Was Mark 6:11 altered in modern Bibles?

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

King James Onlyists accuse modern translators of having "deleted" or "removed" a portion of Mark 6:11. The problem with this accusation is that, while modern translations do generally contain a shorter form of this verse, the accuser simply assumes upfront that the King James must be correct and that the verse was originally part of the biblical text. They thus assume 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, they are not trying to "remove" anything. Rather, they are translating from manuscripts that never had the longer version to begin with.

The Verse in Question

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

"And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear you, when ye depart thence, shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city," (Mark 6:11, KJV).

Many modern translations have a much shorter version of this verse:

"Any place that does not receive you or listen to you, as you go out from there, shake the dust off the soles of your feet for a testimony against them," (NASB).

Of course, every modern translation does contain this same material elsewhere, where we universally read:

"And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town.  Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town," (Matthew 10:14-15, ESV)

So there is no attempt by modern translators to hide or bury the fact that Jesus said this. They simply rely on manuscripts that do not contain these words in Mark 6. It is also important to remember that, 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, NKJV, and others all retain the longer material in Mark 6:11 just as the KJV does. Thus, even if one concludes that this sentence is, indeed, part of the original text of Mark's gospel, one need not turn exclusively to the KJV.

The Manuscript Evidence

The longer version of the verse is present in Codex A (fifth century), Uncial 0133 (ninth century). and other later copies on through the middle ages. While lacking in early attestation in the Greek, it is the reading found in the majority of the later medieval Greek manuscripts. Three Old Latin copies contain the verse: ita (fourth century), itf (sixth century), and itq (eighth century). The Syriac Peshitta and other later Syriac manuscripts contain it, as do some of the Bohairic Coptic manuscripts. This longer reading is also found in the Gothic version. 

The longer ortion is absent, however, in numerous earlier copies including Codex B and Codex א (fourth century), Codex W (late fourth/early fifth century), Codex C and Codex D (fifth century), Codex L (eighth century), Codex Δ, Codex Θ, Minuscule 892 (ninth century), and other later Greek manuscripts on through the middle ages. The Latin Vulgate also favors the shorter version of the verse, as does the oldest Syriac manuscript, the fourth-century Sinaitic Palimpsest. Most of the Coptic manuscript tradition favors the short form as well, including the oldest copies in that language.

Early Citations

It is difficult to use citations in early church fathers to address questions like this for several reasons. For example, if someone cites only part of a verse, that does not automatically prove that the rest was not there. So, for example, if I pointed to authors who simply said something like, "as Mark wrote, 'Shake off the dust from your feet for a testimony against them,'" that would not be enough information to prove that he only had the short version. The author may have had the long version and yet chose to only quote the part of the verse that was relevant to the point he was making.

On the other hand, it is also not enough to just point to an early church father who quotes the words "And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear you, when ye depart thence, shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city." If they do not explicitly say that they are citing Mark's gospel, then there is no reason to assume that they are quoting Mark 6:11 rather than Matthew 10:14-15. Thus, it takes a specific kind of citation to be truly relevant. The author must both cite which gospel he is quoting and make it clear that he is quoting the passage fully. In this case, he would have to either quote at least Mark 6:11-12 so that you can clearly see he is quoting all of verse 11, or else he would have to plainly state that "Shake off the dust from your feet for a testimony against them" was the end of what Jesus said here to his disciples. Often, one simply cannot find a citation specific enough in these ways to offer meaningful evidence one way or another. In this case, however, there is one relevant citation worth noting.

Augustine wrote a book specifically on the harmony of the gospels. In it, he sought to reconcile places where the gospel writers told the same story but in different ways. Concerning the parallel between Mark 6 and Matthew 10, Augustine explains:

"Mark appears to have handled this paragraph in a succinct method, and to have entered upon its recital in the following terms: 'And He went round about the villages, teaching in their circuit: and He called unto Him the twelve, and began to send them by two and two, and gave them power over unclean spirits;' and so on, down to where we read, 'Shake off the dust from your feet for a testimony against them,'” (Augustine, Harmony of the Gospels, Book 2, Chapter 30, section 70).

Augustine points out that Mark's version of the passage is shorter. He explicitly notes that, after gathering His disciples and speaking to them, Jesus concludes with 'Shake off the dust from your feet for a testimony against them.'” Thus, Augustine's copy of the text did not have the longer reading found in the KJV, nor does he seem to be aware of any other copies that did. Augustine thus provides us another early witness to the ancient character of the shorter form of the text found in modern translations. Since Augustine read and wrote in Latin, this citation provides us evidence that there were, in fact, at least some Old Latin copies as early as the fourth century that did not contain the longer version of Mark 6:11.

Evaluating the Evidence

So, what does all of this data tell us? The presence of the longer version in Codex Alexandrinus (or Codex A) proves that this form of the verse, which would later appear in the KJV, goes back to at least the fifth century. Still, the evidence from the early Greek manuscripts overwhelmingly favors the short reading now found in modern translations. The ancient Greek copies favoring this reading are older, more numerous, and are diverse in their origin. Prior to the middle ages, nearly every Greek manuscript favors the short reading. Indeed, the fact that the Latin Vulgate favors the short reading despite the longer reading's presence in the Old Latin is further testimony that the short reading is what Jerome found in the Greek manuscripts he saw in the fourth century as well. The appearance of the short reading in the Syriac and Coptic copies of the fourth century implicitly gives us the same impression, though we have fewer details about the production of those translations than we do about Jerome and the Vulgate, so our conclusions must be a bit more tentative. Still, through both direct and indirect evidence, we see that the short reading seems to have been the older, wider spread, and originally more dominant reading in the Greek language.

Through the Old Latin tradition, we can take the longer reading back even further, finding one copy as early as the fourth century. Thus, the reading that would find its way into the KJV is certainly quite ancient. The citation in Augustine gives us evidence that the longer reading was not the universal reading even in the Old Latin. Still, the manuscripts themselves would indicate that the longer reading was well established in Latin from an early date. Does that prove that it must have also been in Greek manuscripts that far back? Not necessarily.

It is certainly possible that the Old Latin translations (or at least some of them) were made from now-lost Greek manuscripts that contained the long ending. That is by no means certain, however. The Old Latin copies often display a tendency to expand, harmonize, and interpolate the text rather than merely translating what was found in the Greek. In some manuscripts, for example, an extra clause is added to Matthew 3:15 explaining that, at Jesus' baptism, a bright light flashed out of the water and the crowds were terrified.1 In others, an additional accusation is brought during Jesus' trial in Luke 23:5, namely that "He alienates both our sons and our wives from us, and does not baptize as we do."2 Examples like this can be easily multiplied. This was not an unknown practice in ancient translations. In the Rabbinic Jewish community, for example, the Aramaic "Targums" (or translations of the Old Testament) display an even greater tendency to interweave various harmonization's, explanations, and narrative expansions to the text.3 Indeed, such tendencies in the Old Latin Manuscripts were part of the reason Jerome was commissioned to return to the Greek and produce the Vulgate to correct these "errors." Thus, when one finds a reading that is longer in the Old Latin than it is in the ancient Greek manuscripts, one cannot assume that the longer reading was present in the Greek from which the Latin was translated. In our case here, the Latin translator may simply have been harmonizing Mark 6:11 with Matthew 10:14-15.

This brings us to another important consideration. If the long reading found in the KJV was the original, there is no easy explanation for why so many early scribes and translators would have deleted it. Yet, if the short version found in modern translations was original, there are very good reasons why the longer version might have been created. Because it is so similar to Matthew 10:14-15, it is not hard to imagine a scribe, familiar with Jesus' words in Matthew, filling them in while writing the truncated from presented in Mark. It could even have been accidental! The scribe may have heard the words from Matthew so many times that he simply wrote them from memory without thinking about it. Alternatively, very early scribes may have written the words from Matthew 10 into the margins of Mark 6 as a cross reference, meant as a study tool or a preaching aid. The next scribe, however, may have mistaken the words in the margin as words that were supposed to be in the main text and thus added them in while copying the manuscript. Such things happened in ancient hand copying. The point is, there are clear reasons why the words might have been added in, perhaps even accidentally, and no obvious reason why someone would have deleted them, especially so widely and so early on. Thus, the conclusion of modern translators to opt for the shorter reading here makes the most sense, given the data.

  • 1. Bruce Metzger, The Early Versions of the New Testament (Clarendon Press, 1971) 326
  • 2. ibid.
  • 3. Ellis R. Brotzman and Eric J. Tulley, Old Testament Textual Criticism: Second Edition (Baker Academic, 2016) 78