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Guest Post: Ph.D. Defense of “The Text of the Acts of the Apostles in the Writings of Origen”


(The image is the Greek text of Acts 1:15-2:14, from a nineteenth-century facsimile of Codex Vaticanus, available on the site of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts, The original fourth-century manuscript is located in the Vatican Library.)

By Adam Harwood:

Recently, I observed the defense of a Ph.D. dissertation in New Testament at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS), where I am a professor. I did not serve on this student’s committee, but sat in on the defense due to my interest in the research. After witnessing the presentation and defense of his dissertation, I invited the student to submit a description of his research as a guest post on this blog.

The student is Stanley N. Helton, Senior Minister at First Christian Church, in Hammond, Louisiana. Stan holds a BA (Oklahoma Christian University), MS, MDiv, DMin (Abilene Christian University), and ThM (NOBTS). Stan is a member of: Society of Biblical Literature, North American Patristic Society, Stone-Campbell Scholars Community, and Disciples of Christ Historical Society. He is married to Patricia and they have one child, Rachel.

Before Stan summarizes his research, I will describe the work leading up to a Ph.D. defense. The defense of a Ph.D. dissertation is the culmination of years of work. After completing a master’s degree and gaining entrance into a Ph.D. program, students must complete years of seminar work, which involves reading and reviewing stacks of books and presenting and defending lengthy research papers in each seminar. In order to successfully complete this stage, many programs also require students to pass an oral examination, which is conducted by their professors to test the students’ knowledge of their field of study. After 2-3 years and reading and writing in the seminar stage, students enter the dissertation stage. In consultation with their professors, students will draft a proposal for research in their field which contributes original research to the field. Proposals which pass committee review go forward. At this point, students begin to write their dissertation. They will check in periodically with their committee chairperson, but the burden for research and writing falls on the students. Writing a dissertation can require several months—perhaps years. After writing their dissertation, students must then present and defend it before their committee of professors. The total invest of time in a Ph.D. program varies, but it can require 3-7 years.

By Stanley N. Helton:

On October 24, I defended my Ph.D. dissertation titled “The Text of the Acts of the Apostles in the Writings of Origen.” This text-critical project follows the basic protocols as developed in the Society of Biblical Literature’s New Testament in the Greek Fathers series.

The purpose of this dissertation was to ascertain the textual identity of the text of Acts as used by the church father Origen. I framed my dissertation around a thesis and a working hypothesis, which in the case of this research proved to be incorrect.

The thesis advanced in this research was that an analysis and evaluation of Origen’s citations and allusions of Acts can provide the basis for reconstructing and analyzing Origen’s text of Acts and thereby locating his text of Acts within the history of the transmission of the New Testament.

The working hypothesis was that Origen’s text of Acts was most akin to the text found in MS 1739 with intermittent Western readings and a few Byzantine readings. The assumptions of previous scholars—such as Kirsopp Lake, Silva New, James H. Ropes, and others—suggested this hypothesis.

The dissertation contained an introduction, 5 chapters, a conclusion, and 6 appendices. The table of contents follows:




Chapter 1 begins with Origen himself. Reconstructing the life of Origen is an essential task for placing this research within its proper historical context. Thus, in this first chapter, the sources and scholarly concerns about those sources are examined before presenting a history of Origen. This history focuses on Origen’s relationship to his books and especially NT manuscripts (MSS). Careful attention is given to Origen’s own production of books, particularly those works that gave substantial materials for the present research.

Chapter 2 presents the state of research regarding. First, the scholarly quest for Origen’s text of the NT is presented. Second, a more focused concentration on the quest for Origen’s text of Acts is explored. In the context of this latter focus on the quest for Origen’s text of Acts, a summary on the current state of studies on the text of Acts is presented.

Chapter 3 is devoted to methodology, which follows closely on the heels of the state of research, since the methodology grew out of the history of research. The text-critical methodology used here has been developed and refined by such notable scholars as Ernst Colwell, Gordon Fee, and Bart Ehrman. Perhaps the most influential here is Fee, who has worked out a clear procedure for gathering, presenting, evaluating, and using the evidence for the NT text from the church fathers.

Chapter 4 presents the raw data for reconstructing Origen’s text of Acts. Following this presentation, this chapter offers a “reconstituted” text of Origen’s Acts of the Apostles extracted from the raw data. The chapter concludes with full textual apparatus comparing Origen’s text against NT MSS as presented in the Haggard Center for New Testament Textual Studies Critical Apparatus.

Chapter 5 presents the analysis and results from a Quantitative Analysis (QA) used to compare Origen’s text of Acts against the various representative MSS of known textual affinities. To a degree, the quantity of data and nature of that data controlled the information included here.

A concluding chapter revisits the working hypothesis and offers a correction to it. The results of this research demonstrated that Origen’s Text of Acts is most akin to Codex Vaticanus (B03), following closely other Primary Alexandrians, P74 and ℵ01, with no distinct Western readings (in the Greek evidence). Origen, in some cases, showed knowledge of readings that reappear later in some Secondary Alexandrian and Byzantine manuscripts.

Various appendices make the information discovered more useful to those who use the standards tools of text critical research.

Appendix 1: Textual Basis of Origen’s Greek Writings. Each of Origen’s works were transmitted in the same way that NT MSS were transmitted. Therefore, knowing something of the history of transmission of Origen’s writings is essential to using the critical editions of Origen’s works.

Appendix 2: Origen’s Text of Acts from Alexandria. This appendix contains all of the raw data for reconstructing Origen’s text of Acts as he would have experienced that text before his move to Caesarea.

Appendix 3: Origen in NA28 and UBS4/5. This appendix offers suggestions, corrections, and confirmations to readings related to Origen as found in the critical apparatus of these editions of the Greek NT.

Appendix 4: Significant Variation Units. This appendix lists the significant variants used in the QA for ascertaining the textual affinity of Origen’s text of Acts.

Appendix 5: Corrections to Biblia Patristica. Similar to Appendix 3, this appendix offers corrections to the listing for citations of Acts in Origen as found in Biblia Patristica.

Appendix 6: Complete Data Set. I consider this the most important appendix. One can find within it all the evidence from Origen (Greek, Latin, Catenae, and dubious texts), for his text of Acts in a verse-by-verse format.

Finally, an extensive selected bibliography lists the critical texts of Origen’s writings, sources for Origen’s life, and other works pertinent to the topics of this dissertation.

Stan anticipates receiving his Ph.D. in New Testament at NOBTS in December of 2014, and can be reached at: DrStanFCC (at)


  1. Thomas H. Olbrichtr Thomas H. Olbrichtr


    Impressive, detailed work. Congratulations Stan!

    Thomas H. Olbricht

    • snhelton snhelton

      Thanks, Tom!

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