Kelly Hunt, who's in my Bible as Scripture class this week at Wesley Seminary, suggested I put together a little booklet with quick answers a pastor can give when they get a predictable question from someone in their church. So the next thought was, what kinds of questions do you pastors get of this sort? Or if you're not a pastor, what kinds of questions would you like a little "cheat sheet" on?
Here's the question that sparked the thought for him this morning:
Question: Revelation says that you can't add or take away from the Bible. So how can it be good for there to be different versions of the Bible? Either some have verses missing or some have verses added.
Answer: Before getting to the reason why versions are different, this probably isn't what Revelation 22:18-19 was talking about. First, originally it was just talking about the book of Revelation itself, since the other books weren't attached to Revelation yet (at that point it was just on its own scroll). And it probably wasn't talking about individual words like, "star." It probably was talking about adding or taking away from the prophecies of Revelation, not the individual words of Revelation (we ask this question because we come from a literary culture, whereas they thought more in oral terms).
But to explain why some versions have different words, we don't have any of the original "editions" of the Bible. We have lots of copies--more than any other ancient book in fact. They overwhelmingly say the same things. But there are a few--and I mean only a few--famous differences between them.
You shouldn't worry about it though. Every copy has all the basic teachings of Christian faith, and there is no teaching of the Bible that is lost from one copy to the next. There are only a handful of what we might call "big" debates. Was the ending of Mark (16:9-20) in the first copy of Mark? That's the biggest. Was the doxology at the end of the Lord's Prayer in the first copy of Matthew 6:13?
It's important to realize that there's nothing wrong with the ending of Mark, even if it wasn't in the first copy. Everything in it is true. There's nothing wrong with the doxology in the Lord's Prayer, even if it wasn't in the original copy of Matthew.
Scholars aren't trying to cut stuff out. They're only asking the historical question. Does the evidence seem to say that the first copy of Mark had these verses? Or does it seem like the evidence points to them being added later?
The fact that there are minor differences between the copies suggests that God is more concerned with the message than the small details of the wording. God can speak through the King James Version, even if these verses were added later. And God can speak through the NIV, even if these verses actually were in the original versions.
P.S. Would something like this be better in bullet form? In other words, pick the bullets you like.