Are people adding scripture to the Bible?

This is a follow up post to “are people removing scripture from our Bibles?” If you have not read that blog yet, I’d advise you to do so before this one. Because, within that, we were only able to discuss well-known scripture passages that have been removed because of their lack of manuscript evidence. But there’s another side to this coin. What about the translation committees that seem to be adding scripture to our English Bibles?  

Well, and just like I mentioned in the previous post, it is the case that some modern translations are doing so. But they are doing it in a different type of way, and for a different reason, than those who are removing scripture from the English Bible.

Here’s what is going on:

Different Bible Translation Methods  

Different Bible translation committees use different methods of translating our Bibles into English from the original Greek and Hebrew.

1. Varying Sources: Most modern English New Testaments are translated from an eclectic text.[1] That is, translation committees like the NRSV, NASB, NIV, the Message, NLT, ESV, and the CSB consult a myriad of ancient manuscripts in the attempt to figure out the closest reading to the original words of Paul or Matthew. These same translation committees then use a diplomatic Masoretic text for their translation of the Old Testament[2] and compare it to the Greek version of the Old Testament called the Septuagint.[3] And, depending on how new they are, these committees then compare the Septuagint and the Masoretic text to the Dead Sea Scrolls (found in 1946) in attempts to figure out the oldest and best reading.

Certain translation committees do not use an eclectic New Testament, though. The KJV, NKJV, and the MEV get their New Testament translation from something called the “Textus Receptus.” The Textus Receptus is a complete New Testament text, compiled by Desiderius Erasmus, who used the best manuscript evidence available to him in the 1500’s A.D.[4] They then use the Masoretic Text and the Septuagint as their Old Testament source.

2. Varying Styles: All translation committees differ on how they communicate the ancient words of a biblical author. There is a spectrum at play. Some translations lean more toward the “formal” side in an attempt to have verbal equivalence. That is, these translators try their hardest to find equivalent words in English to that of their Greek and Hebrew counterparts. The more formal the translation, the more wooden it reads in English (think NASB or ESV).

On the other end, other translators feel that a “functional” reading is better in an attempt to have dynamic equivalence. They do not translate word-for-word but thought-for-thought. And the more functional the translation, the looser it reads (think the Message or the NLT).

Are People Adding to Scripture?

In my previous post, we discussed those later scribal additions that have been removed in our modern English versions (Matthew 6:13, Mark 16:9-20, John 7:53-8:11, etc.) But, and because of the different translation committee methods, other additions have been made to scripture…in a sense.

If a Bible translation is more functional, it would not contain a word-for-word reading. English translations like the Message add words to scripture that aren’t in the oldest manuscripts. They do this intentionally, though, as they want to make their version easier to read. Functional translations are thought-for-thought, not word-for-word.

A good example of this can be found in Matthew 6:22:

Greek Text (with added English equivalents in brackets next to each word):

[the] λύχνος [lamp] τοῦ [of the] σώματός [body] ἐστιν [is] [the] ὀφθαλμός [eye]. ἐὰν [if] οὖν [therefore/then] [is] [the] ὀφθαλμός [eye] σου [of you] ἁπλοῦς [generous/healthy], ὅλον [the whole of you] τὸ [the] σῶμά [body] σου [of you] φωτεινὸν [light] ἔσται· [will be]”

How the English Standard Version (ESV) renders it:

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light.”

How the Message Bible Translation renders it:

“Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills with light.”

See how the ESV translates the Greek text more woodenly than the Message but better reflects the exact wording? See also how the Message inserts certain words into the text in attempts to theologically explain the author’s original intent in easy to understand language? The committees behind these followed dramatically different methods when creating an English translation. Some would argue that the Message does (as well as the NLT, NIV, and other translations that have a similar methodology) add unnecessary words to scripture. It all depends on your perspective, though.

Gender-Inclusive Insertions?

There is another way some Bible versions are adding scripture to modern English Bibles that should be mentioned.

Certain translation committees, in an attempt to be more gender inclusive, have rendered some masculine pronouns as both masculine and feminine in English. Notably, this is what the NRSV translation committee has written in the preface to their version:

“During the almost half a century since the publication of the RSV, many in the churches have become sensitive to the danger of linguistic sexism arising from the inherent bias of the English language toward the masculine gender, a bias that in the case of the Bible has often restricted or obscured the meaning of the original text. The mandates from the Division specified that, in references to men and women, masculine-oriented language should be eliminated as far as this can be done without altering passages that reflect the historical situation of ancient patriarchal culture…In the vast majority of cases, however, inclusiveness has been attained by simply rephrasing or by introducing plural forms when this does not distort the meaning of the passage. Of course, in narrative and in parable no attempt was made to generalize the sex of individual persons.”[5]

In other words, certain translations like the NRSV, ESV, TNIV, and the CSB have begun rendering “man/mankind” as “humankind” and so on. Most of these translations only do this when the Greek word could also refer to women as well (think of how we might say “hey guys!” in English when talking to a group of men and women). So, while this is an addition, it is linguistically possible and does retain the author’s original intention.[6]

Nevertheless, some modern translations do take this a step too far. The “The New Testament and Psalms: An Inclusive Version,” in an attempt to rephrase all gender-specific language, does not refer to God the Father using masculine pronouns. Instead the Inclusive Version uses “Father-Mother.” This should surely be understood as adding scripture simply for the sake of a political or cultural agenda instead of trying to be faithful to the author’s original intent.

What Does All This Mean for Us?

So, are there people who are intentionally adding scripture to our English Bibles that wasn’t in the original Greek or Hebrew? Yes. But more often than not, these additions are not intentionally malicious. Nor are they attempts to add something contrary to what the Bible itself teaches. These additions are often made by committees following certain methods that render our English Bibles as more thought-for-thought than word-for-word, and because of this, they are nessecary to properly communicate what the author originally meant.

But, all in all, here’s what we can learn:

1. Modern translations of scripture are a good thing. Faithful scholars word hard to bring us versions of the Bible that are both as accurate as possible and easy to read.

2. It is important to understand the differences between modern English translations. It might be wise to use several different types of English Bible when studying scripture. You should have a balance of both functional and formal translations to consult.

3. There are some fringe translations that do change scripture for cultural or political reasons. Beware of their biased interpretations and flawed translation methods which add more than what the Bible conveys.


[1] For more of an explanation on what this is, read the post: “Are people removing scripture from our Bibles?”

[2] The Masoretic text is a complete Hebrew Old Testament that retains the Masoretic vowel pointing. The oldest copy we have is from the 10th century A.D.

[3] The Septuagint (or LXX) is the Greek version of the Old Testament. This is the Bible that Jesus and the disciples would have used. Oddly enough, even though the Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew, our Greek copies are older. The LXX dates back to around the 300’s B.C.

[4] It is often the case that these translation committees use the Textus Receptus over an eclectic New Testament because they feel that the Byzantine manuscripts which the Textus Receptus was based off of are better than the other older manuscripts discovered. Others believe that the Textus Receptus is the only “God-authorized” text family similar to how the single Torah scroll Hilkiah found was divinely protected and eventually spawned many copies to be published (2 Kings 22:8-23:3).  I personally am not persuaded by these arguments and prefer an eclectic reading. But if you would like to know more about the history of this, and the arguments for and against the Textus Receptus, see: Paul D. Wegner, The Journey from Texts to Translations: The Origin and Development of the Bible, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1999).

[5] Bruce Metzger, To the Reader, in The New Revised Standard Version: The Harper Collins Study Bible, (San Francisco, CA: HarperOne, 1989), xxiii-xxiv.

[6] For a good argument on why some gender-inclusive language in scripture is actually biblical, see: https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2017/june/gender-inclusive-bible-translation-csb-southern-baptists.html

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