“And the eunuch said, ‘See here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?'” (Acts 8:36).
“Then Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ And he answered and said, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.'” (Acts 8:37).
Does verse 37 belong in the Bible? Is it genuine? Many do not believe that it is. The manuscript evidence available to us is not very supportive of this verse. It appears in no known Greek manuscript before the 6th century. The Codex Laudianus from the 6th century is the earliest Greek manuscript we have which contains this verse. Moreover, this verse is missing in the earliest known translations known to us.
However, the words clearly pre-date the 6th century. Irenaeus (130-202 A.D.) wrote that the eunuch confessed, “I believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God” (Against Heresies 3:12). Cyprian (200-258 A.D.) wrote, “In the Acts of the apostles… ‘Lo here is water; what is there which hinders me from being baptized?’ Then said Philip, ‘If you believe with all your heart you may.'” (Treatises of Cyprian). Augustine (354-430 A.D.) wrote, “The eunuch believed on Christ, and said when they came to certain water, ‘See water, who does hinder me to be baptized?’ Philip said to him, ‘Do you believe on Jesus Christ?’ He answered, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’ Immediately, he went down into the water” (Sermon 49).
There is reason to question the genuineness of this verse. J.W. McGarvey pointed out, “The fact that it is interpolated does not prove that the eunuch did not make the confession. On the contrary, when rightly considered, it establishes the presumption that the passage, as it now reads, is faithful account of the event” (Original Commentary on Acts).
When studying with someone who objects to the use of this verse, remember that there are other passages which can be used to teach the same doctrine. Jesus Christ is the Son of God, according to the scriptures (cf. Acts 9:20). Belief comes before baptism in the Bible (cf. Acts 8:5, 12; 16:30-34; 18:8). Confession is to be made (cf. Matthew 10:32; 16:16; John 12:42-43; Romans 10:8-10; Philippians 2:9-11; 1 Timothy 6:12-13; Hebrews 3:1), and such is to occur before salvation (cf. Romans 10:8-10).
It is important to keep in mind that no doctrine is affected in manuscript differences. F.F. Bruce remarked, “The variant readings… affect no material question of historic fact or Christian faith and practice” (F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?, pp. 19-20) The New Open Bible/ NKJV preface reads, “Some variation exist in the spelling of Greek words, in word order, and in similar details… other manuscript differences, regarding the omission or inclusion of a word or clause, as well as two paragraphs in the gospels, should not overshadow the overwhelming degree of agreement which exists among the ancient records. Bible readers may be assured that the most important differences in the English New Testament of today are due, not to manuscript divergence, but to the way in which translators view the task of translation: How literal should the text be rendered? How does the translator view the matter of Biblical inspiration? Does the translator adopt a paraphrase when a literal rendering would be quite clear and more to the point?” (p. 14).