Have Verses Been Removed from the NIV?
When Bible readers compare John 5:4 in the King James Version Bible (KJV) and the New International Version Bible (NIV) they will notice that this verse is “missing” from the NIV text. Understandably, they want to know why the NIV’s regular text doesn’t include this verse. Are the NIV translators taking verses out of the inspired Bible text? No. There are valid reasons why this verse, and several others, have been moved to become footnotes in the NIV Bible: They don’t appear in the earliest manuscripts that translation teams have available now due to the discovery and assessment of hundreds of manuscripts of the Bible over the last few centuries. Modern translators have available to them far more manuscripts than translators in the past – and many of these manuscripts are much closer in time to the writing of the Bible.
As you may know, the original inspired Scripture was written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek by 40 authors over a period of about 1,600 years. The Apostle John wrote the last book in about 95 A.D. Today we don’t have any of these original manuscripts, but we do have thousands of ancient handwritten copies. In fact, there are over 5,800 copies including some part of the Greek New Testament. With this large number of manuscripts, Bible scholars can compare them to identify passages where the copying scribes may have made an error or where there is a textual variation. All but about 400 of these variations are simply questions of spelling, grammatical construction, or word order. Of the remaining variations, only 50 or so are significant, and not one alters a single teaching of the Christian faith, because each teaching is expressed by other Bible passages.
As indicated above, most Bible scholars make the reasonable assumption that older Bible manuscripts are more accurate because there are fewer copies between them and the original inspired Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic texts. KJV translators used copies available at the time, dating from the 5th century and later. Since they completed the KJV translation in 1611, however, many much older copies of the Scriptures have been discovered. Some of these copies date as early as 130 AD, which was very close in time to the completion of the New Testament. These older and more reliable manuscripts have been used in almost all subsequent translations of the Bible, including the NIV. While these manuscripts are nearly identical to those dating 900 years later, there are some places where well-meaning copying scribes added language in an attempt to clarify a passage or harmonize it with another passage.
There are about 45 verses in the KJV that are not in the oldest known manuscripts. These additions are responsible for the number of verses and other variations between the KJV and NIV Bible translations. And not only the NIV: almost all modern English translations make similar decisions about these verses. None of those 45 verses alter any core belief of the Christian faith. So, are there verses missing in the NIV and in other modern English translations? Most biblical scholars, including conservative evangelicals, say instead that the KJV translators included words and verses based on altered copies of later manuscripts, rather than that the modern translation teams have removed these verses. The oldest and most reliable manuscripts lack the extra verses that are found in the KJV.
In the NIV Bible, some of these verses appear in the text with a footnote and others are only in a footnote. This is based on the level of certainty the translators have about whether the verse in question comes from the original text or not. If their research makes them quite certain that the verse was not in the original text, it is placed only in a footnote. This has been done to achieve maximum accuracy and alignment with the oldest manuscripts available.
What about the accusations against Westcott and Hort? Modern scholars use principles of textual criticism that were established by scholars B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort in the nineteenth century. There are many sites and books that give a more accurate perspective on these two men. For example: www.themoorings.org/doctrine/issues/versions/WH.html, and the book: The King James Version Debate, by D.A. Carson.