Modern translators are sometimes accused of having "deleted" or "removed" Mark 9:44 and 9:46 from the Bible. While it is true that both of those verses are not present in many modern translations (at least in the main body of the text), that kind of language assumes up front that these verses must be a genuine part of Mark's original work. Most scholars today, however, point out that these verses are not present in the earliest manuscripts we possess. Far from deleting the verses, these scholars claim the verses were added by later scribes. They were not a part of what Mark originally wrote. The question, then, isn't "why did modern translators delete the verses," but rather, "were these verses a part of the original gospel that Mark wrote in the first century?" Translators differ on their answers to this question. Thus, we must go to the manuscripts and examine the evidence.
The Verse in Question
The verses under discussion here traditionally read:
"Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched," (Mark 9:44 and 9:46, KJV).
Like most of these discussions, this is not really a "King James Only" issue, because a number of modern translations contain these verses. The MEV, NKJV, and NASB have both these verses, as do some others. Thus, even if one concludes that these verses are, indeed, part of the original text of Mark's gospel, one need not rely on only the KJV to find them. A number of other fine translations contain these verses as well.
Further, it should be noted that even the modern translations that do not contain these two verses are not trying to hide these words. There is no plot to remove this strong statement about the punishment of hell. All translations agree that, in this very same chapter, verse 48 reads the exact same way:
"Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched," (Mark 9:48).
Likewise, all translations contain the passage in Isaiah which is being quoted here:
"And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh," (Isaiah 66:24).
Thus, no translation anywhere denies the judgment of the wicked where the worm never dies and the fire is never quenched. The only question is just how many times these words were originally written in Mark 9. All translations agree they were there at least once in that chapter while some include them there three times, repeated every other verse.
Manuscripts Containing the Verses
Codex A and Codex D (both fifth century), Codex N and Σ (both sixth century), Codex E (eighth century), and Codex F, G, H, K, Θ and Π (all ninth century) each contain both Mark 9:44 and Mark 9:46. The verses are also present in the majority of medieval Greek manuscripts. The vast majority of Old Latin and Vulgate manuscripts contain the verses, including some that date back to the fourth and fifth centuries. The Syriac Peshitta and other later Syriac manuscripts contain them, as do later translations like the Gothic, Slavonic, and Ethiopic. Interestingly, the 13th-century Minuscule 1292, the Palestinian Syriac manuscripts, and the Georgian translation have 9:46 but lack 9:44.
Most of the early Christian writers who quoted these words did so directly from Isaiah rather than from the gospels, and among those that did quote them from Jesus, few quoted the words fully enough to tell how many times they were present in their text. Augustine did quote the passage fully enough in the late fourth century,1 and his copy certainly contained the sentence all three times. Still, as Augustine was dependent on Latin copies, this really only tells what we already knew from the manuscripts themselves, i.e., that the reading dominated the Latin tradition from an early date.
Manuscripts that Lack the Verses
The verses are 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 C and Uncial 0274 (both fifth century), Codex L (eighth century) and Codex Δ, Ψ, and minuscule 892 (all ninth century), and other later Greek manuscripts on through the middle ages. While the vast majority of the Latin tradition favors the verses, there is at least one Old Latin manuscript that does not contain them: itk (late fourth/early fifth century). Likewise, though the majority of the Syriac tradition favors the verses, the oldest Syriac manuscript (the fourth-century Sinaitic Palimpsest) does not. The entire Coptic manuscript tradition lacks these verses across all the various dialects. It is also lacking in the Armenian manuscripts.
The fact that these verses became the majority reading in the Greek East, the Latin West, and in the Syriac Peshitta is impressive and certainly makes it tempting to carry on that tradition and promote these verses in our versions today. The problem is, the manuscripts from the earliest centuries tell a different story. Codex D is a Latin/Greek diglot, presenting both languages in parallel. The Greek side of D contains a number of readings that are otherwise found only in Latin manuscripts, making it likely that the Latin text sometimes influenced the Greek in D. Noting that, Codex A becomes the only source definitively outside that Latin tradition that contains these verses before the sixth century AD. The earliest Greek manuscripts do not have Mark 9:44 or 9:46. The earliest Syriac copy does not have them. The Coptic tradition never contained these verses, and it represents not just one but several translations into different Coptic dialects. Even one of the earliest Old Latin manuscripts doesn't have them. Thus, a very diverse group of early witnesses representing nearly all the various streams of transmission all lack these verses. The verses show up later on in each of these traditions (except the Coptic), but they only have early representation in the Latin. Thus, the likeliest scenario seems to be that these verses represent a later scribal addition rather than an original part of the text that was for some reason removed by the scribes of all the earliest surviving manuscripts.
On the other hand, it is not impossible for these words to be original, and for that reason, no modern translation hides them from the reader or removes them entirely. Whether in the main body of the text or in a footnote, every modern translation alerts the reader that the verses are, indeed, contained in a very large number of manuscripts.
- 1. Augustine, City of God, Book 21, Chapter 9