Is My Bible Complete?
TO BE complete, a Bible should correspond as closely as possible to the original manuscripts and thus contain everything that is “inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness.” (2 Tim. 3:16) But you may wonder, How can I be sure that my Bible meets these requirements?
As you may have noticed, a number of Bible versions contain such “deuterocanonical” or “apocryphal” books as Tobit (Tobias), Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, and 1 and 2 Maccabees. Does this mean that such Bible versions are complete, whereas translations from which deuterocanonical books have been left out are incomplete? If such books were indeed part of the inspired Scriptures, their omission would make a Bible incomplete. But are they?
There is clear evidence that these apocryphal books were not recognized as part of the inspired Scriptures when the Christian congregation was established. At that time the Hebrew Scripture canon had already been fixed and did not include any apocryphal books. The first-century Jewish historian Josephus wrote: “There are not with us myriads of books, discordant and discrepant, but only two and twenty [the equivalent of the thirty-nine books of the Hebrew Scriptures according to modern division], comprising the history of all time, which are justly accredited.” Expressing an awareness regarding the existence of apocryphal books, he continues: “From the time of Artaxerxes up to our own everything has been recorded, but the records have not been accounted equally worthy of credit with those written before them, because the exact succession of prophets ceased.”—Against Apion, Book I, par. 8 (according to the translation in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. 1, p. 163).
Noteworthy, too, is the observation of the learned Jerome, translator of the Latin Vulgate. In his Prologus Galeatus to the Vulgate, he lists the inspired books of the Hebrew Scriptures in harmony with the Hebrew canon (in which the thirty-nine books are grouped as twenty-two) and then says: “Thus there are twenty-two books . . . This prologue of the Scriptures can serve as a fortified approach to all the books which we translate from the Hebrew into Latin; so that we may know that whatever is beyond these must be put in the apocrypha.” Writing to a lady named Lœta on the education of her daughter, Jerome advised: “All apocryphal books should be avoided; but if she ever wishes to read them, not to establish the truth of doctrines, but with a reverential feeling for the truths they signify, she should be told that they are not the works of the authors by whose names they are distinguished, that they contain much that is faulty, and that it is a task requiring great prudence to find gold in the midst of clay.”
The apocryphal books manifestly were no part of the inspired Scriptures and were clearly not recognized as such in the early centuries of our Common Era. Their omission from a translation of the Bible, therefore, does not make that version incomplete.
Another factor that might raise questions about the completeness of one’s Bible is that certain words, phrases and even entire verses found in some older translations do not appear in many modern translations. For example, note the following quotations from the Authorized or King James Version: “For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.” (Matt. 18:11) “For of necessity he must release one unto them at the feast.” (Luke 23:17) “There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.” (1 John 5:7) If you were to look these passages up in such modern versions as The New American Bible (Catholic), The New English Bible, An American Translation, The Jerusalem Bible (Catholic) and the New World Translation, you would not be able to find the first two quotations and the italicized portion of the third. Why?
Biblical scholarship has brought to light that these words were manifestly never a part of the original manuscripts. These statements are missing from ancient manuscripts dating back as far as the fourth century. Contrary to what might be expected, copyists were more prone to add than to leave things out. This is evident from the fact that the oldest and most reliable Bible manuscripts are the most condensed. So if you cannot locate certain words or texts in a modern translation, you need not be alarmed. Such modern translation of the Bible may be closer to the original than an older version, the translators of which did not even have available to them such valuable fourth-century manuscripts as Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus.