Updated: Feb 4, 2020
I first heard about this from customers back when I worked at the Christian bookstore. They would say something like, “I would never read from the NIV because it is missing verses!” The first time I heard it I was like, “What?!” And the young guy showed me where some verses were not in the NIV Bible. I was caught off guard.
Take a look in your NIV Bible and turn to Mark 15:28. Oh no! It is missing! Now look at Luke 23:17. Again, where is it?! These verses are in the King James Version. Where did they go from the New International Version?
Actually these verses aren’t missing. They were never in the earliest manuscripts discovered which is what the newer Bible versions are based off of. They somehow crept into later manuscripts. The not-really-missing verses consist of 17 verses and 2 passages of the New Testament.
Let me first explain first what manuscripts are. The words were recorded and became the original writings of the Bible. These original documents that comprise the Scriptures were copied over and over and these copies are called manuscripts. They were copied primarily on papyrus plants that grew in the marshes of the Nile Delta in Egypt (these represent the earliest copies of the NT) or parchment which was made from the skins of cattle, sheep, goats, and antelope. The parchment material used for writing lasted only 20 to 40 years, depending on the climate and quality of parchment, so copyists had to keep making new manuscripts to preserve the text from being destroyed.
Besides preserving the text, more copies were made so that more people could have access to them. They were sent to the various early churches to be read aloud. Copying Scripture took a long time and was done with painstaking care to ensure that accuracy was maintained. The documents were copied over and over by hand until the invention of the printing press in 1455. The amount of manuscript evidence from the Bible is astounding! As of 2012 there are over 5900 Greek manuscripts - part or all - of the New Testament, as well as over 24,000 Greek and other languages (Latin, Syriac, Coptic; and secondary translations made a little later, like Armenian and Gothic; Also Georgian and Ethiopic) manuscripts - part or all - of the New Testament which have been discovered.
The manuscript evidence and the study of each and every variance in each manuscript discovered is a whole subject I am not going to address right now. But we know the text of the Bible in the original languages; Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, is reliable.
The Greek manuscripts of the New Testament have been discovered on 3 continents – Asia, Africa, and Europe. The vast majority of manuscripts fall into two “families”.
Byzantine Family: KJV, NKJV
Commonly called the Textus Receptus
About 95% of all manuscripts
Earliest Date: 5th century
Closer in location to WHERE the NT was written – centered in Eastern Europe/ Asia Middle East
Alexandrian Family: NIV, NLT, ESV, HCSB
About 3-4% of all manuscripts
Earliest Date: 2nd century
Closer in date to WHEN the NT was written – centered in Northern Africa
NASB was taken mainly from the Byzantine family of manuscripts, but took into account the Alexandrian family of manuscripts during the translation process. So the verses in question are found in the NASB, but have brackets around them with footnotes saying “Early manuscripts do not contain this verse.”
For the vast majority of church history, the best and most numerous manuscripts were in the Byzantine family. The Alexandrian family of manuscripts weren’t discovered until 1844 by Archaeologist Constantin von Tischendorf at the Monastery of Saint Catherine on Mt. Sinai. (The KJV was written in 1611 before these manuscripts were discovered and was based on the Byzantine family of manuscripts.)
How exciting it must have been to find a whole new family of manuscripts! Scholars examined these new manuscripts and discerned them to be the oldest and most reliable manuscripts. On the positive side, although these manuscripts come from a whole new line of copyists and an entirely different chain of history, the contents for the vast majority matched the manuscripts in the Byzantine family! This further confirmed the reliability of the biblical text. On the negative side, however, there were some differences including the missing verses and passages.
These missing verses weren’t in the ‘Alexandrian family’ of manuscripts (200 to 400 AD), but show up in the medieval ‘Byzantine family’ of manuscripts (500 to 1000 AD) discovered on a different continent. (Just to clarify - earlier fragments/ parts of manuscripts have been discovered - just not "families.") Scholars don't know how these verses got into the text. They believe they were added by the copyists to expound upon a point or to clarify a point. Because the King James Bible is based on later manuscripts, these verses became part of the Bible tradition in English-speaking lands.
These verses aren’t missing. They were added to later manuscripts.
List of 17 New Testament verses: When a verse is omitted, later ones in the same chapter retain their traditional numbering. The below verses are in the NASB.
Matthew 17:21 ["But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting."]
Matthew 18:11 ["For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost."]
Matthew 23:14 ["Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation."]
Mark 7:16 ["If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear."]
Mark 9:44 ["where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED."]
Mark 9:46 ["where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED."]
Mark 11:26 ["But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions."]
Mark 15:28 [And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And He was numbered with transgressors."]
Luke 17:36 ["Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other will be left."]
Luke 23:17 [Now he was obliged to release to them at the feast one prisoner.]
John 5:3b,4 [waiting for the moving of the waters; for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted.]
Act 8:37 [And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” ]
Acts 15:34 [But it seemed good to Silas to remain there.]
Acts 24:6b-8a [We wanted to judge him according to our own Law. “But Lusias the commander came along, and with much violence took him out of our hands, ordering his accusers to come before you.”]
Acts 28:29 [When he had spoken these words, the Jews departed, having a great dispute among themselves.]
Romans 16:24 [The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.]
1 John 5:7 This verse is in the Alexandrian family text, but is different than in the Byzantine text.
KJV (Byzantine): For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.
NASB: For there are three that testify:
ESV: For there are three that testify:
NIV: For there are three that testify:
NLT: So we have these three witnesses –
My ESV Study Bible says “Late manuscripts of the Vulgate testify in heaven: the Father, the Word and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one. And there are three that testify on earth: the (not found in any Greek manuscript before the fourteenth century)”
Besides the above 17 verses, there are two passages which are not found in the Alexandrian family of manuscripts. If you want to read them go to www.biblegateway.com / enter the passages/ KJV/ and then click add parallel and you can add up to 3 parallels and read what they say.
Mark 16:9-20 – This account of Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene and the commissioning of the disciples is located in the gospel of Matthew. In Luke and John the risen Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene. And in the gospel of John Jesus commissioned the disciples to tend His sheep. This passage, while not originally found in Mark, is located elsewhere in Scripture.
John 7:53 – 8:11 – The story of the adulterous woman. This account is not located in the earliest manuscripts. But I found the story of the adulterous women in all my Bibles with clarification. My NIV Life Application Study Bible text note says: “There is considerable doubt that this story is part of John’s original Gospel, for it is absent from all of the oldest manuscripts. But there is nothing in it unworthy of sound doctrine. It seems best to view the story as something that probably happened during Jesus’ ministry but that was not originally part of what John wrote in his Gospel. Therefore it should not be considered as part of Scripture and should not be used as the basis for building any point of doctrine unless confirmed in Scripture.” Some of these verses in the story of the adulterous woman can be located elsewhere in Scripture.
I’ll admit this well-known story not being in the early manuscripts is a bit unsettling. For more on this read:
Why do I even write about the missing verses which aren’t really missing?
First of all I was thrown off guard when I first heard about the missing verses. When someone who acts like they know what they are talking about tells you the text of your Bible version is unreliable, you have doubts. Don’t have doubts. Your text is reliable!
And also one day I heard a segment on The History Channel and their proclaimed scholar was saying the text of the Bible is unreliable for this very reason. We all know people watch The History Channel and take it as the truth. [Thousands of scholars with doctorates pour over the manuscripts and variances and tell us our biblical text is reliable. And The History Channel finds the one "expert" who says it isn't. Of course.] I’m sharing this information to combat the spread of misinformation. It isn’t like biblical scholars don’t know about these verses. It isn’t like they aren’t disclosing it. I also believe it is good to be an intelligent Christian - to know what is going on so you can join in the discussion.
These verses found in the Byzantine family of manuscripts and not in the Alexandrian family of manuscripts add, or subtract, nothing from the original or from the message of the Word. No major Christian doctrine is impacted or changed.
Your Bible text is reliable. Scholars are sure of that.