Maybe you’ve seen the urgent Facebook posts – “PAY ATTENTION PEOPLE” one begins – about the “missing” verses in the NIV and other newer Bible translations. Supposedly, 45 verses have been removed and this is some sort of evil plot to “change the Bible.”
One of my parishoniers forwarded such a post to me and asked me about it. Here’s my reply, edited for blog publication:
It is true that those verses do not appear in the text of the NIV, ESV, and other modern translations. There doesnt seem to be any plot to hide them though, or if there is they aren’t very good at it – Most of the verses are there in footnotes that begin “Some manuscripts . . . ” before printing the “missing” verse.
Don’t worry, this is no conspiracy to edit the Bible!
The BIble was divided into verses by a printer named Robert Stephanus in the mid-1500’s.
Those verse divisions became standard and were used in the King James BIble, published in 1611.
The translators of the King James Bible used Hebrew (OT) and Greek (NT) texts that were considered the most accurate at the time. This included all the verses Stephanus had numbered.
Since 1611 (400 years!) many earlier manuscripts of the Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament have been found. This is oversimplifying, but scholars generally consider older manuscripts to be closer to the original because they haven’t been copied and recopied as much. Of course we don’t have the orignal manuscripts of any of the Bible, so we are always relying on copies.
There is no “original Bible” that we can go to and resolve the differences between manuscripts.
Those older manuscripts don’t have the verses that have been deleted from the newer translations. Most likely, they were added by copiests during the intervening centuries. Some of them are because, for example, Mark and Matthew tell the same story, and Mark may have a verse that doesn’t appear in Matthew; somewhere along the way a copiest added the Mark verse to the Matthew account.
An example of this is the “missing” verse Matthew 17:21 – it is a duplicate of Mark 9:29 which is still there. Again, if this is a conspiracy, it is not a very good one because they forgot to erase the verse in Mark!
There are some Christians who are “King James only.” I believe they are misguided and unaware of the advances that have been made in translating the Bible since 1611. Not only have older manuscripts of Scripture been found, but also other ancient Greek and Hebrew writing that helps us to understand how to better translate the original words into English. That helps to explain what some claim to be suspicious changes in wording in new translations. Remember, not only has the understanding of ancient Greek improved, but the English language itself has also changed a lot since 1611!
Also, if you look up the “missing” verses, you’ll see that none of them substantially change our theological understanding. If someone were trying to change the Bible with nefarious intent, there are many other verses they could have taken out to really mess things up.
In summary, this is much ado about nothing.
FYI, Here’s a list of the “missing” verses cited in the post forwarded to me: Matthew 17:21, 18:11, 23:14; Mark 7:16, 9:44, 9:46; Luke 17:36, 23:17; John 5:4; Acts 8:37
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