Rome, Petrine primacy, and Bezae’s text

In a previous post, I noted the apparent interest of Bezae’s initial corrector, Corrector G, in passages that pertain to Peter and his role of authority among the apostles. I also suggested that this corrector, whose work is confined to Matthew and the first four chapters of Acts, may have focused on these two books, not because he grew tired of correcting in Matthew and hence skipped to Acts due to its unusual text, but rather because these two books contain the passages he was most interested in, namely, passages concerning the question of Petrine primacy.

Now as D. C. Parker has shown, Bezae’s distinctive text was not created by the scribe, who closely followed the text of his exemplar. [1] Yet the final form of Bezae’s text exhibits the same interest we find in Corrector G in passages relevant to Peter’s role, often with the effect of augmenting Peter’s role in the narrative. [2] But if the scribe did not introduce this feature, it seems we must consider whether Bezae’s exemplar also developed under the oversight of the initial corrector. Unless this interest in Peter is coincidental, we might infer, at least for Bezae, that its text of Acts could not have been produced much earlier than the manuscript itself. [3]

Of course, it is by no means impossible that there were other sets of circumstances in which Peter’s role might have been augmented. But when we consider the acute relevance of the question of Petrine authority following the Council of Constantinople in 381, at which Constantinople was promoted above the ancient sees of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem to a rank of second place only to Rome, the time frame immediately prior to Bezae’s production suddenly becomes highly interesting as a potential context for the development of a particular interest in Peter’s role.

In suggesting a context for this special interest in Peter, we might begin then with Canon 3 of the Council of Constantinople:

“The Bishop of Constantinople … shall have the prerogative of honour after the Bishop of Rome; because Constantinople is New Rome.” (NPNF 2.14, 178)

The impact of this canon can be assessed when we consider that sixty years later Rome was still protesting it, as Leo the Great remonstrates with Anatolius, Bishop of Constantinople:

“For your purpose [to invoke the primacy of Constantinople over the Eastern sees] is in no way whatever supported by the written assent of certain bishops [who convened at the Council of Constantinople] given, as you allege, 60 years ago, and never brought to the knowledge of the Apostolic See by your predecessors” (Leo the Great, Epistle 106.5; NPNF 2.12, 79)

Leo argues that Constantinople’s claim rests purely on its secular status as New Rome and hence is inferior to the apostolic claim of the other sees, which Leo seems to assume were all founded on the authority of Peter:

“Things secular stand on a different basis from things divine: and there can be no sure building save on that rock [i.e. Peter] which the LORD has laid for a foundation. … Let him [Anatolius] not disdain a city which is royal, though he cannot make it an Apostolic See” (Leo the Great, Epistle 104.3; NPNF 2.12, 75)

Of course, Leo is alluding to Peter’s connection, not only to Rome, but also to the three demoted sees. Now Peter’s connection with Antioch (formerly the third see) and Jerusalem (formerly the fourth) is established in the New Testament. But Leo also claims Peter as the founder of the See of Alexandria (formerly second) on the basis of Mark’s traditional discipleship under Peter:

“The See of Alexandria may not lose any of that dignity which it merited through S. Mark, the evangelist and disciple of the blessed Peter” (Leo the Great, Epistle 106.5; NPNF 2.12, 79)

In fact, Peter is the only apostle that all of the ancient sees could claim in common, a finding that Leo tries to exploit in his contention that Constantinople usurped the second rank from Alexandria.

So it is evident that Rome’s rivalry with Constantinople in the period after 381 offers a compelling setting for the pattern we find in Bezae’s text of Acts, which in various ways highlights Peter’s unique authority as founding apostle of the church in Acts. Of course, by the end of the fourth century, only a canonical text could have served as the basis for this unique appeal to Peter’s authority. This might explain why Bezae’s text of Acts is more recent than that of its gospels. It may also explain why the text of Acts receives disproportionate emphasis in general in the so-called “Western” text.

Now if this connection is warranted, the long text of Acts we find in Bezae (and possibly in other witnesses) might be seen as promoting the perspective, not only of Rome, but also of the demoted sees of Alexandria and Antioch, yet certainly not of Constantinople. It is remarkable then that the distribution of the so-called “Western” text follows the locations the ancient apostolic sees, in both East and West, while avoiding the area around Constantinople. Hence, both Syria and Egypt attest versional representatives of the so-called “Western” texts of Acts. Just as this long text existed in Latin in various forms for the benefit of the church in the West, so too did it exist in Greek for the benefit of the church in the East — and not only in Greek, but also in the Eastern versions, whether Coptic or Syriac.


[1] “It is not permissible to regard the text of D as coterminous with the
Codex Bezae.” D. C. Parker, Codex Bezae: An early Christian manuscript and its text (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992) 96. Note that Parker’s statement in the context of Bezae’s sense lines does not comment on the possibility that the D text might be coterminous with Bezae’s exemplar. Note also that Parker’s reconstruction allows Bezae’s exemplar of Acts to have been transcribed through the end of the fourth century (p. 281).

[2] J. Crehan, “Peter according to the D-Text of Acts,” Theological Studies 18 (1957) 596–603. See A. G. Brock, “Appeasement, Authority, and the Role of Women in the D-Text of Acts” in T. Nicklas and M. Tilly, The Book of Acts as Church History: Text, Textual Traditions and Ancient Interpretations (BZNW 120. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2003) 205-224 at 210-215 for others who have observed this variation of emphasis on Peter or have noted it in their citations.

[3] See Parker, Bezae, 118-119, who observes significantly that Bezae’s Acts tradition is more recent than that of its gospels.

What do you think?