The "missing verses" in modern translations: an overview

by Luke Wayne
10/31/18
Return to King James Onlyism

One of the most popular King James Only arguments is the issue of the so-called "missing verses" in modern translations. The argument is rooted in the fact that some entire verses that are present in the KJV are absent in many modern translations, and the King James Only advocate will claim that modern translators have "removed" these verses and that this proves that modern translations are corrupt and only the KJV can be trusted.

Before getting into the details, it is important to note up front that this is actually a circular argument that, by itself, doesn't prove anything one way or the other. Modern scholars bracket these verses or lis them in footnotes because they are convinced from the manuscripts that the verses are not original but were actually later additions to the text mistakenly included in earlier translations like the KJV. They are not "removing" the verses, they are translating from manuscripts that never had them in the first place. The question is whether some ancient scribes removed the verses or whether other ancient scribes added them. Pointing out that the verses are present in the KJV doesn't prove the KJV is right. To just say that modern scholars "removed" the verses simply because the verses are present in the KJV assumes from the beginning that the KJV is the ultimate standard. It doesn't prove the KJV to be correct, it just presupposes that the KJV must be correct and then indicts modern translations for differing from the KJV. Thus, this is not really an argument for King James Onlyism, it is rather more of a mere statement of King James Onlyism. It is basically saying "the KJV is right and modern translations are wrong because modern translations are not identical to the KJV and, as we all know, the KJV is right." So the KJV is right because it is right, you just have to believe that. Modern translations cannot be trusted because they are not the KJV. That is the real argument here. That is why the language of "removed" is used. It already starts with the assumption that the KJV is and must be the unquestionable standard, which is what the argument is supposed to be proving!

Still, the issue of these verses is one that needs to be explored. The fact of the matter is that some translations contain a few verses that other translations do not. It might be that these verses were originally part of the New Testament and were later deleted, or it might be that they were not originally part of the New Testament and they were later added. We cannot assume either way up front, but it is important to note the issues involved, observe how translators handle them, and try to then arrive at an accurate and faithful conclusion about these verses.

The Caveat

No matter where one ends up landing on these verses, it is important to note that no conclusion on this issue actually entails King James Onlyism. If one concludes that the verses are all original and belong in the text, then one would certainly avoid using any translations that outright exclude them (or would at least avoid using such a version as one's primary translation). But the KJV is not the only translation that includes all of these verses. Current translations like the New King James Version (NKJV) and the Modern English Version (MEV) are based on the same Greek and Hebrew texts as the KJV and include all the same verses. One could just as easily opt for one of these. They could also rely on translations made before the KJV, like the Geneva Bible, the Bishops Bible, or the Coverdale Bible. Indeed, they need not pick just one! They could consult several of these translations! Even if one concludes that modern scholars are mistaken and all these verses should be trusted and included, that doesn't prove anything remotely like King James Onlyism. So, while this issue is important, there is no conclusion one can reach here that demands or even implies the KJV Only position.

On Verse Numbering

Some KJV Only material will make the simplistic and misinformed argument that a mere break in the verse numbering proves that modern translations are missing original verses that belong in the text. If a chapter in your Bible goes from verse 6 to verse 8 and has no verse 7, it sure looks like something is missing, doesn't it? This, however, ignores the origin and purpose of verse numbers. Verse numbers were not originally part of the biblical text. Other than in a book like Psalms, the Bible was not originally even divided into chapters! The numbering system we use is meant to be an aid to study and a help to congregations. Churches can easily turn to the exact same place together because of our modern convention of chapters and verses, but it is a modern convention. It was developed not long before the time of the KJV itself! The first English Bible to use verse numbers was the Geneva Bible of 1560. So, the numbers are a fairly new convention in the history of the Bible, but they quickly became standard in the English speaking world (and in much of the Christian world at large). The men who developed the verse system we use today were using the Greek and Hebrew texts on which the KJV was based, and so, of course, included all the material therein. This does not prove that all of that material was original to the first-century text.

When modern scholars, using more numerous and far earlier manuscripts, came to the conclusion that some of that material was actually a later addition, what were they supposed to do about verse numbers? They could create their own new numbering system that corresponded to the text they were translating, but then people using the KJV, NKJV, etc. would not be able to follow along when they cited a verse. The numbers would be different, and people would wind up turning to different places. It made more sense to keep the standard verse numbers that other Bibles used so that everyone could be on the same page, (both literally and figuratively). This meant, however, that when one came to the place in the text where there was what scholars now considered to be a later addition that was not originally part of the Bible and is not found in the oldest manuscripts (and was, in some cases, also lacking in the majority of late manuscripts as well), the best approach was just to skip that verse number. That way, they could continue on with the text, keeping the numbers in line with the traditional system.

So, the fact that a number may be absent in some chapters of some translations doesn't prove that an original piece of the New Testament is missing. It just means that a verse that was included in the text during the time when verse numbers were created is not included in the Greek text on which the modern translation is based. It tells us only about the nature and purpose of our modern verse-numbering system, not about the contents of the original New Testament.

Parallel Verses

The total number of these verses that are included in some translations and excluded in others is actually quite small. What's more, many of them are actually included in all translations, they are just included in some translations in more than one place and in other translations only in one place. For example, all translations include the verse:

"For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost," (Luke 19:10).

Some translations, like the KJV, NKJV, and MEV, also include this verse in Matthew's Gospel (Matthew 18:11). Others, like the NASB and HCSB, include the verse in both places, but put brackets around it in Matthew 18:11 with a note that it is not present in the earliest manuscripts of that passage. Still others, like the NIV, ESV, and CSB, omit the verse from the main body of Matthew 18, but have a footnote alerting the reader that the verse is present there in some manuscripts. The point is, all of these translations include the verse at Luke 19:10. No one is trying to suppress or shed doubt on the idea that Jesus came to save the lost. They all agree that the Holy Spirit inspired these words, they are just not all convinced that He inspired them twice. Luke definitely wrote this. There is no question about that. Early manuscripts lead some to doubt, however, that Matthew also wrote the same words. They suspect that a later scribe mistakenly added Luke's words to Matthew's gospel. The words are true either way, and every translation affirms them to be found at least in Luke's gospel. And, even though some translations note through brackets or footnotes their doubt that these words were originally found in Matthew 18, every single one of them still points out to the reader that these words are indeed found in some copies of Matthew 18.

Similarly, every translation contains the verse:

"Where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched," (Mark 9:48).

There is no dispute at all that these words are authentic. Jesus really said this and Mark really wrote it down. All translations agree here. Where they disagree is just how many times these words were originally found in Mark 9. Translations like the KJV, NKJV, and MEV all include this verse, not once, but three times in the discourse (Mark 9:44. 46. and 48). Again, the NASB and HCSB also include these words all three times but in two of the three places (Mark 9:44, 46) they place them in brackets, noting that in the earliest manuscripts the words are present only once (Mark 9:48). Translations like the NIV, ESV, and CSB again omit the words in 9:44 and 9:46, but include footnotes explaining that some manuscripts have the words in those places. All translations include the words at 9:48. No one is hiding or suppressing Jesus' teaching on eternal punishment here. Manuscripts (and thus translations) just disagree on exactly how many times Jesus said these words. Either way, the words are true and biblical. They are not "missing" from any translation.

Most of the alleged "missing verses" are of this sort, appearing in at least one place in every translation and so never truly missing at all!

KJV Notations

It is worth noting that even the original 1611 KJV itself noted that at least one of these verses was not found in the majority of Greek manuscripts. In the KJV, NKJV, and MEV we find the verse:

"Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left," (Luke 17:36).

As with our previous examples, the NASB and HCSB include the words but place them in brackets. Other translations like the ESV, NIV, and CSB do not include them in the main body of the text but note them in a footnote. Also similar to our previous example, all translations contain an identical verse in Matthew 24:40 without any controversy. The interesting thing to note here, however, is that the 1611 KJV contained a note in the margin by Luke 17:36 which explained:

"This verse is wanting in most of the Greek copies."

Thus, even the KJV itself marks this verse for the reader as questionable, or at least it did originally. Is it, then, so wrong for modern translators to do the same when they, too, notice that the verse is not present in the majority or in the earliest manuscripts? Its also noteworthy that this verse is not only absent in some modern translations. It is also not present in many of the early, pre-KJV English translations. Luke 17:36 is not found, for example, in Tyndale, Coverdale, the Matthew Bible, or the Great Bible. Thus, this verse was far from beyond scrutiny long before the dawn of modern textual criticism.

Sufficient Witness

The primary reason that most scholars today doubt the authenticity of this small handful of verses is not some conspiracy to diminish or suppress the word of God. As we have noted, in the majority of cases the exact same verse occurs somewhere else in the New Testament and the same scholars regard the verse there as authentic. The issue is not the content of the verses but rather the witnesses to the verses. Each of these verses is absent in the earliest manuscripts. Some of them are also absent in the majority of even the later manuscripts. A couple are represented almost exclusively in translations and have little-to-no representation in the entire Greek manuscript tradition. It is true that some of them appear to be cited by early church fathers, but even in these cases, the evidence is not so clear-cut. A number of the supposed "citations" in the early church fathers are actually quite disputable. Even among those that seem clear, those writings are often themselves preserved only in a few very late manuscripts, sometimes only in translations, leaving them open to questions about the original form of their texts as well! If we don't arbitrarily begin by already assuming the KJV to be the one, perfect, unchangeable English translation and the ultimate standard for perfect accuracy, is it really so unthinkable that some, perhaps even all, of the verses present in the KJV but bracketed or absent in most modern versions might actually be later scribal additions mistakenly included in the KJV? Even if one concludes that each of these verses is indeed authentic and original, is there not at least room for some charity and patience with those who disagree, given the nature of the evidence?