Is The NIV Purposefully Removing References To Fasting?


This entry is yet another entry dedicated to debunking KJVO conspiracy theories. It brings me no pleasure to do these posts but I am constantly accosted by people who don’t know the original languages of the scriptures yet claim that people like me are heretics for reading anything other than the KJV. Today’s topic presented itself in the form of a facebook post claiming that the NIV (and other modern translations) purposefully removed words and verses about fasting from the New Testament. Since I am a rational adult the first thing I did was lookup the passages in Greek and it became quite evident that no devious plot was afoot. Let us look at the passages.


Fasting Passages


Matthew 17:21 KJV
Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.

Matthew 17:21 NIV
[omitted]

Mark 9:29 KJV
And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.

Mark 9:29 NIV
He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.

 

Acts 10:30-31 KJV
And Cornelius said, Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and, behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing, And said, Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God.

Acts 10:30-31 NIV
Cornelius answered: “Three days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me and said, ‘Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor.

 

1 Corinthians 7:5 KJV
“Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.”

1 Corinthians 7:5 NIV
Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer


Matthew 17:21 & Mark 9:29


Of the changes made to fasting verses, Matthew 17:21 appears to to be the most alarming because the entire verse has been removed from many Bibles. The reason for this omission is simple. Most early manuscripts don’t actually include this verse and the ones that do include it read more like Mark 9:29 without the fasting. In order to sort the matter out we should address Mark 9:29 since that was the text that Matthew was based on. To be clear, Matthew was written later than Mark and Mark was used as source material. If this verse was every part of the original Matthean narrative, it was copied from Mark.

On the matter of Mark 9:29, nearly all of the early manuscripts do not include the “and fasting” at the end of the verse. There is one manuscript from the 3rd century (P45) that is damaged and looks like there is room for the addition “and fasting” to fit in the damaged section. However, simply putting it there because we like it better isn’t the right way to do things.

The following manuscripts support the translation that includes both fasting and prayer:

(Codex Sinaiticus, redaction #2): 8th century
A (Codex Alexandrinus): 5th century.
C (Ephraemi Syri Rescriptus): 5th century
D (Codex Bezae): 5th century
K (Cyprius): 9th century
L (Codex Regius): 8th century
N (Codex Petropolitanus Purpureus): 6th century
W (Codex Washingtonianus): 4th – 5th century
Γ (Codex Tischendorfianus IV): 9th-10th century
Δ (Codex Sangallensis 48): 9th century
Θ (Codex Koridethi): 9th century
Ψ (Codex Athous Lavrensis): 8th-9th century
ƒ1,13 (Codex Fuldensis): 6th century
GA 28: 11th century
GA 33: 9th-10th century
GA 565: 9th-10th century
GA 579: 13th century
GA 700: 11th century
GA 892: 9th-10th century
GA 1241: 12th century
GA 1424: 9th-10 century
GA 2542: 13th century
ℓ (Leningrad Codex): 10th century
GA 2211 : 10th century
lat (Latin Vulgate): 4th century
co (Coptic): 9th century
sys (Codex Sinaiticus Syriacus): 7th century
syp (Peshitta): 5th century
syh (Harclean Syriac version): finished in the 6th century
boms (Bohairic): 10th century[1]https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/13601/omission-of-fasting-in-mark-929[2]NA28 Greek New Testament with Apparatus and tagging

 

These ancient manuscripts, however, support the translation that does not include fasting:

ℵ (Codex Sinaiticus): 4th century
B: (Vaticanus): 4th century
Uncial 0274: 5th century
k (Codex Bobiensis): 4th century
W/032 (Codex Washingtonianus): 4th century

So the evidence on Mark 9:29 is mixed. There are some dependable old sources the include it such as the Syriac (Peshitta), Latin (Vulgate), and Greek (Alexandrinus & Bezae). However, modern textual critics prefer the older texts of Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, and others due to their age, completeness, and use within the early church. Since we have no actual original manuscripts there is no way to know which version was original. However, many historians have pointed out that the early church pushed heavily for systematic prayer and fasting as a religious practice and likely elevated the manuscripts highlighting fasting or even “corrected” texts which omitted the fasting.

The earliest hints in post-New Testament writings indicate a return to the external, legalistic, ritualistic practice of fasting. … Almost all the church fathers encouraged the practice of fasting. (Curtis C. Mitchell)[3]Curtis C. Mitchell, “The Practice of Fasting in the New Testament,” Bibliotheca Sacra 147 n.588 [Oct 1990], 467.

The second letter of Clement (or Pseudo Clement) echoes the words of Tobit 12:9 when describing the spiritual value of certain practices and fasting is given an elevated position.

Almsgiving therefore is a good thing, even as repentance from sin;
Fasting is better than prayer, but almsgiving better than both. And
love covereth a multitude of sins, but prayer out of a good
conscience delivereth from death. Blessed is every man that is found
full of these. For almsgiving lifteth off the burden of sin.
(2 Clement 16:4)

On top of that, some early church fathers repeated generic quotes from Jesus that did include the fasting. Because of such a widespread use of fasting among the early church fathers some have claimed that this must mean Jesus’ original words included fasting. This is certainly an argument worth some merit.

“according to the teaching of our Lord, who hath said: This kind goeth not out but by fasting and prayer, offered unceasingly and with an earnest mind,” (Pseudo-Clementine Epistles Concerning Virginity, First Epistle, Chapter 12).

“This kind of devils is not cast out but by prayer and fasting,” (Ambrose, Letter to the Church at Vercallae, Section 15).[4]https://carm.org/king-james-onlyism/was-matthew-1721-removed-from-modern-bibles/

Thus, the early church placed a lot of emphasis on religious practices such as fasting which explain why later manuscripts tend to favor such a reading. We also see evidence of manuscripts (biblical and non-biblical) showing altered passages to include fasting, where none of the extant manuscripts have fasting. A classic example is the 2nd century instruction set referred to as the Didache. This was a record of an oral tradition supposedly from the 12 disciples. In it, Luke 6:28/Matthew 5:44 is quoted and the wording is changed. Neither passage from Luke or Matthew have variant manuscripts that support a reading that includes fasting, the early church documents adjusted to suite their practices.

The teaching of these words is this: Bless those who curse you, and pray for your enemies, and fast for those who persecute you. For what credit is it if you love those who love you? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?”
(Didache).

bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
(Luke 6:28)

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you
(Matthew 5:44)

This is why nearly 90% or more of modern Bible translations have used the older manuscripts and translated Mark 9:29 without the “fasting” phrase. But this trend has created problems for Matthew 17:21 which is translated as “prayer and fasting” or the entire verse is missing altogether. But if Matthew 17:21 is a parallel passage with Mark 9:29 why such a divergence? When two parallel passages disagree Bible translators and copyists have two choices. They can alter the passages to harmonize or they can let the disagreement stand. In modern times, translators have sought to just let the disagreements stand rather than alter the texts so that believers are not confused. Older translations sought to eliminate difficulties and this is especially true to ancient manuscripts. We see many fasting variant readings from Matthew 17:21 manuscripts. Some even have corrections written in the margins.

 


Acts 10:30


There is an interesting situation in Acts 10 because the passage makes more sense when the word “fasting” it omitted. However, there is rule of thumb in textual criticism that assume the harder to read text is usually the correct one. This is because the confusing texts tend to get edited to read better as time goes on. Rarely does a text get redacted only to read more difficult. Nevertheless, there is enough early manuscript evidence to support the version without fasting. Even more interesting, some manuscripts (such as Bezae) supported the inclusion of “fasting” in Matthew 17 & Mark 9, but DO NOT support the inclusion of “fasting” in Acts 10.

The following manuscripts support the translation that includes both fasting and prayer:[5]Constantin von Tischendorf, Caspar René Gregory, and Ezra Abbot, eds., Novum Testamentum Graece., vol. 2 (Lipsiae: Giesecke & Devrient, 1869–1894), 88.

Chr198 txt (Chrysostom Homilies): 4-5th century
A (Codex Alexandrinus, redaction 2):
5th century.
D (Codex Bezae): 5th century
syrutr (Syriac Translation of Eusebius History): 5th century
H (Codex Petropolitanus): 6th century
L (Codex Regius): 8th century
E (Oxoniensis Bodleianus Laudianus): 9th century
P (Porfirianus Chiovensis section IX): 9th century

These ancient manuscripts, however, support the translation that does not include fasting:

P53 (Papyrus frag): 3rd century
P50 (Papyrus frag): 3-4th century
ℵ (Codex Sinaiticus): 4th century
B (Vaticanus): 4th century
copmeg & mf (Coptic Egyptian): 4-5th century
D (Codex Bezae): 5th century
A (Codex Alexandrinus): 5th century.
C (Ephraemi Syri Rescriptus): 5th century
P127 (Papyrus frag): 5th century
Ea (Codex Laudianus): 6th century
ite (Old Latin Cantus [Roman rites]): 6th century
I (León Palimpsest): 8th century

After reviewing the manuscript evidence, most scholars are of the opinion that the original reading did not include the sentence about fasting. This is supported by the fact that there very little supporting Greek manuscripts. The manuscripts that contain the supposed addition are either quotations or part of a redacted text. It is for this reason that many modern Bible translations have decided to omitted the sentence on fasting. It’s a simple matter of manuscript evidence.


1 Corinthians 7:5


Unlike the previously discussed passages, 1 Cor. 7:5 without “fasting” is supported by manuscripts that are usually without question. Of this collection, P46 stands out in that it’s one of the oldest NT manuscripts that are currently extant. The reading without the addition of “fasting” also has support in multiple early translations, such as Syriac, Latin, and Coptic.

Textual witnesses aside, the passage reads virtually the same with or without the word “fasting” being omitted (or added). Therefore, there is not a great deal of internal evidence to consider. We must weigh what we know about the manuscripts and quotes from the early church.

The following manuscripts support the translation that includes both fasting and prayer:[6]Bruce Manning Metzger, United Bible Societies, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition a Companion Volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (4th Rev. Ed.) … Continue reading

c (Codex Sinaiticus, scribe c): 4th century
syp (Peshitta): 5th century
syh (Harclean Syriac version): finished in the 6th century
K (Cyprius): 9th century
L (Codex Regius): 8th century
88 (Minuscule, Gregory-Aland): 12th century
614(Minuscule, Gregory-Aland): 13th century
Byz (Majority of Byzantine texts)
Lect (Majority of lectionary texts)

These ancient manuscripts, however, support the translation that does not include fasting:

P46 (Papyrus frag):2-3rd century
copsa (Coptic, Sahidic, ): 3-4th century
* (Codex Sinaiticus, all versions): 4th century
vg (Vulgate): 4th century
B (Vaticanus): 4th century
it (Old Latin MSS): 4-13th century
A (Codex Alexandrinus): 5th century.
C (Ephraemi Syri Rescriptus): 5th century
D (Codex Bezae): 5th century
P11 (Papyrus frag): 7th century
P (Porfirianus Chiovensis section IX): 9th century
Ψ (Codex Athous Lavrensis): 9th century
G (Codex Seidelianus I): 9th century
33 (Minuscule): 9th century
81 (Minuscule): 9th century
104 (Minuscule): 9th century
1739 (Minuscule): 10th century
arm (Armenian): 17th century
eth (Ethiopic): 17th century

 

 


Other verses that support the practice of fasting


On the matter of whether or not modern Bible are purposefully removing the practice of fasting, one must first consider the other passages that speak of the practice. If modern translators were attempting to remove references to the practice of fasting then they are not doing a thorough job. Fasting is mentioned no less than 7 other times in the NT. Passages listed here.

Matt 6:16
When you fast, do not be somber like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they already have their full reward.

Matt 6:18
o that your fasting will not be obvious to men, but only to your Father, who is unseen. And your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Mark 2:18
Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were often fasting. So people came to Jesus and asked, “Why don’t Your disciples fast like John’s disciples and those of the Pharisees?”

Luke 2:37
and then was a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.

Luke 5:33
Then they said to Him, “John’s disciples and those of the Pharisees frequently fast and pray, but Yours keep on eating and drinking.”

Acts 13:3
And after they had fasted and prayed, they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

Acts 14:23
Now having chosen elders for them in every church, having prayed, with fasting they committed them to the Lord, in whom they had believed.

In conclusion, I see no reason to believe that modern Bible translations are doing anything other than making their best estimation as to what was in the original text. Textual critics have to weigh many factors in deciding what manuscripts to use. Textual critics spend their lives studying the manuscripts, early church quotes, early church hymnals, homilies, and lectionaries. It’s not as simple as the Majority Text vs the Corrupt Texts. It’s a dozen or more textual traditions that must be weighed.


 

References

References
1 https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/13601/omission-of-fasting-in-mark-929
2 NA28 Greek New Testament with Apparatus and tagging
3 Curtis C. Mitchell, “The Practice of Fasting in the New Testament,” Bibliotheca Sacra 147 n.588 [Oct 1990], 467.
4 https://carm.org/king-james-onlyism/was-matthew-1721-removed-from-modern-bibles/
5 Constantin von Tischendorf, Caspar René Gregory, and Ezra Abbot, eds., Novum Testamentum Graece., vol. 2 (Lipsiae: Giesecke & Devrient, 1869–1894), 88.
6 Bruce Manning Metzger, United Bible Societies, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition a Companion Volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (4th Rev. Ed.) (London; New York: United Bible Societies, 1994), 488.

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