Why were some verses removed from the New Testament?

Why were some verses removed from the New Testament? August 16, 2015

CASSANDRA’S QUESTION:

I’m just shocked by the information I just received about the N.I.V. Bible, that many verses of the Scriptures have been removed. So I’m searching for a reliable version of the Bible to study from. Any suggestions?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

The Guy reassures Cassandra, who’s been reading the Bible for 21 years, that well-qualified translators produced the many modern English editions on the market, and that includes her New International Version. Inevitably, translators will make different word choices and most of these variations are unimportant. But she’s correct that the N.I.V. and most other recent Bible editions omit certain verses that are familiar from the revered “King James Version” authorized by the British monarchy 404 years ago. The following discussion assumes Cassandra is concerned mainly about the New Testament, not the Old Testament.

Why we get the specific wordings in today’s Bibles involves a specialty known as “textual criticism,” which analyzes all available materials to render the Scriptures as closely as possible to the original writings. The Religion Guy relies especially upon “The Text of the New Testament” by the late Bruce M. Metzger of Princeton Theological Seminary. Cassandra should know that Metzger (1914-2007) was not only a top expert in these technicalities but a judicious one and known for strong faith in the Bible’s reliability and authority.

Metzger noted that only one manuscript survived of the first six books of the “Annals” by Tacitus, an important history of the Roman Empire, and it was copied nine centuries after the original writing. By contrast, far closer to the 1st Century originals we have some 50 ancient manuscripts of the entire New Testament and 5,000 or so partial texts and fragments. The earliest is the celebrated P52 papyrus with verses from John’s Gospel, that was written in early or mid-2nd Century Egypt.

Such rich resources greatly authenticate the New Testament. But this means textual critics need to sift many variations — with many tweaks but none that change central Christian beliefs — to decide what’s closest to the original. Here are the two major examples of omissions:

One: A beloved saying of Jesus occurs when a vigilante crowd seeks to stone an adulterous woman to death and he responds, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” After the crowd disperses Jesus admonishes the woman, “Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Seems right. But the N.I.V. (like other editions) sets apart the passage with this advisory: “The earliest and most reliable manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53 – 8:11.” Metzer listed 17 such early manuscripts lacking the passage. Also worrisome, no surviving works by the Greek “church fathers” during the centuries after Jesus’ time cite this narrative. Also, this is a suspicious “floating tradition” that is connected at different locations in various John manuscripts. An “NIV Study Bible” footnote says the wording doesn’t fit grammatically after John 7:52 because Jesus was not present at the meeting in the preceding section.

Two:  Ancient manuscripts give us four different endings to the Gospel of Mark. Cassandra’s N.I.V. and other recent translations conclude suddenly at verse 16:8 after three women visit Jesus’ tomb: “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” The N.I.V. then prints verses 9 to 20 but here again sets them apart with a notice that they do not appear in “the two most reliable manuscripts.”

The omitted verses, found in many ancient documents and in the King James Version, include Jesus rebuking his followers for their unbelief, saying believers will pick up snakes and drink poison without harm, bestowing the “great commission” that also concludes Matthew, and ascending to heaven as in Luke’s ending. And there are two other endings to choose from.

Could the original version of Mark have concluded with verse 8? Seems highly unlikely. Such an ending is oddly abrupt, and the grammar is very awkward. So, was the composition interrupted somehow and never completed? Was the last page of the original text lost? What did Mark originally intend? We’ll never know. But the experts consider the “long ending” quite suspect.

Now, what explains such differences between the King James and modern-day translations? The King James was based on the Greek “Textus Receptus”, assembled in the 16th Century from what Metzger called “a handful of late and haphazardly collected” manuscripts. It took centuries before scholars began careful assessment of all the available manuscripts, including a trove of early and more accurate texts the King James translators did not have. For example, the invaluable Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus are the two that the N.I.V. refers to when it sidelines the “long ending” of Mark.

The above analysis will displease the “King James Only” wing among Fundamentalists. But there’s near-universal agreement among the experts, conservative and liberal, Protestant and Catholic, that today’s translations from the Greek are a more authentic and precise rendering of the original New Testament writings.

Responding to Cassandra’s request about a study edition: There are two solid conservative or “evangelical” Protestant options, the aforementioned “NIV Study Bible” (Zondervan, using the 2011 revised text)) and “ESV Study Bible” (Crossway, using the 2001 English Standard Version). For more liberal interpretations there are the “New Oxford Annotated Bible” (Oxford University Press) and “HarperCollins Study Bible” (HarperOne) that both use the New Revised Standard Version of 1989. Roman Catholics have the “Catholic Study Bible” (Oxford), which comments on the church’s authorized New American Bible (2011 revised edition).

For further background see “Religion Q and A” for December 13, 2013: “Which Bible version is the most authentic?” http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionqanda/2013/12/which-bible-version-is-the-most-authentic.

Also note that www.biblegateway.com posts the complete texts of 52 English translations and allows comparisons, verse by verse.

 

 

 

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