By Christian McShaffrey

I recently received a catalogue from a book distributor that included a discount section titled “slightly imperfect” and, yes, there were several Bibles listed.

Obviously, the phrase “slightly imperfect” was intended as a reference to cosmetic defects, but it got me thinking about more substantive imperfections that no publishers dare acknowledge while advertising their Bibles.

Would you purchase a Bible that was missing an entire page? Not many would, I suppose, but when compared to the Bibles published in Reformation times, most modern versions are actually missing about that much content.

Twelve verses from the end Mark’s Gospel are missing. An additional twelve verses from John’s Gospel are missing. Sixteen other verses are usually found missing and several more words and verses have either been deleted or noted as questionable.

Many seek to minimize these discrepancies by speaking only in terms of the percentage of material missing. The forty verses referenced above constitute less than one-quarter percent of the whole. However, if you compare the amount of missing material to the length of some books in Scripture, the discrepancy appears as more significant.

The forty missing verses contain eight hundred and fifty-four words. That’s more than the prophecy of Obadiah. That’s more than the Epistle of Jude. That’s more than Paul’s Epistle to Philemon. That’s more than the second and third Epistles of John combined. Would you buy a Bible that was advertised with this disclaimer: Slightly imperfect, missing only one or two epistles?

Modern scholars will undoubtedly take some umbrage with such argumentation, but that is only because they believe the missing verses never belonged there in the first place. It is their position that the otherwise pious scribes in ancient times intentionally corrupted the Bible by adding words to it.

This view, however, is out of accord with what the Reformed have confessed for centuries; namely that God not only inspired the scriptures, but also kept them pure in all ages by his singular care and providence (Westminster Confession of Faith, I.8).

These are two very different views of the transmission of Holy Scripture. One assumes early corruption and the other presupposes providential preservation. Slightly imperfect Bibles seem to betray a slightly imperfect confidence in the promise of Christ, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matthew 24:35).