Monday, October 03, 2022

FOMO, Missing Verses, and Helping Laypeople Think about Textual Criticism


In this post, I want to talk about another observation from my time at the conference last week. It concerns the way people think about the “missing verses” (e.g., John 5.4) in modern translations. I noticed, for instance, that Dave Black often turned to readings that aren’t in translations like the ESV to illustrate his own text-critical view. Later, at the end of the conference, I had a chance to talk to a couple people who seemed surprised when I pointed out that the Byzantine text (and hence the KJV) is also missing some important clauses relative to the ESV. 

The Anxiety of Missing Verses

It was a fresh reminder of just how much psychological weight “missing verses” carry for some people new to the subject. I have never, for instance, had a concerned person ask me about the added verses in the KJV. Some of that is due to historical precedent, no doubt. Because the KJV reigned for so long as the only Bible of the English speaking world, it naturally serves as the reference point. 

But it also seems to be something deeper at work because, in my experience, even non-KJV Bible readers are far more concerned about missing words in the Bible than they are about added ones. Again, this was on display at the conference. Dave Black put many at ease by explaining the problem of textual criticism as one of having too much of the NT text not too little. He said something to the effect that we don’t have 97% of the text, we have 104% and the question is whether the original is above or below the line. I’ve made the same point myself and I always find people receptive to it. Too much is okay. Too little is not.

But why do we find it more reassuring to think that our Bibles might have too many uninspired words than too few inspired ones? A text like Rev. 22.18–19 certainly gives us no reason to prefer one over the other. Instead, it puts both adding and removing words on equal par. Neither is presented as more acceptable than the other; both are bad. From that text, we ought to be just as anxious about having 104% of the NT text as we are of having 97%. What gives?

Behind the Anxiety

I suspect that what’s going on here, psychologically, is what the youth of today call FOMO: Fear Of Missing Out. It’s the feeling of apprehension that you’re not “in the know” or that you’re missing out on information, events, or experiences. It’s the fear of being caught outside a group of friends’ inside joke. Although we may think of it primarily in relation to social media us, it’s not limited to that realm. I have several close family members who experience definite FOMO when they have to order from a large restaurant menu. What if they order the wrong thing and regret it when the food comes?

When it comes to the Bible and Bible translations, there is a similar fear that we might be missing out on something that belongs in the Bible. Better to have one that has more than it should so that we don’t have to worry about the potential for later regret. It’s FOMO.

When it comes to the question of textual method, then, this FOMO may predispose conscientious Bible readers to reject any view that might leave them with less, especially when they don’t know Greek and don’t feel confident to judge between arguments about manuscript quality and the clash of internal criteria. It just feels safer to follow the Bible that avoids FOMO. Please note, I am not looking down my nose at them for this. I know the feeling myself and I sympathize with anyone new to the subject who feels this way. 

Moving beyond It

But I also think that choosing a Bible translation or an approach to textual criticism based on FOMO is a bad way to do it. I see at least three reasons. First, though not all fear is bad, even good fear can cloud good judgment. Second, since I can’t think of a theological reason why its better to add text than remove it, a greater fear of missing text creates a bias. Third, and most important, FOMO confronts us either way. Whether you use an MT-based translation like the KJV/NKJV or an eclectic text-based one like the NASB/ESV, your English Bible is missing things that the other has. There is no translation whose text has everything that the other is lacking (the NKJV with its notes is the closest you can get I suppose). That means the potential for FOMO can’t be avoided. So, your decision will have to be based on more than a fear of missing out. (If you want to put it positively, you are going to gain some readings either way.)

Saying this, however, is not enough. It only seems to click when people see it with their own eyes. To that end, here are some places where the KJV is missing text found in the NASB95. Some of these came readily to mind and some I found using I’ve restricted myself to the NT and to differences that rise above the level of the merely trivial, but we could expand the list, especially if we brought the OT into the picture (for example).

NT Examples

Mark 3.16

  • NASB: And He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom He gave the name Peter),
  • KJV: And Simon he surnamed Peter;

Luke 10.21

  • NASB: At that very time He rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit, and said, “I praise You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight.
  • KJV: In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight.

Acts 4.25

  • who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Your servant, said, ‘WHY DID THE GENTILES RAGE, AND THE PEOPLES DEVISE FUTILE THINGS?
  • KJV:Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things?

1 Cor. 7.38

  • NASB: So then both he who gives his own virgin daughter in marriage does well, and he who does not give her in marriage will do better.
  • KJV: So then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better.

1 Cor. 9.20

  • NASB: To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law;
  • KJV: And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;

James 4.12

  • NASB: There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?
  • KJV: There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another? [note the variant at the end of the verse too]

1 Peter 2.2

  • NASB: like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation,
  • KJV: As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby

1 John 2.23

  • NASB: Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also.
  • KJV: Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: (but) he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also. [The italics mark this as a variant; more on this here and here]

1 John 3.1

  • NASB: See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.
  • KJV: Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.

Jude 3

  • NASB: Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.
  • KJV: Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.

Jude 25

  • NASB: to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
  • KJV: to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen. 

Rev. 4.11

  • NASB: Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”
  • KJV: Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.

Rev. 8.7

  • NASB: The first sounded, and there came hail and fire, mixed with blood, and they were thrown to the earth; and a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up.
  • KJV: The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up.

Rev. 20.14

  • NASB: Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.
  • KJV: And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.


The point is not to say that these differences prove anything about which translation is better. Quite the opposite, in fact. The point is to show that, by themselves, they prove nothing at all. But, if we’ve only ever heard about the “missing” verses in the other guy’s Bible, without any knowledge of the “missing” text in our own, fear of loss can lead us to oversimplify the choice. Pointing out these places can break the FOMO spell, prompting us to ask Why are these translations missing different texts? and How should we use the evidence we have to best decide which text is best? Those are the questions that really matter.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I think another factor is the psychological effect of verse numbers being missing (not just a string of words, but the verse numbers skip from 22 to 24 or something). It's something that's easy to miss when reading casually, but once noticed looks fishy.

    1. Yep, that probably contributes.

    2. Eric, I think you point out the major contributor for ordinary Bible readers. They might not notice were it not for the irregular numbering (i.e., a missing verse number or a verse number without content).

  3. (Sorry, didn't mean to post this as a reply to Eric - feel free to delete the above!)

    Thanks for this Peter, very helpful.

    Another angle would be text in previous English translations which the KJV removed, eg

    John 18:13 (KJV removes 'And Annas sent Christe bounde vnto Caiaphas the hye priest', printed in the old substitute for italic type in Bishop's Bible)

    Acts 15:34 (KJV removes 'but Judas departed alone to Jerusalem' from Great Bible. The Great Bible has it in smaller type and brackets - just as they do with the Comma Johanneum).
    [Modern versions go a step further and remove the whole verse]

    1. Very helpful. I did wonder about such cases. In the case of the Great Bible, the smaller type is from the Vulgate. The Great Bible did that throughout and, in doing so, reflects the FOMO of its day.

  4. Yeh, the reason people get upset about "missing verses" probably has a psychological explanation (like FOMO), rather than a theological/doctrinal one. If these folks had all the information the experts have, they probably wouldn't be so emotionally insecure. Let's hope they experience emotional/psychological growth and do everything we can to help them.

    And also this mainly happens among people who read the KJV, and it's all about translation traditionalism and not the underlying text. Non-English speakers never really have to deal with this and accept the changes in modern translations with no problems.

    I really like how this author points out that he's not looking down his nose at these insecure people and can even sympathize with them. Not condescending at all. Thanks for that.

    1. Hi Jeff. I’m the author of this post and you can feel free to use my name. Not sure your sarcasm is warranted here. I do have lots of patience for laypeople who fear missing out on text. I have less patience for their leaders who know when their audience’s KJV is also “missing” text but never tell them so. What I’m advocating is that we tell people both and ask them to reflect on whether the Bible gives us warrant to fear missing text more than added text. (I don’t think it does.)

    2. Timothy Joseph10/04/2022 3:30 am

      The advocates like JR for the TR/ET refusing to address the issues raised in this blog and then to cast aspirations on the author are some of the reasons people in the pews are confused.

    3. Timothy, in my experience, normal Christians generally don't doubt their Bibles until someone who uses the KJV tells them to.

    4. Hi Elijah, I don't mean to cast any more "aspirations," but I do think you may be on to something here. I think the people I've talked to from places like Sweden, Hungary, Columbia, and Argentina who aren't pleased with changes to the Greek NT text and to modern translations of the Bible in their respective languages (either removing verses [like the CJ] or adding them [like the "shorter ending" of Mark] to the traditional Protestant text) probably came to those conclusions because of conversations they've had with all the people they know who use the KJV. There's a lot of "anxiety" out there stirred up by emotionally immature people that really doesn't have anything to do with theological issues like the integrity, purity, preservation, stability, and authority of Scripture.

    5. Hi Jeff, granted, I can't read people's hearts and know their true motives without trying to clarify first if my suspicions are correct (some people seem to be able to do that, or at least think they can, but I am not one of them), but I do sometimes get the impression that you hit the nail right on the head when you said "There's a lot of "anxiety" out there stirred up by emotionally immature people that really doesn't have anything to do with theological issues like the integrity, purity, preservation, stability, and authority of Scripture."

    6. Thanks for confirming this Elijah. I had a feeling you'd resonate with that comment. Glad to hear I wasn't off base.

    7. Good grief, all this polite sarcasm, I can't tell who is insulting whom!

      I do know I find JR's initial comment bemusing.

      Jeff - it sounds like you're insulted because the OP suggested some psychological influences might be in play when people decide these textual issues?
      I'm not sure why anyone would be bothered by that. All the OP is really saying is that there's no such thing as an unmixed motive.

      This specific influence - "FOMO" - may or may not play a role, but if not that then I guarantee you it is something. There's not a human out there is whose decisions are not affected by a wide variety of influences just like that. It's not sinful; it's just part of being human.

      Exploring such influences openly and honestly is part of having a real dedication to the truth.

    8. Ryan: to be clear: none of my statements were sarcastic in any way. I am sorry if I gave any other impression.

  5. This is interesting. In my experience I think it may be motivated more by fear of not following God properly by following the "wrong" text or the text that God did not choose or was chosen by sinful men.

  6. But one could say these are all variations on the FOMO. But I think it's more nuanced than that. I have met people who generally fear that they are following a false religion because they have been duped to believe an error filled human text. And that is where the populist linchpin is located. Ehrman knew this because he struggled with it himself, if there are "missing parts" of the Bible then it means God did not preserve his word and then the word must not be inspired. Having "added" text is less scary because God still "preserved" his word. Anyway, that's how I've always read the situation in my Church youth group

    1. Having added parts versus missing parts. If you have added parts, in theory, you could eventually recover the original. If parts are missing, they are missing for good.
      That being said, I think if you are suffering fro FOMO (and I count myself in that), probably the NET Bible would be your choice. Not only does it list the variants in it's copious notes, it engages the evidence about why they chose the variant in the text versus the variants in the notes).

    2. NET Bible would be good though I’m not sure it has every variant from the KJV. Maybe it does? And I think you are probably right on the missing vs. added. Not wanting to lose anything is an impulse that goes all the way back to scribes. Hence the growth of the text of the NT over time, in my opinion.

  7. There are TR readings for which there is a strong support in the manuscript tradition and patristic writings that have been removed from bibles based on the critical text. Had they been bracketed instead, I think that that would remove a great deal of antipathy against those bibles.

  8. The entire book of Jude is actually a very good illustration of your point where the KJV might be "missing" something, since the TR is 454 words and NA27 is 461 words, including the awesome phrase in v. 25, "through Jesus Christ our Lord," which is lacking in the KJV. [Kind of hard to explain if the critical text and W&H are by nature evil incarnate!]

    1. Good catch. I’ll add it.

    2. Paul is slightly too modest: he did a great little paper on this at the recent Bible Faculty Summit. He talked about it in a recent interview I did with him on my YouTube channel. (Won’t link to it because links often get comments flagged as spam.) At multiple places in Jude, the TR is “less orthodox” than the CT—by the standards that are universally used by KJV-Onlyists in my experience.

      I have another suggestion, however, to add to your psychological profile. I asked my own doktorvater once what was driving KJV-Onlyists in the IFB world. I’ve remembered this for 20 years; he said that it’s “the desire to cling to the known at all costs.” The known, here, is the KJV. It just so happens that the text it’s based on in the NT is frequently longer than the critical text. Hence they are more concerned about “omissions” than they are about “additions.” I think it all goes back to the KJV. If it were based on a shorter text, they’d be concerned about additions. “Does your NIV make Acts 8:37 extra long? Where did it get this extra wording? Who added it?”

      I am NOT saying that this is all purposeful or malicious. I’m saying what the KJV translators said: “Whosoever attempteth anything for the public (specially if it pertain to religion, and to the opening and clearing of the word of God), the same setteth himself upon a stage to be glouted upon by every evil eye, yea, he casteth himself headlong upon pikes, to be gored by every sharp tongue. For he that meddleth with men’s religion in any part meddleth with their custom, nay, with their freehold; and though they find no content in that which they have, yet they cannot abide to hear of altering.”

      (And thanks for the KJV Parallel Bible shout-out—the format is indeed ideal for just the purpose you put it to.)

  9. Nathan Maroney10/04/2022 12:23 am

    Seems like editors/translators have a similar fear on behalf of their readers - putting texts in double brackets because they can't part with a text even when they know it's suspect. Or putting a few alternate options in the foot notes so nothing is left out!

    1. Yes, I think the impulse is basically universal. You see it in Orgen’s use of text-critical sigla, Thomas of Harkel’s, the Great Bible’s inclusion of readings from the Vulgate, and still today in Bible footnotes. But this puts the KJV at a disadvantage in our day because it really is missing text that’s not even in the footnotes.

  10. Hello Peter,
    Thanks for your article. I get the point you are trying to make here and appreciate it. For me though, I would like to see some basic articles about Textual Criticism and the challenges the texts present for the layman. It seems to me Christian Leaders are dead scared to discuss these issues and even admit they exist!

    I found out about these issues through Bart Ehram. Luckily I was somewhat prepared as I found Fee via his book (written with Stuart)
    How to Read the Bible which was a big help but I worry about those Christian’s who are completely unprepared.

    We are told a lot to read our Bibles and that the Bible is inerrant; but what we are not told are the issues that come with that.