By Norris Burkes, May 15, 2022
Even if you’re not much of a Bible reader, you might want to check out the “Wicked Bible, “aka” Adulterous Bible,” or “Sinners’ Bible.”
Printed in1631, the WB is so-named because it omits “not” from the seventh commandment.
Sounding more like Hippie “free love” of the 1960s, readers are told in no uncertain terms “thou SHALT commit adultery.”
Fortunately, when the error was discovered a year later, only 1,000 copies remained to be recovered and burned by the church.
Still, justice had to be done. King Charles I hauled the printers Robert Barker and Martin Lucas into court where the judge revoked their printing license and fined them 300 pounds, equal to $80,000 today.
How did the egregious misprint come to be? Some scholars suggest industrial sabotage by a rival printer. But my column proofreader, Davalynn Spencer, sides with the scholars who say it was a result of underpaid and overworked copy editors like herself.
Today, it is supposed that twenty WBs remain in circulation, most likely in England. So, imagine the shock when the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand announced that a student discovered one of these “adulterated” versions.
The version was found in 2018, but its discovery was made public only this week to allow archivists the chance to authenticate and preserve the book.
I sympathize with Bob and Marty. They likely never suspected their simple mistake would be carried forward four centuries.
Still, lest we laugh too hard at their misfortune, perhaps we should confess that we too tangle the original meaning of the commandments. We do it when we overemphasize a commandment or alter its intent to espouse our favored viewpoint.
For instance, there are some who promote the Bible as a science book. They cite generational begat lists to pronounce that the earth was created at 4004 BC. Never mind a world of geological science suggesting thousands upon thousands of years old.
Others remodel biblical passages into an Armageddon roadmap. They interpret every new conflict as a prelude to WWIII. Some even hope to accelerate these wars in order to hasten the prophesied return of Jesus.
But worse yet, some use the Bible to promote a political party or espouse partisan viewpoints.
For instance, “Thou shalt not kill” recently gained favor with the leak of a Supreme Court opinion on abortion. While the commandment is paraded on placards around the court steps, it remains noticeably absent from any discussion of wars or capital punishment.
But the most wicked use of Bible authority came last year when protesters sought to forcefully oppose the transfer of power. In trying to reinstate “God’s favored one,” they showed little understanding of the commandment “Don’t take the name of the Lord your God in vain.”
Now, I know that I have little chance at getting anyone to discard their favorite biblical opinions. I can only hope that we can enlarge our views. The Bible is infinitely bigger than any of our theories. Nobody carries God in their pocket.
The Bible was largely written to answer the questions of who created the world and why it was created
The answer to “Who?” is God.
The answer to “Why?” is because he loves US. You and me.
My Bible — not the wicked one —tells me that God loves all of us the way he loves each of us. And he loves each of us as if he loved only one.
So however one prioritizes the commandments, Jesus clearly announced his ranking — Love the Lord your God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself.
Our issues are complicated and intertwined. They won’t be resolved with a single verse or be dismissed with clever edits. But they can be better understood through God’s loving eyes.
Fortunately grace prevailed for our hapless printers when a 17th century judge dismissed their fine. If you’re curious to see the Wicked Bible, the University of Canterbury will post their digitized findings on the web in coming months.
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