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Major Scribal Corruptions in the New Revised Standard Version

In my previous posts I have indicated that the King James Version includes verses in some places that are almost certainly not “original” – that is, passages that were not written by the original authors but were added by later scribes.  I chose three of the most outstanding and famous examples: the explicit reference to the Trinity in 1 John 5:7-8; the story of the woman taken in adultery in John 7:53-8:11; and Jesus’ resurrection appearance in the longer ending of Mark’s Gospel, Mark 16:9-20.

The thread actually began somewhere else, with my discussing not the King James Bible but the New Revised Standard Version, which is my preferred translation.  One might ask: how are these three passages presented in the NRSV?   Since virtually all scholars agree the passages were not original to the New Testament, are they printed there?

As it turns out, the three passages are handled differently.   The first, the affirmation of the doctrine of the Trinity (1 John 5:7-8), is not in any of our most ancient manuscripts at all.  It shows up in one manuscript of the fourteenth century, one of the fifteenth, another of the sixteenth, and finally one of the eighteenth.  Yes, that’s right, the eighteenth.  Scribes were producing manuscripts long after the invention of printing (just as my students today take notes with pen and paper, even though they all own laptops).   It can be found in the margins of four other, equally late, manuscripts, as a possible variant reading.  The result, though, is that no one except the most avid fundamentalist thinks that the verses have any claim to belong to the “original” text of the New Testament.

And so how does the NRSV present the text at this point?  It…

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Better Editions of the Greek New Testament
Responses to Misquoting Jesus: Readers’ Mailbag



  1. Avatar
    Jason  February 9, 2017

    In the context of your comment about Metzger’s belief here and things you’ve written in the blog and books in the past about the scribal addition to the text probably being based on an oral tradition, does an oral tradition appended to an existing document carry a lesser weight for historicity than the collection of oral traditions assumed to be assembled originally in that document?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 10, 2017

      In most cases, yes, since these kinds of oral traditions are very difficult to trace back to the mid or early 1st century as a rule.

  2. Avatar
    twiskus  February 10, 2017

    You mentioned the few manuscripts that later mentioned the “explicit trinity”; what centuries did the woman taken into adultry and the longer ending(s) of Mark show up?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 12, 2017

      They both turn up for the first time in Greek manuscripts of around 400 CE. (Of course, we don’t have too many manuscripts *earlier* than that, but there are a couple)

  3. Avatar
    Steefen  February 11, 2017

    Bart: the New Revised Standard Version, which is my preferred translation

    Stephen: What?! and I’m making the effort to see what the Douay-Rheims says, what the Young’s Literal says, what the NET says, thinking they were more scholarly than the NRSV.

    Really, doctor, in your scholarly writings are you using your own translations or the version of most current academic consensus? I think you speak of going to the annual Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) convention. SBL and Princeton Theological scholars mostly use the NRSV like you do?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 12, 2017

      I use my own translations. Yes, NRSV is probably the preferred translation of most critical scholars in the U.S.

      • Avatar
        Steefen  February 12, 2017

        First, thank you.
        I’ll check the bibles I have. I’ll also check the bibles my parents left after they passed (Dad – Dec 2012 / Mom – Nov 2016).

  4. Avatar
    SidDhartha1953  February 11, 2017

    What I take away from this post is that even competent, critical scholars can be swayed by an overly sentimental attachment to traditional readings. I’m finding the same thing to be the case with the commentaries in the revised Harper Collins Study Bible. The commentator on Genesis goes to great lengths to explain why the stories of Abraham show him to be a great man of faith, when my reading of both the NRSV and the JPS Tanakh shows him to be a shrewd businessman and a compulsive liar (go figure!) as well as a terrible husband and father. Am I the only one who thinks Abraham was a louse?

  5. Avatar
    PeymanSalar  February 12, 2017

    Hi Bart,
    You may hear this question over and over.
    Has the essence of Christian faith been corrupted by the scribes?!

    • Bart
      Bart  February 12, 2017

      I’ve tried to stress this in my posts: no one who has strong Christian beliefs will have any of those beliefs overturned by textual variants, in part because those beliefs are almost never rooted in a careful reading of the precise words of one verse or another.

      • Avatar
        PeymanSalar  February 12, 2017

        Hi Bart, thanks for replying back, you wrote:
        “The position I argue for misquoting Jesus does not actually stand at odds with Professor Metzger’s position that the essential Christian beliefs are not affected by the textual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament what he means by that (I think )is that even if one or two passages that are used to argue for a belief have a different text your reading, there are still other passages that could be used to argue for the same belief. For the most part, I think that’s true.”
        And as far as I remember Dan Wallace proclaimed that when he had asked you the same question you were agree that the essence of the Christian faith hasn’t been currupted by scribs!

        • Bart
          Bart  February 13, 2017

          It cmopletely depends on what you mean by the “essence” of the Christian faith, and how you have decided what is essential and what is not.

          • Avatar
            PeymanSalar  February 13, 2017

            Fundamental issues such as Jesus born Jesus life, death resurrection ….. what I mean by these are simple, Has scribe changed anything which is crucial important theologically.

          • Bart
            Bart  February 14, 2017

            Yes of course their changes involve important parts of the Bible. You may want to read my book Misquoting Jesus to get a fuller idea. But if the quesion is whether you would personally change any of your views based on changes of the text, the answer is Almost Certainly Not. That’s because your views are never based on this that or the other verse in its specific wording. But that doesn’t mean changes are not important! They just are important for other reasons.

  6. Avatar
    DavidBeaman  February 19, 2017

    I read footnotes. :0) That aside, I wish you would write your own translation of the New Testament and tell people the truth. I’d buy it and make it the standard version for my religious institution.

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