In the original autographs, written between c. 1312 BC1 and c. AD 962, the actual original copies written down by the prophets and apostles, we believe there were no errors that could affect doctrine. But from that point on, human error was bound to creep in. Still, in looking at the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, we can easily see how very careful the Jewish people have been over the millennia to preserve the text. One way we see this is that original errors have not been corrected. When we say ‘original errors,’ we are not talking about potential doctrinal errors. We’re talking about simple errors of spelling and grammar.
Those to whom God originally gave His word did not have dictionaries or thesauruses handy to verify spellings or meanings. It’s not at all uncommon to find more than one spelling of Hebrew words in the Old Testament, as well as misspellings. The writings of Moses are a good example. Moses was a Hebrew, but had not been raised in a Jewish household. From his infancy, he had been raised as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He knew he was a Jew by birth, but had not been brought up in the knowledge of his people or their language. Undoubtedly, he had received the finest education Egypt could provide, being a member of the royal family. So he would have been fluent in Egyptian, and have known their arts and sciences, but not so with his own history and language.
Moses mentions being slow of speech and slow of tongue. He was particularly concerned about going to his own people and telling them that God had sent him. Many have taken this to mean that Moses had some kind of speech impediment. While this cannot be ruled out, more than likely what he meant was that he simply didn’t know Hebrew well enough to be a good spokesman for God to the Jewish people. And in reading his written Hebrew, we do occasionally find errors of grammar. They don’t affect his meaning in the slightest; they’re just grammatically incorrect.
God does not generally dictate His word verbatim. If He did, the entire Bible would be in one writing style. But it is not. Rather, He gave the message, in detail, and allowed each writer to phrase it in his own words and style. But the most significant thing about the various errors of spelling and grammar in the Hebrew Old Testament isn’t the fact that they occurred, but the fact that they have never been corrected. The Jewish people have such reverence for the word of God that they will not make even the slightest alteration to the text, not even to correct a simple and obvious error. Instead, they have means of pointing out the errors, without correcting them. A Jewish sofer (scribe) has a very difficult and demanding job. It is this man’s responsibility to copy over the scrolls of the Tanakh (Old Testament) by hand. Every single letter must be written absolutely perfectly. If there is even the slightest error, whether a misshapen letter, an error in spelling by the sofer, or even a stray dot of ink on the page, the entire page is invalid and may not be used. Corrections, erasures, etc., are not permitted. With that kind of attention and reverence, it’s quite easy to believe that the Hebrew Old Testament says today pretty much exactly what it said 2400 years ago when the last book was penned.
While those preserving the Greek New Testament have never shown that much attention to detail, we still have a pretty good situation: although there are different manuscripts, and there are some small differences, they aren’t significant enough for the most part to cause doctrinal error. (This is speaking only of the oldest manuscripts. In the 16th century, an altered Greek manuscript appeared on the scene, created not by copying over older Greek manuscripts, but by translating part of a flawed Latin translation back into Greek. This manuscript was known as the Textus Receptus [“received text”]. For some reason, the translators of the King James Version chose to reject EVERY ancient Greek New Testament available to them, and to use only newer manuscripts, relying heavily on the flawed Textus Receptus. This has indeed led to some error, including a fraudulent verse found in several English [and other vernacular] translations. This will be explained later in this chapter.)
While God has indeed preserved His word to a remarkable degree in the original languages, enabling us the potential for an accurate translation, that is, sadly, as far as His protection has gone. It cannot be said to extend to the various vernacular translations, because it is easy to see that those various versions frequently disagree with each other, often significantly. Why are there errors? Why did (and do) translators take liberties?
The answers to these questions vary from century to century. The earliest known deliberate tampering with the word is traced back to late versions of the Latin Vulgate in the 9th century.3 In those days, it was monks in monasteries who were charged with copying over translations of Christian Bibles. The only permitted language at the time was Latin. And for centuries, the Vulgate had been copied over by hand, prior to the invention of the printing press. But even after the press was invented, the practice of hand lettering manuscripts continued. And for the most part, this practice produced no significant problems... until the day some anonymous monk decided to add his own words to one of the manuscripts. We don’t know who he was, what his motives were, or exactly when he did it. What we do know is this: all of a sudden, there was a 9th century manuscript of John’s first epistle with an extra verse in it. This verse, known today as the Johannine Comma, breaks the sense of the passage, as it does not follow the line of thought John was expressing. But there it was. And in later years, when that manuscript was copied over to produce a new one, that verse was innocently copied right along with it. (More on that later in this chapter.)
There wasn’t the kind of biblical scholarship then that we would find today. Were a new Bible to appear today with an added verse, it wouldn’t take long at all for people to notice. But back when this new verse was first added, the chances that anyone would notice were remarkably small. Only clergy were allowed to have copies of the Bible, and those copies were only in Latin, which only the educated few could read. People were not allowed to study scripture for themselves. And since there weren’t multiple copies to choose from, the chances that any one priest would have two manuscripts to compare weren’t good. Now, had this error been confined only to the Latin Vulgate, it might not have been a problem for later translations. But it didn’t work out that way.
In 1516, Desiderius Erasmus published a printed version of the Greek New Testament. Although largely based on the much older Byzantine manuscripts, there was one very significant difference: Erasmus compared the Byzantine to the late flawed versions of the Vulgate, and he incorporated the errors of the Vulgate into his new Greek manuscript. This new, now flawed, Greek manuscript came to be known as the Textus Receptus.
It is not uncommon to hear proponents of the King James Version (also known as the Authorized Version) use the Textus Receptus as the basis for their claim that only that version is accurate and should be used. Those making this claim are generally unaware that the Textus Receptus is only a New Testament manuscript, and are also usually unaware that it was only about 100 years old when the KJV was translated, or that it was altered to agree with late versions of the Latin Vulgate. They are also unaware that the KJV translators chose to reject the numerous more ancient and authoritative Greek manuscripts of the New Testament that were available, and based their work largely on the Textus Receptus and other relatively recent manuscripts. That was not divine guidance or a wise decision. It resulted in KJV containing the added verse of the anonymous scribe copying over the Vulgate.
1 John 5:7, as found in the King James Version and several other versions, is a known fraud. This verse cannot be found in ANY ancient Greek manuscript, nor in any of the early Latin translations. It was never cited in any way by the Church Fathers, even at times when doing so would have been of great advantage to them. Clearly, the Church Fathers never heard of it. It breaks the sense of what John was writing about, and is without scriptural authority. The King James Version translators, if they didn’t actually know that, SHOULD have known it: Had they consulted any ancient Greek manuscripts, they would have known the verse was absent from all of them. Either they didn't consult those manuscripts, or chose to ignore them.
Some new versions leave the verse out altogether, while others include it only in a footnote. But what is truly baffling is that the new versions of KJV [NKJV, KJV21] continue to include this verse, despite the facts concerning it, and the fact that no legitimate Bible scholar in the world believes John wrote it.
Another factor involved in errors in vernacular translations of the Bible applies to the earlier versions. The earliest translations were sponsored by churches (Lutheran into German, Anglican into English, Catholic into English and French, etc.) One thing all these churches taught, despite their dislike for each other and doctrinal differences, is that the church was to be the final arbiter of doctrine, not the Bible. Today, not many Christian people would agree with that, yet it is still in practice, and even in actual doctrine, for several of the older forms of Christianity. This meant that, regardless of what the Bible said on any particular subject, it was the church’s view that mattered. They may have gotten this idea from Jesus’ words to Peter, about whatever he bound on earth being bound in heaven, and whatever he loosed on earth being loosed in heaven. Some have construed this to mean that Peter (and therefore, in their minds, his successors) could set whatever doctrines and practices they chose, and that God would have to honor them. (They have to ignore much of the rest of the Bible to come to that conclusion, things such as the Bible’s statement that God’s word is FOREVER SETTLED in heaven, and that not even the smallest part of it would be pass away until all was done. Or the warning Paul gave, and then immediately repeated, to the Galatian church in regard to those who would attempt to alter the original teaching of the apostles in any way: That if even an angel from heaven or an apostle tried to do so, he was to be accursed. Gal. 1:8-9) But since, up until that time, so few had ever even seen a Bible, let alone read one, pretty much nobody knew that it is the word of God that carries the final word, not the church.
What this meant, however, in terms of translation, was this: When the translators encountered portions of scripture that either cast doubt on, or downright contradicted, church teaching, they were of the mindset that the church teaching overruled scripture, and that they were perfectly justified in altering the translation to bring it into line with church teaching. King James had actually given the translators instructions on how to translate, in order to ensure that the new version would conform to the ecclesiology and reflect the episcopal structure of the Church of England and its belief in an ordained clergy.4 In fact, had they done otherwise, their work would have been rejected from the start: The King James Version was intended to be read from the pulpits of Anglican churches. If it blatantly contradicted Anglican teaching, it could have created problems, questions, and even rebellion. If the translators had presented the King with a Bible that contradicted the teachings of the church, he would have told them to go back and do it over... or perhaps would have replaced those translators with others.
The goals of the translators themselves aren’t above reproach. If one finds an old copy of the King James Version, it may contain a copy of the letter the translators wrote to the King upon completion of their work. Upon reading this letter, it becomes clear that accuracy was not their foremost goal. Their first goal was to flatter the King. The most glaring form of flattery of the King they used was to put his name into the Bible text itself. Some may know that things pertaining to King James are referred to as Jacobean. What many don’t know is why. The reason why is that the translators of the Bible that bears his name took two men in the New Testament whose name in English should have been Jacob, and renamed them James. James is the anglicized version of the Gaelic Seamus, and not at all linguistically connected to Jacob. There is no doubt that James was quite pleased and flattered not only to find his name in the Bible, but even to find an epistle named after him! (Later translators wisely did not change the name back to Jacob. Although it would have been more accurate and honest, it would have resulted in extreme confusion.)
What kind of Bible errors are we talking about? This site deals with a number of them, related to a particular subject. But by no means were those the only errors.
One of the first errors is found in Deuteronomy 6:4. This verse, known to Jews around the world as the “sh’ma,” is, in Hebrew, the ultimate declaration of monotheism, of the absolute Oneness of God. (Sh’ma is the first word of the verse in Hebrew, corresponding to the English command “Hear!”) The KJV renders the verse this way: “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God is one LORD.” In English language Old Testaments, LORD in all capital letters represents God’s Name, יהוה, often rendered as Jehovah or Yahweh in English. (The original Hebrew form contained only the four consonants, YHVH [sometimes written YHWH], but the vowel sounds were not expressed in writing, thus the actual pronunciation of the name itself is unknown today.) If we read Deut. 6:4 with that understanding, that LORD represents a proper name, we can see readily that the translation makes no sense whatever. Were we to use the same syntax, replacing LORD with another proper name, and God with another position, we can see how inane a statement this is: Hear O Israel, John our mailman is one John. What is that supposed to mean???
The problem with the verse for the translators was that, if translated accurately, it made them theologically uncomfortable: “Hear O Israel: YHVH is our God; YHVH is one.” While not technically incompatible with Anglican doctrine, for those not well versed in the doctrine, it seemed to challenge it. So this verse, as well as the New Testament quote thereof, were “fudged.” In fact, any time the text got too close to declaring the original concept of monotheism, the translators seemed to intervene, with only a few exceptions. (There are two definitions of monotheism. The traditional Christian version states only that there is one God. But the original concept, that held by the Jews, also includes the statement that God is one, that is, He exists as one Entity. Traditional Christianity holds a view of the Godhead that is expressed as one God in three Persons. That view is seemingly incompatible with the concept of “God is one.” So while the translators were monotheistic from the Christian standpoint of believing in only one God, the statement that God is one made them uncomfortable, as it appeared to challenge the doctrine of three Persons in one God.)
The King James Version, as well as every other English Bible commonly available, begins John’s Gospel with two verses stating that the Word was “with God.” The Greek text, however, makes no such statement. Literally, the Greek says that the Word was “toward God.” Idiomatically, this means “pertained to God.” (KJV translated the exact same Greek phrase properly in Heb. 2:17 - “pertaining to God.”)
Unfortunately, an entire doctrine, known as the Logos doctrine, has arisen due to this mistranslation. For centuries, people have dissected John 1:1-2, looking for doctrinal statements, when originally, there was no doctrinal statement in those verses. Rather, the first few verses of the Gospel were intended as explanations and definitions. John was writing in Greek, which means his intended audience was the entire Roman Empire, anyone willing to read it. And the overwhelming majority of those people had no idea who the God of Israel was, that He was the only God, etc. It would have been pointless for John to launch right into a narrative about the life and ministry of Jesus when his readers didn’t even know who God was. So John sought to identify the God of Israel to his readers.
He had a couple of problems in doing so. Can you imagine trying to introduce someone, but not being able to say the name of the person you were introducing? And that was John’s dilemma: He had to introduce the God of Israel, the God of creation, without saying His name. Why? The first reason was custom: Jewish belief held that God’s name was so holy that, not only was it not to be uttered aloud, but it was also not to be written down in any language other than Hebrew, the holy language. But even if custom had allowed John to write YHVH in Greek, the Greek alphabet itself would not: It does not have letters necessary to represent all of those consonants. Greek has no letter to represent a consonantal Y. The letter Γ (gamma) can sound like a Y, but only if followed by specific vowels. Greek also lacks a letter having the sound of H. It was only possible for that sound to exist at the beginning of a Greek word that started with a vowel, but never in the middle of a word. (Even at the beginning of a word commencing with a vowel, the H sound was not originally represented in writing. And when it was written, centuries later, it was still not with a letter, but an inverted apostrophe.) So John needed to find a way to introduce YHVH without writing His name.
He took a cue from the Aramaic Targum, which was the oldest translation of the Tanakh (Old Testament). Following the Jewish people’s captivity in Babylon (roughly 597 BC to 537 BC), they no longer used Hebrew in everyday conversation, but used Aramaic instead. Aramaic was the language of Babylon, and its use was imposed on those taken captive by the empire. Over the years of the captivity, the older generation who had grown up speaking Hebrew died, and the younger generation tended to speak Aramaic. Aramaic is closely related to Hebrew, and they share some vocabulary and grammar. And for those Jews returning from captivity, right through the early centuries of the Christian era, Aramaic was even written with the Hebrew alphabet. But when they created an Aramaic version of the Tanakh (Old Testament) for everyday use, the translators were reluctant to put God’s name in it, even though it was still technically in the Hebrew alphabet. Instead, they replaced it with an Aramaic “codeword.” The word they chose was memra – ממרא - which means “word.” (That is, something that is spoken, or in the case of God’s name, NOT spoken, aloud.) Readers coming across memra would know that it stood for God’s name.
John chose the Greek equivalent of memra, which was logos λόγος. Of course, this word was of no use if his readers didn’t know what he meant by it. So in his first few verses, John attempted to explain what he meant by Logos:
In the beginning was Logos, and Logos pertained to (meant) God, and Logos was God. This pertained to (meant) God in the beginning. All things were created by Him, and without Him, nothing was made that was made.
From this, his readers would understand that Logos referred to the God of creation, the one who made everything in existence, right from the very beginning. And any reader who was familiar with either the Targum or the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) would have connected Logos with YHVH. None of this was intended to be a doctrinal statement. Not until the 14th verse did John make a doctrinal statement about Logos: “And Logos became flesh and dwelt among us.” But this statement, read in view of Logos being the Creator, was theologically uncomfortable for the translators, so they introduced an artificial division into the Godhead by using the word “with” in verses one and two. (To some believers in the doctrine of the Trinity, it was God the Father who orchestrated creation. So when John said that the Creator became flesh, it sounded like he was saying the Father became the Son, and that teaching is incompatible with trinitarian doctrine.)
In John 8:58, the KJV translators correctly have Jesus saying “Before Abraham was, I AM.” Inexplicably, however, the next time Jesus made the I AM statement, they hid it. This was at His arrest in the garden. Jesus asked the soldiers whom they were seeking. They replied, “Jesus of Nazareth.” According to KJV, Jesus answered, “I am he.” But that’s not what He said according to the Greek text. What Jesus actually said to them was this: “I AM.” And what happened next shows us that this was indeed a statement of great power, of His divinity: The moment He said “I AM,” those soldiers fell backwards to the ground! (Either He spoke the I AM in power, or those were the clumsiest soldiers the world has ever known!)
In Col. 1:19, KJV says “For it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell.” Other English translations, about half of them, say something similar, some replacing “the Father” with “God.” The problem is that the Greek mentions neither. The Greek says “For all the fullness was pleased to dwell in Him.” That’s a big difference. Paul wrote that the fullness itself was pleased to dwell in Him (Jesus). The translators changed it so that it pleased someone else for the fullness to dwell in Jesus. And yet, again inexplicably, Colossians 2:9, which makes a similar, and even more direct, statement, is rendered correctly: For in Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.
Some who cannot read the original languages may doubt that these errors exist. But the truth is, most of the deliberate errors are so obvious that even a first year student of Hebrew or Greek could spot them. But there is a way to know that there are errors, even if it doesn’t resolve them: Go to biblegateway.com. Compare a verse in all available English translations. Look at the major discrepancies. That alone tells you that somebody, somewhere, isn’t being honest.
For example, compare Deut. 23:17 in all English versions. If we were to believe that all of these translations were correct, we would have to believe that a whore, a prostitute, a shrine prostitute, a temple prostitute, a cult prostitute, a consecrated worker, a ritual harlot, a strumpet, a lecher, a whore-monger, a homosexual and a sodomite all mean exactly the same thing, because those words were all translated from the same two Hebrew words kadesh and kadeshah. (Kadesh and kadeshah mean exactly the same thing, but one is male, the other female, like actor/actress or waiter/waitress.) Obviously, while some of those terms are synonymous (shrine prostitute = cult prostitute = temple prostitute), the others don’t fit at all. Temple prostitution was a form of worship of the goddess of fertility, and bore little in common with ordinary prostitution. (An ordinary prostitute, in Hebrew, is a zonah. That word is found in Deut. 23:18.) And a prostitute, a lecher, a whore-monger and a homosexual aren’t even remotely synonymous. And as for sodomite, we won’t address that here. It’s addressed in the chapter on Sodom. But suffice it to say that there is no such word as sodomite in the Hebrew or Greek texts of scripture. Greek had no such word at all, so far as we know. Hebrew has such a word, but it is not found at all in the Bible. The Hebrew form, s’domi, as a noun, has only ONE meaning: a person from Sodom.
In light of the indisputable fact that our Bibles contain numerous errors in translation, many of them deliberate, the advice of Paul to Timothy takes on a whole new meaning:
Study to show yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, correctly dividing the word of truth. (2 Tim. 2:15)
This HAS to entail more than memorizing verses from a favorite translation and simply assuming that they have been correctly translated into English. Today, there are sufficient tools available online for anyone, even with no prior knowledge of Hebrew and Greek, to begin to learn to read those languages. And copies of the Hebrew and Greek texts themselves are freely available online. The resources to “study” are there, at our disposal, giving us a tremendous advantage over Christians of prior centuries to whom scripture was either unavailable or available only in an obscure, dead language. Everything we need to know the truth is at our fingertips. “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
1Spiro, Rabbi Ken. Crash Course in Jewish History. Targum Press 2010. Chapter 9.
2Mounce, Robert. The Book of Revelation (revised ed.). The New International Commentary on the New Testament Series. Cambridge, UK: Eerdmans. pp. 15-16.
3Newcome, William. “The New Testament in an Improved Version.” (Boston reprinting of the London ed.) Boston: Thomas B. Wait. 1809.
4Daniell, David. The Bible in English: Its History and Influence, P. 439. New Haven, CT. Yale University Press. 2003.