I learned of this just this morning (I was asked, by way of an acquaintance, to weigh in on this because they had just learned about it themselves) and, boy oh boy, where do I start?
The NIV has been the “devil’s translation” since its publication in 1978 (mostly because it began to usurp the exclusivity of the Authorized King James Version in Baptist and Evangelical circles—who knew that people would actually want to understand the Bible in their own vernacular and not the English of Shakespeare?--hilariously there are now hardline 1984 NIV devotees out there, by the way). The fact that there was a planned “gender neutral” update in the 90s didn’t help matters.
But there was a major overhaul of the translation in 2011 that made things a bit more gender inclusive (things like “brothers and sisters” instead of just “brothers” in Paul’s writings, for example) and which attempted to address and reflect the most recent scholarship.
Which included the omitting of Bible verses. Because these verses were not recorded in the earliest manuscripts that have been found.
See, here’s the crazy thing about The Bible: it didn’t drop out of heaven, gold-leafed and bound in leather.
The Bible was written down by numerous people over a period of thousands of years. We do not have a copy of any biblical books written by their original authors (called “autographs”). This is because paper is notoriously delicate and doesn’t really do well being rolled up and handled by people’s greasy fingers.
So the books of the Bible we have are copies of copies of copies. And sometimes mistakes happen to those copies.
Before Xerox, and before Gutenberg, books had to be copied by hand. This work was largely done by a monk.
The monk would have a complete manuscript sitting on his desk and he’d copy the writing on a fresh piece of paper (like I’m sure you did at least once with a friend’s homework in school—don’t lie).
Or, there would be a room full of monks and one would read the book aloud and the others would write down what the head monk was saying.
In both of these instances it was common for a monk to miss a line or write the wrong word. In the case of the assembly-line-monks it would be common for a monk to write down a word that sounded like another word. These are minor errors and easily correctable, but only known when a scholar does something known as “compare and contrast.”
There are folks who’s entire jobs consist of reading different handwritten books of the Bible from centuries ago, just to see what is different between two or more copies.
Yes, this is very boring to most people.
But this doesn’t explain other big errors.
For example, the famous story in John’s gospel about Jesus forgiving a woman caught in adultery (the “he who is without guilt can cast the first stone” one)? That story is absent in MANY old manuscripts and it moves around in other, later ones.
Which tells us that it wasn’t originally part of John’s gospel (in fact, it has shown up in the other gospels from time to time).
Some people get worked up about this. Especially because this is such a beloved story and has been used to really convey the radically forgiving nature of Jesus (plus the whole “he who is without sin” line is AWESOME in many contexts).
So where did this come from? Because it’s not original to the text, does that mean it’s wrong to use it in a sermon or for the basis of doctrine?
Some might say yes. But the real answer to the question is: depends.
The fact is that someone somewhere felt that this story, wherever it came from, was important enough to be considered part of scripture. So it tends to remain in Bibles with a footnote attached to it to let you know that, hey, maybe it’s not original to John so do with that what you will, bro.
(No, this is not an excuse for you to go find someone to commit adultery with. Grow up.)
But this is a particularly big one (this and the various endings to Mark’s gospel give scholars either the willies or the vapors, depending on their disposition). Most of these kinds of issues are relegated to a single verse or two.
What happens in these contexts is that either someone thought that what Matthew wrote was clearer than what Mark wrote (they frequently share similar stories), so they’ll add a verse found in Matthew’s gospel to Mark. This is because, particularly in the ancient world, books were expensive and a church might only have one of the four gospels to read from. So if Matthew’s wording was clearer, and they only had Mark or Luke, then that’s the wording that they got.
Wikipedia has a really helpful piece on these omitted verses if you want to see it.
So the question for translators of the 2011 NIV (as well others like Common English Bible and the NRSV) has to do with making the Bible more accurate to what was originally written.
Now, this is where the crazy starts to come into play.
If you Google “45 missing verses from NIV” you’ll come across any number of italic and caps-lock rife websites hollering at you about how the devil is deceiving us all through the “New International Perversion” (which, I’ll admit, is clever).
Now, these are all Biblical literalist, fundamentalist, King James Only folks (except for the literalist, fundamentalist, 1984 NIV Only folks—try and keep up). And they will tell you that “if any man shall take away from words of this book, God shall take away his part out of the book of life” (Revelation 22:19, in a hilarious display of thinking that the book of Revelation speaks for the whole biblical canon that St. John was in no way was aware of when he wrote Revelation). So that means people are cursed or deceived for reading from a Bible that has verses omitted (I guess?).
But to counter your super-misguided and not-at-all-correct-interpretation-of-Revelation by using the self-same interpretation: verse 18 says that anyone who ADDS to the book will have the plagues added to them.
So, who’s the bad guy? HarperCollins (and like very Biblical scholar alive today) for omitting these verses? Or the monks who added them in the first place?
I suppose, in the end, the devil’s got us. Because, after all, our salvation is completely dependent upon whether or not Silas stayed in Antioch in Acts 15:34.