Why are some verses removed from the text and turned into footnotes?
Mental pictures of pastors and rabbis opening up English bibles, making points from the sacred text and saying “It says right here in my Bible!” are not hard to conjure, for those with experience in contemporary, faith-based communities. While exclaiming Jesus said this or that makes for good preaching, worth noting is the fact that Jesus likely spoke Aramaic, a Semitic tongue, on the streets, and read Hebrew text in the synagogues He frequented. Though preachers lay claim to be quoting Him, the communicator is recounting Jesus words in our words and then offering an interpretation in their words.
The six thousand copies of extant New Testament texts that have come down from antiquity, and are used by Bible translators in modernity, are Greek renditions of Aramaic thought processes–Aramaic being Jesus’ likely language. They, along with the Hebrew and, in some cases, the Aramaic texts that constitute the Old[er] Testament, have been translated into the vernacular, and pass on to us in the form of English Bibles. Noteworthy in our Bibles are footnotes, offering textual references, variant translations and, in some cases, notations that the verse being noted does not appear in some of the ancient renditions.
Textual Criticism, what’s called Lower Criticism particularly, is the discipline that entails assessing available ancient texts, comparing the various renderings and, with others, making a final executive decision on the best rendering for a translation. Truth is that variance exists in the ancient testimonies–but the variance has no bearing on basic biblical doctrine. The famous story in the eighth chapter of the Gospel of John, of the woman caught in the act of adultery, for example, is placed elsewhere in some ancient versions of John’s Gospel and even omitted entirely in others. Similarly, Mark’s 16:19-30 are not found in some of the ancient manuscripts. What’s a scholar to do?
Those of us who open the Bible to talk about heaven sometimes take hell when mentioning the discrepancy. Before tendering a translation of the Greek Gospel of John or Mark, let’s say, the translator and committee must decide what to do with occasional variance. After reasoning through the discrepancy, and consulting with others in the process, a decision must be made relative to what was said, and where the story and saying should be placed in the tendered translation. After coming to terms with it to their satisfaction, translator(s) and/or committee(s) will then note, in a footnote, that there is some conversation relative to the text’s placement, or, will give the previously-known rendering a footnote, informing that because it was not found in the better part of the manuscripts available, it seemed best to render it in the footnote.