Those Missing Verses Again

Perhaps you have seen posts warning of the missing verses in the New International Version (NIV) or the English Standard Version (ESV) of the New Testaments. One such post looks like this:

KJV-NIV Missing VersesWarning NIV:ESV Missing Verses

Sounds fairly ominous, don’t you think? However, notice these telltale signs that whoever composed this did not know what they were doing. At the end of the piece, one is warned to get earlier versions of the NIV and ESV. Only thing, an earlier version of either of these translations will not get your missing verses back because they essentially depend on the same ancient Greek manuscripts (MSS). The reader is further warned to keep a hard copy because a digital version like one might find in the a Bible app, like the OliveTree Bible Study app, might be changed on you. I do find it odd that the author of this slander chose only one app–there are so many good ones to choose from.

64,575 words have been removed! Really? I’d like to see that list. These words, so the warning screams, include Jehovah, Calvary, Holy Ghost, and omnipotent. Let’s test this point.

Jehovah only occurs in the KJV 4 times (Exod 6:3; Ps 83:18; Isa 12:2; 26:4) and 3 other times Jehovah is part of place names (Jehovahjireh, Gen22:14; Jehovahnissi, Exod 17:5; and Jehovahshalom, Judges 6:24). I expected a lot more. Jehovah is an ugly transliteration of the divine name of God in Hebrew (YHWH; יהוה). No one know exactly how it was pronounced but the Jews—so as not to use the Lord’s name in vain—always replaced it with the Hebrew word adonai meaning “lord or sir.” Jehovah is the result of blending the consonants of the divine name with the vowels of adonai. Scholars of Hebrew suggest that Yahweh is closer to the original pronunciation but many use YHWH when writing the name. Nonetheless, the KJV regularly translates the divine name as LORD–all capital letters so readers can see when the name of God is used in the original Hebrew. In modern English translations, one will find LORD as the translation of God’s divine name. So no words lost here.

Next. Calvary. The Greek in Luke 23:33 is Κρανίον (Kranion) or “skull.” The Latin is “Calvariae” and means — wait for it— “skull.” And now you know where English translators got “Calvary.”

The Holy “Ghost” of previous translations become the Holy “Spirit,” as ghost now denotes a phantom, i.e, the spirit of dead people. The 1611 KJV had originally used Holy Spirit in the following places: Ps 51:11; Isa 63:10–11; Luke 11:13; Eph 1:13; 4:30; 1 Thess 4:8. Nothing lost here, again.

The KJV used the word omnipotent of God in only one place, and that is, Rev 19:6. The NIV translated the word here as “Almighty,” as in “Lord God Almighty” which is a good translation of the word παντοκράτωρ which means “all-mighty.” Nothing amiss here, either.

Ok, nothing to see here, folks. No missing words among these examples.

But what about those missing verses? Imagine with me. What if the reverse were true and that the older version, such as the KJV of 1611, included “added” verses and words?

And, actually, this is closer to the truth. When the KJV was translated, the translators had access to very few manuscripts of the New Testament and the readings from these manuscripts were the basis of the available three printed texts of the New Testament. There was Erasmus’s 1516 Greek New Testament (based on 7 Greek MSS of the NT, dating from the 12th to the 15th century). Then, there was Robertus Stephanus’s Greek NT (the 1550 edition being the most important). And lastly the KJV translators had Theodore Beza’s 1598 edition of the Greek NT. These printed editions formed the texts on which the King James Version of the New Testament was based.

The translators also had access to earlier English translations of the Bible, including Coverdale’s (1535), Matthew’s (1537), The Great Bible (1539), the Taverner’s Bible (1539), the Geneva Bible (1560) and the Bishops’ Bible (1568)–a fairly long tradition of English Bible translations. And, of course, they had access to the Latin Vulgate.

What they did not have is the oldest manuscripts of the New Testament that have been discovered since 1611. It is the discovery of these older manuscripts that change the textual base for translation. And these older MSS did not have the text that newer translations supposedly “removed.”

Let use Matthew 18:11 as an example.

For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.

ἦλθε γὰρ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου σῶσαι τὸ ἀπολωλός.

A similar text occurs in Luke 19:10 and there is no doubt that it belongs here since all MSS have it.

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.

ἦλθεν γὰρ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ζητῆσαι καὶ σῶσαι τὸ ἀπολωλός.

So if there were some clandestine plan to remove Matt 18:11, why would translators leave in Luke 19:10? The answer is that what we have labeled Matt 18:11 (remember verse numbers were added later) was not originally in the Gospel of Matthew. Later scribes added it because they knew the text from Luke. How do I know this?

The oldest MSS we have that contains these words at Matt 18:11 is the 5th century MSS known as Codex Bezae and next a 7th century MSS known has Codex Basiliensis.

The oldest manuscripts that we that do not have these words at Matt 18:11 are the 4th century Codex Sinaiticus and the 4th century Codex Vaticanus. While the evidence is much more complicated than these four examples, it is enough to show that scholars must decide, when the text is different, which one is more likely original. Important to note here again is that the KJV translator did not have access to these earlier MSS . Thus, newer translations are now based on our oldest and more reliable MSS and the verses that are declared “missing” were not there in the first place. This is true of all of the supposed “missing” verses.

So, in the end, it is still true that Jesus came to seek and save the lost, but among the lost is not any of the verses mentioned here.

The Best Translation of the Bible

I get asked this question quite often: “What is the best translation of the Bible?” Or “What translation do you use?” If I know the people well, I will give a snarky “I don’t use a translation, I read the original” or more pastorally, “The best translation is the one that people are willing to read.”

I tend to use the New International Version (NIV) in my preaching, teaching, and presentations largely because up to now I have been able to assume that church members will generally have it. My own preference is to use the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) because of the careful work of the translators and editors behind the scenes—but to explain that would require another blog which we will save for another time.

Often the assumption behind the question of which translation is the best is that a “word-for-word translation,” or formal equivalent is more accurate than a dynamic equivalent, or more a thought-by thought translation. People who are bilingual don’t usually assume that a “word-for-word” translation is better since their daily life involves making sense of more than one language—and so they know that moving from one language to another is not so simple as matching the words in one language to words in another.

As I was learning some elementary Spanish I was told the following story that might illustrate the complexity of translation. A rather large lady who had learned enough Spanish to be dangerous once finished a meal and instead of requesting a cheque (“la cuenta, por favor”), looked up in her tourist dictionary the words for “how” and “much.” To which she found como and mucho. So she called out, “Como mucho!” And while the word como can mean how in some contexts and mucho is somewhat equivalent to much, together they did not mean what she was trying to say. Instead, because como is also the first person form of to eat (comer), she had announced “I eat a lot!” This exclamation certainly placed the wait person in an awkward place. While the translation was word-for-word, it did not translate well.

The goal of translation from one language to another should be communication. The best translation therefore will communicate the same message from the source language into the receptor language. The success of this enterprise will always be approximate and will be sufficient in most cases.  A good translation then is one that communicates. And basically all modern translations seek to do this and even the expansive The Message, though a paraphrase, is seeking to communication the ancient text to modern readers.

David Brunn in his study One Bible, Many Versions: Are All Translations Created Equal? (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013) has demonstrated that so called “word-for-word” translations do not alway do what the translators promise. A good example might be the case of Philippians 3:2 where Paul refers to τὴν (the) κατατομή, rather, literally, “the cutting.” Three translations expands this single word by the following:

  • ESV: those who mutilate the flesh
  • NIV: those mutliators of the flesh
  • NASB: the false circumcision

The NIV is the only translation of these that is a dynamic equivalent translation, but the other word-for-word type translation is equally free with the “most literal,” one, the NASB, offering an interpretation rather than a very strict verbal translation. For many more examples, see Brunn’s book and for a more detail explanation of translation theory, see the second chapter of Fee and Stuart’s How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth.

Translation must be done case-by-case, that is, one sentence at a time and then in relationship to the larger thought unit to which it belongs. Thus, declaring the best translation of the Bible is a rather bold proclamation. No translation gets it right perfectly and therefore translations will do better with some texts than others but none will get it “best” all of the time. To move beyond this impasse requires more than picking your favorite translation.

Does “Church” mean “the called out”?

I still hear it, though, by this time we should know better. The word “church” means “the called out,” therefore, based on the root meaning of the word, the church are the called out ones. Actually, no. While I certainly don’t want to take issue with the notion that the church should be those “called out” of the world to live God’s life for the sake of the world, the word church in the NT (ἐκκλησία) does not mean “the called out.”

This a bit like saying our English word “church” means “those belonging to the Lord,” since, after all, the English word church derives from the Greek “kurikos” (κυριακός) which meant “belonging to the Lord.” But few would even make that connection today.

D. A. Carson, years ago in Exegetical Fallacies, called this way of thinking about words, the root fallacy–that is that you can find what a word means by looking at its constituent parts (in this case, ἐκ [out of] + κλῆσις [calling]).

By the time of the first century, the word was the common word for a political or other assembly. The word, in that sense, is not a religious word. Furthermore, the import of the word is not the people had been called out but rather that they have assembled to conduct some business or activity. In one case in the NT, the word refers to a gathered mob (Acts 19:32).

Unfortunately, the often overlooked background of the NT use of the word ἐκκλησία is that the earliest Christians conversant in Greek knew the word from the Greek translation of the OT, the Septuagint (LXX). The word was not a new word for the early Christians but one they heard often with the OT was being read.

The Greek translators of the OT used the word ἐκκλησία as a translation of קָהָל (qahal) and other synonyms, generally translated as congregation or assembly. Consequently, the NT word we translate “church,” is all over the OT, as in Deut 4:10; 9:10; 18:16; 23:2-4, 9; 31:30; Josh 8:35; Judg 20:2; 21:5, 8; 1 Sam 17:47; 19:20; 1 Kings 8:14, 22, 55, 65; 1 Chr 13:2, 4; 28:2, 8; 29:1, 10, 20; 2 Chr 1:3, 5; 6:3, 12-13; 7:8; 10:3; 20:5, 14; 23:3; 28:14; 29:23, 28, 31-32; 30:2, 4, 13, 17, 23-25; Ezra 2:64; 10:1, 8, 12, 14; Neh 5:7, 13; 7:66; 8:2, 17; 13:1; Judith 6:16, 21; 7:29; 14:6; 1 Mac 2:56; 3:13; 4:59; 5:16; 14:19; Psa 21:23, 26; 25:5, 12; 34:18; 39:10; 67:27; 88:6; 106:32; 149:1; Prov 5:14; Job 30:28; Sir 15:5; 21:17; 23:24; 24:2; 26:5; 31:11; 33:19; 38:33; 39:10; 44:15; 46:7; 50:13, 20; Sol 10:6; Mic 2:5; Joel 2:16; Lam 1:10.

So better than thinking of the church as the “called out ones,” a more biblical approach would be seeing the church as the continuation of the story of God from the OT. When the early Christians heard the word ἐκκλησία, they were more likely to hear a reference to God’s gathered people.