“Thou shalt commit adultery” and other print errors of biblical proportions

by Northern Life

While the Bible continues to be among the world’s best-selling books each year, its production has been made easier since the early days when to print a copy could mean death or being threatened by a king.

Nowadays huge paper rolls turn at one end of a machine and are transformed into a complete book by the time the final item of equipment is reached. But sophistication in printing is no guarantee that the finished product is free from typographical errors.

The fact is that, by and large, the modern day errors do not lead to bankruptcy for the printer, or even the death sentence as they have in the past.

“King Charles was not amused by the ‘Wicked Bible’”

In 1631 King Charles I ordered 1,000 Bibles from the English printer, Robert Barker. Only after the Bibles were delivered did anyone notice a serious mistake. In one of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:14), a very small word had been omitted – the word ‘not.’ This changed the seventh commandment into ‘Thou shalt commit adultery.’ King Charles was not amused by the ‘Wicked Bible,’ as the infamous printing mistake was called. He ordered the Bibles recalled and destroyed.

The fateful error that made it into the Bible

The printer was fined £300 and his mistake ruined him financially. Ironically, today a Wicked Bible is very valuable to book collectors; to buy a copy would leave you with little change out of £50,000 as only 11 are known to be in existence.

The quality and methods of printing over the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries were at times rather primitive in comparison to today. This led to many printing errors in them, and although they are not theological or translational mistakes, they are still worth a smile, and worth noting.

The Place Maker Bible was so called because a 16th Century printer had Jesus blessing the ‘place-makers’ instead of ‘peacemakers.’

The Judas Bible, of 1611, manages to switch Jesus and Judas, in Matthew 26:36 which read “Then Judas (not Jesus as it should be) went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”

The Religious Bible 1637 has an error in Jeremiah 4:17 leads God to complain that Jerusalem has been ‘religious’ rather than ‘rebellious.’

The More Sea Bible of 1641 makes the Apocalypse a lot damper than has usually been supposed: Revelation 21:1 has been changed to ‘the first heaven and the first earth were passed away and there was more sea,’ instead of ‘…there was no more sea.’

The Unrighteous Bible of 1653 used the words, ‘Know ye not that the unrighteous shall inherit the kingdom of God’ (I Corinthians 6:9), again deleting the all-important ‘not inherit.’

One funny example of a printers error is Psalm 119:161 in the 1702 edition of the King James Version called the printers’ Bible. In that edition, instead of saying ‘princes have persecuted me without a cause,’ David complains that ‘printers have persecuted me without a cause.’

The ‘Sin On Bible’ of 1716 as the account of Jesus encountering the adulterous woman in John 6 and while the Scripture in verse 11 should read, ‘Go, and sin no more.’ The careless printers oversight accidentally inverted the ‘n’ and the ‘o’ in the word ‘on,’ so it read, ‘Go and sin on more.’

By omitting or inverting a particular word or phrase, an entirely different, and sometimes evil connotation has been conveyed. Since these errors are rather easy to detect, the printing and circulation of such editions were promptly stopped, resulting often in very few copies ever making their way into the book-buying market. One of the earliest such Bibles – The fools Bible 1763 – was produced during the reign of King Charles I in 1763. In Psalm 14:1 it reads, ‘The fool hath said in his heart, there is a God.’ The crucial omission of ‘no’ before ‘God’ makes a fool out of a believer!

A Bible printed in Oxford, England, has the very unusual substitution of the name ‘Philip’ in place of ‘Peter’ as the disciple who denied Jesus in Luke 22:34. Perhaps the print shop or office personnel responsible for that error were doing a bit of daydreaming. In any event, it resulted in a Bible that some collectors consider an interesting addition to their collections – ‘The Denial Bible’ of 1792.

‘The Murderer’s Bible’ of 1801 had Mark 7:27 as ‘Let the children be killed’ instead of ‘filled.’

A proof-reader queried a comma in Galatians 4:29 and the editor wrote the words ‘to remain,’ meaning that the comma should be left in the text. Instead, the proof-reader incorporated the words ‘to remain’ into the text, making the passage read: ‘he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the spirit to remain, even so it is now.’ That was The ‘To Remain Bible’ of 1805.

The following year, 1806, ‘The Discharge Bible’ appeared. 1 Timothy 5:21 says, ‘I discharge thee… that thou observe these things.’ instead of ‘I charge thee.’

An 1810 version read, ‘If any man come to me, and hate not… his own wife (instead of life), he cannot be my disciple.’ It is known as the ‘Wife Hater Bible.’

Even as recently as 1823 errors were still creeping in. ‘The Camels Bible’ of 1823 took that nickname from a misprint in Genesis 24:61 which reads, ‘And Rebecca arose, and her camels’ instead of ‘her damsels.’ This mistake is easily understandable when you realize that the word “camels” is in fact also found in the same verse. Such errors are attributable to a slip of the eye by the typesetter and an oversight on the part of the proof-reader. This was not uncommon during the early years of printing and still occurs, occasionally, even today.

As recently as 1966 the first edition of the Jerusalem Bible – known as the ‘Pay or Pray Bible’ -, Psalm 122:6 read, ‘Pay for peace’ instead of ‘Pray.’

And even modern Bibles are not error free. I was the press officer at the Bible Society when the Good News Bible was launched – in hardback and paperback – in 1976. Both have the lovely line illustrations of the French artist Annie Vallotton.

In the paperback edition, however, the story of Jesus meeting the woman at the well in John chapter 4 the Bible says that Jesus asks the woman to get him a drink from the well. She replies ‘You haven’t got a bucket.’ But the illustration in that first paperback edition shows Jesus sitting on the side of the well with a bucket at his feet.

It was cleared in all subsequent editions – but I still retain my original copy.

There was certainly some humour in knowing that times have changed, printing has improved, but human nature and the opportunity to make one little mistake, hasn’t changed.

You don’t die for it now, however.