Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Sunday, March 26

What is Worst? Removing from or Adding to Scripture? (Matt 18:11)

I was asked why all modern translations “omit” Matt 18:11. “For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost” (KJV). The form of the question betrays the basic problem, that people think modern translations omit verses rather than other translations add verses.

There are probably two reasons for this assumption. One is that the verse is in the KJV. The second is that in modern translations the verse number is skipped.

The first Bible to have verse numbers was the Geneva Bible (1557). Verse numbers allowed readers to cross-reference passages (see Wikipedia). This was 54 years before the KJV; but like the KJV, the Geneva Bible was based on the Greek Received Text (TR) that has the verse.

By every canon of textual criticism, we know this verse was added centuries after Matthew wrote.

1. We know the general tendency of scribes was to add, not subtract.

2. The TR represents the textual family known for additions.

3. The better Greek manuscripts, that are centuries older than the TR do not have the verse (ℵ, B, L*, Q*, ƒ1, ƒ13).

4. We know that one of the scribal tendencies was to harmonize the gospel stories, so it is not surprising that some scribe would bring Luke 19:10 into Matt 18. This is why the NIV footnote reads, “Some manuscripts include here the words of Luke 19:10).

5. It is easy to see why the verse would have been added. It is difficult to see any reason why it would have been omitted. (This is the text critical rule of the “more difficult” reading.)

I know there is a lot of emotion in some places today about “omitting verses.” But think about this:

1. Luke 19:10 is in all modern Bibles, and it is therefore true that “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (NIV). If you want to make this point in your theology, preaching, and teaching, then cite the verse that is in all Bibles.

2. The curse of Revelation about removing anything from the scroll (Rev 22:19) includes the prior curse on adding to it (Rev 22:18).