Yesterday, I received an email from a friend who wanted to know how to answer a serious question. Someone had sent him a video that called into question all of the newer translations that “took verses out of the Bible.” He rightly wanted to know if there was justification for doing so and, if so, what that justification was.
The following is my response to him. I quickly punched it out so I did not include footnotes or anything else that a reflective answer would have provided. I just wanted to get him a quick answer knowing that my response could provide him with the information to dig deeper into the issue for himself.
Since I believe it could be helpful to others, I will copy and paste my response below.
For the purposes of illustration, imagine that I’m one of the KJV translators in the early 1600s. We need a Greek translation to work with, so we use the one Erasmus compiled about 100 years earlier.
However, a closer look at the Erasmus Greek text demonstrates that he was under pressure to get his work done quickly because he wanted to beat another translator (Cardinal Ximenes) who was also working on a Greek text. In his haste, Erasmus made some errors by including some words/sentences that we now know weren’t in the original writings. He also appears to have sometimes used the Latin translation to “back-translate” in order to give his best shot at what the Greek words would have been.
So … as a KJV translator, using the Erasmian Greek text, I’m going to inevitably translate words and sentences that will later be discovered not to have been in the original writings. Readers of my KJV translation will take the words and sentences that they read as “Scripture,” even though a few of those words and sentences were not originally written by the Spirit-inspired authors because Erasmus didn’t take the necessary time to avoid making errors in his Greek text.
As a teenager, I became aware of these issues as I read my Scofield KJV Bible. It bracketed a large section of Mark 16 and said that those words didn’t appear in the earliest Greek texts.
Now, imagine that I’m a translator for the Christian Standard Bible or any number of the other newer translations. We have a sky-high degree of confidence when we look at the Greek texts we now have. Why? Because over 6,000 fragments of the New Testament have been dug up so that scholars can compare and contrast in their search for what was originally written by the Spirit-inspired writers. With somewhere in the neighborhood of 99.9% certainty, we know exactly what words were used by the original writers.
As I sit down to translate the Bible, looking at the Greek texts, my heart wants to keep those questionable words and sentences that appear in the KJV. People have memorized those verses. Those verses have given them comfort and are so familiar. Yet, integrity demands that I be faithful to the Greek text.
But that poses a problem. So many people think that verses like Matthew 17:21 (KJV) are Scripture but all of the more reliable Greek texts don’t include it. So, integrity demands that I not include that verse in my translation.
But now I have another problem. Since I’m not including that verse, how do I number all of the verses that follow? If I completely renumber them, then anyone who gives a chapter and verse (pastor, Christian books, etc.) will cause their listeners/readers to look at different verses since the KJV will have a different numbering than all of the newer translations. So, the best thing for me to do is omit that verse, lose the verse number, and get accused by KJV-only folks of leaving out verses of the Bible.
Please understand that I’m not talking badly about the KJV. I hold it to be God’s Word just as all other faithful translations. Yet, we must be diligent to realize that God didn’t write His Word in English (or Old English). He had it written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. So, we need to realize that there will be some issues when those languages are translated into English (or any other language) 1,600 years later or 2,000 years later.
That’s why I am so grateful that we live in an age where thousands of the biblical texts have been discovered and that scholarly men and women are faithfully comparing and contrasting those texts to determine with a sky-high degree of certainty exactly what was written thousands of years ago.
Hopefully, this makes sense. If you have any other questions, let me know.
As I mentioned to my friend, I also would love to field questions from you, the reader. Just write your question or reflection under this article and I will try to respond in a timely manner.