Acts 19:16 Can Answer That Question!


What a question! How could anyone even ask such a question? With thousands of differences, how could anyone ever think that the differences would not make a real difference?

I suppose we could debate what would constitute a “real difference”. Some would say (though they are mistaken) that no major doctrine is affected by the differences. Others would say that a person can quite easily teach any biblical truth from either Greek text. Although I strongly disagree, let’s just say that this is possible, just for the sake of argument.

All I would have to produce is one passage where the two texts teach an entirely different thing. And I leave the discussion as to what is important and what is unimportant to the critics. I am just simple enough to believe that any fact taught in God’s Word is important. We may not always understand how one small fact impacts another, but I believe every word in the Bible is there exactly as God intended it to be for a specific purpose.

Now, I said all that to simply say this – There is a very noticeable and contradictory statement found in Acts 19:16. Take a look at these two English translations. The King James Version is taken from the Textus Receptus while the American Standard Version is taken from the Critical Text.

Acts 19:16  And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.

Acts 19:16  (ASV) And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and mastered both of them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.

Now, I repeat, both of these translations are accurate representatives of the two Greek texts. But take note that the ASV states the demon possessed man lept on “both” of them. This is a big difference. Why? Because there were not two sons of Sceva but seven sons of Sceva! And no matter how you read it, “both” never means “seven”.

At this point I could quite easily quote from any number of dictionaries, ancient and modern, to show that both is always two. But I doubt that this would really be necessary.

A.T. Robertson, author of “Word Pictures in the New Testament” and “A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research” stated in his grammar book that there are examples in papyri where the Greek word “ampheteroi” means “all”. But I have a couple of problems with that. 

First of all, this particular Greek word is used in the Critical Text in this verse but not in the Textus Receptus. He is seeking to build a case in defense of the Critical Text using the variant reading from the Critical Text!

Secondly, in every place where “ampheteros” is used in the Textus Receptus, the King James translators rendered it as “both” in English. Why? Because the word means both. And as I have already said, both never means seven or all. It always means two. The fact is, the Critical text says “both” where is shouldn’t!

This ought to be problematic to anyone who believes in verbal, word-for-word, inspiration and divine preservation of the text. These two passages are not the same and although we may not see how it matters to say “both” to the overall story, it matters when we come to the doctrine of preservation. Did God preserve this passage word for word or not?

Of course, we believe that He did and that the reading in the Critical Text is inferior. It is a corruption of the text. It does not bear the stamp of divine preservation.

The Critical text would invariably argue the point saying something like, “Well, you cant really know what the original manuscript written by the pen of Luke said”. To this I reply, “I think Luke knows that if he is writing a story about seven guys, he would not use a word which clearly means two guys.”

Another argument that I have seen is some sort of Greek gymnastics saying basically, “Yes, there were seven sons of Sceva but only two were there that day”. What a stretch! Any casual reading of the passage would lead you to believe all seven were there that day. There is absolutely no support, whether Greek or English, to the contrary.

And once again, the reading of the KJV is vindicated by a little common sense and diligent study!