One of the benefits of expositional preaching (preaching through books of the Bible) is the inevitability of stumbling upon some topic you would have otherwise neglected. Recently, at FBC Diana, I attempted to explain why there are a couple of verses missing in some translations of John chapter 5. This is not a topic that I would have chosen out of the blue, but I think it is an important one nonetheless.
I also realize that discussing something like this can cause some heartburn for many Christians, so I’d like to offer a brief encouragement. When I first became exposed to textual criticism (the study of the compilation and transmission of a text), I admit that I too was quite intimidated. The whole area of study felt strange to me, and I struggled with several aspects of the discipline. However, I have come to appreciate the honesty and solidarity such a discipline produces when one practices it appropriately.
If you will allow me, I would like to present my encouragement in the form of direct answers to several common questions.
1) Why do people think they can change the Bible?
Translators do not set out to change the Bible (at least not usually). Translators endeavor to make the original text in the original languages accessible to contemporary and language-specific readers. In other words, they want to make the words of the prophets and Apostles known to a particular people group.
English-speaking people cannot usually read or understand Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic, so translators seek to do the hard work of translating the text for them. The very act of translating from one language to another will inevitably lead to some (at least minor) variation in vocabulary. Figures of speech and poetic phrases only further complicate the matter.
So, translators do not maliciously change the Bible. But, they do seek to make the best use of the resources they have by translating the words of the Bible in a way that makes them understandable and faithful to the original text. This is a task of great value, and it benefits all Christians everywhere.
2) Doesn’t Jesus warn us about taking anything away from the Bible?
Well, yes and no… The warning of Jesus, in Revelation 22:19, specifically refers to the prophecies found in the book of Revelation. I think the warning may also apply to the broader text of the Bible too, and it is never a good idea to reject any words from Christ. Therefore, yes, we ought not to take anything away from the biblical text.
However, this is not what translators are doing when they remove some portions of previous translations of the Bible. Let me explain.
In the portion of Scripture we recently covered at FBC Diana (John 5:3-4), we saw that later translations of the Bible either noted the textual variant (telling the reader that the verses were not part of the earliest biblical manuscripts) or they excluded the verses altogether. But the translators did not “take away from the Bible.” Instead, they sought to include only what the Bible originally included, and exclude what the original biblical text did not include.
Since Bible translation began, each generation of translators has had to compare translations with the best available evidence for the original content. This has always caused translators to add to and subtract from previous translations, but they do not add to or subtract from the biblical content itself. The question we should ask is not, “Why did they remove that from my Bible?” Instead, we should ask, “Was that portion removed because it was included in my translation of the Bible in error?”
Translators do sometimes remove verses or portions of them from previous translations, but this is never an attack on the biblical text itself. Translators are simply seeking to make the original text known, and keep the unoriginal text from getting in the way.
This post is already longer than I intended, so I will pick up with some more questions on a later post. Look for “More Simple A’s for Common Bible Translation Q’s.”
Please comment with your Bible Translation Q. I’d be glad to try and help.
Thanks for reading.
 For an academic address of this issue regarding the specific text, see Gordon Fee’s “On the Inauthenticity of John 5:3b-4”
 For a very basic introduction to textual criticism, see my own brief article titled, “A Simple Introduction to Textual Criticism”