The Peshitta’s Reading of Acts 16.34

Acts 16.34 contains that wonderful and glorious text of the salvation of the Philippian jailer and his household.  However, the question that has intrigued interpreters is who is believing according to this verse?  Is only the jailer believing? Or is the jailer believing together with his household?  Allow me to cite the Greek text of the verse then I will describe the exegetical difficulties, and finally I will provide the Syriac Peshitta reading of the verse and draw some conclusions from it.

Greek Text: αναγαγων τε αυτους εις τον οικον παρεθηκεν τραπεζαν και ηγαλλιασατο πανοικει πεπιστευκως τω θεω.

Difficulty: Does πανοικει (an adverb meaning “with the whole house”) modify the main verb ηγαλλιασατο or the participle πεπιστευκως?  As an adverb, grammatically it may modify either word.  What is the difference between the options? If it modifies the first verb, the translation is something like: “He rejoiced with his whole household because he believed in God.”  If it modifies the second, the text reads: He rejoiced because he believed in God–together with his whole household.  In the second translation the adverb indicates that the whole household believed with the jailer and were subsequently baptized according to 16.33.  The first translation has only the jailer believing, but the whole household is rejoicing with him and if the oikos argument is granted, this whole household is baptized apart from faith.

Enter Syriac Peshitta: ܘܰܕܼܒ݂ܰܪ ܐܰܣܶܩ ܐܶܢܽܘܢ ܠܒ݂ܰܝܬܿܶܗ܂ ܘܣܳܡ ܠܗܽܘܢ ܦ݁ܳܬܼܽܘܪܳܐ܂ ܘܪܳܘܶܙ ܗ̱ܘܳܐ܂ ܗܽܘ ܘܰܒܼܢܰܝ̈ ܒ݁ܰܝܬܿܶܗ ܒܿܗܰܝܡܳܢܽܘܬ݂ܳܐ ܕ݁ܰܐܠܳܗܳܐ܀

Here is my translation of the text: And he led [and] he brought them to his house and he prepared for them a table and he was rejoicing; he and the sons of his house  because of faith in God.

Now,  this Version of the Bible sometimes interprets the ambiguous sections of the source text, such as the adverb in the Greek text above. Notice that the Peshitta does not represent a different text of the NT.  Rather, the differences are on the level of translation not text.  There are two differences in this text: 1) they translated πανοικει as a noun “and the sons of his house,” and 2) they translated the Greek participle πεπιστευκως as a prepositional phrase “in/because of faith” (ܒܿܗܰܝܡܳܢܽܘܬ݂ܳܐ).

These two changes smooth out the difficulty in the Greek text and in so doing, they provide their interpretation of the Greek syntax.  They made the Greek adverb another subject and they changed the participle into a prepositional phrase which maintains the adverbial force of the Greek participle, but now the Syriac prepositional phrase modifies both the jailer and the members of his house, and cannot be understood as only modifying the jailer.  Therefore according to this version, both the jailer and his household rejoiced because of faith in God.

Conclusion

The Syriac Version supplies us with a translation of this Greek text circum 400 AD or earlier.  This is early evidence that the church, at least in the East, was reading this baptismal  account with credobaptist eyes.  Now, it does not answer the questions of who exactly was in the house or were there any infants in the house at the time, but it at least teaches that faith and baptism must be placed together.  Infant faith is not ruled out according to this text.  The only option the Peshitta rules out is a baptism apart from faith.

One thought on “The Peshitta’s Reading of Acts 16.34

  1. Pingback: Reply to Contra_Mundum Regarding Acts 16.34 « LXX Studies

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