[From the archives.]
What happens if you take a book’s title and drop a letter somewhere? The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown’s best seller about secrets and intrigue in the Vatican, might just become The Da Vinci Cod, described as
“Thrills, spills and gills as a Harvard swimbologist tries to catch a murderous albino monkfish. A load of pollocks but better than Brown’s original.”
Many of the twenty retitled books’ descriptions are even better than their titles. And who says you can’t judge a book by its cover? Look at the way the cover art for Of Ice and Men evokes a certain insouciance, or cast your gaze on the steely eyed stare of the title character from Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crow.
Getting Things Wrong is Nothing New
In 1631 the printers of a new edition of the 1611 King James Bible, also known as The Authorized Version, made a little three letter mistake with Exodus 20:14. By leaving out the letters n, o, and t, they printed a well known verse so that it read “Thou shalt commit adultery.”
Oops. No wonder they call this version The Sinner’s Bible.
The misprint so incensed the Archbishop of Canterbury that he declared:
I knew the time 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 best, but now the paper is nought, the composers boys, and the correctors unlearned.
Modern Bible translations seem to be more accepting of error in transmitting God’s word down through the centuries. It’s not that modern translators are careless about error, but that they recognize it exists in the ancient manuscripts. The NIV’s notes, for example, cite repeatedly the instances of discrepancy between ancient texts and attribute them to possible scribal error.
Is this a problem for modern readers who want to know if the Bible is reliable? After all, the Bible claims about itself:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17.)
How can we trust that claim if we don’t know we have an accurate record of what was originally written? It comes down to recognizing that the discrepancies are on points that do not concern basic doctrinal issues.
We don’t have one ancient manuscript that says God is love and another that says he isn’t, for example. Nor do we see one source claiming that God created all there is and another that claims God is actually part of that creation.
On all points of doctrine that I can think of, the texts are consistent. This gives me confidence that the Bible really is as authoritative as it says it is.
But if you do happen to find an ancient manuscript that tells you “Thou shalt commit adultery”, don’t tell the Archbishop of Canterbury.