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About Those “Missing Verses”

A few days ago on Facebook, concern was expressed over “missing verses” in modern Bible translations. The following is my response. (It was a quick response. I will happily accept correction* if I have erred in any of the details or omitted any indispensible facts. The general point, however, stands.)

I’m glad to see you thinking about this. I considered the same questions myself, probably at about your age. These are important issues, and we need to have good answers for them. I think it’s very unfortunate that most Christians don’t give them much, if any, thought.

The question I eventually had to ask, and that you should be asking, is, How do I know these “missing” verses are actually missing? How do I know they aren’t actually additions to the text? Isn’t adding to Scripture is just as bad as subtracting from it?

The answer is found in the science of textual criticism (TC), the process by which scholars judge the authenticity and accuracy of texts. Some of what you might have heard or read from “King James Only” (KJVO) advocates probably dismisses TC as an ungodly practice, but that fails to recognize the fact that the KJV is also a product of TC (KJVO proponents are, in general, very poor scholars, no matter how many honorary “doctorates” they boast, many scoffing at the legitimacy of scholarship itself). Dismissing TC fails to understand how we got the texts and translations we now have, including the KJV.

The KJV New Testament is based on the Textus Receptus (TR), which is based on the text compiled by Erasmus, first published in 1516. Erasmus drew from the very limited selection (about a half-dozen, vs. the 6,000 we now possess) of Greek MSS available to him at the time. To these he applied TC to determine which were the most accurate. However, he didn’t have Greek MSS of the entire NT. Those he lacked, he drew from the Latin Vulgate, and translated them back into Greek.

Let that sink in for a minute: the KJV consists in part of passages whose oldest source is a Latin translation. But Erasmus was a competent textual scholar (in other areas, not so) who did the best he could with what he had, and produced a good text upon which our earliest English translations (most notably, the KJV) and Luther’s German translation are based.

Time passed, and older MSS were discovered. These MSS added to the pool from which textual critics drew, enabling them to produce more accurate texts. Hence, we get translations that “omit” verses not found in the oldest MSS. However, they cannot rightly be called “omissions” if they were never there in the first place.

There is a lot more to be said about this, especially about the “original” MSS (e.g., we actually possess no true originals, only copies, which is why TC is necessary), but this is a good start, and probably longer than you wanted to read.

Note well, I’m not saying any modern translation will do. Paraphrases (The Living Bible, The Message, etc.) are not translations at all, and therefore, not Scripture. “Dynamic Equivalent” translations (NIV, etc.) are of varying quality, mostly bad (the original NIV was accidentally pretty decent—later incarnations not). “Essentially Literal” translations (NASB, ESV) are the ones to trust.

In short, contra KJVO propaganda, those “missing verses” are not part of a liberal conspiracy or satanic plot to undermine God’s Word. They are the product of the best textual scholarship, which seeks to transmit God’s Word as accurately as possible—just as Erasmus, in his day, did.

On this subject, here is how John MacArthur handled Mark 16:9–20. (The applause at the end is not usual at Grace Community Church. After forty-three years of preaching, MacArthur had just finished his verse-by-verse exposition of the New Testament.)

If, like me, you find audio/video too time-consuming, the transcript is here.

* Corrections from those who understand the issues involved, that is. I’m not interested in engaging with serious KJVO advocates. I know too well what a fool’s errand that is.

Posted 2018·05·03 by David Kjos
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Posted in: Gospel of Mark · John MacArthur · King James Onlyism · Textual Criticism · Translations

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