Copyright
Charles Cutler Torrey.

The composition and date of Acts online

. (page 2 of 7)
Online LibraryCharles Cutler TorreyThe composition and date of Acts → online text (page 2 of 7)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


THE ARAMAIC SOURCE IN ACTS 13

cisely what is needed in the place of iici TO avro in Acts 2, 47. For
example, in the Onkelos Targum tnr6 (properly " singularly, un-
iquely ") is the ordinary rendering of Heb. ixp . Thus, Exod. 19, 18,
"And the whole mountain trembled greatly," Nir6 &mt3 5a yn .
Similarly in Palestinian Syriac, the Judean dialect as we find it
several centures later (c. 5th cent. A.D.) : Matt. 2, 16, " Then Herod
. . . was angered exceedingly (lahda)." Examples with verbs of
multiplying, increasing, and the like are numerous; thus from the
Onk. Targ.: Gen. 17, 2, " I will multiply thee exceedingly (nr6
tnr6, corresponding to Heb. IKD "IKO); Exod. i, 7, "The children of
Israel grew in strength exceedingly "; and many others. It is also
worthy of especial notice that in the clauses where this adverb
modifies a verb it is regularly placed at the end of the clause like
the 7rl TO ai>To in the verse under consideration.

At the end of Acts 2 the statement that the church " was greatly
increased daily " is certainly to be expected; not only because of
the way in which similar statements are interjected at frequent
intervals through all this part of the history (4, 4; 5, 14; 6, 7;
9, 31), but also in particular because comparison of 2, 41 with 4, 4
shows that this writer did indeed think of this very time as one in
which the company of believers was greatly and rapidly increased.
We know that it was not his habit to understate.

The question why the Greek translator misunderstood his text,
can be answered with greater ease and certainty than is ordinarily
possible in explaining supposed mistranslations. The reason is
simply this, that the use of xinb to mean "greatly," etc., is a peculi-
arity of the Judean dialect, while the Greek version was presumably
made at some distance from Judea. This use of the word is not
only absolutely unknown in the Aramaic of Northern Syria and in
classical Syriac, but it is also unheard of in the other Palestinian
dialects, including even the Galilean. It is never found, for instance,
hi the Palestinian Talmud or Midrash (Dalman, Grammatik des
jiidisch-paldstinischen Aramaisch, 2 211). l If we suppose, for ex-
ample, that this document of the Jerusalem church, composed in

1 For an instance of this usage in a remote Aramaic dialect, see Noldeke, Mandtiische
Grammatik, 207 below.



14 THE COMPOSITION AND DATE OF ACTS

Judea, was translated by a native of Antioch, familiar with Aramaic
from his childhood, we can scarcely doubt that on coming to this
tnrb he would be somewhat puzzled by it. It could hardly suggest
to him, in this context, any other idea than " together," and we
should expect him to render it by the customary phrase ini rb avr6.
We may then restore the original Aramaic of 2, 476 as follows:
mrb Dr f>3 pn nf> Kin spto VIDI . Here, the preposition i> in the

T : - ..' T : T-; ' T ; T : r IT

fourth word might signify either the dative or the direct object.
Doubtless it was originally intended to signify the former; but if
the translator failed to recognize the peculiar use of jnni> (and we
certainly should not expect him, if he lived at a distance from
Judea, to be familiar with this merely local idiom), it was inevitable
that he should render with the Greek accusative. The correct ren-
dering would be: 6 5e nvpios irpoatrWu rots au^o^vois Kad' rj^pav
cr065pa, "And the Lord added greatly day by day to the saved." 2

The argument derived from this passage is exceedingly forcible.
The hypothesis of accidental coincidence would be difficult enough
even if we had only this one case to consider. But the fact is, as will
be seen, that half a dozen others, hardly less striking, are to be put
beside it. Even the evidence that author and translator lived in
different parts of the Aramaic-speaking world receives corroboration
from other passages.

3, 16. Kat 7rt rfi TricrTtt TOV 6v6fj.aros avrov TOVTOV dv 0opeTre
icai otSare tartp&jXJtv TO ovo^a. avrov KCU 17 TTIOTIS 17 5t' avrov cdtaicfv
abru rr)v 6\oK\Tjpiav TOLVT^V a-jrevavTi, wavrcov vn&v. "And by faith
in his name hath his name made this man strong, whom ye see and
know; yea, the faith which is through him hath given him this per-
fect soundness before you all."

The passage presents two very obvious and serious difficulties. In
the first place, the mode of expression is intolerably awkward and



1 I use this word (N^.D or FliOD ,&OO) simply for convenience, since we cannot
be certain what Aramaic original is rendered by 6 <cdpioj in this and similar passages.
The Aramaic-speaking Christians of the early church in Judea presumably followed the
current Jewish usage. On the latter, see Dalman, Worte Jesu, 346 ff., 266 ff.

1 Lit., " those that were living" i. e., were in the way of life; a&SeaQat. is the standing
Greek equivalent of this verb, as also ffwnjpla of the noun J^n ; see the Syriac versions
of the Bible.



THE ARAMAIC SOURCE IN ACTS 15

confused, in Greek even more than in English. Wendt, Komm.,
attempts to account for " die Schwerfalligkeit des Ausdrucks," but
does not succeed in showing any good reason for it. On the con-
trary, the ideas which he supposes to have been intended could very
easily have been put into palatable Greek even by a writer of moder-
ate ability. Why, in particular, was it necessary to obscure the
sense and spoil the sound by the ugly repetition of T& ovo^a. avrov ?
The second difficulty is far more important, namely this, that the
passage that is, the first half of verse 16 is out of keeping with
its own context. By what power was the cripple healed ? The
whole surrounding context implies that it was the power of Jesus,
and the latter half of this same verse 16 says that " the faith which
is through him " made the man whole. But i6a expressly attributes
the healing to a certain quasi-magical power in the Name of Jesus.
As Preuschen (in loc.} says, " Der Name wirkt selbst das Wunder."
Such an outcropping bit of popular superstition (not found elsewhere
in the New Testament) might indeed be credited to the author of
this narrative if the evidence of it were unequivocal, but in point of
fact the evidence is confined to this one curious and clumsy half-
verse. We certainly seem to see here the power of the Name itself
expressly distinguished from the power of faith in or through the
name; but on the other hand in 3, 26; 4, 2, io&, n, 120; 5, 31;
10, 38 we read only of the power of Jesus, and in 3, i6b of the power
of faith through him. No wonder Preuschen wishes to cancel i6b
as an interpolation, made " um der Stellung gerecht zu werden, die
sonst der Glaube bei den Heilungen einnimmt." It is one thing to
say that the healing is performed " in the name of Jesus " (3, 6;
4, ioa, 126, 30), or " through his name " (10, 43), or " through faith
in his name " (3, 16, beginning), but quite another thing to say that
the name itself, through faith in it, wrought the miracle! 1

1 It is evidently under the influence of 3, i6a that so many modern interpreters refer
rofrnp in 4, 10 to the name, rather than to Jesus himself. Wendt, Komm., declares this
to be " grammatisch genauer "; it is, however, rather a question of rhetoric than of
grammar. To me, at least, the whole passage sounds better and more like the author
of this narrative when the transition from the name to the person is made at just this
point. Observe how the very same transition, in the reverse order, kv ftXXy ovdevL . . .
kv w (r<? ofo/nan), is made two verses farther on, in vs. 12.



1 6 THE COMPOSITION AND DATE OF ACTS

Turning the Greek word by word into Aramaic we obtain the
following result: not? t\\>r\ JVUK pjm pruN prn n jnr6 BB^ ^ KriJD'mi
fi3^3 Dip an sniD^n r6 nan 11 m n NruoTn . Here there is a curious
ambiguity in the middle of the sentence, which probably accounts for
the difficulty in our Greek. What was originally intended was not
e<TTfpeuff TO ovofJiOL avTov, but not? v\$F\ vyifj tiroirjaev (or
v} O.VTOV. This latter phrase is idiomatic in all respects,
and suits its context perfectly, the subject of the verb being either
'Irjffovs or 6 deos. 1 Luke's rendering is a very natural one, since he
seemed to have before him the same word (riD^) which he had
rendered at the beginning of the sentence. The translation should
then be: " And by faith in His name He hath made strong this one
whom ye see and know; yea, the faith which is through Him hath given
him this soundness before you all." Compare with the verse as thus
restored 10, 43, which is a good parallel. Notice also that the
Syriac version renders in this same way, "He hath made sound and
whole," apparently cutting loose from the Greek and translating
according to the requirement of the context. 9, 34, 40 also show
plainly (what no one would question, but for this mistranslated pas-
sage) that the miracles of healing, and even of restoration of the
dead to life, were performed through faith in Jesus, indeed, but not
by his name.

4, 24 ff. A&TTrora, av 6 Troirj<ras TOP ovpavov nai T^V yrjv /cat TTJV
O6.\a.aaa.v K.a.1 TTO.VTO. ra kv aurots, 6 TOV 7rarp6$ yftuv 6ia 7n>eu/zaros
ayiov ffr6fj,aros AaveiS Tratdos <rov ciir&v Iva. rl e<f>pva.av WVTJ . . .
Kal Kara TOV XpttrroO avrov. avvi]\Bf]oo.v yap K.T.&. The difficulty of
this passage, namely of the first clause of verse 25, is so notorious that
it need not be set forth here. It is sufficient to say that modern
scholars have either virtually or expressly declared the text quite
hopeless. It is not merely that the whole clause 6 TOV iraTpds TIH&V
. . . eiTrcoy is untranslatable an incoherent jumble of words; the
fact is quite as noticeable that no simple emendation of the Greek
will render the clause intelligible. The problem is not to be solved
by cancelling words, nor by adding them, nor by making transposi-

1 In the Greek, the latter would be preferred. Not so in Semitic, in which the change
of subject is easier. Cf. also 9, 34.



THE ARAMAIC SOURCE IN ACTS 17

tions. The clumsy phrase which Wendt (Komm., p. 115, note 2)
hesitatingly accepts as the possible original was not obtained by any
scientific process, but simply by cutting loose as some of the early
versions did from the text which has been handed down to us.
Preuschen says very truly that the words which constitute the first
clause of vs. 25 "spotten jeden Versuches einer Konstruktion " (or,
he might have added, Rekonstruktion). He himself regards rou
Trarpos rin&v and 5id irvVfj.a.Tos aylov as glosses, but this explanation
is quite without plausibility; the former phrase (a most unlikely
addition) would never have been placed where it now stands, and
as for the latter, it is so superfluous as to be all but inconceivable
as a gloss. The fact is, our Greek text of the verse is extremely well
attested, and no attempt to get beyond it has ever succeeded.

As soon as the question of an underlying Aramaic idiom is raised,
the probability suggests itself that the source of the confusion lay in
a relative clause beginning Njnx H &rn , "that which our father . . .,"
which was misread as NJ13K n Kin , 6 rov Trarpos T\H&V. Turning the
Greek back into Aramaic we obtain: Ntnip -n Nnn Dis^ NJUK H NTI
IDK Tny TH , "That which our father, thy servant David, said by (or,
by the command of) the Holy Spirit "; etc. It is obvious that the
neuter pronoun, " that which," is required by the whole passage:
the connection of the address AeWora . . . aurois becomes evident
for the first time, and the jap in vs. 27 now comes to its own. In-
stead of the more common Dia^, 1 DIM might have been used; com-
pare e.g. mrr 'ED, "by the command of Yahwe," i Chron. 12, 23.
In the order of words in this restored Aramaic there is nothing
unusual ; such delayed apposition is of frequent occurrence, and in
this case we can see a rhetorical reason for separating " our father "
from " thy servant David." There is now no ellipsis in the passage, 2
but everything is expressed as clearly and naturally as possible. But
as soon as the * of NTJ was lengthened into } (perhaps the most com-
mon of all accidents in Hebrew- Aramaic manuscripts, and here made
especially easy by the preceding context) the whole passage was

1 For the Greek rendering, cf. Sid ori/xeiTos for ""&/> in i Kings 17, i; an excellent
parallel.

2 In English idiom we should use as instead of that which: " Why (as our father
David said) do the heathen rage ? "



1 8 THE COMPOSITION AND DATE OF ACTS

ruined. NJUN n xin was of necessity 6 TOV Trarp6s THJ&V, and every
other part of our Greek text followed inevitably; there is no other
way in which a faithful translator would have been likely to render
it. 1

This passage gives exceedingly strong support to the theory of
translation. The manner in which the change from " to i reduces
perfect order to complete chaos is as remarkable as anything of the
sort in the history of the ancient versions.

8, 10. This passage occurs in the story of Simon the Sorcerer. He
by his sorcery had made such an impression on the people of his city
that they all united in saying : OVTOS ianv T\ bvvayns TOV deov fi KOL\OV-
liivt\ /ie7a\77, which must be translated: " This (man) is the power
of God which is called great." Both ancient and modern scholars
have been perplexed by this sentence. Some Greek manuscripts and
early versions, including the Peshitta, omit KaXov^vij as superfluous
and so indeed it is. Preuschen would cancel it. But how, then,
account for its presence in our text ? There is no conceivable reason
why it should have been added. As for the " great power," it has
been pointed out (what we could have taken for granted even with-
out the demonstration) that Gnostic formulae and magic texts
speak of a peyaXri dwa^s. But this is quite outside the atmosphere
of the Book of Acts; nor have we any reason whatever for suppos-
ing that the people of Samaria were a Gnostic community. Some,
including Wendt, have even preferred to follow Klostermann's
curious suggestion that the neyaXvj of this verse was originally a
transliteration of N^JD " revealing! "

But the main difficulty of the verse, after all, lies in the TOV deov.
Who, or what, can have been intended by this phrase ? It is toler-
ably certain that the scene of these events is the capital city of the
province Samaria, i.e. Sebaste. 2 Now it is well known, though often

1 The manner of the translator in sticking dose to a difficult Semitic text, following
word by word the order of the original (excepting that he did not, of course, write SiA
o-Ti/xaroj Kvcbua.rvs), is the same which we see in Luke i and 2; see Aramaic Gospels,
pp. 292 ff ., 305.

* If we had only verse 5 to deal with, we should hardly hesitate to declare the rather
noticeable phrase i) r6X TTJS Zanaplas a mistranslation of pOB> W1O , " the prov-
ince of Samaria "; cf. Luke i, 39, where the mistranslation is certain. In verses 9



THE ARAMAIC SOURCE IN ACTS 19

forgotten, that the city (earlier Samaria, later Sebaste) was never a
seat of the " Samaritan " religion. Aside from Shechem-Neapolis
always the headquarters the sect occupied certain towns and dis-
tricts of the province, but never the capital city; " die Stadt
Samarien blieb heidnisch, und gehb'rte nicht zu der Gemeinde der
Samariter " (Wellhausen, 1 " sraelitische undjiidische Geschichte, 1 194;
see also his Kritische Analyse" 14) . We must therefore suppose that
those to whom Philip was preaching were polytheists; not foreigners,
indeed, but the result of a mixture of nations and a syncretism of
religions which contained Israelite elements; men who believed in
gods many and lords many. What deity could the people of
Sebaste have designated as 6 dtos ?
Verse lob rendered into Aramaic reads as follows: xnta H K^n ji

T T -; T : - '

3-1 xnj?np n . This is grammatically ambiguous as it stands, seeing
that the gender of ^n happens to be masculine; but it is beyond
question that the rendering required by all that we know of the situa-
tion is the following: avrrj (euros is also possible) iarlv 17 dvvanis
TOV 6eov TOV KaXovpevov neya\ov, " This is the power of the God who
is called Great" It is true, in the first place, that both Jewish and
early Christian usage gave to God the title Myas; see for example
Sir. 39, 6; 43, 28; 3 Mace. 7, 22; Titus 2, 13. In early Syriac
rabbd, 6 Meyas, is occasionally used absolutely as his title. Jews
employ this adjective in speaking of their God to foreigners; thus
Daniel says to Nebuchadnezzar (2, 45): "A Great God (Greek,
6 6e6s 6 ptyas) has made known to the king what shall come to
pass," and in Bel and the Dragon 41 the foreign king confesses:
Meyas karl Kvpios 6 debs. Again, in the Book of Acts we not only
see a " great " god distinguished from other gods (19, 27 f.), but we
also have in 16, 17 a virtual parallel to the present passage, inas-
much as the superiority of the Christians' God is confessed by a
foreigner: the clairvoyant maid of Philippi declares Paul and his
companions to be " servants of the Most High (inf/lo-rov) God." 1 In

and 14 Sa/*opia is of course the province (Wvos in 9 is probably an inaccurate render-
of Dy " people "), but 8 and 9 sound rather as though a city were really intended.

1 Cf. also such passages as those quoted by Norden, Agnostos Theos 39 f.: els
plv 6 neyiffTos Ka.i Kajdmrkprepm icai 6 Kpari-uv TOV xeuros, rol S'AXAw xoXXoi
nard. 5fo/a/u> (from the " Onatas " cited by Stobaeus); Is 0e6s, & re 0eoi<u Kal



20 THE COMPOSITION AND DATE OF ACTS

a word, the phrase " the God who is called Great " is a thoroughly
suitable one for this context, from any point of view. Luke the
translator, led by his own monotheism rather than by his imagina-
tion, erred in connecting the adjective with the word " power."

11, 27-30. This passage is one of the most satisfactory of all, in
the proof of translation which it affords. Certain prophets had come
from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them, named Agabus, made a
formal (dpaords) prediction of an approaching famine. Verse 28
says of this: t<rr)na.wv 5id roO irvevfJiaTOS \LIMV fj.eya\r]v fj.&.\fiv re-
ffdai e<}>' o\r]v rrjv olKovfjL^mjv TJTIS eytvero iiri KXauSiou, "He signified
by the Spirit that there would be a great famine upon all the world\
which came to pass in the days of Claudius." Verses 29 f. then
proceed to tell how, when the famine came, the disciples in Antioch,
every man according to his ability, sent relief to the brethren in Judea.
That is, there was no famine in Antioch, and the narrator seems to
have in mind only Judea as the afflicted region. Josephus, Antt. xx.
5, 2 (cf. 2, 5), does indeed tell of a " great famine " which came
upon Judea in the first years of the reign of Claudius.

There have been many attempts to explain the passage. Some,
like Schiirer, Gesch. 3 , I, 567, note 8, would pronounce the statement
in verse 28 " eine ungeschichtliche Generalisirung." But that is
obviously not the case, if verses 29 f. refer to the same famine; the
region of Antioch was not affected. Preuschen and others, misled
by the fact that Roman writers mention local famines in several
parts of the empire (but none of them at all wide-spread, nor any
one affecting Palestine except the one above mentioned) in the reign
of Claudius, decide that a widely extended famine was indeed cor-
rectly foretold by Agabus, in verse 28, but that in verses 29 f. this
famine is confounded with the one in Judea described by Josephus;
see also Encycl. Bibl., art. " Chronology," 76, where the facts are



IJ&YUTTOS (from Xenophanes); . . . ifjtyeiv Beoin, k4> &TTCUTI 54 ^5i; rbv nkyav rS>v
kitti /SacriXia Kal 'o> r<f ir\i}6ei /idXwra TUP 6t>v ri> nkya. abrov kvfteiKvvukvovs (from
Plotinus); and finally, in the passage quoted from Apollonius of Tyana: . . . 0j>
ftkv, bv dri irpwrov <<a^ec, x.r.X., and at the end of the passage: OVKOVV Kara raDra
obSattus T<J> ncy&h? KOI &ri v&vruv 0j> Birrtov. " The God who is called Great " was
an idea familiar to both Greeks and Semites in the days of the Apostles. But Luke's
translation is a perfectly natural one.



THE ARAMAIC SOURCE IN ACTS 21

stated not quite accurately. This is certainly a desperate attempt
at explanation. Wendt concludes that the author of Acts here mis-
understood his source; the words of Agabus were originally in-
tended as a prophecy of " hunger for the word of the Lord " (Amos
8, n), but were mistakenly supposed to predict a famine! It is
certainly difficult to imagine the nature of a " source " in which the
context would not show which sort of famine was intended by the
prophet.

But the explanation of the difficulty is both easy and sure. The
Aramaic original had the word ^-JK (= Heb. p, "land, earth").
The author of this document, writing in Jerusalem, followed the
time-honored usage in calling Judea simply " the land" But when
the translator, living outside Palestine, came to the phrase Kjnx i>3 ,
it was only natural that he should render it by 6X77 17 oiKovntvi], " all
the earth." It is a mistake that has been made a great many times.
Luke himself made it, in exactly the same way, in his Gospel 2, i
(Aramaic Gospels, p. 293), where he represented Quirinius as taxing
" all the world " (iraffav rr\v OIK.OV \iivt\v = pxn io) instead of " all
the land " of Palestine.

15, 7. The beginning of the speech of Peter in the council at
Jerusalem: "Avdpes d6eX$oi, vftels eiriffraffOe on d<' THJiep&v dpxauop
kv vfj.1v ^Xe'aro 6 0eds 5id TOV <7r6/iaros JMV d/coO<rai TO. WVTJ TOV
\6yov TOV evayy\iov nai TrioreDo-cu. This presents at least three
considerable problems. 'Ev vfuv is obscure, and its connection un-
certain. Many, including Preuschen, prefer to read ev riiuv, which,
however, does not do away with the main difficulty. Some texts,
including the Peshitta and Sahidic versions, prefer to omit the
troublesome words altogether. Again, the verb e^eXe^aro is hanging
in the air, without any direct object. In order to see how hopeless
the case really is, read the comment of Wendt (Komm., pp. 228 f.).
He finally suggests, with some hesitation, that although the infinitive
clause is dependent on the idea of " choosing " in the sense of be-
sMiessen, yet instead of such a verb the author preferred to substi-
tute one meaning wdhlen, since Peter had in fact been " selected "
for this work. But did not Luke know the Greek language ? If he
meant evdoKrjvfv, why did he not write it? and if he wished to speak



22 THE COMPOSITION AND DATE OF ACTS

of the selection of an evangelist to the heathen, why did he not do
so intelligibly, giving his verb a direct object ? Finally, the phrase
a<f>' rmfp&v dpxcucojf is ridiculously unsuitable in this connection. As
the text stands, the reference can only be to the events of chap. 10,
which happened only a few years before the time of the council.
Preuschen calls the phrase a " starker Ausdruck fur Trporepov." But
the two expressions mean very different things ! Why, if Luke meant
" formerly " or " recently," did he write " from days of old " ? 1

The Aramaic equivalent of the troublesome passage would read
thus: nMB f>y jnsoy yoeto^ KH^K ina fira wo^ s ov p n finjrr IWUK
NJOTI^ wnlDa H xnta . This is both idiomatic and unambiguous.

T T :

J133 stands before the verb for the sake of emphasis, and the reason
of the emphasis is obvious. It was an important question, whether
the evangelizing of the Gentiles, which had made so portentous a
beginning, was a thing which had arisen far from Jerusalem and
without the cooperation of the Apostles to whom Jesus had com-
mitted the charge of his church. The Greek follows the Aramaic
with absolute fidelity; so closely, in fact, that the result is a mis-
translation. The verb im is construed with a, which is replaced by
ev; compare Luke 12, 8, os av 6)^0X0717077 iv e/iot, "whoever confesses
me," and many similar cases. Perhaps if the fm had been placed
after the verb, Luke would not have rendered so cautiously. 2 The
rendering in English is: " Ye know that from of old God chose you,
that the Gentiles might hear, by my mouth, the word of the gospel, and
believe" In this sentence Peter reminds his hearers of two things:
first, that Israel, and therefore the Church of the Messiah, had been
chosen to give light to the Gentiles; and again, that he himself had
begun this work, having been the first to bring to them the gifts of
baptism and the Holy Spirit. But the emphasis is put, in the
Aramaic, on the pronoun " you," and the mission of the elect church


2 4 5 6 7

Online LibraryCharles Cutler TorreyThe composition and date of Acts → online text (page 2 of 7)