If you’re reading the NIV, ESV, or other modern English translation of the New Testament (NT), you will notice that Acts 8:37 is either omitted or bracketed. There will be a footnote saying that early manuscripts do not contain this verse. So what’s going on here? How could there be a verse 37 that once existed, but now has been deleted?
The first thing to understand is that verse numbers were not assigned to the biblical texts until the year 1551. One hundred years earlier, the printing press had been invented, and there was a subsequent explosion in printed copies of the Bible. At that time, the scholars who were producing printed Greek NT’s or translating the Greek NT into other languages only had a small number of ancient manuscripts to use in their translation, and these documents were primarily dated from the ninth through twelfth centuries.
These manuscripts from the ninth to twelfth centuries contained the text that was assigned to Acts 8:37. Here is the reading: “Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ The eunuch answered, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’” For the next five hundred years, verse 37 was included in most Bibles.
As we fast-forward to the twentieth century, archaeologists began discovering much older Greek NT manuscripts dating as far back as the second century. The older documents dated from the second through fourth centuries did not contain the text from Acts 8:37 (the text first shows up in a Coptic translation dated to the late fourth and fifth century). So, given the discrepancies between the earlier and later manuscripts, scholars must decide which variant most likely represents the original Book of Acts written in the first century. The consensus seems to be that the original version did not contain the words from verse 37.
Darrell Bock explains that verse 37 “appears to be a scribal addition, likely motivated by the fact that the original text of Acts does not recount the eunuch making a confession of faith.” Bruce Metzger adds that the phrase “Jesus Christ” is not a Lukan expression and thus must have been added by someone else.
Even though scholars don’t believe Luke wrote these words, they do believe that the contents of verse 37 likely reflect the practice of second century Christians.