Sean McDowell | September 12, 2017

Humorous Bible Translation Errors…and What They Mean for Biblical Reliability

Humorous Bible Translation Errors…and What They Mean for Biblical Reliability

Jewish and Christian scribes took inordinate care in copying the Bible from one generation to the next. For a variety of reasons, we can have great confidence that our present Bibles have considerable fidelity to the original writings.[1] Hands down, the Bible is the most carefully preserved book from the ancient world.

And yet throughout the history of biblical transmission , there have been some intentional and unintentional changes in the text. Some people think this undermines its reliability, but that is not necessarily the case. While there were certain scribes with doctrinal agendas, the vast majority considered it their duty to copy the scriptures faithfully. And they did so. Typically, when variants are found across different manuscripts, textual scholars can reconstruct the correct reading with a high degree of probability.

According to professor Dan Wallace, one of the leading textual critics in the world, there has not been a single manuscript discovery that has produced an authentic reading of the New Testament that tells a totally different story of Jesus.[2]

The reason for this is the remarkably careful procedures practiced by the scribes. When scribes made a mistake in copying a Biblical book by hand, it would only produce one flawed copy. Later scribes would often catch these mistakes by comparing them against earlier copies to preserve the original reading. Even today, textual scholars can catch copying mistakes by comparing them with other ancient manuscripts.

But this changed with the introduction of the printing press. After the press, a single bad copy could result in hundreds or thousands of defective Bibles. Here’s a few of the most famous (or you might consider them infamous) examples.[3]

1631: Readers were stunned encounter to Exodus 20:13, “Thou shalt commit adultery.” (Instead of, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”)

1653: 1 Corinthians 6:9 read, “Know that the unrighteous shall inherit the kingdom of God,” (Instead of, “Know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”)

1763: The final printed text of Psalm 14:1 read, “The fool hath said in his heart, there is a God.” (Editors accidentally inserted the word a for no).

These humorous examples show that despite the utmost care and effort, humans do make mistakes. But they also illustrate how scholars are able to correct such mistakes and still be able to transmit ancient texts with care and precision.

While there have been many intentional and unintentional mistakes throughout the history of biblical transmission, scholars are able to catch the vast majority of these (as we have with the examples above), and transmit the Bible with remarkable accuracy.

If you are not convinced, we invite you to check out the soon-to-be-released update of Evidence that Demands A Verdict. My father first wrote this book chronicling the evidence for the Christian Scriptures, even though, ironically, he began the journey attempting to disprove the Bible. In this updated edition, we have carefully and painstakingly laid out the textual, historical, and literary evidence that the Bible has been preserved with the highest care.

Yes, there have been some mistakes in transmission. But the vast majority of these have been identified and corrected. All things considered, evidence shows that the Bible is the most well-preserved book of antiquity.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog:

[1] See chapters 2-4 in Josh and Sean McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict: Life-Changing Truth for a Skeptical World (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2017).

[2] Ibid., 66.

[3] Lawrence H. Schiffman & Jerry Pattengale, The World’s Greatest Book: The Story of How the Bible Came to Be (Franklin, TN: Worthy Publishing, 2017), 176-177.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author, popular speaker, and part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell, TikTok, Instagram, and his blog: