Why Is It Missing from the New World Translation?
WHY are certain words, phrases and even whole sentences that appear in the Authorized or King James Version missing from the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures?” That is a question not a few Bible lovers have put to the publishers of the New World Translation. A question, let it be noted, that has sole reference to the so-called “New Testament” or Christian Greek Scripture part of the Bible.
Typical are the following examples taken from the King James Version in which the italicized words do not appear in the New World Translation: “Whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.” “No man hath ascended up to heaven, but . . . the Son of man which is in heaven.” “Charity . . . is not easily provoked.” “Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.”—Matt. 5:22; John 3:13; 1 Cor. 13:4, 5; Matt. 17:21, AV.
Why are such expressions missing from the New World Translation? In brief, it is because they appeared in the “Received Text” upon which the King James Version is based, but not in the Westcott and Hort text upon which the New World Translation is based; both of which texts, incidentally, are in the original Greek.
The questions naturally follow: What is the origin of the Received Text? Why has it been replaced by the Westcott and Hort text? And why is it that omissions rather than additions appear to distinguish the later from the earlier text? These answers will prove not only of interest but also strengthening to our faith, for they will reveal what conscientious, thoroughgoing skill and labor were involved in the preparation of the text used as a basis for the New World Translation.
As students of the Bible well know, the original writings of the Bible books have long been lost. Apparently these disappeared not long after their being written and circulated, for none of the early church overseers of the second or the third century mention having seen any of them. What we have today are at best only copies of copies of the original autographs. As time went on the very language in which these were written, Greek, became a dead one as far as Roman Catholic-dominated Western Europe was concerned. However, with the fall of Constantinople to the Turks A.D. 1453, many Greek scholars and their manuscripts were scattered abroad, resulting in a revival of Greek in the Western citadels of learning.
Some fifty years after this, or early in the sixteenth century, Ximenes, archbishop of Toledo, Spain, a man of unusual ability and integrity, invited leading scholars of his country to his university at Alcalá to produce a multiple-language Bible—for the educated, not for the common people. The result was the Polyglot, named Complutensian after the Latin equivalent of Alcalá. It was a Bible of six large volumes, beautifully bound, containing the Hebrew Scriptures in four languages and the Christian Greek Scriptures in two. For the Christian Greek Scriptures these scholars had but few manuscripts at their disposal, and those of late origin, even though they were supposed to have access to the Vatican library. This Bible was completed in 1514 but was not approved by the pope until 1520 and was first released to the public in 1522.
THE “RECEIVED TEXT”
One who learned of the completion of this Bible and of its awaiting the approval of the pope was Froben, a printer in Basel, Switzerland. Seeing an opportunity for making profits, he at once sent word to Erasmus, who was the leading European scholar of the day and whose works he published in Latin, begging him to rush through a Greek “New Testament.” This Erasmus obligingly did in six months. In fact, Erasmus was in such haste he rushed the manuscript containing the Gospels to the printer without first editing it, making such changes as he felt necessary on the proof sheets. Because of this great haste the work also contained many typographical errors, Erasmus himself admitting in its preface that it was “rushed through rather than edited.” The first edition appeared in 1516, and corrected and slightly improved editions appeared in 1519, 1522, 1527 and 1535.
These editions, we are told, proved to be a brilliant success, a literary sensation. They were low in cost, and the first two editions totaled 3,300 copies, as compared with 600 copies of the large and costly six-volume Polyglot Bible. In the preface of his editions Erasmus also stated: “I vehemently dissent from those who would not have private persons read the Holy Scriptures, nor have them translated into the vulgar tongues.” He may have “vehemently dissented,” but still Erasmus left it up to others to incur the displeasure of his church by translating the Bible as well as his own works into the vulgar tongue.
Luther used Erasmus’ 1519 edition for his German translation, and Tyndale the 1522 edition for his English translation. The editions of Erasmus also were the basis for further Greek editions by others, such as the four published by one Stephanus (Stephens). According to most historians, the third of these, published by Stephanus, in 1550, became the Received Text of Britain and the basis of the King James Version. However, others hold, and with apparently stronger evidence, that one of Beza’s editions, that of 1589, became the English Received Text.
The editions of Theodore Beza were the next to appear and were obviously based on an Erasmian text. They did not even vary as much as might be expected from those of Erasmus, seeing that Beza was a Protestant Bible scholar and possessor of two important Greek Scripture manuscripts of the sixth century, the D and D2, the first of which contains the Gospels and Acts and the second the Pauline letters. Next followed the Dutch Elzevir editions, which were practically the same as those of the Erasmian-influenced Beza text. In the second of the seven of these, published in 1633, appeared the statement (in Latin): “You therefore now have the text accepted by everybody.” This edition became the Textus Receptus or the Received Text on the Continent. It appears that this victory was in no small way due to the beauty and convenient size of the Elzevir editions.
Except for like practical consideration the editions of Erasmus had little to recommend them, for he had access to but five (some say eight) Greek manuscripts of comparatively late origin, and none of these were of the complete Christian Scriptures. Rather, these consisted of one or more sections into which the Greek Scriptures were generally divided: (1) the Gospels; (2) Acts and the general letters (James through Jude); (3) the letters of Paul; (4) Revelation. In fact, of the some 4,000 Greek Scripture manuscripts only about fifty are complete.
Thus Erasmus had only one copy of Revelation. It being incomplete, he simply retranslated the missing verses from the Latin Vulgate back into Greek. He even repeatedly brought his Greek text in line with the Latin Vulgate, this accounting for the fact that there are some twenty readings in his Greek text not found in any Greek manuscript. And after leaving out 1 John 5:7 from his first two editions he inserted this spurious text upon dubious authority, apparently as a matter of policy, being pressured to do so by Stunica, the editor of the Complutensian Polyglot Bible.
DETHRONING THE RECEIVED TEXT
For some two hundred years Greek Bible scholars were in bondage to the Erasmian-oriented Received Text. As they became acquainted with older and more accurate manuscripts and noticed the flaws in the Received Text, rather than to change that text they would publish their findings in introductions, margins and footnotes of their editions. As late as 1734, J. A. Bengle of Tübingen, Germany, apologized for again printing the Received Text, doing so only “because he could not publish a text of his own. Neither the publisher nor the public would have stood for it,” he complained.
The first one to incorporate his findings in the text itself was the scholar Griesbach. His chief edition appeared in two volumes, the first in 1796 and the second in 1806. Still Griesbach did not fully break away from the Received Text. The first one fully to get out from under its influence was Lachmann, professor of ancient classical languages at Berlin University. In 1831 he published his edition of the Christian Greek Scriptures without any regard to the Received Text. As one authority expressed it: Lachmann “was the first to found a text wholly on ancient evidence; and . . . did much toward breaking down the superstitious reverence for the textus receptus.”
Following Lachmann came Constantine Tischendorf, best known for his discovery of the famed Sinaitic Manuscript, the only Greek uncial (large type) manuscript containing the complete Christian Greek Scriptures. Tischendorf did more than any other scholar to edit and make available the evidence contained in leading as well as lesser uncial manuscripts. During the time Tischendorf was making his valuable contributions to the science of textual criticism in Germany, one Tregelles in England made other valuable contributions. Among other things, he was able to demonstrate his theory of “Comparative Criticism,” that the age of a text may not necessarily be that of its manuscript, since it may be a faithful copy of an earlier text. His text was used by J. B. Rotherham for the Christian Greek Scriptures of his version. The fact that Tischendorf and Tregelles were stout champions of the divine inspiration of the Scriptures doubtless had much to do with the fruitfulness of their labors.
THE WESTCOTT AND HORT TEXT
The same was also true of their immediate successors, the two English scholars B. F. Westcott and F. J. Hort, upon whose text the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures is based. They began their work in 1853 and completed it in 1881, working for twenty-eight years independently of each other, yet regularly comparing notes. As one scholar expressed it, they “gathered up in themselves all that was most valuable in the work of their predecessors.” They took every conceivable factor into consideration in endeavoring to solve the difficulties that conflicting texts presented, and when two readings had equal weight they indicated that in their text. They stressed that “knowledge of documents should precede final judgment upon readings” and that “all trustworthy restoration of corrupted texts is founded on the study of their history.” They followed Griesbach in dividing manuscripts into families, stressing the importance of manuscript genealogy. They also gave due weight to internal evidence, “intrinsic probability” and “transcriptional probability,” that is, what the original writer most likely wrote and wherein a copyist may most likely have made a mistake.
They leaned heavily on the “neutral” family of texts, which included the famed fourth-century vellum Vatican and Sinaitic manuscripts. They considered it quite conclusive when these two manuscripts agreed, especially when supported by other ancient uncial manuscripts. However, they were not blindly bound to the Vatican manuscript as some have claimed, for by weighing all the factors they time and again concluded that certain minor interpolations had crept into the neutral text that were not found in the group more given to interpolations and paraphrasing, such as the Western family of manuscripts. Thus Goodspeed shows that Westcott and Hort departed from the Vatican manuscript seven hundred times in the Gospels alone.
The text of Westcott and Hort was acclaimed by critics world-wide and, although produced eighty years ago, is still the standard. Well has it been termed “epoch-making in the literal sense of the word,” and “the most important contribution to the scientific criticism of the New Testament text which has yet been made,” excelling all others “in regard to method and extraordinary accuracy.” Of it Goodspeed, in his preface to An American Translation, states: “I have closely followed the Greek text of Westcott and Hort, now generally accepted. Every scholar knows its superiority to the late and faulty texts from which the early English translations from Tyndale to the AV were made.”
In view of the foregoing it can clearly be seen why the New World Bible Translation Committee chose to use the Westcott and Hort text rather than any Received Text of two to three centuries before. There remains but the question, Why is it that omissions rather than additions appear to distinguish the later text from the earlier one?
Because, contrary to what might generally be expected, copyists were prone to add, to elaborate and to paraphrase, rather than to leave out things. Thus we find that the most dependable text is at once the most severe, the most condensed. Of the various places in which the Received Text differs from the Vatican manuscript, 2,877 are instances of additions. Of course, if one is first acquainted with the Received Text, these would appear as omissions.
In conclusion, let it be noted that Jehovah God could have performed a continuous miracle, either by preserving the original autographs or by keeping their copies free from transcribers’ errors, but he did not choose to do so. Rather, he saw fit to guide matters by his providence in such a way that with comparatively few exceptions these errors are inconsequential, consisting mostly of errors in spelling, transposition of words or the use of synonyms.
Truly the foregoing facts serve to strengthen our faith in the authenticity and general integrity of the Christian Greek Scriptures. They indeed have, to quote Professor Kenyon, “come down to us substantially as they were written.” And all this is especially true of the Westcott and Hort text upon which the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures is based.