In the preface to his Gospel, Luke tells us explicitly that "many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us." (Luke 1:1-2) His words make it evident that by the time he wrote there were numerous other 'gospels' in circulation and none of them enjoyed such an established position as to bar another writer from adding to their number. Neither for them nor for himself does Luke claim any special Divine inspiration. He writes simply as one to whom "it seemed good... to write an orderly account." (Luke 1:3) Moreover, the way in which both he and Matthew treat their source material (supposedly derived from Mark's work) shows clearly that neither regarded the earlier Gospel of Mark as inspired scripture. Both of them feel perfectly free, not only to add to Mark, but also to subtract, to alter words, to change the order in which events were supposed to have occurred, and even on occasion to give contradictory information. The author of the fourth Gospel, John, is bold enough to treat the whole tradition with infinitely greater freedom, not holding himself bound to follow the outline of events that underlies the other three, nor even to reproduce substantially the same teaching. It cannot be doubted that the many other gospels which were in circulation during the same period or later claimed for themselves at least an equal freedom and status.
To conclude, hereunder are just a few examples highlighting the differences in the text of the New Testament found in some of its most famous modern day versions:
I John 5:7 of the King James Version (KJV) reads: 'For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.' This passage, however, has been deleted from the Revised Standard Version (RSV) as a fabrication. In a commentary on the Authorised Version it states: "No comment is made on this verse, as the best authorities do not consider it to be part of the original text." (Commentary on the Authorised Version, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1871, Vol.2)
Acts 8:37 of the KJV reads: 'And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is Son of God.' Both the New International Version (NIV) and the RSV omit this passage completely as being inauthentic.
John chapter 8 of the RSV and the NIV begins at verse 12, completely omitting verses 1 through to 11. The KJV, however, includes all of these verses without comment.
The RSV omits verses 44 and 46 of Mark chapter 9. The KJV includes both verses without comment. The NIV relegates these verses to a footnote without any certainty as to their authenticity. Concerning such footnotes, the NIV explains: "Footnotes call attention to places where there was uncertainty about what the original text was."
Mark chapter 16 in the KJV ends at verse 20. Whereas the RSV and the NIV end the chapter at verse 8, omitting a complete 12 verses describing the ascension.
Luke 9:56 of the KJV states: 'For the Son of Man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them.' This statement is deleted from the main text of the RSV and NIV and relegated to a footnote without any certainty as to its authenticity.
Acts 23:9 of the KJV ends: 'let us not fight against God.' The RSV and NIV both choose to omit these words.
The KJV and NIV read at Matthew 12:47: 'Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee.' This verse is deleted from the main text of the RSV and relegated to a footnote.
The KJV, RSV and NIV all contain Matthew 16 verses 2 and 3, yet these are not found in many ancient manuscripts. The RSV comments: "Many ancient authorities omit the following words to the end of verse 3" and the NIV says: "Some early manuscripts do not have the rest of verse 2 and all of verse 3."
Matthew 17:21 of the KJV reads: 'Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.' The RSV and NIV go from verse 20 straight to verse 22, completely omitting this verse 21.
Matthew 18:11 of the KJV reads: 'For the Son of Man is come to save that which was lost.' This verse is deleted from the main text of the RSV and NIV and relegated to a footnote.
Both the KJV and NIV at Matthew 21:44 read: 'And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken...' This verse is deleted in the RSV.
Mark 15:28 of the KJV reads: 'And the scripture was fulfilled, which saith, And he was numbered with the transgressors.' Both the RSV and NIV delete this verse from the main text, relegating it to a footnote.
John 3:16 of the KJV states: 'For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son...' The word 'begotten' is omitted from the main text of the RSV and NIV.
John 9:35 of the KJV reads: 'Dost thou believe on the Son of God?' Yet the RSV and NIV read this as: 'Dost thou believe on the Son of Man?'