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Bible Gemz 1674 - Did Silas Leave Or Didn't He? (Acts 15:34)

February 6, 2018

The messengers went at once to Antioch, where they called a general meeting of the believers and delivered the letter.

And there was great joy throughout the church that day as they read this encouraging message.

Then Judas and Silas, both being prophets, spoke at length to the believers, encouraging and strengthening their faith.

They stayed for a while, and then the believers sent them back to the church in Jerusalem with a blessing of peace.

[But Silas decided to stay there.] 

Paul and Barnabas stayed in Antioch. They and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord there. (Acts 15:30-35)



What is the meaning of [But Silas decided to stay there]?

Did Silas leave or didn't he? Isn’t this a contradiction of what Luke wrote in the verse before and after this one? 

Did Luke actually write this? 

What is the significance of the fact that this verse is [italicised and put in square brackets]. “It is just frankly confusing. I don't know what to make of it.” Some versions include it, others don't have it at all. Some put it in greyed out. Others included it in [brackets]. Some have it both greyed out and italicized.

And furthermore Ian, it is darn right confusing. Did Silas go or didn't he? And if he didn't go why did Luke say that he did?

When did he decide to stay in Antioch?


In this case in the NLT the italics and square brackets mean this verse in some manuscripts of the Greek New Testament is missing. In order to deal with the apparent contradiction between this verse (34) and the verse before it as well as 15:40 it was either omitted or inserted in order to remove doubt. In other words some scribe decided the verse was problematic and removed it in order to remove the apparent contradiction. Or it was inserted in order to clear up the apparent contradiction. Given the textual evidence for the verse it is genuine, there is no doubt about that. So we are left with the challenge of working out what was going here. Why the verse was either omitted or inserted in order to get around the contradiction?


In verses 32 and 33 we are told that Judas and Silas stayed for a while and then the believers sent them back to Jerusalem.

In verse 40 we are told “Paul chose Silas, and as he left, the believers entrusted him to the Lord's gracious care.”

If then Silas had left in verse 33 with Judas how is that he is there in Antioch in verse 40 in order for Paul to choose him and for them to leave together on another journey. You can see the dilemma of the scribe. On both the manuscript evidence and the practical logic of the flow of the text something has happened to verse 34. According to the various copies of manuscripts of the Book of Acts it is clear that Luke indeed wrote “But Silas decided to stay there.”  There are enough early manuscripts which include the verse to indicate that it is genuine. But also it is clear that there is variation among the manuscripts over the wording. “But Silas decided to stay there.” Most manuscripts old and recent omit the verse but also a smaller number of reliable manuscripts add the verse we have here as verse 34. There are another  group of manuscripts which include the verse but change Silas to “they” – “But they decided to stay there.” Then there is one manuscript (Codex Bezae) alone which contains the reading: “But it seemed good to Silas that they remain there and Judas journeyed on alone.”


The plain sense we gain from reading what Luke wrote in verse 33 was that Silas left with Judas to go back to Jerusalem. But then in verse he is back there again in order for Paul to choose him to accompany him on the next journey. After reading verse 40 we have to account for how it is that Silas was there in Antioch to make it possible for Paul to choose him, if he had already departed with Judas for Jerusalem. If we note the evidence of the majority of manuscripts we must conclude that Silas left with Judas and went to Jerusalem. Then came back again to Antioch to join Paul and Barnabas once more. If the evidence of Codex Bezae is to be believed then Silas didn't actually go and Judas went on alone.


The confusion among the manuscripts is the result of trying to make the text clear as to what happened here that Silas could leave (or intend to leave) and yet could be back there again in verse 40 to be chosen by Paul. It is a minor matter but one which threw the copyists into indecision as to how to handle this seeming contradiction in what Luke wrote. I believe that Luke did actually write verse 34 to say “But Silas decided to stay there.”  However it was not absolutely clear as to whether he decided that on the spur of the moment as he and Judas were leaving or decided it later and therefore had to return to Antioch. It matters not really, as long as it is clear to us that Silas was indeed in Antioch after a period of time and subsequently went off with Paul on the second missionary journey. Of course there was ample time for that to happen because Paul and Barnabas stayed in Antioch teaching and preaching the Word of the Lord in Antioch for a while.     


Luke’s use of “after some days” in verse 36 has been translated various ways by the versions in English. Literally what was written is “after some days” but among the versions we have such statements as “sometime later”, “after some time”, “a few days later”, “after a while”, “some days later”, “a few days after this”, “after a few days of this”. Some translations make it sound like it was a relatively short time and other renderings make it sound longer. In reality “after some days” is simply marking a new phase as Luke selects what new segment he is going to tell us about. He uses this phrase frequently in the second half of the book of Acts to mark a new section. Just how long Paul and Barnabas stayed in Antioch we don't know. But certainly long enough for Silas to get back there again. 


This is all the time we need to spend on this matter. Sometimes when we pay attention to the detail it throws up issues that we have to deal with. That is a feature of life. Get used to it. In the next Gemz we will look at another feature of life – disputes between mates. 



What you build on top is only as strong as the foundation that holds it.  A R Bernard


As you become more open minded be careful not to become more closed hearted. Robi Sonderegger


We should strive to be big-hearted instead of big-headed. Chris Brady


Challenges introduce you to your real potential. No difficulty, no growth! Rick Godwin


Teaching the Bible is not about telling people something new that you know, but showing people how to live what you know. Joey Bonefacio





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