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.


[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 is a gifted communicator with a passion for equipping the church, and in particular young people, to make the case for the Christian faith. He connects with audiences in a tangible way through humor and stories while imparting hard evidence and logical support for viewing all areas of life through a biblical worldview. Sean is an associate professor in the Christian Apologetics program at Biola University. He is the Resident Scholar for Summit California. Sean still teaches one high school Bible class, which helps him have exceptional insight into the prevailing culture so he can impart his observations poignantly to fellow educators, pastors and parents alike. In 2008, he received the Educator of the Year award for San Juan Capistrano, Calif. The Association of Christian Schools International awarded Exemplary Status to his apologetics training. Sean is listed among the top 100 apologists. He graduated summa cum laude from Talbot School of Theology with a master’s degree in theology and another in philosophy. He earned a Ph.D. in Apologetics and Worldview Studies in 2014 from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Traveling throughout the U.S. and abroad, Sean speaks at camps, churches, schools, universities and conferences. He has spoken for organizations including Focus on the Family, the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, Backyard Skeptics, Cru, Youth Specialties, Hume Lake Christian Camps, Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Association of Christian Schools International. Sean has also appeared as a guest on radio shows such as Family Life Today, Point of View, Stand to Reason, Common Sense Atheism and the Hugh Hewitt Show. Sean has been quoted in many publications, including the New York Times. Sean is the author, co-author or editor of over 18 books including The Fate of the Apostles (Routledge, 2015); A New Kind of Apologist (Harvest House, 2016); The Beauty of Intolerance (Barbour, 2016); Same-Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God’s Design for Marriage, with John Stonestreet (Baker, 2014); Is God Just a Human Invention? with Jonathan Morrow; and Understanding Intelligent Design, with William A. Dembski. Sean has also written multiple books with his father, Josh McDowell, including The Unshakable Truth, More Than A Carpenter and an update for Evidence that Demands a Verdict (2017). Sean is the general editor for The Apologetics Study Bible for Students. He has also written for YouthWorker Journal, Decision Magazine and the Christian Research Journal. Follow the dialogue with Sean as he blogs regularly at seanmcdowell.org. In April 2000, Sean married his high school sweetheart, Stephanie. They have three children and live in San Juan Capistrano. Sean played college basketball at Biola and was captain his senior year on a team that went 30-7.

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