In a Wikipedia article on the authorship of Luke-Acts, a statement is made:

...there is textual evidence (the conflicts between Western and Alexandrian manuscript families) that Luke–Acts was still being substantially revised well into the 2nd century.

The statement has a footnote pointing to pp. 250–53 of Perkins, Pheme (2009). Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels. Eerdmans. ISBN 978-0-8028-6553-3.

What are the main critical arguments from Perkins for the textual evidence (with the conflicts between Western and Alexandrian manuscript families) indicating that Luke–Acts was still being substantially revised well into the 2nd century?

Are the differences being discussed by Perkins any different than what was noted by Bruce Metzger in his Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (3rd edition, 1975)?

  • You can change the Q to asking what and why is the particular change being made in the upcoming 29th edition of NA Greek NT in the book of Acts. That would be a specific qualifying question about textual criticism.
    – Michael16
    Commented Nov 3, 2021 at 10:56
  • What evidence do you have that this was the case. All the data I am aware of points in the opposite direction.
    – Dottard
    Commented Nov 3, 2021 at 11:09

2 Answers 2


The question is a little vague. But, the difficulty with Textual Criticism, is that, sometimes, by the time you know the right question to ask, you already have the answer.

Let's try and break down the question into its proper contexts.

Text Families

Years ago we just had the Byzantine family. This was the basis of the KJV. then, with the discovery of Sinaiticus and especially Vaticanus, we were acquainted with a shorter text. This is not just true when it comes to Acts. It's also true, for example, in the gospel of Mark.

From this, there arose the theory of families of texts. So, first there was the Byzantine and Alexandrian texts. Then, with the discovery of Codex Bezæ, we discovered yet another so-called family. It aligns very closely with the Vetus Latina (the old latin). This grouping is not to be discounted too easily since many of its readings predate our large, and well-copied manuscripts in Egypt. For example, the old latin manuscript, Codex Vercelli is dated to about 250 AD—100 years before the copying of Vaticanus.

Oh, but just wait, it gets even more complicated. Then they discovered another grouping of texts which they labeled "Cæsarean." Washingtonianus and the Ephraemi Rescriptus fall into this grouping.

So, at the end of all of this, about a generation ago, Text Critics spoke of families in the sense of "A,B,C,D" families:

  • A = So-called proto-Byzantine exemplar found in Codex Alexandrinus
  • B = The Alexandrian exemplar as found in Codex B (Vaticanus)
  • C = The so-called Cæsarean text as found in Codex C (Ephraemi Rescriptus)
  • D = The so-called "Western Text" as found in Codex D (Bezæ)

The genealogical method must be valid, since after all, it follows a A-D naming system, right? (he said sarcastically).

As you might very well guess, people began to question the groupings of these families. It was not uncommon to find a so-called "Alexandrian" text that only had about 55% so-called Alexandrian readings be classified as "Alexandrian". This called into question the validity of the Genealogical Method. With the advent of the Coherence Based Genealogical Method the last vestiges of adherence to families finally crumbled. The only legitimate reference to families is within the Byzantine stream.

So, all of this is important to consider in this discussion, because it's impossible to establish any changes within the families themselves if one cannot first define and prove that there are families at all.

D-block texts

Bezæ (D) and its closer allies (F,G, & the Old Latin) are worthy of scrutiny in their own right. It is true that they tend to have longer readings. And there are some clear examples of this. But it's exceedingly difficult from this to prove how these longer readings came about. Even more difficult still is it to prove that Acts was "being substantially revised well into the 2nd century".

For further reading, I suggest... The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research

  • 1
    +1 and thanks for adding additional useful information. I think one problem with getting to the "right question" has to do with the word "revised." It is more easy to prove that Luke-Acts is still being revised today, as scholars and publishers examine more and more textual variants, than in the second century, when scribes were likely to have only one copy to work from. Commented Nov 17, 2023 at 2:04
  • 1
    @DanFefferman Agreed, we have 28 "revisions" of the Nestle Aland text. But, as you point out, what is "revision?" If revision is a Dan Brown, Davinci Code version, where there were changes to texts to drive doctrinal changes, then "no." If however, we discover more manuscripts and choose different variants (that still don't change doctrine), then "yes". As the old bit of advice goes: "define your terms."
    – Epimanes
    Commented Nov 17, 2023 at 3:00

I will address the main question rather than arguments from Perkins and Metzger.

The Orthodox scholar Stephen De Young says:

The text of Luke-Acts in the textual tradition actually represents two separate traditions. This is most clearly visible in the text of the Acts of the Apostles, which is roughly 8% longer in what is termed the ‘Western’ text. The text of the Gospel of Luke, however, likewise contains significant textual differences between the two forms of the text.

Besides differences in length, some differences involve substantial revisions in the meaning of the text. The Interpreters' Bible (Protestant) says that the Western manuscripts changed the description of the "letter sent out from the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:20) so that it refers to moral rather than Jewish ritual demands." As an example it says that the Western texts tend to omit the prohibition against consuming "what is strangled," because this is specific command from Jewish dietary law.

Returning to De Young, he concludes:

Our earliest extant copies of manuscripts in the Western category are from the sixth century while those categorized Alexandrian go back to the fourth...The origins of these two textual traditions... date to at least the early second century. Theories regarding their relative origins, how they may be genealogically related to one another, are conjecture into a historical fog. Suffice it to say that the Western and Alexandrian texts of St. Luke’s Gospel represent an example of the richness of the text in early Christian history.

Thus, not only is it true that there were still "significant textual differences" among the various versions of Luke and Acts in the second century; those differences continued to exist for centuries. Modern bible editors still have to decide which manuscript authorities to accept.

  • 1
    Based on that line of reasoning, the Bible text was being "revised" well into the 12th century.
    – Dottard
    Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 21:09
  • Even today, we have "revised editions" of various bibles based on comparing the differences between ancient manuscripts. Commented Nov 17, 2023 at 1:57

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