September 22, 2017

Ancestry of the English Bible (X): Disputed Passages (Part 2)

By Mike Willis

We covered all but two of the passages subject to dispute last week. With this lesson, we conclude the list of disputed passages.

Acts 8: 37

This verse which records the confession of the Ethiopian eunuch is omitted in the ASV (and other late translations) and is counted as a spurious passage. McGarvey explains why this verse is rejected as follows:

"To some persons in a later age it appeared that Philip is here represented as making no answer, and that he acted too hastily; hence the interpolation into some copies of Acts of the words: 'And Philip said, If thou believest with all thy heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of GodIn regard to scarcely any reading are the textual critics more unanimously agreed, or on better manuscript evidence, than the rejection of this verse as an interpolation" (New Commentary on Acts of the Apostles, pp. 158-159).

The only evidence to the contrary is that this verse appears in Codex Beza and a few other later manuscripts and was quoted by Ireneaus and Cyprian in the second and third centuries. This led A. C. Hervey in the Pulpit Commentary (Vol. 18, p. 254) to accept this passage as authentic.

I lean with McGarvey to the conclusion that verse 37 is an interpolation. When textual critics of the nineteenth century reached this conclusion, Christians were asked how that this omission of v. 37 would affect their practice. Moses E. Lard (Lard's Quarterly, Vol. III, p. 408-418) considered the evidence presented by textual critics and answered the question with these following remarks:

"But granting that the passage must be abandoned as spurious ... how is it to affect our practice? In the first place, I do not see that it is to affect our practice at all; it will only affect our mode of defending our practice ... Again, it is my certain duty to immerse the believer, and equally my duty not to immerse the unbeliever. I must then know that the person whom I immerse is a believer. This I can never know unless he avow it. But this avowal, when made as an act enabling me to immerse him, is his confession, and is obviously the immediately precedent act to immersion" (pp. 413, 417).

Several scriptures, other than Acts 8:37, demand a confession by the sinner of his belief in Jesus being the Son of God (Matt. 10:32; Rom. 10:8-10; Matt. 16:16; 1 Tim. 6:13). Consequently, our practice need not change even though this passage is admitted to be spurious.

Mark 16:9-20

Although these verses appear in the KJV, RV, and ASV, the more modern translations (Revised Standard Version and Today's English Version) omit them. Admittedly, these are hotly disputed verses.

These verses are absent in codices Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, our two oldest and most reliable manuscripts. The Sinaiticus omits the passage altogether but the Vaticanus left space for it, though it is omitted, as if the scribe was undecided. That almost all textual critics concur in the belief that codices Sinaiticus and Vaticanus have a common ancestry should also be noted. Both of these manuscripts could have been copied from one older manuscript which omitted the passage.

Mk. 16:9-20 appears in codex Alexandrinus, a highly reputable rival to Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, as well as in codex Ephraemi and almost all other uncials and most of the cursive8. All of the older versions, which antedate our oldest manuscripts by two centuries, contain these verses. Several of the verses included in Mk. 16:9-20 are quoted by the author of the "Shepherd of Hermas" (a book written in the middle of the second century which quotes Mk. 16:16), Justin Martyr (160 A.D.), and Irenaeus (177 A.D.). So confirming is Irenaeus' quotation, which I give it here below:

"But in the end of his Gospel Mark saith, 'And the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken unto them, was received into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God, confirming what was said by the prophet, 'The Lord saith unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool' " (The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 16, p. ix).

Rather than giving my own personal opinion in summary of the textual evidence, I again cite McGarvey's comments:

"Our final conclusion is that the passage in question is authentic in all its details, and that there is no reason to doubt that it was written by the same hand which edited the preceding parts of this narrative. The objections which have been raised against it are better calculated to shake our confidence in Biblical criticism than in the genuineness of this inestimable portion of the word of God." (A Commentary on Matthew and Mark, McGarvey, p. 382)

Although I believe that Mr. 16:9-20 is authentic, I would like to hum now to discuss what concessions would be made should one admit that these verses are not a part of the original copy of Mark's gospel. The greatest admission one would be forced to make would be that very early, through much use, the last column of the scroll of Mark's gospel was accidentally torn off and lost. Some scribe replaced that reading prior to the middle of the second century. Even should I admit all this, the possibility of that which was added in replacement being the original reading cannot be denied.

Each verse in Mk. 16:9-20 contains information that can be verified by cross references. Jesus' appearance to Mary Magdalene (v. 9-11) appears also in John 20:1-18. His appearance to the disciples walking in the countryside (v. 12-13) is also recorded in Lk. 24:13-25. His appearance to the eleven (v. 14) is substantiated by Lk. 24:36-43 and John 20:19-23. The Great Commission (v. 15-16, 19-20) is attested by both Matt. 28:18-20 and Lk. 24: 36-51. The message regarding the signs was verified by Matt. 28:20; John 14:12 and the account in Acts. As you can see, nothing of our belief is lost even should one admit that this passage is spurious.

These conclusions are supported by the fact that Mark would not have closed his account of Jesus with the report of an empty tomb. The only proposed alternate reading for the conclusion of Mark is found in Goodspeed's translation and here quoted:

"But they reported briefly to Peter and his companions all they had been told. And afterward Jesus himself sent out by them from the east, to the west, the sacred and incorruptible message of eternal salvation" (p. 104).

With the study of Mk. 16:9-20, all the major disputed passages in the New Testament have been covered. Should we, for the sake of argument.gr4nt all that is herein disputed, no doctrine of the New Testament would be lost.


1. We noted that the copy subject to inspiration was the autograph and that it is verbally inspired. In that lesson, we emphasized the fact that no one particular version is inspired.

2. Ancient books were studied from the standpoint of how they, were made.

3. Based on ancient Greek manuscripts, early versions, and quotations from "church fathers," we reach the conclusion that we have a reasonably accurate copy of the autographs. The only major problem in reaching the autograph is the elimination of scribal errors.

4. Next, I attempted to prove that the critical text used in all translations since 1881 is far superior to the Textus Receptus used in the KJV.

5. Several lessons were devoted to recounting the history of major English translations.

6. Finally, disputed passages have been discussed examining the evidence for their authenticity.


I prayerfully hope that I have presented this evidence without prejudice and that I have held forth the truth in its proper light. The history of the ancestry of the English Bible has been presented. Through this history, divine providence is evident as God watched over the transmissions of the word confirming Peter's statement that "the word of God endureth forever" (I Pet. 1: 25).

TRUTH MAGAZINE, XV: 23, pp. 6-8
April 15, 1971