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Do Modern Bible Translations Remove Bible Verses?

Ask Pastor Alex, Episode. 56

This is the Ask Pastor Alex podcast with your host, Pastor Alex. All right, welcome back everybody. We are here with another episode and another question. And the question for this episode is, do modern Bible translations remove Bible verses? And this is a really good question. It’s also incredibly relevant because recently I’ve been seeing a graphic go around on social media. And it goes around every couple of years. But basically on the left side of this graphic, there are verses from the King James version of the Bible. And on the right side, the graphic shows modern translations of those verses. And the claim is that the modern translations have removed verses from the Bible or changed verses in the Bible. And the graphic goes on to warn Christians to be aware of this as they are choosing a translation. There’s even a claim that modern Bible translations are owned by corporations with a hidden agenda. And that’s the reason they’re actually removing verses or changing verses. And this question is also relevant because I had someone from my small group at church send me the graphic and ask what I knew about this issue. And so I figured it was time to address this issue and ask the really important question, do modern Bible translations remove Bible verses or change Bible verses? And simply put, the answer is no, they do not. And so then really the question becomes, well, why are some verses missing from modern translations and why are some verses changed? 

And it all has to do with the Greek manuscripts that are used during translation. What you’ll notice when you see this graphic or hear this claim is that modern translations are always compared to the KJV or the new KJV. The KJV has a rich history, the King James version, and has played an important role in the life of the church. It was the Bible for centuries. And that’s not to say that it’s perfect. In fact, no translation is a perfect translation, but it is to say that the KJV is important and has played a key role in the life of the church for centuries. That being said, the King James version does not utilize the same manuscripts that modern translations use when they make their English versions today. The translators of the King James version use something called the textus receptus, which is just Latin for the received text. It was a series of printed Greek texts based primarily on the Byzantine type texts, which were the most prevalent Greek manuscripts of the New Testament during the medieval period. Now, before you start tuning me out, okay, I know that that’s a lot of technical jargon that you might not understand. So let me simplify it for you. All of that was a very technical way of saying that the translators of the KJV use the best and most prevalent manuscripts that were available to them at the time of translating the KJV. 

Now, obviously the most important phrase there is best and most prevalent at the time, because you see, while they did use the best and most prevalent manuscripts that were available to them at the time, those manuscripts are not the best ones we possess today. You see, here’s the big issue when translating the Bible. We don’t have the autographs. The autographs mean the originals. So we don’t have any of the original manuscripts from any of the books of the Bible. The originals were lost over time, but basically what happened is when the originals were written, especially with regard to the New Testament, that book of the Bible, whatever book it was, was sent to a church. And then upon receiving that letter or that gospel, the church would make a copy and then they would send it to other churches and then that church would make a copy and they would send it to other churches and so on and so forth. But then the first and second copies were lost too. And so basically what we have are copies of copies. Now don’t let that discourage you because our copies match to a degree of 99% accuracy with the overwhelming differences between them being inconsequential. Things like a different spelling of the same word or a misspelled word or a grammatical error. So it’s not like we have copies of copies and they all disagree with each other. No, there’s 99% accuracy and agreement amongst all of our copies. So basically here’s what happened, right? The KJV translators, they use the textus receptus for their translation, but the manuscripts of the textus receptus were all very late manuscripts, almost all of which were from the 10th to the 15th century. So you can think about it, they were all from the 900s to the 1400s. Now that’s an issue because that’s anywhere from 800 to 1300 years after the writing of the originals. That doesn’t mean that everything they contain is wrong. In fact, the majority of what’s contained in them matches our best and oldest manuscripts. However, since it is so far removed from the writing of the original, it allowed enough time for things to be added in that weren’t originally there. And even today, the KJV and the new King James, they only use the textus receptus for their translations. But over the years through archeological digs, we have discovered much, much earlier manuscripts from the first century to the second century, as well as the third, fourth and fifth centuries. These copies are much closer in date to the time of the originals, anywhere from 30 to 400 years. We find these manuscripts to be more likely to better reflect what was originally written due to their closeness in time. 

The example I always use for this issue to help people understand it is of the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence was written in 1776. So let’s say that a copy or copies were made and then the original and the earliest copies were lost. However, let’s say that we found a copy dated 1876 and then we based everything we know about the Declaration of Independence on that 1876 copy. But then let’s say that later we discovered copies of the declaration that dated 1780 and those copies disagreed with the 1876 copy that we had all come to know and love. Well, the question we’re faced with at that time then is which one is more likely to reflect the original, the copy that was written four years after the original or the copy that was dated 100 years after the original? Well, I think we would all agree it’s probably the one that was written closer in time, right? Well, that’s how it works for the New Testament Greek manuscripts. We believe that the manuscripts with an earlier date are more likely to reflect what was originally written. Over the years, as we have found these earlier manuscripts, we have found that they do not contain many of the verses that are found in the much later manuscripts. In fact, they’re not found in any of the hundreds and thousands of manuscripts that we have until the 10th century. Therefore, we conclude that these things were added and not originally part of the Bible. This is why modern translations differ from the KJV. You see, it’s not that modern translations have removed verses. It’s that the KJV added verses that were never meant to be there in the first place. Now, don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here. This was not a malevolent act by the translators. 

In other words, the translators of the KJV, they were not just making up Bible verses and putting them in the year. They were using the best manuscripts available to them at the time, but they didn’t have the best manuscripts that were available to us today. In fact, if they had had those manuscripts, they would have never put verses that didn’t belong in the Bible in the Bible in the first place. However, the reason modern translations differ from the KJV is because modern translations use all of the manuscripts we have ever found, whereas the KJV only uses the manuscripts from the Textus Receptus, which were again from the 10th to the 15th century. Modern translations also do a great job of addressing this issue. If you have a modern translation, you can open up your Bible and you’ll see how they handle this. You’ll often notice that they’ll put a footnote in there to explain why a verse number is missing and they’ll say, this verse, while it might appear in the KJV, does not appear in the earliest and most reliable manuscripts. They often will also put brackets before passages that are not found in the earliest and most reliable manuscripts to let you know that what you’re about to read is not found in those earliest and most reliable manuscripts. 

A great example of this is the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 7: 53 to 8:11. That’s a beloved story. I think most Christians know that story and they know about Jesus not throwing any stones and riding in the sand with his finger. But if you go to that passage in your modern translation, it’s going to have brackets before it and it’s going to say the earliest manuscripts and many other witnesses do not have John 7:53 through 8:11. This also occurs at the ending of Mark’s gospel, as well as other times and verses in the New Testament. So these modern translations are not completely removing them from their modern version. Instead, they’re using brackets and footnotes to let the reader know, hey, I know you know this story. I know you know this verse because it is in the KJV, but you should also know that this verse or this passage is not found in the earliest and most reliable manuscripts that we have available today. Therefore, you can read it and you can benefit from it, but it might not actually be something that was in the originals. And you have to understand, we’re not even saying that these things are untrue. I mean, if you read about the story of the woman caught in adultery and you see Jesus questioning the religious leaders, Jesus not casting a stone, Jesus not answering a question directly, this sounds like a very Jesus thing to do, right? Like it’s very possible that this thing happened. We know that John records at the end of his gospel, he says, hey, listen, there are a lot of other things I could tell you and there’s a lot of other stuff that Jesus did, but the world cannot contain the books if we were to write them. So we’re not saying that this story did not happen. It sounds like a very Jesus thing. It sounds like this is very likely something that could have happened. What we are saying though is that this is probably not something that was in the original. It was probably not something inspired by God and therefore it should not be used as in scripture. 

So don’t believe the myth that modern translations have removed verses from the Bible or changed verses due to some evil malevolent motive. The truth is modern translators are seeking to best reflect what the original said by utilizing the earliest and best manuscripts we have available to us today. They scour all that is available to them to see which verses are contained in the earliest and in the most manuscripts, and then they include those verses. They also include verses not found in the earliest and best manuscripts, but add brackets and footnotes to let us know that the King James version and the new King James version do not use any of the manuscripts that we have found since its writing. They only ever and will only ever use the textus receptus, which again only contains manuscripts from the 10th to the 15th century. So again, it’s not that modern translations have removed verses. It’s that the KJV inadvertently added verses that were never meant to be there in the first place. So if you see this graphic and it confuses you, or if you hear someone make this claim, I hope that this answer clears up the issue for you and I look forward to answering more in the future.