The missing verses in the Bible
Fr. Dr. Thomas Manjaly, Professor emeritus of New Testament Studies
Oriens Theological College, Shillong
(From prervious issue)
The Problem of Missing Texts
[dropcap]B[/dropcap]y way of illustration, let us look at two examples which are cited by Rev. Johnson John as missing verses.
(a) The first text in question is Mt 17:21. First of all, the good codices like Sinaiticus and Vaticanus (both Alexandrian type), Koridethi (Byzantine), and other ancient manuscripts (Minuscule manuscripts – nos. 33 (Alexandrian), 579 (Byzantine), 892 (Alexandrian), versions like Old Latin – Itala (it), Old Syriac (Syr), Coptic (both Sahidic and Bohairic), Ethiopic, etc., omit this verse. It is included only in some codices belonging to the Byzantine and Western type and other manuscripts of later origin (The Greek New Testament, 4th revised edition, 65). So the external evidence is overwhelmingly against its inclusion. From the internal evidence point of view, “there is no good reason why the passage, if originally present in Matthew, should have been omitted, and since copyists frequently inserted material derived from another Gospel, it appears that most manuscripts have been assimilated to the parallel in Mk 9:29” (Metzger, A Textual Commentary, 43).(b) The next example is Mt 18:11 which has also been omitted in NIV / RSV. The verse is found missing in the earliest witnesses representing several text types – Codices Sinaiticus and Vaticanus of the Alexandrian type, codex L which agrees mostly with codex Vaticanus, codex Koridethi of the Byzantine type, other Minuscule manuscripts (nos. 33 and 892 – Alexandrian type), as well as many early versions such as Old Latin – Itala (it), Old Syriac (Sinaitic), Coptic (Bohairic), and some early Fathers of the Church – Origen, Eusebian Canon, etc. (The Greek New Testament, 4th revised edition, 67). It is found only in a few late manuscripts and versions of late origin. It has been borrowed by copyists from Lk 19:10. The reason for the interpolation was apparently to provide a connection between verse 10 and verses 12-14 (Metzger, A Textual Commentary, 44-45).
Going Beyond Missing Verses
A careful look at the critical apparatus provides the reasons for most the omissions. While the present write-up deals more directly with the New Testament, a similar study of the Old Testament omissions with the help of a critical edition of the Hebrew Masoretic text as found in Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS) or Kittel’s Biblia Hebraica (BHK), other versions like the Septuagint, the Vulgate, with the help study aids (e.g. Ernst Wuerthwein, The Text of the Old Testament, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmanns, 1979) would help to explains the omission in some of the modern versions of the Old Testament.
Besides Manuscript evidence (external evidence), there are also other reasons. But each of such omissions will have to be studied with great care. In this regard, the Committees for the 27th edition of Nestle-Aland and 4th Edition of the UBS Greek New Testament have undertaken a thoroughly critical evaluation of the manuscripts evidence and other connected matters. It is therefore on such critical editions, which provide scientific explanations regarding changes (additions, omissions, modification, harmonization, etc.) and manuscripts of reliable types that we have to base our study and translation of the Bible.
The NIV / RSV, etc., place the omitted verses / parts verses in brackets or in footnote on the basis of external evidence (quality of the text type) and internal evidence (scribal changes). But these omissions do not in any way endanger the sacredness of the Word of God in the Bible or minimize the idea of inspiration of the Sacred Text. Such errors only confirm the equally important fact that God’s Word has been transmitted through human agency.
The scribes were very conscious about the sacredness of their task that they underwent the drudgery of copying the text with utmost care. This is expressed in some of the notes and colophons which they placed at the end of the manuscript. It may be good to recall some of them: “He who does not know how to write supposes it to be no labour; but though only three fingers write, the whole body labours”; or “Writing bows one’s back, thrusts the ribs into one’s stomach, and fosters a general debility of the body”; “Whoever says, ‘God bless the soul of the scribe’, God bless his soul”; or “Mercy be to him who wrote, O Lord, wisdom to those who read, grace to those who hear, salvation to those who own (this codex) Amen” (Metzger, The Text of the New Testament, 19-20). From this we can understand that unless there is good reason, no scribe would consciously omit a passage, if present in the original manuscript.
A citation from Metzger who concludes his book with word of caution may be in place: “no single manuscript and no one group of manuscripts exists which the textual critic may follow mechanically. All known witnesses of the New Testament are to a greater or less extent mixed texts, and even the earliest manuscripts are not free from egregious errors. Although in very many cases the textual critic is able to ascertain without residual doubt which reading must have stood in the original, there are not a few other cases where he can come only to a tentative decision based on an equivocal balancing of probabilities. Occasionally none of the variant readings will commend itself as original, and he will be compelled either to choose the reading which he judges to be the least unsatisfactory or to indulge in conjectural emendation. In textual criticism, as in other area of historical research, one must seek not only to learn what can be known, but also become aware of what, because of conflicting witnesses, cannot be known” (Metzger, The Text of the New Testament, 246).
All modern scientific / technical translations of the Bible (of Catholic and other Christian churches) such as New International Version, New Revised Standard Version, or The New Jerusalem Bible, etc., make use of the more authentic manuscripts applying strictly the principles of Textual Criticism. Catholic and other Christian scholars agree on the basic principles of Textual Criticism and their application to manuscripts. Unprejudiced and judicious application of the principles of Textual Criticism has facilitated ecumenical collaboration to bring out critical editions of the Bible.