Why do some Bible translations skip Matthew 18:11?

August 14, 2017

If you read through the book of Mathew in the ESV translation of the Bible you may notice something odd: there’s no Matthew 18:11.  In fact, you won’t find the verse in the New International Version (NIV) or the New Living Translation (NLT) either.  The New American Standard Version puts it in parenthesis which indicates an uncertainty about whether it belongs in the Bible. So what gives?

Why do some Bible translations skip Matthew 18:11?

First off, “skip” is the wrong word.  The verse and chapter numbers were added back in the 1500’s and they were a great idea.  Imagine announcing in church, “today, we will be teaching from the book of Matthew, somewhere in the back part about 2/3 of the way through.”  Not too user friendly.  What we have to keep in mind is that the chapter and verse numbers are not divinely inspired!  They are helpful most of the time.  Of course, there are a few Bibles out there that eliminate them so the Bible flows better.  For more on this, check out this book written by a former Riverview member.

The larger issue is this: do some Bible translations wrongly eliminate parts of the Bible that are divinely inspired?  Well, this is a bit more of a complicated question.  The reason is we don’t have any of the original source text for any of the Bible.  Instead, we have thousands of copies of the manuscripts that were copied meticulously by hand for many years.  Remember, the Bible was written well before the printing press was invented so this was the way it would get passed around.  We have a staggering number of copies of the Bible (over 5000 of the New Testament alone) and 95% of the time every copy matches perfectly.  Most of the places where there are differences are in minor spelling errors.

But then there are verses like Matthew 18:11.

These verses (and there are only a handful of them) appear in some manuscripts but not in others.  Scholars have to do the work to sort out whether they belong or whether some sort of error was made.  The King James Version, which includes this verse, was written in the 1600’s.  However, many more manuscripts have been found since then that appear to be earlier and more reliable.

Regarding this verse in particular, here’s what it says:

“For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.” (NASB) Matt. 18:11

Most scholars believe that at some point a scribe made a note in the margin of their work (sort of like a cross-reference), quoting Luke 19:10 which says,

“For the Son of Man has come to seek and save that which was lost.” (NASB) Luke 19:10

The flow of Matthew 18 is a bit weird with this verse inserted, but it makes perfect sense in Luke 19.  Likely, the scribe was making a note to study and it inadvertently got added into the text from that point forward.

In our Statement of Faith at Riv, we state,

We believe the Bible is inspired by God, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God. It is composed of the 66 books of the Old and New Testament, and was written without error in the original manuscripts. It is the highest authority over all other forms of revelation.

We can have absolute faith in the Word of God because we have centuries of scholarship studying its authenticity and God himself is protecting his word.  There may be a note here or there that is up for debate (like Matthew 18:11), but the message is still the same.  As it says in (at least) Luke 19:10:

“For the Son of Man has come to seek and save that which was lost.” (NASB) Luke 19:10

That’s the main thing.

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