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Are There Books Missing from the NIV?

HomeChristianity and the BibleAre There Books Missing from the NIV?

Question from a GodWords reader: A friend of mine was telling me that there are missing books in the New International Version Bible, but she can’t remember which ones they are. Please let me know if this is true. I want to be reading God’s whole Word.

This is one I hadn’t heard before. People often ask about “missing verses,” but I’ve never heard anyone suggest that entire books are missing from one specific modern Bible. I suspect that the “friend” wasn’t singling out the NIV, but making a statement about modern Bibles in general. Either way, no… there aren’t any books missing from the NIV.

Our list of the 66 books in the Bible has been complete for almost 2000 years, so it’s easy to compare a list from the early church to today’s Bibles. The NIV contains all 66 books, and none are missing. If you open up an NIV, a KJV, an NASB, and any other modern Bible, you can simply compare them. They all have the exact same books, and the same contents.

It’s likely that this friend was talking about other books that were never considered Scripture. There are generally two groups:

  1. The deuterocanonical books, and
  2. pseudepigraphal books.

The “canon” is the list of books considered Scripture. The word comes from “reed.” They used to use reeds like we use yardsticks… to measure. So, the canon of Scripture is the list used to ‘measure’ what is Scripture and what isn’t. 

Deuterocanonical books are from ‘the second canon.’ That is, books that aren’t considered Scripture but may still be valuable. Those books are usually included in Catholic Bibles. While they often consider them Scripture, neither the ancient Jews nor the early church shared their opinion. The other kind of “missing” books are pseudepigraphal… that is, ‘false writings.’ You probably know the term “pseudo,” which means false, or something that pretends to be something else. An epigraph is simply a writing. So, these are writings that pretend to be something they’re not. These are books like the Gospel of Thomas, and others like it. They weren’t written by the people in their names, and they don’t reflect Christian doctrine. Most of them are Gnostic writings. The Gnostics had a different view of God and the world, and twisted Christian doctrines to fit. Much of the New Testament was written to directly fight against Gnostic ideas. In recent years, some have tried to claim that Christianity used to include the ideas in these false writings, but it’s clear that they contradict the books that everybody already agreed on.

Here’s an example from the gospel of Thomas:

Simon Peter said to them, “Mary should leave us, because women aren’t worthy of life.”  Jesus said, “Look, am I to make her a man? So that she may become a living spirit too, she’s equal to you men, because every woman who makes herself manly will enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Seems pretty sketchy, no? This is the kind of nonsense that some are claiming belong to the “original version” of Christianity.

So, this friend might be referring to some of these books. Rest assured that if you open up an NIV – the Bible I use for quotes on my website – you’re actually getting the complete Bible, handed down from the first century and translated very, very well.

As for missing verses, there actually ARE some… kind of. Not really. It’s not very complicated, but does require some explanation. 

The King James Bible was published in 1611. It’s a really great Bible, but it has some limitations when compared with modern Bibles. The KJV translators mostly used William Tyndale’s New Testament… about 80% comes directly from his earlier Bible. That’s not bad, but Tyndale only had a limited number of sources for his New Testament. His sources only went back as far as the 1100s. In the 400+ years since the KJV was published, we’ve found literally THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS of ancient New Testament manuscripts. Many of them are far, far older than what Tyndale had available.

As you might imagine, an original writing by the apostle Paul would be very important. We would see exactly what he wrote with his own hand. Well, we don’t have those. We have copies. Some may have been copied really close to the original, and some are copies of copies. Over time, small mistakes were made. A misspelling here and there. Switching the order of a couple of words. There are times where scribes made notes in the margins of their copies, and people making copies sometimes included those ‘marginal notes’ as if they were part of the original text. Now, that’s not a problem. Why? Because we have over 25,000 ancient manuscripts! The more we have, the better we can compare them and see where these mistakes were made. We can then undo the spelling errors, and see when the marginal notes were first included.

As a result, modern Bibles – translated from far more manuscripts – are far more accurate than the much older Bibles like the KJV. Bible translators are VERY careful about this stuff… so they make lots of footnotes. You may have seen that the end of the Gospel of Mark begins with this note, after verse 8: The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have verses 9–20. This section may not actually be written by Mark. Translators leave it in, to make sure they’re not removing important passages… but they point out the fact that that section doesn’t show up in any manuscripts until much later than the rest. It may have been a marginal note – a note written in the margins of a page – from a scribe. Because it’s been IN so many Bibles for so long, they don’t take it out, but they inform the reader about the text.

Another example: if you look up John 5:4 in the NIV, you’ll see that the entire verse simply doesn’t appear between 3 and 5. It’s been moved to the footnotes, rather than removed entirely. Here’s the note: Some manuscripts include here, wholly or in part, paralyzed—and they waited for the moving of the waters. 4 From time to time an angel of the Lord would come down and stir up the waters. The first one into the pool after each such disturbance would be cured of whatever disease they had.

That explanation helps people see that the verse may or may not have been part of what John wrote… but it hasn’t been removed. It would be irresponsible to keep it in without mentioning that it’s not in the oldest manuscripts, and it would be unwise to simply not mention it at all. So, the NIV translators decided to simply tell everybody what was going on.

The answers are out there… but sometimes the answers are ignored in favor of conspiracy theories. Some believe that modern Bibles are part of a plot by Satan to change God’s Word, for example. It’s utter nonsense, but it still gets some attention. When we do even a little bit of homework, we can see that there’s nothing bad going on. Instead, the Bibles we have today are MORE accurate than the Bibles we had 100 years ago, 400 years ago, and 600 years ago. 

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