“The Earliest and Most Reliable Manuscripts…” – What Does This Mean?

I grew up on the New International Version (NIV) translation of the Bible. The NIV was originally published when I was in grade school and soon thereafter my Mom got me a NIV Children’s Bible. Later on, in my teen years, I got a Ryrie Study Bible (NIV). The thing I appreciated about the NIV was it was very readable for a young person. One thing I started noticing was that in certain places, for example, John 7:53-8:11, there was a disclaimer of sorts inserted between the text: “The earliest and most reliable manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53-8:11.”

Most modern versions of the Bible have some kind of disclaimer like this in John’s Gospel as well as the end of Mark’s Gospel (Mark 16.9-20). My English Standard Version (ESV) Reference Bible says “Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9-20” right before the end of Mark (I actually prefer the ESV’s language over the NIV’s because the ESV simply refers to earlier manuscripts rather than making a value judgment regarding their reliability). It’s also set apart in the ESV as different by use of double brackets, like this: “[[Now when he rose early on the first day of the week…worked with them and confirmed the messages by accompanying signs.]]”

So the question is, what does this mean?

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The Intent of English Bible Translators

One of my desires here at pastorbrett.com is to help people not only know their Bibles, but also know about their Bibles. Each Bible translation is the result of diligent work by a team of translators (I prefer to consider translations by one person as paraphrases rather than translations). These teams of translators are guided by a set of translation principles which aim to fulfill the original purpose or intent behind the project. It is usually in the Foreword or Preface that you find such a statement of purpose or intent. I decided to look at each of these in the most popular Bible translations to discover the stated intent of each translation. Here is what I found:

King James Version

“Truly, good Christian reader, we never thought from the beginning that we should need to make a new tranlsation, nor yet to make of a bad one a good one…but to make a good one better, or out of many good ones, one principle good one, not justly to be excepted against; that hath been our endeavor, that our mark.”

“But we desire that the Scripture may speak like itself, as in the language of Canaan, that it may be understood even of the very vulgar.”

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