Does the world’s bestselling book have errors?

It may disappoint avid believers that Bibles have errors in them. Photo: Wicked Bible: Photo John Hellstern

FLOWER MOUND, Tx., November 30, 2011 — It is commonly accepted that the bestselling book in the World is the Bible. Is it possible that Christians place their hope and faith in a book that has errors? Does this mean Bible enthusiasts have placed their hope and trust on shifting sand?

Johann Gutenberg’s invention of moveable type gave us the hope of printing books in great numbers without repeating the scribal errors of handwritten copies. Prior to the printing press, all written manuscripts were handwritten and the recopying of documents inevitably led to copyist errors.

It is not surprising that the first book ever printed on a printing press with moveable type was the Bible. In order to recoup his investment, Gutenberg began printing the book that had a ready market. Although not everyone could afford or even read the Bible, priests, parishes, and noblemen wanted a printed Bible rather than a handwritten manuscript.

While the printing press promised a future with errorless books, it created the reality that if a book had a printer’s error, it would be multiplied many times over.

The English Bible market flourished from the time Henry VIII formally sanctioned the printing of Bibles (1537) up to today’s massive Bible and new translation market.

The sixteenth and seventeenth century gluttonous market for English Bibles placed a burden on printers to feed the starving public. In order to meet the never-ending demand for Bibles, printers neglected acceptable editing procedures. The result was a plethora of errors in printed Bibles.

These errors provided Bibles with nicknames. Today collectors desire these unusual readings in various Bibles. The most notable are:

“Whig” Bible (1562)—A printer’s error in Matthew 5:9 in the second edition Geneva Bible wrote “placemakers” for “peacemakers,” which was later (1678) facetiously associated with the political methods of the Whig party in England.

“1495” Geneva Bible (1594)—A transposition of figures in the New Testament title date of this Geneva Bible seems to make it one of the Incunabula Bibles (a book written between 1456 and1500).

“He” Bible (1611)—A well know moniker for the first edition of the King James’ Bible is the “He” Bible. Ruth 3:15 reads, “and he went into the citie.” The “he” appears also in later quarto editions. The corrected edition is in the so called “She” Bible (1611/13) In the second issue of the first edition of the King James’ Bible renders Ruth 3:15 as, “and she went into the citie.” The “she” appears also in later editions.

“Judas” Bible (1611/13)—The “She” Bible mentioned above has the misprint “Judas” for “Jesus” in the New Testament in Matthew 26:36.

“Wicked” Bible (1631)—Printer Robert Barker’s octavo edition of the King James Bible made a colossal mistake in Exodus 20:18, “Thou shalt commit adultery.”

“Forgotten Sins” Bible (1638)—A miniature (duodecimo) edition of the King James’ Bible has the error in Luke 7:47, “her sins which are many are forgotten.” (“forgiven”)

“More Sea” Bible (1641)—An octavo edition printed by Barker renders the last sentence of Revelation 21:1 “and there was more sea.” (for “no more sea”)

“Unrighteous” Bible (1653)—Field’s 24 mo. edition of the King James’ Bible renders I Corinthians 6:9, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall [“not”] inherit the kingdom of God.”

“Murderers” Bible (1801)—An Oxford University Press octavo of the King James’ Bible misprints “murderers” for “murmurers” in Jude 16.

“Standing Fishes” Bible (1806)—A London quarto by the King’s Printers in Ezekiel 47:10, “the fishes shall stand” appeared for “fishers.”

It is not surprising that these kinds of errors slipped into hurriedly prepared editions of the Bible. Today’s standards of edition are more rigorous than in the 16th and 17th centuries, but nearly every book I have ever read has at least one printer’s error.

While errors are unavoidable, most readers spot the errors, comment about their skilful eye “spying” the unforgivable mistake and then continue on reading with complete, accurate comprehension.


This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Donald L. Brake, Sr.

Donald L. Brake, Ph.D., is Dean Emeritus of Multnomah Biblical Seminary, past president of Jerusalem University College, Israel; author of A Visual History of the English Bible: The Tumultuous Tale of The World’s Bestselling Book; Baker Books, 2008 (a 2009 ECPA Christian Book Award finalist), A Visual History of the King James Bible: The Dramatic Tale of the World’s Best-Known Translation, Baker Books, 2011, A Royal Monument of English Literature: The King James Bible 1611, Credo House Publishers, 2011; and antiquarian collector with his extensive collection of rare and significant Bibles and artifacts currently at the Dunham Bible Museum, Houston Baptist University, Houston, Texas.

Contact Donald L. Brake, Sr.


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