Depending on your Bible translation, you may have noticed that periodically throughout the New Testament there are seemingly missing verses. If you look more closely, you’ll typically see that a footnote on the page says something like “some manuscripts add verse” so and so, and the verse is shown. This has caused a number of people through the years to view this situation with suspicion, even going so far as to accuse that these Bible translations without the verses as part of the main text are corrupted.
Is that the case? Is any translation that doesn’t contain every verse that others have somehow tainted by a grand plot to deceive? The Gospel of Matthew has three such incidences of missing verses. Wikipedia lists sixteen such missing verses altogether in the New Testament plus a number of other partial subtractions.
The absent Matthew verses are:
For today, let’s just briefly discuss Matthew 18:11. Without that verse, the text in context of the ESV translation in Matthew 10-12 reads:
10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. 12 What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?”
Conversely, the KJV shows:
10 “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.
11 “For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.
12 “How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?”
The most infamous of the missing verses occurs in John 7:53-8:11. The note in many Bible says “The earliest manuscripts do not include” these verses. What were some translation teams trying to hide?
The Bible is the most well documented of any ancient writing. There are thousands and thousands of complete or partial Scriptural manuscripts. In the early days, since the printing press wasn’t invented until 1436, the Word of God spread by the laborious effort of scribes hand copying each and every word of all the books of the Bible. The New Testament gospels and epistles began in or were sent to one church where they were copied and sent on to another. The astounding fact of the matter is their consistency, which gives us the assurance that God’s Word is true. There are minor copy errors, but nothing doctrinal that gives us pause. However, some of the scribes in the process viewed some passages and believed further explanation was necessary.
In the course of their copying effort, if a scribe wanted to add a little context to a passage, he would often add a margin note. Thus, for example in Matthew 18, because the scribe was apparently unsatisfied with how the text read, he would have written in the margin the additional words: “For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.”
Imagine how the copying process occurred. Let’s say five scribes in different cities each received the same gospel. Their job was to copy it one or more times to send it on to the next city and perhaps another set of scribes. If one of the scribes looked at what became Matthew 18 and wanted further explanation in that one little section to pass on, he would have added off to the side in the margin those extra words that made him feel better.
The next or the next scribe down the line would have seen those words. At some point, one of the scribes would have decided to add them as an integral part of the text. From that addition, in this instance, verse 11 became the authorized and subsequent manuscript version in this particular copying stream. That’s likely how the King James ended up with this verse, whereas other manuscripts didn’t.
It can be useful to read different Bible translations. Some make certain passages easier to understand or, as we’ve been discussing, may add minor context. There’s nothing sinister about this. For my part, I take the perspective that God allowed these differences to perpetuate. As long as a particular Bible translation isn’t knowingly corrupted as some cults have done with their versions, I have no problem with or without the additions.
The important thing is that we actually read our Bible. God gave us His Word for a purpose, and that wasn’t to sit on a shelf gathering dust. The Word of God – all of it, Old and New Testaments – gives us everything we need to live for and to serve the One who loves us beyond all measure and has given Himself for our redemption. Let us honor God by reading and studying His Word.