Was Mark 15:28 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" Mark 15:28. While it is true that many modern translations do not have this verse in the main text (though they do contain it in a footnote), the problem with the King James Onlyist's accusation is that it assumes that the verse was originally part of the biblical text and that modern translators have taken it out. The verse, however, is not present in the earliest manuscripts, and many modern scholars believe that it was actually added in by later scribes and was not originally part of Mark's gospel. Thus, if we are to settle the matter, we must go beyond our favorite English translation and look to the ancient evidence. What did Mark's gospel originally say?

The Verse in Question

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

"And the scripture was fulfilled, which saith, And he was numbered with the transgressors," (Mark 15:28, KJV).

It is important to note that this is not actually a "King James Only" issue. A number of modern translations contain this verse, such as the MEV, NKJV, and NASB (though the latter marks it with brackets). Thus, even if one concludes that this verse is, indeed, part of the original text of Mark's gospel, that does not mean that one must now use only or even primarily the KJV. A number of modern translations contain these verses as well, so one could utilize any of those translations and still find Mark 15:28 in the main text.

It is also worth noting that every translation affirms at least the substance of this verse because they all contain essentially the same material in a verse in Luke:

"For I say unto you, that this that is written must yet be accomplished in me, And he was reckoned among the transgressors: for the things concerning me have an end," (Luke 22:37).

Thus, no one is trying to hide or suppress these words. There is simply an honest disagreement about the manuscript evidence.

The Evidence For the Verse

Manuscripts that contain the verse include Codex P and Uncial 083 (both sixth century), Codex E, L, and Uncial 0250 (all eighth century), and Codex F, G, K, Δ, 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 the Vulgate likewise contains it. 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 Armenian, Gothic, Slavonic, Georgian, and Ethiopic.

Codex H (ninth century) basically contains the verse, though in place of "the Scripture" (ἡ γραφὴ) it reads "the voice" (ἡ φωνὴ). This is an unusual scribal error, as the words do not look or sound alike, but is still probably best explained as a mere copyist mistake and thus Codex H should be counted as a witness in favor of the verse as well. 

The Evidence Against the Verse

The verse is absent in Codex B and Codex ‭א. These early fourth-century manuscripts are the oldest copies we have of this passage. The verse was also absent in Codex A, C, and D (all fifth century), Uncial 047 (eighth century), Codex Y and Ψ (both ninth century), and other later Greek manuscripts on through the middle ages. While most of the Latin tradition favors the verse, there are some early Old Latin copies that do not contain it, namely itk (late fourth/early fifth century) and itd (fifth century). Likewise, though the majority of the Syriac tradition favors the verse, the oldest manuscript, the fourth-century Sinaitic Palimpsest, does not. The Coptic manuscript tradition lacks the verse across all the various dialects, with the exception only of a few manuscripts in the Bohairic containing the words.

Evaluating the Evidence

While the verse certainly commands a strong majority of the later manuscripts, it is highly noteworthy that the earliest sources in Greek, Syriac, and Coptic all lack the verse, as do some of the earliest Latin texts. Indeed, every Greek copy before the 6th century lacks this verse in Mark, and these copies are not all from one time and place but rather come from a variety of backgrounds and textual affinities. Thus, Bruce Metzger argues: 

"The earliest and best witnesses of the Alexandrian and the Western text lack ver. 28. It is understandable that copyists could have added the sentence in the margin from Lk 22.37, whence it came into the text itself; there is no reason why, if the sentence were present originally, it should have been deleted. It is also significant that Mark very seldom expressly quotes the Old Testament."1

Other scholars are a bit more reserved than Metzger, allowing a possibility for why the reading could have been accidentally omitted, but still see this is as less likely given the data, explaining:

"Although the verse might have been accidentally omitted when copyists' eyes jumped from the 'And' at the beginning of verse 28 to the 'And' at the beginning of verse 29, the number of early manuscripts that omit it would indicate that it was more likely added by copyists who remembered Luke 22:37 and Isaiah 53:12. Perhaps it was first written in the margin of early manuscripts."2

Thus, conservatively, we should not dogmatically rule out the possibility that the verse was original, but there are strong reasons to question it. The best course seems to be to retain the verse, either in the main body (as the NASB and NKJV do) or in a footnote (as the ESV and NIV do) and to briefly note the manuscript differences for the reader, as virtually all modern translations do.

  • 1. Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd Edition (German Bible Society, 1994) 93
  • 2. A Student's Guide to New Testament Textual Variants (Ralph Bruce Terry, 1998) http://bible.ovc.edu/tc/lay05mrk.htm#mk15_28 (Accessed 8/28/18)