How Do Errors Creep into the Text?

Updated: Feb 15, 2020

The 406 year history of printing the King James Bible has introduced many errors that have crept into the text. Some of them such as the 1638 Cambridge (a very well done bible) accidentally printed I Timothy 4:16 as saying , "thy doctrine" instead of "the doctrine", that error persisted for about 130 years. Errors that make sense in the sentence are difficult to detect and often get by editors. Remember, there were over 5,000,000 individual blocks of type to be moved about to print a King James Bible in those days. Today, I know of no edition that has retained that misprint.

Another misprint that still stains certain editions first appeared in 1762. Thou hast multiplied thy merchants above the stars of heaven: the cankerworm spoileth, and flieth away, Nahum 3:16. In 1762 Cambridge published an edition that said , "fleeth away" instead of "flieth away". These are often the most difficult errors to find while editing because it seems to make a coherent sentence. Some tired printer placed an "e' where an "i" should have been and an editor didn't pick up on it.

When Benjamin Blayney released his fine edition of the King James Bible, he retained that error. It looked OK to him and he never compared it to earlier editions. As a result from 1769 when his edition came out until WWI, standard bibles printed in verse form contained that error. As much as I criticize Scrivener, we owe the correction to his editorial work done between 1867 and 1873 for identifying that error.

Since the original 1611 edition printed by Barker said, "flieth", and since each subsequent edition printed by Barker said it the same way, Scrivener corrected it in his 1873 Paragraph Bible. Scrivener was often blinded by Barker's lax editorial work. He made the mistake of thinking that each edition printed by Barker was a better and truer copy. The opposite was true, Barker got worse with each edition. It is that understanding that caused AW Pollard to erase so many of Scrivener's editorial choices and restore the readings as Parris and Blaney had put them. As happenstance would have it though, Scrivener was right on this one and Pollard knew it.

To this day, the Oxford text retains the misprint. A Schofield Reference Bible will confirm that to anyone who looks. Cambridge Bibles have had it correct for over a century. Someone may ask, "How do we know which one is right?" Use your head. Who would describe a worm as fleeing away? Worms do not flee. Their pace is slow. It would be like saying, "the turtle fled away". That would be comic. The verse before is comparing them to locusts. Cankerworms transform into something that flies.

Since the mid 1800s we have lived in an age where each subsequent printing of an edition of the Bible has not needed each page to be torn down and rebuilt. An error could be corrected without starting over. As a result, perfection became attainable, and human error was slowly weeded out. That has been a blessing.


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