Q&A: Missing Verses?

Missing Verses?

Question

Does the NIV deliberately skip verses in Acts?

Answer

The short answer is "yes." Here's the long answer:

The NIV deliberately omits certain verses in Acts and elsewhere. This is because the translation committee of the NIV determined that certain verses were probably not original to Scripture. It was not that they disagreed with the theology, but rather that they agreed with text critical scholarship that those verses were added to Scripture, either intentionally or accidentally, and probably from notes in the margins of ancient texts when those texts were copied by hand.

Perhaps a bit of text history will help. Way back in the first century A.D., the authors of the New Testament wrote their letters and books. But they didn't have computers or copy machines, or even printing presses. So, in order to disseminate these writings, copies had to be made by hand. Most often, these were made by professional scribes.

Copying Errors

Now, although professional scribes were very accurate, they sometimes made mistakes in their copying. When they caught their mistakes, they sometimes fixed them by writing a corrective note in the margin. When they did not catch their mistakes, sometimes a later editor would see the error and correct it in the margin. So, whereas the original letters and books contained no errors, the copies of them were not quite so perfect.

The problems introduced by this process should be evident. First, how do we know that later editors made proper corrections? Second, were there any errors that no one caught?

To answer the first question, scholars have an elaborate system for determining which corrections were proper and which were not. Their process evaluates such things as:

  1. hearing (when a scribe wrote what someone read to him)
  2. seeing (such as when a scribe was copying from one paper to another and inadvertently skipped or repeated portions of the text)
  3. handwriting (such as when a scribe's writing was unclear)
  4. ease of making an error (easy errors are more likely than difficult errors)
  5. difficulty of concept (more unusual or theologically difficult readings are more likely to be improperly "corrected")


It also takes into account other copies of the same text. When ancient texts contain different readings of the same passage of Scripture, the texts that are considered more trustworthy are often used to correct those that are considered less trustworthy. Of course, determining trustworthiness is another issue. This is not an exhaustive list of the factors considered, but it should be enough to present a general idea of the things that text criticism evaluates.

To answer the second question, some texts appear to contain errors that no one in the ancient world caught. Modern scholarship sometimes identifies these based on the vast amount of data currently available, and also based on the fact that many more eyes have looked at these documents over the years. The more widely a document is inspected, the more likely an error will be discovered. The ancient scribes and editors were not infallible. Just as the scribes could make mistakes, so could the editors.

Additional difficulties related to this process include the fact that sometimes a text is corrected multiple times. The order in which the editors worked is not always clear. Another difficulty is that editors almost never included notes as to their reasons for making corrections.

In short, the process of detecting and correct errors is complicated and involved. Scholars do not always agree on which elements to weight more heavily in their evaluations, or on correct readings. This is one of the reasons that most Bible translations contain marginal alternate readings for some verses.

Interpretive Freedom

Another problem is that some ancient texts look very different from others. It would appear that in at least some parts of the ancient world, reliable text transmission more a matter of the representation of ideas and less a matter of letter-for-letter precision. Differences in grammar, syntax, style and vocabulary exist between many manuscripts of ancient texts. Generally speaking, the texts all convey the same meaning, but they frequently do it with different words, sort of like comparing a modern Bible translations in English. And just as in modern English Bibles, some texts appear to copy with rather strict adherence to what we suspect to be the original, while others are rather loose. This makes determining the original wording much more difficult.

Textual Traditions/Families

Texts can often be grouped with similar texts, usually according to geography. In other words, texts translated in one place tend to resemble one another and to differ from texts translated in other places. And, perhaps somewhat obviously, texts translated from the same source text tend to resemble one another. Some families are generally considered more reliable than others because of the level of interpretive freedom allowed and/or the quality of the root documents that gave rise to the family.

Second Generation Errors

You'll recall that I mentioned marginal corrections. Well, it is also true that ancient scholars sometimes wrote commentary and other notes in the margins of their texts. Later, when these texts were used as the basis for creating additional copies of the text, the copyists sometimes copied the wrong version of a correction. At other times they could not distinguish between marginal corrections and marginal notes/commentary, and this resulted in the accidental inclusion of notes and commentary as part of the text of Scripture.

Verse Numbering

The verse numbers in Scripture are not original. The verse numbering we have now happened over a period of time. In the second or third century, the Rabbis had added verses to Old Testament texts. The kephalaia (section divisions) in Greek New Testament texts are also quite old (probably ca. fifth century). From here it progressed through men like Robert Estienne. Though he was not actually the first to add verse numbers, he seems to have been the first printer to do so. His numbering system, however, is the one that we still use today, at least in English Bibles.

Modern Scholarship

This brings us to the modern day. Translation committees these days have to decide such matters as: Which text family or families will we use as our basis? What influence will we allow other families to exert on us? What will be our translation philosophy when we come to questionable texts? This is something that scholars have done throughout history, and that they continue to do today. One big difference with modern scholarship is that we have so many more people working with so much more data. Another big difference is that there exists today a published text commonly called the "critical text," which is not a copy of any existing ancient text, but rather a composite text intended to reflect the most probable readings of all the verses in the New Testament.

Modern Translation

So, let's consider the NIV again. The translators of the NIV determined to use the critical text as their basis, and to let their interpretive decisions be influenced by all text families and all individual texts.

Some of the verses included in our medieval monk's copy of the Bible, and therefore assigned verse numbers, were determined by the NIV translation committee to be accidental inclusions of marginal commentary/and or notes. For this reason, the NIV did not include them in its text. They did this not because they had a low view of Scripture, but a high one. After all, we don't want to add something new and uninspired to the Bible.

But it would be very confusing for a modern translation to renumber its verses each time it determined that a particular verse was not original. Therefore, modern translations all follow the medieval versification. This is why the NIV skips some verse numbers. It has omitted a verse that it believes was not original, but retained the medieval numbering so that the verses it retains are assigned same verse numbers in the NIV as in all other Bibles.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.