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No book is more important than the Bible. God’s perfect, inspired, inerrant Word is loved, treasured, and protected by His people. From the first prophets who put the Word of the Lord into writing until now, God’s people have taken the utmost care to keep, copy, and preserve the Word of God.

Long before printing presses could ensure consistent copies, Israel and the church fastidiously copied Scripture, not word by word, but letter by letter. Given its uniquely eternal, transcendent nature, God’s people showed meticulous care in transcribing it, preserving it for generations to come. Their painstaking efforts helped fulfill the words of Jesus’ promise, “Until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass away from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18, ESV).

It’s no surprise, then, why many people are shocked and upset when a verse in their Bible appears to be missing. We are so used to the chapter/verse addressing system that when a verse number is skipped it’s like our GPS broke down and we’re not sure where to turn.

This brief article is intended to explain why some verses “disappear” from the Bible in modern translations. My hope is not merely to calm fears, but to confirm and build your trust in the Bible you hold in your hands.

Ancient Texts Down Through the Ages

There are more copies of Scripture in ancient Hebrew, Greek, and other long-dead languages than any other text. For the New Testament, the oldest known copies date back to less than one hundred years from the original manuscripts, and possibly as close to 25 years.[1] The significance of this can only be understood in contrast with other ancient literature.

Two popular ancient authors are Aristotle and Homer. Aristotle is a world-renowned philosopher from the fourth century B.C. whose ideas continue to be taught in classrooms today. The oldest copies of his writing date to 1,400 years after the original versions. Is it possible that over the course of a millennium his writings were altered? It is impossible to know; there aren’t enough ancient texts to validate the accuracy of the available copies.

Homer’s Iliad has fared better, but not much. The oldest available copies date to 500 years after its original composition. The hundreds of ancient copies available reveal that the copies are about 95% accurate. That’s remarkable.

But when we come to the Bible, not only are the oldest copies less than 100 years from their original compositions, but there are thousands of ancient Greek copies which reveal a 99.5% accuracy among them. That is nothing less than incredible, and it attests to the faithfulness of ancient believers who were devoted to preserving and passing on God’s Word.

The Making of the English Bible

John Wycliff was the first person to translate the Bible into English; he did so in the fourteenth century from the Latin Vulgate. Less than two hundred years later, William Tyndale developed a more accurate English translation using Hebrew and Greek texts. Tyndale’s work—which consisted of the entire New Testament and a portion of the Old—became the foundation of the King James Version (KJV). In fact, the New Testament of the KJV is 83% Tyndale’s translation from the early 1500s.

While the KJV is an accurate and beautiful translation, Tyndale and his contemporaries could only work with Hebrew and Greek manuscripts available at the time. In the centuries since then, archaeologists have discovered thousands of much older copies. As a result, we are able to compare these thousands of texts and produce a translation that more accurately reflects the original Scriptures.

By comparing these thousands of texts that span hundreds of years, we can see how small errors in copies were introduced over time. There are clear examples where, for example, a scribe added a phrase in Matthew’s gospel that they likely remembered from Luke, but which is absent from the much older copies of Matthew.

While the KJV and the New King James Version (NKJV) have remained largely unchanged from their seventeenth century counterparts,[2] modern translations reflect improved accuracy by marking out words and phrases that were almost certainly not penned by the authors of Scripture. In some translations, as with the English Standard Version (ESV), such passages are removed from the flow of the text and a footnote is provided to explain why.

Missing Verses

The Bible was not written with chapter and verse numbers. In fact, the first English Bible to be printed with both chapter and verse numbers was the Geneva Bible in 1560. The 1611 edition of the King James Bible slightly altered the chapter and verse divisions, and all modern English translations followed suit. Dividing the text this way makes it easy for Christians around the world to teach, preach, write, and speak about the Bible in a way that allows others to follow along easily.

But what happens when a verse that was assigned a number in the 1500s turns out to not be part of the original text? As mentioned before, some modern translations have determined to remove the verse and add a footnote. But for the uninformed reader, that creates a problem when they read, for example Matthew 18:10-12 in the ESV. There is no verse 11 in the text—it goes from 10 to 12, with only a footnote at the end of 10 offering an explaining (and we must admit, footnotes are often left unread).

To the reader it looks like something is missing—Scripture has been removed! The reality is the Bible text is more accurate to the original, but the address system is broken.

Passages in Question

So what verses are missing? The following list reflects the verses that no longer appear in the flowing text of the English Standard Version:

Matthew 17:21
Matthew 18:11
Matthew 23:14
Mark 7:16
Mark 9:44
Mark 9:46
Mark 11:26
Mark 15:28
Mark 16:9–20
Luke 17:36
Luke 23:17
John 5:3–4
John 7:53-8:11
Acts 8:37
Acts 15:34
Acts 24:6b–7
Acts 28:29
Romans 16:24

The only passage above that readers will find still in the main text of their Bibles is Mark 16:9-20. While the originality of this text is highly debated, John MacArthur preached a helpful message explaining why it should not be considered part of Scripture. Click here for that message.

Conclusion

So what do you do when you see a missing verse? First, look for a footnote. There will usually be an explanation on why that particular verse was not included. But even if there isn’t, now you know why Bible verses go missing. In the history of Bible publishing, there have been Bibles with very serious errors—some more famous than others.[3] In every case, publishers have done a great job in stopping the presses when they find errors. So when you find a missing verse, know that it’s not a misprint or something more malicious.

If anything, let the absence of a verse spur you on to more closely examine the version of God’s Word you read and study, and get to know how it differs from other reliable texts. Whether you prefer the English Standard Version, New American Standard Bible, Holman Christian Standard Version, or another modern translation recommended by evangelical pastors and scholars, you can rest in the confidence that it is a trustworthy translation—that it is “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12), “inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  

G. Gabriel Powell
Internet Ministry Coordinator

Recommended Resources

Why Believe the Bible? by John MacArthur

The King James Controversy by James White

[1] Dan Wallace, a Greek scholar, has offered hints that a fragment of the gospel of Mark has been found and may date to the A.D. 80s or 90s. See here for more information: http://danielbwallace.com/2012/03/22/first-century-fragment-of-marks-gospel-found/.

[2] Despite what some KVJ-Onlyists would have us believe, the 1611 KJV has been modernized in terms of spelling, formatting, and correcting some errors. 

[3] See the following article for some examples. We do not necessarily endorse all the content at this website, but this particular article provides a helpful list of famous Bible publishing mistakes: http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2013/01/famous-bible-translation-mistakes-throughout-history/.

Grace to You
Unleashing God’s Truth, One Verse at a Time
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