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Page 34


Comparative Study of Bible Translations

Example 42

1 Corinthians 14:34–35
NRSV footnote: “Other ancient authorities put vv. 34–35 after v. 40.”

These verses have received significant text-critical attention only in very recent years, primarily because of their
command for the silence of women in church. These two verses appear in every extant copy of 1 Corinthians;
however, in three closely related manuscripts (the earliest dating to the 6th century) and a handful of Latin man-
uscripts and church fathers (all of which also are related to these three Greek manuscripts) the verses follow
15:40. Some scholars have tried to use this shift as “evidence” of the verses being an interpolation to the text and
not part of 1 Corinthians at all. The shifting of verses is not all that rare an occurrence in the manuscripts, but a
shift in the order of verses is not good evidence that the verses were added later. The evidence is very strong that
these verses have always been an authentic part of 1 Corinthians. One might well ask what prompted the NRSV
editors to include their note if not to attempt to raise questions about the authenticity of the verses.


Some of the most contentious debates among conservative American Christians revolve around which text
should be the basis for translation. In the case of the OT, most modern translations have similar principles con-
cerning which text they follow. Obviously, the KJV, produced in the early 17th century, is not influenced by these
principles. There is consensus that the best available Hebrew text should form the basis of the translation. Variant
readings should be introduced only when there is a compelling case to adopt a reading from the Dead Sea Scrolls
or from the ancient translations of the Bible, especially from the Septuagint. On the other hand, there is a wide
divergence in practice in how the variant readings are evaluated.

For purposes of brevity, only one OT text critical example is provided.

Example 43

Ps. 145:13b
RSV “The LORD is faithful in all his words, and gracious in all his deeds” (similarly NRSV, NIV, ESV). Omitted

by all other translations.

This psalm is an alphabetic acrostic in Hebrew, which means that every verse begins with the next letter of
the Hebrew alphabet. The verse for the nun letter in Hebrew is missing from almost all Hebrew manuscripts, but
is preserved in the Septuagint and the Syriac.

The issues in the NT are more complex than the OT, primarily because of the far greater number of manu-
scripts (over 5,000 Greek alone) but also because of the greater number of NT variations. The KJV was based on
the edition initially compiled by Erasmus in 1516; he had available to him only six NT manuscripts, none earlier
than the 10th century. In the last 500 years, more and far earlier manuscripts (some dating to the first half of the
second century) have come to light, and the process of evaluating their readings is critical to any translation proj-
ect. The following examples will examine several notorious passages where differences exist between the
KJV/NKJV and all other editions.

Example 44

1 John 5:7–8
KJV 7 For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these

three are one. 8 And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood:
and these three agree in one. (also NKJV)

NIV 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.
(similarly the rest)

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Comparative Study of Bible Translations

The longer passage became widespread in the later Latin Vulgate manuscripts and used in the late Middle
Ages as a “proof text” for the doctrine of the Trinity. However, it is not found in any Greek manuscript prior to
the 16th century. Erasmus himself refused to include the verses in his edition until bowing to pressure in his 3rd
edition (1522). Luther did not include the verses in his translation and during his lifetime they never appeared in
editions of his text. These obviously secondary verses are found in comments by the Latin father Cyprian; at
some point they apparently were written in margins of Latin manuscripts (a common practice) and then, think-
ing it was a correction, a scribe entered it into his text. Were these verses in early manuscripts, they would certain-
ly be the clearest passage in Scripture concerning the Trinity; their late appearance, however, precludes their use.
The ESV is the first translation not even to acknowledge in a note the insertion found in the KJV.

Example 45

Acts 8:37
KJV 36 And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water; and the eunuch said, Behold, here is

water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? 37 And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou
mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (also NKJV)

Others v. 37 not included

This passage has slightly more evidence in the Greek manuscripts than the previous example: about a half
dozen, the earliest of which is from the 8th century. The verse is apparently an adaptation of the Eastern church’s
Greek baptismal liturgy inserted into the text of Acts. Unfortunately, the only manuscript of Acts used by
Erasmus had the verse, who then included it in his edition, and from there into Luther’s and the KJV. At issue is
whether or not Philip required a verbal confession of faith from the Eunuch prior to Baptism. The verse has often
been used as “proof text” to justify the practice of a requirement for verbal confession and, conversely, against the
practice of baptizing infants. Luther himself was forced to attempt to respond to those who used the verse to
make those arguments on more than one occasion. Again, text-critical principles support the modern editions
and results in a text that is in line with the rest of Scripture on the efficacy of baptism for all, including infants.

Example 46

Mark 16:9–20
John 7:53—8:11

These are probably the most well known textual problems in the NT. Finding them in his handful of late
manuscripts, Erasmus uncritically printed them in his text, and from there they entered Luther’s translation and
the KJV. While both passages have some early attestation, the difficulty comes in explaining their absence in some
manuscripts, the fact that other endings are given for Mark besides this one, the fact that many manuscripts
(even though they include the verses) mark them off as secondary, and the discussion and rejection of these vers-
es by such fathers as Eusebius and Jerome. There is also, especially in the case of the longer ending of Mark, clear
evidence and context for their creation in the second century. All modern editions print the verses with some
kind of indication that they are either of questionable authenticity or spurious. While this raises some issues with
regard to Luther’s use of Mark 16:16 in the Small Catechism (he was unaware of the textual problems), it is also
clear that everything contained in the Longer Ending is found elsewhere in Scripture—everything, that is, except
the “signs” of picking up snakes and drinking poison. A glance at the parallel passages noted in the margins of the
Novum Testamentum Graece confirms this. Add to this the literary problems of how the Longer Ending does not
fit with the rest of Mark and that neither passage matches the grammar or vocabulary of its respective book, it is
clear that both the one- and three-year lectionaries have made the correct decision in having the Easter pericope
from Mark end at 16:8 and not including the passage from John 8 at all.

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