Missing Verses

January 19, 2010

Recently I’ve been teaching an online course on how to use the software tool e-Sword for Bible study. One class in the course was devoted to comparing the various translations, and explaining the differences. We began that exercise at Acts 8:37.

Acts 8:37 appears in the KJV but is missing (or bracketed and discounted in a footnote) in most of the more recent English translations. The rationale for omitting this verse is that it is missing in most of the oldest Greek manuscripts that have been discovered since the KJV was translated, mainly from the fourth century AD. It appears in many Latin manuscripts from the 500’s and later. The underlying assumption is that the older manuscripts are more reliable witnesses to the original.

I wonder whether that assumption is sufficiently certain to justify excluding the verse, especially in view of the fact that Irenaeus quotes from Acts 8:37 in Against Heresies, in about 175ad to 180ad. That is at least 150 years earlier than the earliest manuscript we possess. So if the verse was added after the original writing, it was done very early — early enough, in fact, so that a church leader as prominent and as well respected as Irenaeus considered it to be scripture (and apparently didn’t expect his readers to have doubts about it either.) It is hard to imagine how that could happen so close to the original writing. Think about it: If you were around in the few decades between the apostles and 175AD, and you wanted to slip something into the scriptures, how would you do it? How would you convince church leaders, who have their own copies handed down to them, that your addition is really part of the inspired scripture?

A similar question can be raised about the long ending of Mark (Mark 16:9-20).

The NIV claims “The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20.” Note however that in revising the NIV, the TNIV makes the less bold claim “The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20.” There is good reason for backing away from that claim. First, the earliest manuscripts are not by any stretch the most reliable, differing from one another more frequently than the later manuscripts. Second and perhaps more significantly, the highly respected witness Irenaeus quotes from Mark 16:19 in Against Heresies:

Also, towards the conclusion of his Gospel, Mark says: “So then, after the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God;”

Here Irenaeus removes all doubt about what his copy of Mark contained. At the time he wrote this (circa 175AD) he had no question that Mark wrote that in his gospel.

I don’t know that these examples provide absolute proof that these passages were in the original text. But I think the evidence for inclusion is at least as strong as the evidence against. The oldest manuscript we happen to have today is not necessarily the most reliable — especially in view of the testimony of even older witnesses.


  1. Greetings in Christ. About Mark 16:9-20: Irenaeus is not the only early church writer to use material from this passage. Justin Martyr, in First Apology 45 (c. 160), makes a strong allusion to the contents of Mk. 16:20, and Tatian, in 172, included the entire passage in the Diatessaron (a blend of the contents of all four Gospels). So there's not just one patristic witness that is over 100 years older than the oldest MS of Mk. 16; there are at least three.Another thing to consider is the special treatment given to the end of Mark in those two old Greek MSS which end at 16:8. You can read more about this, and view replicas of the pertinent parts of these two MSS, in my multi-part presentation that begins atwww.curtisvillechristian.org/MarkOne.html Yours in Christ,James Snapp, Jr.

  2. Fascinating article! I was aware of the strong evidence in the Diatessaron. I've generally avoided placing too much weight on the evidence in Justin Martyr since it requires a quite bit of inference. But you've clearly researched this question well. Thank you for sharing it.

  3. I like the way that the ESV handles these passages. Also like the idea of teaching a class on using e-sword – kudos for doing so Alan!

  4. FYI here is something I wrote some time back to help people understand the concept of "missing verses":Why Did the NIV "delete" Verses from the New Testament – http://mattdabbs.wordpress.com/2007/11/29/why-did-the-niv-delete-verses-in-the-new-testament/The Case of the Missing Verse – John 5:4 http://mattdabbs.wordpress.com/2008/03/20/the-case-of-the-missing-verse-john-54/That might be helpful for someone trying to understand these things. Thanks for your hard work on this subject.

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