The Worst Proofreading Error of All-Time

Take a close look at the picture above. Read it out loud.

The word “not” is missing. As in “Thou shalt ___ commit adultery.”

It is from an edition of the Bible published in 1631, now affectionately known as “The Sinners Bible” or “The Wicked Bible.”  Adulterers of the realm celebrated! (Just kidding.)

The Royal Printers in London, Robert Barker and Martin Lucas, were to blame. It was meant to be a simple reprint of the King James Bible first released in 1611. To this day we don’t know if it was a simple mistake or if it was an act of sabotage by a competitor.

What is most fascinating to me is that the error was not discovered for an entire year! One thousand copies had been printed and circulated and yet it was a full year before the mistake was revealed. The error was brought to the King’s attention by Dr. William Laud the Bishop of London.

King Charles I was absolutely furious. He ordered all the copies to be seized and burned. He fired Barker and Lucas and fined them £3,000. (In today’s money that would be more than $500,000 US.) This began the tragic downfall of Robert Barker. Four years later he was in jail for racking up too much debt and over the next ten years was in and out of prison until his death in a cell in 1645.

George Abbot, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was incensed. He later wrote:

I knew the tyme when great care was had about printing, the Bibles especially, good compositors and the best correctors were gotten being grave and learned men, the paper and the letter rare, and faire every way of the beste, but now the paper is nought, the composers boyes, and the correctors unlearned.

Despite the crown’s best efforts to destroy the print run, apparently at least nine copies of this Bible survive today. One sold in 2008 for nearly $90,000 in an auction.

There are a number of other notorious Bible typos in history. Here are a few of the more famous ones (a full list can be found on the International Bible Collectors site):

“Cannibals” Bible. Deut. 24:3 reads “if the latter husband ate her” instead of “hate her.” — 1682

”Wife hater” Bible. Luke 14:26 reads “if any man come to me and hate not his father.., yea, and his own wife” instead of “his own life.” — 1810

“Vexing wives” Bible. Num. 25:18  reads “for they vex you with their wives” instead of “with their wiles.” — 1638

“Child killer” Bible. Mark 7:27 reads “Let the children first be killed” instead of “be filled.” — 1795

“Sin on” Bible. Jeremiah 31:34 reads “Sin on more” instead of “Sin no more.” — 1716

Bible proofreading is something we take for granted. Peachtree Editorial Services is a company that has been dedicated to this work for many decades. Our client Chris Hudson of Hudson Bible recently became the co-owner of the company. You can be assured that the Bible you read today has been carefully proofread!

14 Responses to The Worst Proofreading Error of All-Time

  1. Avatar
    Christine Malkemes April 4, 2016 at 5:15 am #

    Yes. good reminder. The moral of this story is: thou shalt not proof read half asleep. The consequences will be life changing.

    • Avatar
      Michael Emmanuel April 4, 2016 at 3:00 pm #

      Absolutely. Better not proofread at all. Half-jobs could be more dangerous.

  2. Avatar
    Karen Sargent April 4, 2016 at 5:29 am #

    Enjoyed the history lesson, Mr. Laube. So much for the phrase “unerring Word of God.” (As my girls would text…JK.) 🙂

  3. Avatar
    Beth April 4, 2016 at 7:35 am #

    Considering how hard it is to publish a book completely typo-free–I’m surprised there weren’t many more errors!

  4. Avatar
    Janet Ann Collins April 4, 2016 at 7:58 am #

    Those are funny, but I feel sorry for the people who were punished. Only perfect people never make mistakes and there has only ever been one perfect person.

  5. Avatar
    Loretta April 4, 2016 at 9:02 am #

    Good reminder, and I think it’s worse with today’s autocorrect features. One must be ever vigilant. I once made a typo on a brochure that was terribly embarrassing. Just one word, but I will say it was a valuable lesson!

  6. Avatar
    NormaBrumbaugh April 4, 2016 at 9:13 am #

    Amazing.

  7. Avatar
    Rachel Malcolm April 4, 2016 at 10:31 am #

    Fascinating! I had no idea. The risk of typos slipping through is my main concern with self publishing.

    • Avatar
      Michael Emmanuel April 4, 2016 at 3:03 pm #

      Rachel, I am yet to be published, but I would suggest getting an editor or a copy-editor. Besides, Beth had it right, “considering how hard it is to publish a book completely typo-free”. I read a bestseller recently, with praises by bestselling authors, and there was a typo.

  8. Avatar
    Linda Riggs Mayfield April 4, 2016 at 7:07 pm #

    Steve, I own a Bible in which I found a typo, and was quite surprised that could still happen, with today’s technology. Do you think people all over England were horrified, or snickering, or obeying, or not carefully reading their Ten Commandments during the year before that typo was brought to the king’s attention? I feel so sorry for Mr. Barker, the printer, to have been held personally responsible for every word in the Word! I guess Divine Right kings felt no compelling need to be reasonable or forgiving, or to practice what they ordered to be printed.

  9. Avatar
    Anne Christian Buchanan April 7, 2016 at 12:22 pm #

    My church, St. Stephen’s Episcopal in Terre Haute, IN, has been using a well-known local artist’s rendering of the church building for more than 40 years on notecards, bulletin covers, etc. Only this year did someone happen to notice that the church’s name, handwritten below the drawing by the artist, is misspelled (St. Stephan’s)! The artist is long since dead, and we’re now contemplating what to do. Liquid paper on the original? But we can’t believe that over all that time, no one noticed.

  10. Avatar
    Jerry B. Jenkins April 27, 2016 at 1:57 pm #

    Sorry I was late to this party. When I was publisher of The Ryrie Study Bible in the 1980s as Director of Moody Press, we had a version where a verse that began “Moreover brethren…” came out, “Moveover brethren…”

    Still makes me chuckle–and wake up in a cold sweat.

  11. Avatar
    Raman Khan January 4, 2018 at 3:13 am #

    Hi my name is Raman Khan and I am from India.
    God has given me the gift of writing devotionals which I post on a site called faithtrend..

    It was not like that it was there in me ,but the day I got baptized by holy spirit ,this gift was poured in me. I am not that much of qualified or done doctorines…but I ask God to give me his word ,dictate me what to write and God gives me his words and dictate me what to write…When I read the whole devotional I think how I write it.

    I have read your article regarding the typo error in King James version.it was really interesting , because I was also came to know how the first Bible which was in Hebrew been translated in Greek by King Plotemy philadelphus II ,by 70 scholars in 72 days.
    Which is now called Septuagint and early churches used to take it’s help.even KJV translation and most of the New testament translation writers use it.

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