Where Did Those Verses Go?
A woman recently wrote:
“Dear Watch Tower Society,
In studying the Bible I came across some verses that are left out but that are in the King James Version, such as Matthew 18:11; 23:14; Luke 17:36. No one that I asked could explain why they are missing. Could you clear it up for me?
Do you not agree that this was a valid request? The book of Revelation warns: “If anyone takes anything away from the words of the scroll of this prophecy, God will take his portion away from the trees of life.” Yes, removing a true part of the Bible would be a serious matter. (Rev. 22:19) But had this happened? Let us see.
Some verses were missing from the Bible translation that this woman was using, but which version was it? It could have been any of a number of recent versions. For example, these verses are not in the Common Bible (an ecumenical edition for Catholics and Protestants), The New English Bible, the New World Translation used by Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Catholic Jerusalem Bible, to name a few.
Do you know why these verses are omitted? You might wonder, ‘Is my Bible lacking something?’
In a word, the answer is No. These verses actually do not belong in the Bible even though many older translations included them. For some persons it may seem shocking to hear that certain words, phrases and even whole verses appearing in widely used Bibles are not authentic. So, some explanation is in order.
At the outset let us assure you that there is abundant evidence showing that the text of the Bible is reliable. It is, for instance, far more reliable and accurate than accepted writings of Tacitus, Thucydides or Herodotus.
The evidence consists of many thousands of ancient Greek manuscripts that can be checked to prove that the basic text of your Bible is precisely what was originally written. The most ancient of these manuscripts also provide the solid reason for the omission of certain words, expressions and verses from more recent translations. It is most interesting to examine that reason.
As you may be aware, the originals of the “New Testament” books (the Christian Greek Scriptures) are not available today for use by translators. No one has discovered a Bible book “autographed,” as it were, by the apostles Paul, John, or others. Yet it is evident that soon after the originals were written, copies began to be made for use by the early Christians.
The copyists generally used extreme care to make sure that their work exactly duplicated the originals. Many proofreaders today exercise similar care. But you likely have seen that in modern newspapers and books typographical errors do occur, such as a misspelling of a word or an omitting or the repeating of a line. If such small misprints occur despite our present technical advances, you can appreciate that they could occur when entire Bible books were being copied by hand. The later copies, those farthest from the originals, tended to have more mistakes.
Consider how this might develop. A scribe who was very familiar with Matthew’s Gospel might, when copying the Gospel of Mark or Luke, tend to use the wording he knew so well from Matthew. Or, he might note that a sentence Matthew used was not in Mark’s or Luke’s parallel account. So he might add the sentence in the margin. A later copyist, however, might move that sentence into the main text of Mark or Luke, believing it to have been there originally since it made the accounts agree more closely. For example, in Luke’s account of the Lord’s Prayer some manuscripts add “Let your will take place, as in heaven, also upon earth.” Yet, the weight of evidence suggests that this was interpolated from Matthew’s account, and it is omitted from Luke 11:2 in modern translations of the Bible. (Matt. 6:10) As you can see, such sincerely motivated scribal harmonizations tended to add material.
Now let us move our attention down to the 16th century, just before some of the more widely known English translations were made. The invention of printing from movable type permitted the making of books in quantity and more cheaply, and it stimulated interest in the Bible. Rather than have the Scriptures only in the Latin translations long used in the Roman Church, scholars began to clamor for copies in Greek, the language in which the “New Testament” was written. In 1515 a Swiss printer, sensing a fine business opportunity, sent word to Desiderius Erasmus, a leading Dutch scholar, asking him to rush through for printing a copy of the “New Testament” in Greek.
Herbert Dennett’s Graphic Guide to Modern Versions of the New Testament explains what happened:
“The task, however, was undertaken at short notice, and executed in haste. Erasmus used but half a dozen manuscripts, only one of which was moderately old and reliable. None of his manuscripts contained the whole of the New Testament, and some verses which were not in any of them were actually retranslated by Erasmus [back] into Greek from the Latin. This published text was later revised with the help of a few further manuscripts, but the result affected the work but little.”—P. 119.
Now why should you be particularly interested in this seeming footnote in scholastic history? What difference could it make to us today that Erasmus’ text of 1516 was based ‘chiefly on two inferior twelfth-century manuscripts,’ as one professor recently put it?
The reason that this is significant is that basically Erasmus’ Greek text led directly to what has become known as the “received text” (textus receptus). From this text many translations were made, including the King James or Authorized Version. But Sir Frederic Kenyon made this observation about the “received text”:
“The result is that the text accepted in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, to which we have clung from a natural reluctance to change the words which we have learnt as those of the Word of God, is in truth full of inaccuracies, many of which can be corrected with absolute certainty from the vastly wider information which is at our disposal today.”—Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts, p. 162.
REFINING THE TEXT
In the 16th century, Erasmus had only a few late Greek manuscripts from which to work. But this has not been the case in the 19th and 20th centuries. During this period thousands of ancient Greek manuscripts and fragments have been discovered. By 1973, the total of known Greek handwritten manuscripts was 5,338, and more keep coming to light. A number of the major Bible manuscripts in Greek, such as the Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Vaticanus, go back to the 4th century. Some are even much older. For example, a fragment of John’s Gospel dates back to about 125 C.E.
As the trickle of newly discovered ancient Greek manuscripts turned into a virtual flood, scholars were able to compare them critically. This textual criticism should not be confused with “higher criticism,” which tends to lessen respect for the Bible as the Word of God. Textual criticism involves a careful comparison of all known manuscripts of the Bible in order to determine the true or original reading, eliminating any additions.
To illustrate how this works, imagine what would happen if you asked 200 persons to make a handwritten copy of a longhand manuscript. Most of them would make errors, some minor and others more significant. But they would not all make the identical mistakes. If, then, an alert individual took all 200 copies and compared them, he could isolate the errors. An error in one or two would show up because it would not be in the other 198 having the correct reading. Thus, with effort he could come up with an exact script of the original document even if he never saw it.
Though others had previously worked at thus refining the text of the “New Testament,” in the late 19th century two Cambridge scholars, B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort, produced a refined text that has been widely accepted. It was published in 1881; yet a professor recently said:
“Westcott and Hort did their work so thoroughly and with such exceptional skill that textual work since then has been either in reaction to or in implementation of theirs. . . . What is significant is that even those who tended to disagree with Westcott and Hort’s [method] published Greek texts that differed very little from theirs.”—Christianity Today, June 22, 1973, p. 8.
This refined text by Westcott and Hort has been used as a basic text for a number of recent translations, including the New World Translation.
SOME “MISSING” VERSES
With the above information as a background, we are in a better position to examine some of the verses that at first might have appeared to be missing from recent Bible translations.
We mentioned earlier that a scribe might add from elsewhere a sentence or verse to an account that he was copying. You can readily see that in Mark 9:43-48. In many newer versions Mr 9 verses 44 and 46 are omitted, sometimes with a dash being added to indicate the omission, as in the New World Translation. The text of those two verses reads, “where their maggot does not die and the fire is not put out,” exactly the same as in Mr 9 verse 48. Whereas some Greek manuscripts contain Mr 9 verses 44 and 46, a number of older, authoritative manuscripts do not. The evidence suggests that a scribe or scribes merely repeated Mr 9 verse 48, perhaps even by accident. So omitting Mr 9 verses 44 and 46 from a modern Bible in no way involves leaving out part of God’s Word, for the same sentence is there in Mr 9 verse 48 of the same account. But what is accomplished by omitting the two doubtful verses? The account is refined and set forth as Mark was inspired to write it.
In other instances the “missing verses” evidently have come from other Bible books. Some editions of the Bible help the reader to see this, for they print in a footnote the text of the omitted verse, such as was done in certain large-print editions of the New World Translation. If you do not have this aid, you can compare your modern Bible with the King James Version or a similar older translation. By such a comparison you can confirm for yourself that what is omitted may be just a verse repeated from another place or book.a For example, note Romans 16:24 and compare it with Ro 16 verse 20 and concluding passages in almost any of the books written by the apostle Paul. You will see that, at Romans 16:24, some copyist evidently added a closing expression such as Paul included in almost all of his books.b
Perhaps the most controversial passage that has been taken out of recent translations that are faithful to ancient manuscript evidence is part of 1 John 5:7. In the past, this text was often appealed to in support of the unscriptural Trinity doctrine. Regarding the spurious passage, the Catholic Jerusalem Bible says:
“The words in italics [in heaven: the Father the Word and the Spirit, and these three are one; and there are three witnesses on earth:] (not in any of the early Greek MSS, or any of the early translations, or in the best MSS of the Vulg[ate] itself) are probably a gloss that has crept into the text.”
Because this verse comes from a period that is so much later than the time of the Bible writing and its nature is so clearly spurious, many modern translations do not even treat it as they do other omitted verses.
Finally, we can mention a couple of longer portions of the Bible where the manuscript evidence seem to scholars to be inconclusive. The ending of the book of Mark, from Mr 16 verse 9 on, is one of these. Another is John 7:53–8:11, about the woman caught in adultery who came to Jesus. This account first appeared in some Old Latin versions, and, in later Greek manuscripts, it is in three other locations in the Gospels. In many translations these two portions are included but separated from the main text, such as by being put in brackets or being set in smaller type.
TRUSTING THE BIBLE
This consideration of some isolated verses that clearly are no part of the inspired Bible should not leave anyone with doubts about the authenticity of God’s Word. Rather than undermining confidence in the Scriptures, it should serve to underscore the fact that God has preserved his Word in a remarkably pure state.
After his thorough investigation, scholar F. J. A. Hort reached this conclusion:
“It is not superfluous therefore to state explicitly that the great bulk of the words of the New Testament stand out above all discriminative processes of criticism, because they are free from variation, and need only to be transcribed. . . . The whole area of variation between readings that have ever been admitted, or are likely to be ever admitted, into any printed texts is comparatively small; and a large part of it is due merely to differences between the early uncritical editions and the texts formed within the last half-century with the help of the priceless documentary evidence brought to light in recent times.”
“In the variety and fullness of the evidence on which it rests the text of the New Testament stands absolutely and unapproachably alone among ancient prose writings.”
Sir Frederic Kenyon was in full agreement, stating:
“It is reassuring at the end to find that the general result of all these discoveries and all this study is to strengthen the proof of the authenticity of the Scriptures, and our conviction that we have in our hands, in substantial integrity, the veritable Word of God.”
a Compare Matt. 18:11—Luke 19:10; Matt. 23:14—Mark 12:40—Luke 20:47; Mark 7:16—Mark 4:9, 23—Luke 8:8; Mark 11:26—Matt. 6:14; Mark 15:28—Luke 23:37; Luke 17:36—Matt. 24:40; Luke 23:17—Matt. 27:15—Mark 15:6.