Proponents of King James Onlyism attack modern translations for "deleting" or "removing" Mark 11:26. Modern translators, however, argue that they have not deleted the verse at all. On the contrary, the verse was added by later scribes. It was not originally a part of what Mark wrote. If we are to meaningfully settle the matter, we cannot simply side with our favorite translation. We must go to the manuscripts and examine the evidence.
The Verse in Question
The verse under discussion here traditionally reads in older English translations:
"But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses," (Mark 11:26, KJV).
Where ever one lands on this verse, it is not really a "King James Only" issue. A number of modern translations contain these verses. The MEV and NKJV have it, as do the NASB and HCSB (though the latter two place the verse in brackets). Thus, even if one concludes that these verses are, indeed, part of the original text of Mark's gospel, one need not rely only on the KJV. A number of other fine translations contain this verse as well. It is also worth noting that all translators agree that Jesus said these words, they just disagree as to whether or not Mark wrote them down. Every translation includes the same words in Matthew's gospel:
"But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses," (Matthew 6:15).
Manuscripts Containing the Verse
This verse is found in Codex A (fifth century), Codex N and Σ (both sixth century), Codex E and Uncial 0833 (both eighth century), and Codex F, G, H, K, Θ and Π (all ninth century). The verse is also present in the majority of medieval Greek manuscripts. The vast majority of Old Latin copies contain the verse, including some that date back to the fourth and fifth centuries, and a large portion of the Vulgate manuscripts as well. The Syriac Peshitta and other later Syriac manuscripts contain it, as do some of the Bohairic Coptic manuscripts. Some later translations contain it as well, such as the Gothic, Slavonic, and Ethiopic.
Additionally, Codex D and C (both fifth century) contain the verse, though with slightly different wording. Indeed, numerous later Minuscules and Lectionaries that contain the overall substance of the verse omit various words or phrases therein or utilize alternative wording. A number of copies, for example, lack "which is in heaven," and some say simply "forgive you" rather than "forgive your trespasses." Still others expand the phrase to "forgive us our trespasses." Still other alternatives exist as well. Thus, even if this verse is original to Mark, there are a great many options of how it might read.
Indeed, a few manuscripts, such as Codex M (ninth century) and the later Minuscules 346 and 579,1 not only have this verse but also have additional material afterward not found in any English translation, which reads:
"Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened."
This section is word-for-word identical to Matthew 7:7-8, and thus scholars on both sides agree that this extra material was brought over from there and is not original to Mark's gospel.
Manuscripts that Lack the Verse
The verse is absent in Codex B and Codex Sinaiticus. These early fourth-century manuscripts are the oldest copies we have of this passage. The verse was also absent in Codex W (late fourth/early fifth century), Codex L (eighth century), Codex Δ, Ψ, and minuscule 892 (all ninth century), and other later Greek manuscripts on through the middle ages. While the majority of Old Latin manuscripts favor the verse, some lack it, including itk (late fourth/early fifth century). The oldest Syriac manuscript, the fourth-century Sinaitic Palimpsest, does not contain the verse, nor do the Palestinian Syriac copies. The majority of the Coptic manuscripts, including the oldest copies, also lack the verse, as do the Armenian and Georgian manuscripts.
Even the earliest editions of the Textus Receptus (the tradition of printed Greek texts on which the KJV was ultimately based) lacked this verse. Thus, most of the pre-KJV translations, such as those of Tyndale, Coverdale, the Matthew Bible, and the Great Bible, did not contain this verse.
Which Came First?
So, what happened? Was the verse originally present and some scribes mistakenly or intentionally omitted it? Or were these words that later became known as verse 26 added to Mark's gospel by copyists? Which explanation best fits the facts? On the one hand, there is a perfectly reasonable explanation as to why, if this verse is original, scribes might have mistakenly omitted it. The verse might have been accidentally skipped through an honest scribal error. The copyists' eyes may have jumped from 'your trespasses' in verse 25 to 'your trespasses' in verse 26, causing him to skip the whole verse and write on from there without realizing it. These kinds of hand copying mistakes are common and well documented, and the wording in this passages allows for that kind of explanation.
On the other hand, if the verse is not original, there are equally good explanations for how it might have been added in. A scribe, familiar with Jesus' words in Matthew 6:15, may have mistakenly written them into Mark 11 from memory without thinking about it due to the similar content. Note the similar wording to the previous verse in each case:
"For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you," (Matthew 6:14).
"...forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses," (Mark 11:25).
Thus, its not unthinkable that the familiar follow-up words of Matthew 6:15 would come to mind after writing Mark 11:25. A scribe may well have written the words in by an honest mistake brought on by familiarity with Jesus' teaching. Likewise, a scribe might have written Matthew 6:15 into the margins as a cross-reference. Such a scribe may have intended this only as a study aid or preaching tool, but a later scribe may have mistaken the words for part of the original text of Mark and thus copied them into the main body of the text. Not only do we know that these sorts of things happened, we know for a fact that something like this did happen in this very context in manuscripts like Codex M, where Matthew 7:7-8 are obviously copied into this passage from outside Mark's gospel, a fact that even the King James Onlyist must agree on.
So, we have very reasonable explanations both for how a scribe might have mistakenly added the verse in and also for how they might have accidentally omitted it. How, then, do we determine which one happened? For that, we must turn back to the manuscripts and see in which direction they point. The verse does, indeed, have an impressive resume. A mere late Greek majority is not as strong an argument as it might feel to us, but when a reading is in the majority in the Greek, Latin, and Syriac traditions together, that should at least get our attention. Far more important, however, is that the verse is found in a number of early sources from more than one locality. If the verse was a mistake, it had to be a pretty early mistake. That said, there are several reasons to think that, while early, this verse was not originally part of Mark's gospel. To name three:
- The verse is lacking in the earliest copy of virtually every stream of transmission. The best witnesses for the verse may indeed be early and diverse, but the witnesses against the verse are even earlier and more diverse. It would be hard to explain why the earliest surviving manuscript of pretty much every category would lack the verse if the verse were original.
- The high degree of variation between the precise wording of the manuscripts that contain the verse fits much better with this sentence being a scribal addition rather than the original reading.
- The fact that some manuscripts imported other verses from the same discourse in Matthew increases the likelihood that Matthew 6:15 was imported here as well
Still, the possibility remains that this verse really is a part of Mark's gospel, so it would be unwise to remove it outright. The best approach seems to be for publishers to include the verse, but to note for readers the questions raised by the early manuscripts (much as the NASB and NKJV do). At any rate, all modern translations do retain the verse at least in a footnote, and all contain the words in the main body of Matthew 6, so no one is burying or hiding the material from anyone. Readers of any translation can know and heed the words of this verse.
- 1. Minuscule 579 also has a shorter version of verse 26, lacking the words "which is in heaven"