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What is the Wicked Bible?

Michael Pollick
By
Updated May 23, 2024
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The translation of the Bible into the common English language has long been heralded as one of the greatest accomplishments in both the religious and publishing worlds. In 1631, two of London's most respected printers, Robert Barker and Martin Lucas, produced what they believed to be a faithful reproduction of the King James Bible. Instead, one simple typographical error in the Book of Exodus cost them a month's salary and their printing licenses. Their version of the Holy Bible has come to be known as the Wicked Bible, also called the Adulterous Bible or Sinners' Bible.

The passage in Exodus misquoted by the publishers happened to be the Ten Commandments, a set of laws imposed on the Hebrews by God Himself. The Wicked Bible's translation of the seventh Commandment should have read "Thou shalt not commit adultery", but actually omitted the word not, rendering the passage as "Thou shalt commit adultery." This single typographical error caused significant distress in the religious community, since it could conceivably be interpreted as holy permission to commit a sinful act.

When word of the publishers' error reached England's King Charles I and the Archbishop of Canterbury, the two men were summoned into a special courtroom until the matter could be fully investigated. After the error had been independently verified, Barker and Lucas were ordered to pay a fine equivalent to a month's salary and to surrender their publishing license. The existing copies of the so-called Wicked Bible were summarily burned by order of the king.

At least 11 copies of the Wicked Bible managed to escape the flames, and are considered to be extremely valuable in rare book circles. The rare book room of the New York City library holds one copy under strict lock and key, while a Bible museum in Branson, Missouri also has a copy on display. The other copies of the Wicked Bible are thought to be in private collections, although one copy has been offered for sale through a website featuring rare books and other antiquities.

The Wicked Bible also contains a second lesser-known error in the book of Deuteronomy. Instead of translating one passage as the Lord showing his "glory and greatness," the verse actually suggests the Lord showed His glory and "great arse." Had this second, and in some ways even more egregious, typographical error been discovered in time, Barker and Lucas may have been forced to pay a much higher price for their unfortunate errors.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick , Writer
As a frequent contributor to Language & Humanities, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Discussion Comments

By anon31112 — On Apr 29, 2009

I think it's called the spirit of error.

By sgbfishman — On Apr 29, 2009

Makes you wonder whether it was an accident or some "wit" decided to leave his mark (most likely a he, though not for sure). A similar thing occurred with the prayer books that my synagogue uses for Yom Kippur. There's a section describing the service that was done in the Temple in Jerusalem during the era of Roman domination--part of it involved pouring libations of wine on the altar; however, in the edition of the book we had, it said "libations of swine." Hmm...when one of the many military leaders who attempted to conquer the Jews sacrificed pigs on the altar, the Jews rebelled so fiercely that we still celebrate their victory as Hanukkah.

Michael Pollick

Michael Pollick

Writer

As a frequent contributor to Language & Humanities, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a...
Learn more
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