"Why are Some passages in the King James Version Left Out of our Modern Translations?"
Just yesterday a reader named Scott, from Salt Lake City, Utah, wrote me with a question that offers a helpful launch point for this blog post. A fan of the NLT translation (which I have done work on), Scott has “a KJV enthusiast friend” who challenged him to take a look at Mark 6:11, which he did. This is how Scott’s email to me continued:
The King James Version presents Mark 6:11 thusly (emphasis added):
“And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear you, when ye depart thence, shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.”
The New Living Translation presents it like this with no textual notes at all:
“But if any place refuses to welcome you or listen to you, shake its dust from your feet as you leave to show that you have abandoned those people to their fate.”
As you can see and are probably already aware, the NLT omits half the verse compared to the KJV. The omission, from where I sit, is glaring and anything but insignificant. Interestingly, the NASB (Updated Edition), supposedly the "most literal" English translation available, agrees with the NLT, also without footnotes.
So I'm confused. Can you tell me why the second half of the verse as presented in the KJV has been omitted from the NLT without any footnote explanation???
Very good question, Scott. Let me see if I can give a basic overview of the reasons we do not have that part of the verse in modern versions. My answer will be in line with the vast majority of New Testament scholars in the world, both evangelical and otherwise. There are those who disagree, of course, but I think the evidence for holding that Mark did not write that second part of the verse is very compelling. See if you agree.
1. We now have access to thousands more manuscripts than were available to the translators of the KJV.
Throughout the first 1000 years of the Church and after, copies were made of the 27 “books” of our New Testament. For example, since Paul’s letter to the Romans was valued greatly, it was copied over and again and eventually taken to other parts of the Mediterranean world so that believers in places like Alexandria, Ephesus, and the Holy Land could have access to his teaching in letter form. As the letter spread widely throughout the Mediterranean world, this actually helped preserve the letter. Scribes (people who were trained in reading, writing, and the copying of manuscripts) made copies, and at times errors crept in; the vast, vast majority of these are minor (for example, spelling mistakes, changes in word order, skipping a word or phrase, and harmonizations with parallel passages), but since lots of other copies were being made throughout the rest of the Mediterranean world, the “original” form as Paul wrote it was preserved. The scholarly work that we call “Textual Criticism” (“criticism” in the sense of thoughtful study rather than being “critical” of something) has to do with isolating the original form of our books of the Bible and ferreting out those scribal errors.
Today we have around 5,800 Greek manuscripts of all or parts of the New Testament, and they come from various regions of the ancient world. Since, beginning in the 2nd Century, the Greek books of the New Testament started being translated into other languages, we also have tens of thousands of manuscripts in languages such as Latin, Coptic, and Syriac. In short, we have an amazing wealth of manuscript evidence for the New Testament, and these many manuscripts can be compared to see where minor errors crept in to our books of the Bible as scribes made copies. Compare this to other ancient documents. For example, we have less than 50 manuscripts of Aristotle or Plato and less than 700 of Homer’s Iliad, perhaps the most famous document from ancient Greek culture. Since we have so many manuscripts of the New Testament, we have lots of evidence to work with as we discern the original form of the writings.
But the Greek New Testament used by the translators of the King James was based on just a handful of manuscripts available at the time. The first Greek New Testament was published only about 100 years prior to the release of the King James translation by a scholar named Erasmus. Erasmus used the 6-7 Greek manuscripts at hand, all of which dated from about the 12th Century or later. Over the next century updated versions of the Greek New Testament would be made by a man named Stephanus and then by Theodore Beza, who produced the version probably used by the King James translators. These editions accessed another 15-20 manuscripts of the New Testament, the earliest and most important of which is referred to as Codex Bezae (D), a 5th Century manuscript that included most of the Gospels and Acts and a bit of 3 John (interestingly, this manuscript actually leaves out the portion of our verse in question).
So, our first answer is this: we have much, much more manuscript evidence to work with in trying to discern the original form of Mark 6:11 than was available to the translators of the KJV. The KJV translators were also doing their best to work with the manuscript evidence; they just had much less evidence than is available to us today since thousands of manuscripts have been discovered over the past 400 years.
2. The manuscripts to which we have access are much earlier and more geographically diverse than those used by the KJV translators.
Scholars call this, “external evidence,” looking at when and where the manuscripts were produced to determine the most reliable manuscripts behind a given passage. When we look at the manuscript evidence on Mark 6:11, the evidence for not including the words in question is very, very strong. The best major manuscript that includes the words is called Codex Alexandrinus, labeled “A”. This 5th-century manuscript is one of our earliest manuscripts on the New Testament (although this manuscript was not available to the KJV translators). But when we look at the manuscript evidence for the form of Mark 6:11 as found in our modern translations we find, for instance, Codex Sinaiticus (labeled א; mid-4th Century and our earliest copy of the New Testament as a whole), Vaticanus (labeled B; mid-4th century), Ephraemi Rescriptus (labeled C; 5th Century), and Codex Bezae mentioned above (labeled D; 5th Century). These are among our most important manuscripts of the New Testament.
What’s more, unlike the manuscripts representing the inclusion of our words in question, these manuscripts are from “families” of manuscripts spread throughout the Mediterranean world. Whereas the gospels portion of Codex A is associated with manuscripts that multiplied in the area of the Byzantine Empire, manuscripts א, B, C, and D represent all of the three great “families” of manuscripts from the Byzantine area (for example, C), the Western part of the Mediterranean (D), and from the area of Alexandria in Northern Africa (א, B). So the evidence for not including the words found in the KJV of Mark 6:11 is very early and very geographically diverse.
3. The addition of the words, “Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city” seem to have been added by a scribe who was thinking of the parallel passage in Matthew 10:15.
Another thing scholars consider when dealing with a variant in the manuscripts is this: Is there a pattern we see at times in scribal copying that explains this variant? (This is one aspect of what we call “internal evidence,” the data we find in the manuscripts themselves). One such pattern is for a scribe to amend a passage based on a parallel passage in Scripture, bringing the two into harmony. This may have been accidental at points. For instance one scribe might add the parallel in the margin of his manuscript and the next copyist, who used the errant scribe’s copy, might move the note in the margin into the body of the Gospel text. If we look at Matthew 10:15 we find the words that are in the KJV version of Mark 6:11. These words are retained in the modern versions of the Matthew passage. So they have not been “left out” of the Bible, they are just recorded in their proper place.
So, in summary:
1. The reading of Mark 6:11 in our modern translations is based on a wealth of manuscript evidence not available to the translators of the KJV.
2. The manuscripts that do not have the words at Mark 6:11 are earlier and much more geographically diverse than those that include the words.
3. The addition of the words in Mark 6:11 found in the KJV seem to be the result of a scribe adding material from the parallel passage in Matthew 10:15.
Thus the evidence seems clear that the part of Mark 6:11 in question did not belong to Mark’s original. You do not have a footnote on this in your Bible because scholars who study these things—many of whom love Christ, the Church, and God’s Word, by the way—believe the evidence to be so clear and compelling it is virtually beyond doubt. They would consider this a “slam dunk,” to use an American idiom. Of course we do not want to remove from Scripture what should be there, but also we do not want to add to passages of Scripture what should not be there! This is one reason these issues are so important!
In the case of Mark 6:11, no teaching is changed by the modern versions, and no teaching of Jesus is lost—it is just located in Matthew’s gospel (where it should be!) rather than Mark’s.
I hope this makes sense. I will follow up in my next post with another example passage that should make the issue of manuscript evidence even more clear: “The Fantastic Case of the Missing Manuscript!” (how’s that for a teaser?!).