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History’s Worst Biblical Misprints

History Stories November 17, 2017

History’s Worst Biblical Misprints

Thomas Bensley's printing press. (Credit: SSPL/Getty Images)
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    History’s Worst Biblical Misprints

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      Becky Little

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      History’s Worst Biblical Misprints

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      May 26, 2018

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      A+E Networks

In 1795, Thomas Bensley of London published a King James version of the Bible with a pretty big error. At one point in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus says, “Let the children first be killed,” when he should have said “filled.” Whoops.

Because of the glaring mistake, this Bible has become known as the “Murderer’s Bible.” However, it isn’t the only Bible with that nickname. There are also two other “Murderer’s Bibles”—including one from 1801 that misspells “murmurers” as “murderers” in the Epistle of Jude.

There are many more examples of egregious, even blasphemous, biblical mistakes from the centuries when publishers still had to arrange printing letters by hand. A Geneva translation of the Bible from 1611 famously mixed up “Jesus” and “Judas” in the Gospel of John, so that a verse reads: “Then said Judas to the twelve, Will ye also go away?

If you’re familiar with the story of Jesus, you know that this is a very big deal. Judas was the disciple who betrayed Jesus Christ. Mixing up the two is one of the biggest errors you could make, and it appears the printing of this version was stopped halfway through so that the error could be fixed. Someone also went through pages that had already been printed to blot out the wrong name and write “Jesus” below it.

“[T]his error was considered grave, no doubt because of its theological content,” wrote Zachary Lesser, a professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania, in an email to The Washington Post.

“This is an unusual level of effort to correct a misprint in a book of this time period—when it was simply impossible to print a book of any length without a bunch of typos—which really shows how much importance this particular misprint carried in the culture,” he continued.

Dubbed the “Wicked Bible”, the most infamous typo in history in a 1631 edition of the King James Bible on display at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. The printers were severely fined and most editions were recalled and destroyed thus few copies survived. (Credit: Linda Davidson/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Some of these slip-ups may seem amusing today. The 17th century “Unrighteous Bible” says that “the unrighteous shall inherit the kingdom of God” (it should’ve said “righteous.”) Another misprints “The Parable of the Vineyard” in the Gospel of Luke as “The Parable of the Vinegar.”

We know about these famous misprints because some of the Bibles that contain them are still around today. The University of Pennsylvania has a copy of the one that mixed up Judas and Jesus, and the newly-opened Museum of the Bible has a rare copy of the “Wicked Bible” on display.

Unlike some of the other misprinted Bibles, the “Wicked Bible” was one the church actively sought to destroy for its heresy. King Charles I of England decreed in the 1630s that all copies of the edition should be burned, but at least 11 survived the purge.

So, what makes this Bible so wicked? The main error is that it leaves out the word “not” in the Seventh of the Ten Commandments, so that it reads, “Thou shalt commit adultery”—the exact opposite of what it’s supposed to say.

The second error isn’t as blasphemous, but it’s still pretty noticeable. Because of it, a section of Deuteronomy that is supposed to exalt God’s “greatnesse” ends up praising a different part of the Almighty: “And ye said, Behold, the LORD our God hath shewed us his glory and his great-asse.”

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