Was Matthew 23:14 removed from modern Bibles?

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

There are a handful of verses which occur in the New Testament of the KJV but are not present in modern translations. Thus, today's translators are often accused by KJV Onlyists of having "removed" them. Among these verses is Matthew 23:14. Translations like the NIV or ESV are said to be deficient or even willful perversions because they "deleted" this verse. The assumption in this accusation, of course, is that this verse must be original and therefore it was "removed" from the text. Modern translators, however, point out that this verse is not present in the earliest manuscripts we possess. They contend, then, that they have not deleted anything. Rather, later scribes added these words, and they are not part of what Matthew actually wrote. A simple look at the manuscript evidence can help us resolve this issue.

The Verse in Question

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

"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation," (Matthew 23:14, KJV).

In both Mark and Luke, we find similar denunciations:

"Which devour widows' houses, and for a shew make long prayers: the same shall receive greater damnation," (Mark 12:40 and Luke 47).

All manuscripts and thus all our translations agree that these words are original to Mark and Luke. Thus, there is no question that Jesus did say this. The question is, however, whether or not Matthew originally wrote these words in chapter 23 of his gospel. 

Manuscripts that Lack the Verse

It is not hard to see why scholars call this verse into question. It is absent in Codex Sinaiticus and Codex B (both early fourth-century), Codex D (fifth century), Codex Z (sixth century), Codex L (eighth century), Codex Θ, minuscule 33 and 892 (ninth century), and other later manuscripts on into the middle ages. Many early Old Latin manuscripts do not contain it, such as ita (fourth century), ite (fifth century), and others. The majority of the Latin Vulgate manuscripts, including all of the earliest copies, also lack the reading. The verse is missing in the earliest Syriac manuscript, The Sinaitic Palimpsest (fourth century), as well as some of the later Palestinian Syriac copies. Most of the Coptic manuscripts also lack the verse, including the middle Egyptian manuscripts, the Sahidic manuscripts, and some of the Bohairic. The Armenian and Georgian translations likewise do not contain it. Thus, our earliest sources lack the verse, the verse is lacking a very wide range of sources, and there is a continuous stream of testimony to its absence throughout the centuries.

Manuscripts that Possess the Verse

The significance of these details is magnified when we look at the evidence for including these words at Matthew 23:14. The words are found in this place in only a few relatively late Greek witnesses. Among these are Uncial 0233 (eighth century), and some later medieval manuscripts and lectionaries. The verse is present here in a number of Old Latin manuscripts, including itb and itff2 (both fifth century), and others. It is also found in the late medieval Clementine revision of the Vulgate. It is present in the second oldest Syriac manuscript, the Curetonian Gospels (fifth century), as well as some of the later Palestinian Syriac manuscripts. It is also present in some later Bohairic Coptic manuscripts. Thus, there is little grounds in the original Greek to argue for the verse. There is fairly early evidence in some of the ancient translations, but in each case, there is even earlier evidence without the verse.

Manuscripts that Possess the Verse in a Different Place

Interestingly, the verse also appears in a vast number of other sources, but in a different place in the chapter (between verses 12 and 13). It is found there in Codex W (late fourth or early fifth century), Codex O, Σ, and Uncial 0104 (all sixth century), Uncial 0102 and 0107 (both seventh century), Codex E (eighth century), Codex F, G, H, K, Y, Δ, Π, and Uncial 0133 (all ninth century), as well as the majority of medieval manuscripts. It is present in this location in very few Latin manuscripts, but is the reading in most of the Syriac copies and a few Bohairic Coptic manuscripts. The verse is also found in this alternate location in the Slavonic and Ethiopic translations. Yet, both the King James Onlyists and modern translators agree that these words were not originally found between verse 12 and 13. Modern scholars conclude this because, again, the earliest copies in virtually every stream of transmission lack the verse entirely and because it makes more sense why the words might get added in here than that someone would remove them (and yet leave them intact in both Mark and Luke). Why, however, does the King James Onlyist agree that these words were not originally located between verses 12 and 13? There is much older, much stronger, more diverse, and vastly more numerous evidence in favor of the words being between 12 and 13 than there is for them being between 13 and 15. So why not argue that the verse is original but should be moved a little earlier in the chapter? The reason is that King James Onlyists don't actually care about the evidence. They insist that the words must have originally been at verse 14 for only one reason; that's where they are in the KJV. Nothing that any Christian read in any other language for over sixteen centuries before that matters. Only the Elizabethan English translation of 1611 can tell us what the Bible really says. That is the inevitable conclusion of King James Onlyism.

Conclusion

The strongest evidence would indicate that the words of Matthew 23:14 are not original to his gospel, but were added in by a later scribe. If these words were original, the overwhelming evidence would say that they are not verse 14, but should instead be found between verses 12 and 13. Either way, the KJV, while faithful to the manuscripts they had available in 1611, is incorrect here. Thus this verse, far from being a reason to use the KJV alone, is actually evidence against King James Onlyism.