Yes, It’s Been Changed: A Very Quick Primer on How We Get Our Bibles

So, this picture has been making the rounds on the interwebs.

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Erica Campbell of Mary Mary even shared it to her Facebook page, where the post received over 70,000 comments.

It is true? Have verses been taken out of the Bible?

The short answer is yes.

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But before you start pleading the blood and rebuking the devil, let’s have a brief conversation about where Bibles come from, kind of like the birds and the bees of biblical literature.

Before we start, just let me say that this is a very, VERY bare bones introduction to this topic. I’ve intentionally pared it down so it won’t be overwhelming. I’ll leave additional resources at the end for you to do more reading.

Bibles are translated from pieces of ancient manuscripts that are found from archeological digs or even by accident. In particular, there’s been many collected editions of the New Testament found all over. Editors compile what they can from the pieces of these manuscripts—which are often incomplete—and translate the Bibles that we read today. Nothing that these experts work on is an original document.

Did you hear that?

Repeat: WE HAVE NO ORIGINALS. Everything we have, even the oldest, “best” copies are just that: copies.

Some of these collections are older than others. The older something is, the closer its content is to whatever the original writer put in the document. But older still isn’t the same an original. So even in good (and good means older) copies, there is still stuff that is added, removed, and otherwise edited.

WAIT, ARE YOU SAYING THAT PEOPLE ADDED THINGS TO SCRIPTURE?

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Yes, but again, don’t get bent out of shape. Remember, people wrote everything by hand in ancient times. There was no copy machine so writers had to write every single document by hand.

Every.

Single.

One.

So imagine the number of typos, misspellings, and other errors that crept in when these documents were put to paper? We can’t even spell #pedalstool correctly. The majority of these additions are errors on the part of the copier.

Could you imagine having to translate words from something that looks like this?

Could you imagine having to translate words from something that looks like this?

There are some places in scripture where extra information is added to clarify topics for the readers. The Gospels are a good example of this. Luke’s readers weren’t well versed in Jewish ideas, some things need to be fleshed out to make sense. Also, each gospel was written to address specific issues. That’s why Jesus visits the temple three times in John but once in the other accounts, and why numerous other accounts are similar in the gospel but have different implications.

There’s also the issue of use getting better at translating these ancient languages. Remember, the original language of the Old Testament is Hebrew (with a splash of Aramaic), and the New Testament was written entirely in Koine Greek. It’s not a one-to-one ration when it comes to translating. So, we have to make the best guess they can. Any translator that is actually good at their job will tell that you that once you translate something, you’ve already interpreted it. Which means you’ve already changed the meaning somehow.

There are other places where a chunk of scripture is the direct result of a community adding commentary that reflects the beliefs of that community. For example, Mark 16. This popular chapter actually ends at verse 8, which means the rest of the text is a much later addition.

An example that is closer to home is 1 John 5:7. Grab your grandmother’s King James Bible and you see that it reads “ For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.” Check recent versions and you won’t find it. The verse didn’t appear in any manuscript until the 1500s. More than likely, that verse is a line from a hymn that reflected the theology of the time, but is a far cry from what the community of 1 John would believe. So, they took it out.

Here’s the part that’s missed by most folks. If you have a bible with study notes, you’ll see that the translator has already told you what scriptures are in doubt. Some even have them in brackets. People tend to not read these notes. Also, companies that publish Bibles leave these debatable verses in because people are familiar with them, and they want copies to sell. Money impacts theological choices and stances more than we talk about…and that needs a blog post all to itself.

So, to recap: Yes verses have been taken out and added into the Bible. Way more than you’ve realized.

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