Why does Matthew 17:21 exist only as a footnote in the New American Standard Bible and not as a verse?
Before explaining why Matthew 17:21 is not included in the gospel of Matthew in modern Bible versions, we will review the context in which Jesus made this statement. First, Matthew 10:5-8 tells us that Jesus had given His disciples power to cast out demons. But sometime later in Matthew 17, we are told that they could not cast out a demon that was causing a man to be a “lunatic.” We are told in this passage that consequently, Jesus cast out the demon and then explained to the disciples why they could not. There is an important lesson for us here. Some will say the disciples lacked faith, but Jesus explains that the faith they had was not enough to perform an instantaneous exorcism. They needed to fast and pray.
And when they came to the multitude, a man came up to Him, falling on his knees before Him, and saying, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is a lunatic, and is very ill; for he often falls into the fire, and often into the water. And I brought him to Your disciples, and they could not cure him.” And Jesus answered and said, “O unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him here to Me.” And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him, and the boy was cured at once. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it shall move; and nothing shall be impossible to you. [“But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”] Matthew 17:14-21 (NASB)
Notice that Jesus explained, “But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting” in Matthew 17:21. However, there is a problem with verse 21. It is not in the best manuscripts of the New Testament. That is why the verse is placed in brackets.
Matthew 17:21 Is Not Included In Major Bible Versions
The passage is not included in more recent Bible versions. Here are some of them: American Standard Version (ASV), Contemporary English Version (CEV), English Standard Version (ESV), Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), New Century Version (NCV), New International Version (NIV), the New Living Translation (NLT) and the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). The verse is not included in the newer Bibles because the older and better manuscripts of Matthew do not include it. The translators of the older Bibles were not as careful in the selection of the manuscripts they used. Apparently in the process of copying the manuscripts, someone at a much later date copied the verse from the Gospel of Mark and added it to the Matthew account. Here is the Mark account.
And He said to them, “This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer.” Mark 9:29 (NASB)
The only difference between the quotes in Matthew and Mark is the word “fasting.” “Expel Some Only By Prayer” is a study about this event.
Matthew 17:21 Is Not In The Best Manuscripts
The following quotes from biblical scholars provide additional insight as to the reasons Matthew 17:21 is excluded. Swanson’s manuscripts lists the various manuscripts that do not contain the verse. The two best manuscripts: the Codex Sianaiticus and Codex Vaticanus do not include the verse..
R. C. H. Lenski, the Lutheran Bible scholar, makes this comment,
Textual criticism cancels this verse on the ground that it was interpolated from Mark 9:29. This leaves it as a part of the story of the healing that shows how faith must be stimulated by fasting and prayer, but removes it from Matthew’s narrative.
William Hendrickson states,
The words, “But this kind never comes out except by prayer and fasting.” cf. verse 21 in A.V., are lacking in the best manuscripts and were probably inserted from Mark 9:29.
D. A. Carson, a Canadian-born, Reformed Evangelical theologian adds,
“But the kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting” is omitted by a powerful combination of witnesses. It is obviously an assimilation to the synoptic parallel in Mark 9:29. There is no obvious reason why, if original, it should have been omitted; and textual harmonization is quite demonstrably a secondary process.”
Also note that Grant Osborne in his Matthew commentary explains why the verse is excluded from most Bibles and commentaries.
Several ancient manuscripts . . . add a sentence here from Mark 9:29. “This kind can only come out by prayer and fasting.” However, an impressive group of witnesses omits this passage . . . and it is most likely a scribal assimilation from Mark.
Finally, the biblical scholars John Holland and R. T. France do not include the verse in their commentaries.
But this does not change the actual events or words that were spoken. In fact, we should always study all of the gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – to determine what happened during each event in Jesus’ life. When He preached or when He healed someone, each gospel writer may have added some unique information to the account, or the Holy Spirit may have wanted to emphasize something different. When read or studied together, the four gospels give us a complete picture of what happened in Jesus’ life. So the account in Matthew should be compared to the one in Mark 9:29 and in Luke 9:37-43. For some reason, the Holy Spirit did not have Matthew 17:21 included in the gospel of Matthew. The study “How Accurate Is The Bible?” is important to this Q&A since it explains why the Bible is 99.8% accurate.
1. Reuben Swanson. Matthew. New Testament Greek Manuscripts. William Carey International University Press. 1995. p. 167.
3. R. C. H. Lenski. Matthew. Commentary on the New Testament. Hendrickson Publishers. 1964. p. 670.
4. William Henrickson. Matthew. New Testament Commentary. Baker Book House. 1973. 676.
5. D. A. Carson. Matthew. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Regency Reference Library. 1984. vol. 8, p. 392.
6. Grant Osborne. Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Zondervan Publishing. 2010. footnote 4. p. 657.
7. John Nolland. The Gospel of Matthew. The New International Greek Testament Commentary. Eerdmans. 2005. p. 717.
8. R. T. France. The Gospel of Matthew. The New International Commentary of the New Testament. Eerdmans. 2007. p. 662-663.
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