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Problem in Acts 13:20

Posted by Matt Postiff November 13, 2020 on Matt Postiff's Blog under Bible Texts 

In Acts 13:20, an interpretive question comes up about the 450 year time span. Does it refer to the period of the time in Egypt, the wandering, and the conquest of the land, as the NASB seems to indicate? Or does the period of time refer to the time of the judges, as the KJV indicates? The problem with the latter is that the period of the judges is only about 327 years, according to John Whitcomb's analysis.

There is a difference in the Greek of Acts 13:20, where the three-word phrase "and after this" is earlier in the Greek majority text (MT) than it is in the Nestle-Aland text (NA28). Perhaps you could say it is "transposed" with the phrase "about 450 years"

NA28 literal rendering = About 450 years. And after this He gave judges until Samuel the prophet.

MT and TR literal rendering = And after this, about 450 years, He gave judges until Samuel the prophet.

Importantly, note that the KJV does not quite follow the literal rendering I give above. It says,

KJV = And after that he gave unto them judges about the space of four hundred and fifty years, until Samuel the prophet.

Notice that KJV moves the "450 years" phrase even later in the verse than the MT word order. It puts it AFTER the word "judges," but in all Greek texts, 450 years occurs BEFORE the word judges.

Perhaps I could resuscitate the NKJV/KJV by translating a bit more in word-for-word order this way:

And after that--about 450 years--he gave them judges...

The KJV has obfuscated things even more than the Greek text transposition necessitates. My "fix" to the KJV is admittedly somewhat strained, as it is basically saying this:

And after that stuff--about 450 years of it--he gave them judges...

My suggestion is that the KJV translation is the problem—not so much the Greek text underlying it. This means that we need not charge that there is a terrible error in the Greek text underlying the KJV. There is a different word order, yes. But an irreconcilable error? Not quite. A different solution to the problem is to recognize the KJV has translated the words in an unhappy order which makes the chronology confused, and then to offer a paraphrase that addresses the chronology problem in a somewhat plausible fashion.

I am not saying this to support a KJVO viewpoint, because I most definitely do not hold that view. In fact, I think the KJV can be charged with an error in its translation here. However, I believe my suggestion is more fair to the Greek text. However you take it, the 450 years must apply to the time in Egypt through the conquest, not the time of the judges. My explanation is also more plausible than this one, which says that the 450 years does cover the period of the judges, and Moses was the first judge!

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