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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Libertines

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Both the construction and the contents of Acts 6:9 are difficult. It consists, as Hort says, of ‘a long compound phrase,’ the Greek of which is ‘not smooth and correct on any interpretation’ (Judaistic Christianity, p. 50). An expositor can, therefore, lay claim to no more than a reasonable probability for his exegesis of the verse. St. Luke’s statement is generally believed to have been derived from a written source. Thus, Harnack, although he argues persuasively in favour of St. Luke’s having obtained a large part of the knowledge he committed to writing in Acts 1-12 from St. Philip at Caesarea (cf. Acts 21:8-9), yet thinks that he had a written (Antiochean) source for his narrative of St. Stephen’s trial, speech, and death (The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 175, 188, 245). And Ramsay, writing on the ‘Forms of Classification in Acts’ (Expositor, 5th ser ii. 35), explains the exceptional form of the list in Acts 6:9 as ‘due to Luke’s being here dependent on an authority whose expression he either transcribed verbatim or did not fully understand.’ But it appears to the present writer possible that the form of the list is due to its having come to St. Luke in the way of oral communication. Its style may be termed colloquial: it looks as if the narrator were quoting from memory, or reporting the very words of a speaker with whom he had been conversing. May not the speaker have been St. Paul? The mention made of Cilicia in the list is in favour of this conjecture. Was there a synagogue in Jerusalem of which it is more likely that Saul of Tarsus had been a member or a leader than that which Cilician Jews frequented? The Apostle had, in the days of his unbelief, been one of the bitterest opponents of the Christian movement, and the part he had taken in St. Stephen’s death was a subject of life-long self-reproach (Acts 22:20). The depth of his feeling may have prevented him from referring to this often in preaching or otherwise, but would not have debarred him from doing so in conversation with a trusted friend like St. Luke.

Should this conjecture be well founded, it would help to settle the vexed question of whether five synagogues are specified in the list, or two, or only one. The present writer agrees with Hurt (loc. cit.; cf. Swete, The Appearances of our Lord after the Passion, 114) that only one synagogue is mentioned, that of the Libertines, and that the following names are simply descriptive of origin, the members of the synagogue being partly from Cyrene and Alexandria, partly from Cilicia and Proconsular Asia. Possibly St. Stephen and St. Paul both belonged to this synagogue, but of this we cannot be sure.

The synagogue of the Λιβερτῖνοι doubtless consisted, at least in the first instance, of Jews who had been prisoners of war, and had afterwards been set free and admitted to Roman citizenship (Chrysostom, Hom. on Acts: οἱ Ῥωμαίων ἀπελεύθεροι). Philo tells us (Leg. ad Caium, 23) that most of the Jews of Rome were enfranchised captives, and the passages usually quoted from Tacitus (Ann. ii. 85) and Suetonius (Tiberius, 36) agree with this. Those freedmen who had returned to Palestine, and their descendants, must have formed a synagogue to which they gave their name, and most probably Jews from other parts of the world came in time to be affiliated to them. Although this statement is not supported by independent historical evidence, it may be regarded as a just inference from the text, when conjoined with other known facts. A large part of the population of Jerusalem consisted of foreign Jews, who had come to reside permanently there, that they might be near the Temple, and might be buried in the land of their fathers. Others came for their education, like St. Paul. Those Jews were most zealous in fulfilling their ritual obligations, and attached themselves to ‘the straitest sect’ of the Jews of Palestine (Acts 26:5, Galatians 1:14; cf. Zahn, Introduction to the NT, i. 39f., 60f.; J. Moffatt in Encyclopaedia Biblica iv. 4788; J. Patrick in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) iii. 110). The first accusation brought against our Lord was based upon a misrepresentation of words of His about the Temple (John 2:19, Mark 14:58), and in Acts 6:13-14; Acts 7:48-50 we see that St. Stephen had not kept off this dangerous ground.

It is uncertain whether we should read τῆς λεγομένης (TR [Note: Textus Receptus, Received Text.] ) or τῶν λεγομένων (Tisch.) in Acts 6:9; but, whichever reading be preferred, the sense is not affected. The absence of various readings in the substance of the text bars the way to any attempt to reconstruct it. Certain Armenian VSS [Note: SS Versions.] and Syriac commentaries seem to have read Λιβύων (cf. the unique NT reference to Libya, Acts 2:10), and this paved the way for the most famous conjectural emendation-that of Λιβυστίνων for Λιβερτίνων. J. Rendel Harris, in his article in the Expositor, 6th ser. vi. 378f., has traced the history of this emendation in an interesting manner from Beza (1559) to Blass (1898) From Beza’s Annotationes he quotes the following sentence, in which the main difficulty of the text is well stated: ‘Neque enim video qua ratione Lucas istos [Libertinos] appellet ex conditione, caeteros vero ex gente ac patria.’ Blass, in his Philology of the Gospels, 69f., was not aware that the emendation had been proposed by anyone before himself, and he expressed his certainty that Λιβυστίνων was the true reading. This word, which is used by Catullus (lx. 1, montibus Libystinis), would have been quite suitable for designating the towns lying westwards from Cyrene, had it been supported by good manuscript authority (cf. Encyclopaedia Biblica iii. 2793, 2794; Expository Times ix. 437b). The derivation of Libertini from a town Libertnm in N. Africa is much less plausible, as no town of that name seems to have been known in the 1st century.

Among the older expositors, Bengel (Gnomon of NT) strongly maintains that the whole description of Acts 6:9 is that of one flourishing synagogue, composed of Europeans, Africans, and Asiatics, to which Saul belonged. His note is still worth reading.

Literature.-J. A. Bengel, Gnomon of NT, ed. Berlin, 1860, p. 287; Th. Beza, Annotationes, 1559; Fr. Blass, Philology of the Gospels, London, 1898, p. 69f.; Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) , article ‘Libertines’ (J. Patrick); Encyclopaedia Biblica , articles ‘Libertines,’ ‘Libya’ (W. J. Woodhouse), ‘Stephen’ (J. Moffatt); Expositor, 5th ser. ii. [1895] (W. M. Ramsay), 6th ser. vi. [1902] (J. Rendel Harris); Expository Times ix. [1897-98] 437b; Thayer Grimm’s Gr.-Eng. Lexicon of the NT, tr. Thayer 2, 1890, s.v. λιβερτῖνος; A. Harnack, Luke the Physician, Eng. translation , London and New York, 1907, p. 153, The Acts of the Apostles, Eng. translation , do. 1909, pp. xxxiv, 70, 71 n. [Note: . note.] , 120, 175, 188, 192, 196, 219, 245; F. J. A. Hort, Judaistic Christianity, London, 1894, p. 50; H. A. W. Meyer, Com. on Acts, Eng. translation , Edinburgh, 1877, i. 173f.; E. Schürer, History of the Jewish People (Eng. tr. of GJV).] , Eng. translation , ii. ii. [do. 1885] 276; H. B. Swete, The Appearances of our Lord after the Passion, London, 1907, p. 114; Th. Zahn, Introd. to the NT, Eng. translation , Edinburgh, 1909, i. 39f., 60ff.

James Donald.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Libertines'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/l/libertines.html. 1906-1918.

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