnesses to the [W] text. This was done in masterly fashion by Blass in his reconstitution of what he considers to be the 'Roman form' of Acts (= [W]) as contrasted with a second edition by the same writer (= [B]). My own text is not indeed founded upon that of Blass, since I have considered all points independently and very frequently differ from him. It is, however, more like his text than that of any other editor, and I gladly acknowledge my great debt to him. On many occasions when my original view of a passage differed from that of Blass I finally became convinced that he was right. I cannot, however, accept his attribution of both [W] and [B]] to the same author (p. xxi).'
- A.C. Clark, Acts of the Apostles, (1933) p. vii-xi