I have several articles on my website about Priscilla, a woman mentioned by name six times in the Greek New Testament. I often make the point in these articles that her name is mentioned before her husband’s four of those six times. But this is not the case in the King James Bible: Priscilla’s name is first only three times. Codex Bezae is to blame.
Codex Bezae and the King James Bible
As well as relying on previous English translations, the 1611 edition of the KJV relied on critically edited Greek texts that were “for the most part based on about half a dozen very late manuscripts” (none earlier than the 12th century AD).” These Greek texts included five printed editions of the Greek New Testament by Erasmus, as well as Robert Estienne’s edition (1550) and Theodore Beza’s edition (1598).
Robert Estienne, also known as Stephanas, based his Greek text of the New Testament on the works of Erasmus, but he also used Codex Bezae, a Western text-type manuscript, named after Theodore Beza who had it in his possession for a few years. This book is further known as Codex Cantabrigiensis as Theodore Beza, Calvin’s successor at Geneva, presented it to the University of Cambridge in 1581. More recently, the book has been classified with the symbols Dea and 05.
A Brief Description of Codex Bezae
Codex Bezae is a book that contains the four canonical Gospels and the book of Acts with bits missing, plus twelve lines of 3 John in Latin. Only Luke’s Gospel is complete. Scrivener observes that the book would have originally contained 534 leaves but only 406 survive with 12 of these being mutilated. The Catholic Epistles which were once part of the book are completely lost except for the fragment of 3 John.
The work was produced in the early or mid 400s by a single scribe who wrote in Greek on the left page and put the Latin translation on the right-facing page. The pages are made of fine vellum and measure 10 inches by 8 inches wide. The Greek is written with plain but graceful uncial characters, and the text is generally divided into (unnumbered) verses or stichoi. (Numbering chapters and verses of the Bible came much later.)
Codex Bezae can be viewed online. This page (p. 813), for example, shows Acts 18:2–8a. This page (p. 817) shows Acts 18:17–25a. And this page (p. 819) shows Acts 18:25b–19:4a.
Scrivener’s transcription and introduction can be read on the Internet Archive website.
An English translation of Acts in Codex Bezae is accessible on the Bible Research website. Most, but not all, of the anomalies in the text are highlighted in bold.
Codex Bezae and Anti-Woman Corruptions in Acts
The anonymous scribe who produced Codex Bezae may have had an anti-woman bias, as the prominence of women in the church is downplayed in a few verses in Acts.
Elite Greek Women in Acts 17:12
Several scholars have observed the apparent anti-feminist tendencies of the writer of the Codex Bezae. The reviser represents the western tradition dating back to the second century, and clearly reveals the trend of thought among his contemporaries by rephrasing the received text of Acts 17:12 to read: ‘and many of the Greeks and men and women of high standing believed.’ The smoother reading serves to lessen any importance given women in Luke’s account of the conversion at Berea, and proves to be a typical alteration of Bezae in Acts.
Most Greek manuscripts and English translations, including the KJV, have “honourable women” before “men” in Acts 17:12: “As a result, many of [the Jewish people in Berea] believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men” (NIV).
Damaris in Acts 17:34
Codex Bezae leaves out “a woman named Damaris” entirely in Acts 17:34, see here, but this omission did not affect the KJV. Stephanas and the KJV include Damaris. Damaris was an elite Athenian woman who was converted to Christianity through Paul’s ministry. (I have more on Damaris, here.)
Priscilla in Acts 18:26
In accordance with other ancient manuscripts, Priscilla is correctly mentioned before her husband in Acts 18:18 in Codex Bezae.
In Acts 18:26, however, Aquila’s name is first and Priscilla’s second. Stephanus adopted this reading in his Greek edition, and the KJV also has Aquila’s name first in this verse. Other Greek manuscripts and most English translations have Priscilla’s name first, before her husband’s, in Acts 18:26. Priscilla being named first here is significant considering that the couple are correcting Apollos who was an eloquent teacher visiting Ephesus. (I have more on Priscilla and Aquila, here.)
Aquila in Acts 18:7
Acts 18:7 in most Greek texts begins with a phrase that simply means, “He left there …” This phrase refers to Paul leaving the synagogue in Corinth. Acts 18:7a in Codex Bezae, however, has Paul leaving Aquila (“He left Aquila …”), and there is no mention at all of Priscilla. The interpolation of his name in 18:7 gives Aquila more prominence at the expense of Priscilla.
Aquila’s name was later removed in Codex Bezae with what looks like white out, and the correct word [ΕΚEIΘEN] has been pencilled in. See the fifth line from the bottom on page 813 of Codex Bezae. Scrivener leaves this part of the text blank in his transcription.
(Some English translations of Acts 18:7 add the word “Paul” and “synagogue” to the beginning of Acts 18:7 for clarity, but these words are not represented in Greek texts.)
The Women in the Upper Room in Acts 1:14
In Acts 1:14, there is the addition of “and children” in Codex Bezae “so that women are no longer an independent group but are simply the wives of the apostles.” Thankfully, the KJV, as with other translations, does not include “and children”: “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers” (NIV).
Anti-Jewish Tendencies Too
Eldon Jay Epp, a noted text critic, has observed that the book of Acts in Codex Bezae is about 8% longer than in other ancient Greek manuscripts, and that it has both an anti-woman and an anti-Judaic (anti-Jewish) bias in the variants within the text.
Anti-Women Corruptions in Western Text-Types
Codex Bezae belongs to a family of Greek New Testament manuscripts known as Western text-types, and it’s not just Codex Bezae that seems to display anti-woman corruptions. Joseph A. P. Wilson has created this chart which shows anomalies in Codex Bezae (also known as Dea and Uncial 05) and other Western text-types in verses about prominent women and women speaking.
Dea /Uncial 05 refers to Codex Bezae which does not contain Paul’s letters.
Dp/ 06 = Codex Claromontanus, Fp/ 010 = Codex Augiensis, and Gp/ 012 = Codex Boernerianus.
(The superscript p indicates Paul’s letters; e indicates the Gospels; a indicates Acts.)
An Attempt to Tone Down the Authority of Elite Ascetic Women?
Peter E. Lorenz, who did his doctoral dissertation on Mark’s Gospel in Codex Bezae, proposes that the anti-women verses do not come from earlier exemplars but were written as a reaction against the ecclesial authority of ascetic aristocratic women in Rome around the year 400. Women such as Marcella of Rome were hugely influential in the church.
Lorenz notes that at the end of the fourth century,
… we find a peculiar coincidence between defenders of the so-called “Western” text found in Bezae and anti-ascetic voices, who argued that marriage and child-rearing were to be promoted as equal in merit to “celibacy” and “virginity,” who sought to extend clerical authority over independent female ascetics, and who insisted on male headship as a prerequisite for the realization of the imago dei in women, that is, precisely opinions that we might in hindsight regard as “anti-feminist.” Within two decades preceding Bezae’s transcription in c. 400, writers such as Helvidius, Ambrosiaster, and Jovinian all advocated such opinions, while at the same time arguing the priority of so-called “Western” readings over mainstream Greek readings.
In Codex Bezae, honourable, that is, elite, women are mentioned second, after the men, in Acts 17:12. Damaris, an elite woman, is omitted and she vanishes completely. Priscilla is named second, instead of first, when she and her husband correct Apollos. Aquila’s name is added in Acts 18:7. The women in the upper room are not individuals who left everything to follow Jesus but are seemingly the wives of the men who are present.
Each of the changes in Codex Bezae where women are downplayed may seem insignificant on their own, but many scholars agree that the scribe who made these changes had some anti-woman agenda.
 In more reliable Greek manuscripts, Priscilla/ Prisca and Aquila are mentioned by name, and always as a couple, in these six New Testament verses:
Acts 18:2 (where Aquila’s name is first);
Acts 18:18 (Priscilla first);
Acts 18:26 (Priscilla first);
Romans 16:3 (Prisca first);
1 Corinthians 16:19 (Aquila first);
2 Timothy 4:19 (Prisca first).
 Daniel Wallace, The Conspiracy Behind New Bible Translations at Bible.org.
 Michael Holmes writes more about the Greek texts behind English Bibles on BibleOdyssey.org here.
 F.H. Scrivener, Codex Bezae Cantabrigiensis (Deighton, Bell and Co.: Cambridge, 1864), xiv–xv.
 More information about Codex Bezae is on the University of Cambridge website. Much more information is in F.H. Scrivener’s work on Codex Bezae published in 1864 which can be read at Internet Archive.
 It is sometimes noted that there are fewer irregularities in verses in the Gospels in Codex Bezae that mention women. (A note about Salome missing in Mark 16:1 is in a postscript here.) The stories in Acts are about the church. If the scribe of Bezae had an issue with prominent women in the church in the early 400s, as Lorenz proposes, there may have been the temptation to tweak verses in stories in Acts but not in the pre-church stories in the Gospels.
 Lesly Massey, Women and the New Testament: An Analysis of Scripture in the Light of New Testament Era Culture (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 1989), 46–47.
 Another anomaly with the couple is found in some Western texts that contain 1 Corinthians 16:19b.
An English translation of what most Greek texts say is, “Aquila and Priscilla greet you profusely in the Lord, along with the church that meets in their home.” But several Western texts add on an extra phrase: with whom also I am lodging (παρʼ οἷς καὶ ξενίζομαι).”
Metzger notes that these Western texts—the Greek-Latin bilingual uncials D, F, and G, the Gothic translation of the NT, and Pelagius’s writing—add this “lodging” phrase, or the almost identical, παρʼ οὓς καὶ ξενίζομαι.
Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd Edition, (Stuttgart: German Bible Society, 1994), 503.
See, for example, 1 Corinthians 16:19 at the top of the page (folio 184 v; f354) in Codex Claromontanus (G, 06).
In these Western texts, Aquila and Priscilla are still hosts of a house church in Asia (probably Ephesus), but with Paul in the picture, it is less obvious that the couple are also the leaders of the house church. Nevertheless, it’s possible they were hosts of the house church and of Paul.
The Vulgate includes the added phrase where Paul says he is a guest of the couple: “Salutant vos in Domino multum, Aquila et Priscilla cum domestica sua ecclesia: apud quos et hospitor” (1 Cor. 16:19).
I briefly discuss a variant in Romans 16:7 (Andronicus and Junia) in Western texts in a footnote, here.
 Ben Witherington, “Anti-Feminist Tendencies of the ‘Western’ Text in Acts,” Journal of Biblical Literature 103 (1984): 82–83, 82. Thankfully, the KJV translators rejected this addition.
 See E.J. Epp, The Theological Tendency of Codex Bezae Cantabrigiensis in Acts (SNTSMS 3: Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1966). And his newer work, “Anti-Judaic Tendencies in the D-Text of Acts: Forty Years of Conversation” in The Book of Acts as Church History: Text, Textual Traditions and Ancient Interpretations, ed. Tobias Nicklas and Michael Till (BZNW 120; Berlin and New York: de Gruyter, 2003), 111–146.
 The chart, used with permission, is taken from Joseph A. P. Wilson’s paper, “Recasting Paul as a Chauvinist within the Western Text-Type Manuscript Tradition: Implications for the Authorship Debate on 1 Corinthians 14.34–35,” Religions 13.5 (2022). The paper is freely available online here.
 Peter Lorenz, “The ascetic choices of Rome’s aristocratic women and ecclesiastical authority in late fourth-century Rome: A proposed background for Codex Bezae’s so-called ‘anti-feminist’ readings in Acts.” This paper was presented at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in San Antonio, Texas, on November 20, 2016. It is freely accessible on Academia.edu.
© Margaret Mowczko 2023
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Photo is of Codex Bezae. (The original 1600-year-old pages of the codex have been rebound.)
Richard G. Fellow’s paper, “Early Sexist Textual Variants, and Claims That Prisca, Junia, and Julia Were Men,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 84.2 (April, 2022): 252–278, can be read on his website Paul’s Co-workers.
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