Hungry? Don’t Read KJV!

I noticed something the other day as I was studying.  One day Jesus’ disciples tried to cast out a devil but couldn’t.  After Jesus had successfully cast the devil out, the disciples asked him why they were unable to.  In Mark 9:29 Jesus gave them the answer: “And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing but by prayer and fasting” (KJV).

Notice that Jesus tells the disciples that prayer and fasting are both spiritual disciplines necessary to cast out devils.  When I look this verse up in modern translations of the Bible, though, Jesus’ words are modified ever so slightly: “He told them, ‘This kind can come out only by prayer.'” (NET).  The words “and fasting” are left out.  The ESV, NIV, NASB, and J.B. Phillips versions all do this same sort of thing; and I’m sure there are others.  For whatever reason, many modern versions of the Bible leave the words “and fasting” out of Mark 9:29.

The reason modern versions omit the words “and fasting” is because modern versions are based on a different type of manuscripts than the KJV is.  And the footnotes in modern versions sort of let us know that.

The NASB, J.B. Phillips, and multiple other versions, don’t even bother to give us a footnote explaining the change at all—much less that the change is because of a different set of manuscripts.  The ESV and NIV leave out “and fasting”, but put a footnote that says something along the lines of “Some manuscripts add and fasting“.  The HCSB and ISV versions include “and fasting” but put a footnote that says something like “Other mss. lack and fasting“.  The NET is one of the few translations to give an extensive footnote about the manuscript information on this verse (I will address the NET’s footnote below).  Modern versions are based on manuscripts that leave the words out; the KJV is based on manuscripts that keep the phrase in.

Should Mark 9:29 have the words “and fasting” or not?  Just how many “some manuscripts” disagree with the KJV?  Just exactly which “other manuscripts” leave these words out like most modern versions?  Let’s look at the manuscript evidence, shall we?

The incredible minority of manuscripts leave out “and fasting”.  According to the UBS5 Greek New Testament, only manuscripts א*, B, and 0274 support the omission, along with an ancient Latin version (itk) and an ancient Georgian version (geo1).  This means, when it comes to Mark 9:29, that modern versions are based on a total of about five textual witnesses.

Five.  Let that number sink in.  Five.  We literally have over 2300 Greek manuscripts for the gospels!  And UBS5 lists only three that leave “and fasting” out of Mark 9:29.  Of the nearly fifteen ancient Latin versions that attest Mark 9:29, only one (itk) supports modern versions.  These “some” “other” manuscripts that modern version footnotes tell us about all of the sudden seem less impressive.

So what about the KJV?  The KJV’s “prayer and fasting” is supported by the vast majority of Greek manuscripts.  It is supported by over ten different ancient Latin translations (some of which date as early as the 4th century and as late as the 12th), as well as an ancient Syriac version (syrh, 7th century), two Coptic versions (the earliest of which is 4th century), a Georgian version (geo2, 10th century) and the Slavonic version (9th century).  On top of all of this, our oldest manuscript for this passage, 𝔓45 (dating to the third century), seems to agree with the KJV as well. 𝔓45 is an interesting witness to “prayer and fasting” because it is about 100 years older than א, B, and itk (the oldest witnesses for leaving “and fasting” out).  The KJV obviously has more going for it, from a historical/manuscript perspective, than modern versions do.

If you do not have access to UBS5 or another critical edition of the New Testament, all of the manuscript evidence I have just presented can be found in the New English Translation’s footnote for Mark 9:29.  After listing the evidence, the note goes on to say, “That the most important witnesses (ℵ* B), as well as a few others (0274 2427 k), lack καὶ νηστείᾳ, when a good reason for the omission is difficult to find, argues strongly for the shorter reading.”  I want us to focus on the phrase “the most important witnesses” for just a moment.  Is the NET seriously suggesting that two witnesses, Sinaiticus (ℵ) and Vaticanus (B) are so important that they outweigh all other Greek manuscripts of Mark (except 0274 and 2427) combined?

No two manuscripts, not even these very important two, are so decisive that they outclass the entirety of the manuscript tradition.  Such a claim is illogical and irresponsible.  Such a claim is absurdity at best and outright deceit at worst.  By whose standards are ℵ and B the “most important” witnesses for this verse?  𝔓45 is nearly a century older than ℵ and B, and it seems to agree with the vast majority of manuscripts and early versions.  Why isn’t 𝔓45 the “most important” witness for this verse?  Claiming that ℵ and B are the most important witnesses only shows that the footnote is biased toward these two manuscripts.

From a textual perspective, the KJV is immensely superior than modern versions at Mark 9:29.  From a numbers perspective, manuscripts that leave out “and fasting” are not just in the minority: they are in the hyper-minority, significantly under 99%.  From an age perspective, “and fasting” seems to be present in our oldest manuscript for Mark 9.  I do not have nearly the prestige that some of modern version editors do; but going against the extensive corpus of manuscript evidence seems like a foolish decision at best and like shoddy scholarship at worst.   What other senseless textual changes have these modern versions made to our Bibles?

3 thoughts on “Hungry? Don’t Read KJV!

  1. I notice that the NKJV includes “and fasting.”

    By the way, you said that the NET Bible did not include a note explaining the omission. Actually, it does, and it’s the most detailed note of any translation:

    “tc Most witnesses, even early and excellent ones (𝔓45vid ℵ2 A C D L W Θ Ψ ƒ1, 13 33 𝔐 lat co), have “and fasting” (καὶ νηστείᾳ, kai nēsteia) after “prayer” here. But this seems to be a motivated reading, due to the early church’s emphasis on fasting (TCGNT 85; cf., e.g., 2 Clem. 16:4; Pol. Phil 7:2; Did. 1:3; 7:4). That the most important witnesses (ℵ✱ B), as well as a few others (0274 2427 k), lack καὶ νηστείᾳ, when a good reason for the omission is difficult to find, argues strongly for the shorter reading.”

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    • Thanks for pointing this out! I was using an online version of the NET; and apparently the online edition I was using did not contain the footnotes. I have corrected the post to account for this new information. Thanks again!

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