Almost everyone in church has heard this at some point. Someone who refuses to use anything but a KJV Bible has told you, “The NIV leaves out verses, taking away from God’s Word!” Your immediate response may have been scoffing, but perhaps later during a sermon or Bible study you noticed something like 1 John 5:7-8. For the KJV says:
For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.
But the NIV says:
For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.
“That’s odd,” you think. Then later maybe you were reading the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6 and were confused to find this:
Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
Matthew 6:9-13 (KJV)
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
Matthew 6:9-13 (NIV)
“Oh my goodness!” you exclaim. “Crazy Brother Bob with the angry beard was right! The NIV does leave out verses. They’re changing God’s Word!”
Crazy Brother Bob with the angry beard was right!
Okay, you may not have responded so drastically when and if this happened to you, but perhaps it did raise some doubt and questions. And that makes sense. As Christians, the Bible is our authority. We believe it to be God-breathed and the source of all truth needed for salvation. So if a translation of the Bible is messed up, that is a serious issue for us. If a Bible as popular as the NIV is subtracting from the words of God, we have to confront it.
NIV leave out verses
Fortunately, this is not the situation. If you do not already know this, I’ll explain the basic history of the Bible and how this leads to our modern translations, and their differences.
The Bible is actually 66 books, and they were written over a period of at least 1,500 years by over 40 people from various walks of life. There were original authors, editors, and copyists who produced the first generation of each book of Scripture. For the Old Testament, these books were written mostly in the Hebrew language, with certain portions in Aramaic. The New Testament books were written in Greek. The final book of the Bible was written sometime before AD 100.
If a Bible as popular as the NIV is subtracting from the words of God, we have to confront it. Fortunately, this is not the situation.
The next stage in development was copying. The Old Testament books were consistently and carefully copied by Jewish scribes for millennia. The rules they placed on copying Scripture were so strict that two copies of Isaiah, each written around a thousand years apart, were found to be 95% identical, with the remaining 5% mostly consisting of spelling variations and slips of the pen. However, the entire Old Testament is not in the exact same situation. Every book has a different history of copying. The matter is complicated by the Septuagint (LXX for short), a family of Greek translations of the OT that appear about 200-300 years before Christ. Ancient Greek and Hebrew were radically different languages, and so the LXX shows several translation issues and others differences, including sometimes even entire verses or passages, from most Hebrew manuscripts.
Then there is the New Testament copying. This was very different from the process for the OT books. In the early church, distribution was essential. They were determined to spread the Gospels and the writings of the apostles to every church as quickly as possible. This is both helpful and detrimental in understanding the original NT texts. On one hand, the vast number of manuscripts gives us a solid foundation for determining what the NT books originally said. On the other hand, the rapid and urgent copying led to many copyist mistakes and variations between manuscripts, thus leaving us with the difficult task of figuring out which reading among manuscripts is original.
[The NT copyists] were determined to spread the Gospels and the writings of the apostles to every church as quickly as possible.
If what I just said doesn’t make immediate sense, start at the beginning. Say that Paul sent the Greek letter of Romans to the church at Rome, who then copied it and sent it to the other churches around. These churches in turn made more copies, and as time progressed more and more copies were made. At some point the original letter was lost or destroyed. Now, if you were to collect all of these copies, you would see that some have unintentional errors, some have intentional alterations, some have added notes, some are incomplete, and some are part of collections. Now, the majority of this variations (which are called “textual variants”) are simply matters of spelling or obvious slips of the pen. However, some are more prominent, such as phrases, verses, or even a couple of paragraphs.
This is the case with every book of the New Testament (and also with the Old Testament, but the details are very different). So to deal with this, we have what is called “textual criticism.” This is the work of finding out based on copies what the original texts of something said. For example, some texts with Romans 8:1 say this: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Others say, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Others include “who walk not according to the flesh” but do not include “but according to the Spirit.” So which reading did the original manuscript of Romans have? Well, this is where the science of textual criticism comes into play. Textual scholars analyze external evidence (age, number, quality, and origin of manuscripts) and internal evidence (context, author style, length of variants, etc.) to determine which reading is most likely the original. In the case of Romans 8:1, most scholars agree that the shorter reading (“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”) is the correct one.
Textual scholars analyze external evidence (age, number, quality, and origin of manuscripts) and internal evidence (context, author style, length of variants, etc.) to determine which reading is most likely the original.
This is where many of the differences between the KJV and the NIV emerge. See, the KJV was translated in the 1600s. At this time, the best Greek New Testament of the day was based on a handful of late manuscripts (that is, manuscripts which were copied over 1000 years after the NT was written). These represent most of the NT manuscripts around. These manuscripts are part of the Byzantine family, because they come mainly from the area surrounding Byzantium (now Istanbul). However, since then a number of other manuscripts have been found. These are much, much older (and so closer to when the NT was originally written), and are found mostly near the Egyptian city of Alexandria. These are therefore called Alexandrian texts. In general, Biblical scholars today believe that the Alexandrian manuscripts are more reliable, mainly due to their old age and (according to many) more likely readings. The NIV, then, is based mostly on reading from Alexandrian manuscripts, while the KJV is based mostly on readings from Byzantine manuscripts.
One of the major differences between the Byzantine and Alexandrian manuscripts is that Byzantine texts are usually longer than Alexandrian ones. This is the case, for example, in Romans 8:1. It is also the case in Matthew 6:13. In the case of 1 John 5:7-8, the KJV reading is only found in a couple of medieval manuscripts. Most of the time, when the Byzantine readings are longer than the Alexandrian readings, the scholars find the Alexandrian readings more likely to be correct. For this reason the NIV is sometimes “leaves out” verses or phrases compared to the KJV. However, since the Alexandrian manuscripts are more likely to represent the original text, it is more accurate to say that, where the KJV and NIV are different in this way, the KJV has extra content, verses and phrases that were at some point added to the text either by accident or on purpose. So the reality is that the NIV does not leave out verses so much as the KJV (or rather, the Greek texts from which the KJV New Testament is translated) adds verses.
One of the major differences between the Byzantine and Alexandrian manuscripts is that Byzantine texts are usually longer than Alexandrian ones. For this reason the NIV is sometimes “leaves out” verses or phrases compared to the KJV.
All this is not to say that either version is unreliable. While the KJV does often seem to have extra content, and in some places the NIV probably is wrong, none of the errors in either are very significant. In fact, overall the estimated reliability of our current constructions of the New Testament text is over 90%. That’s an A, folks. Most of the differences are minor (such as “Jesus Christ” instead of “Lord Jesus Christ” or “Bethany” instead of “Betharba”), and even the bigger ones (such as John 7:58-8:11 or Mark 16:9-20) do not affect any critical doctrines, or have much impact on any doctrine. So be assured that your Bible is reliable, whether KJV, NIV, HCSB, ESV, or NLT (by the way, all of the versions made since around 1900 are like the NIV in this regard). All of these and others represent the Scriptures God gave us faithfully. God has kept His words to us in a form pure enough to save and sanctify us, all for His glory. Amen!