Was Acts 15:34 removed from modern Bibles?

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

King James Onlyists accuse modern translators of having "deleted" or "removed" Acts 15:34. While it is true that many modern translations do not have this verse in the main text, the problem with the King James Onlyist's claim is that it assumes that the verse was originally part of the biblical text to begin with and that modern translators have "taken it out." The verse, however, is not present in the earliest manuscripts. Indeed, it's absent in the majority of manuscripts, both early and late. Many modern scholars believe that it was actually added in by later scribes and was not originally part of the Book of Acts. Thus, if this is true, it may just as well be that the KJV translators included something added to the Scripture rather than modern translators taking anything out. Before jumping to conclusions on who did what, we have to first examine the evidence.

The Verse in Question

The verse under discussion here traditionally reads in older English translations:

"Notwithstanding it pleased Silas to abide there still," (Acts 15:34, KJV).

It is worth noting that, whatever conclusion one reaches on this verse, it is not really a "King James Only" issue. A number of modern translations contain these verses. The MEV and NKJV, for example, both retain the verse. Translations like the  NASB and HCSB likewise retain the verse in the main body of their texts, though they mark it with brackets. Thus, even if one concludes that these verses are, indeed, part of the original text of Mark's gospel, one need not rely exclusively on the KJV. A number of other fine translations contain this verse as well.

The Evidence For the Verse

This verse, as it is found in the KJV, is present in a number of medieval Greek minuscules, one thirteenth-century Latin copy, a late Syriac recension, multiple Coptic witnesses, and in some later translations such as the Armenian, Georgian, Slavonic, and Ethiopic. There are no manuscripts with this wording prior to the ninth century, and even then it is only found in a minority of manuscripts.

There are, however, other forms of the verse that do occur earlier. Codex C (fifth century) reads, "Notwithstanding it pleased Silas that they should abide there still." Codex D (sixth century) and a number of Old Latin manuscripts (none before the eighth century) read "Notwithstanding it pleased Silas to abide there still, and Judas went on alone." While Papyrus 127 (fifth century) is damaged in this section, scholars estimate based on the available space that it also contained this longer version of the verse. One late "Old Latin" copy, itw (15th century) and the Clementine Vulgate manuscripts preserve an even longer reading, as also seen in the 14th-century John Wycliffe Bible, "But it was seen to Silas, to dwell there; and Judas went alone to Jerusalem." The 1539 "Great Bible," the first "authorized" English version, likewise contained this longer form of the verse, though the extra material from the Latin was marked with brackets and smaller print.

The Evidence Against the Verse

The verse is absent in Codex א and B (fourth century), Codex A (fifth century), Codex E (sixth century), Papyrus 74 (seventh century), Codex L (eighth century) Codex H, L, P, Ψ, and Uncial 049 (all ninth century), and the vast majority of all other Greek manuscripts on through the middle ages. The verse is not present in a number of Old Latin manuscripts and in older copies of the Vulgate. Likewise, the Syriac Peshitta does not have it. The verse is also lacking in most Bohairic Coptic manuscripts.

Examining the evidence

The earliest manuscripts support the idea that Acts did not originally contain this verse. Not only the early Greek manuscripts, but a wide range of early translations as well. The later Byzantine majority text is in full agreement with the early Greek texts and translations in not including this verse. There are very good reasons to think that this verse is a later explanatory note and not what Luke originally wrote. The fact that there are several rival versions of the verse not only further supports this idea, it also makes the King James Onlyist's case even harder. Even if we did decide that some form of this verse was original, which one? The earliest versions of this text don't line up with the KJV. The Latin version of the text, which has the most copies, doesn't match the KJV. The only reason why a King James Onlyist would argue for their particular version of this verse is that it happens to be the one that ended up in the KJV. Thus, just as the translators of the "Great Bible" before the KJV saw fit to include material in this verse in brackets, letting the reader know both that it existed in some copies and also that it was doubtful, it seems just as reasonable today to mark off the whole verse with footnotes explaining the issue to the reader. Just as it seemed right to the KJV translators themselves to leave out the extra material from verse 34 in the Vulgate entirely because they already knew it was unlikely to be original, so too do many modern translators relegate all of verse 34 to a footnote because it is unlikely to be original. The arguments that justify the one also justify the other. One cannot defend historical English translations without having to defend the very reasons that modern translators mark off or footnote this verse.