About the Bible
Translation errors and forgeries* in the Bible
The original texts of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and Christian Scriptures
(New Testament) were written in Hebrew, Greek, and occasionally in Aramaic. Unfortunately, relatively few
adults in North America can read any of these ancient languages. So most of us have to
rely upon English translations.
The reader cannot always trust the translators. Bibles contain many inaccuracies and
errors. Some appear to be intentional.
||Most versions of the Bible are sponsored by one or more Christian denominations. Thus,
translators tend to have similar belief systems. Some denominations have long standing
prejudices against other religions, sexual minorities, etc. This sometimes affects the
accuracy of their translation.
||Translators are under economic constraints: if they translate some verses as they
actually appear in the original Hebrew and Greek, then long held prejudices would be
threatened and many potential readers might reject the translation. Some pastors have
favorite passages that appear to condemn Wiccans, other
Neo-pagans, persons who follow other non-Christian faiths, homosexuals, etc. If a translation appeared in which
those verses no longer condemned Witches or homosexuals, it is unlikely that those clergy
would buy it or recommend it to their flock.
Some of the most obvious mistranslations occur in passages related to
||Witchcraft where the word has so many conflicting meanings in
modern English that (in our opinion) it should never be used by Bible translators. The
English phrase "black magic" or "evil sorcery" would be a much better fit in most
||Homosexuality which some theologians
believe the Bible uses to refer to a broad
range of immoral or criminal activities: homosexual rape, same-sex temple prostitution, group
orgies, and men sexually abusing boys, heterosexuals engaging in homosexual activities, etc.
They believe that none of
the passages actually refer to gay and lesbian sex between consenting adults or committed
partners. However, other Christians believe that these same "clobber
passages" condemn all homosexual behavior.
||Same-sex emotional relationships in which Ruth, David and Daniel
||Matthew 6:13: The Lord's Prayer traditionally ends: "For thine
is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen." This seems to
have been absent from the original writings. 6
||Matthew 17:21 is a duplicate of Mark 9:29. It was
apparently added by a copyist in order to make Matthew agree with Mark. But Mark 9:29 also
contains a forgery*; this makes Matthew 17:21 a type of double-layered forgery*. 5
||John 7:53 to 8:11: One of the most famous forgeries* in the Bible is the
well-known story of the woman observed in adultery. It was apparently written and inserted
after John 7:52 by an unknown author, perhaps in the 5th century CE. This
story is often referred to as an "orphan story"
because it is a type of floating text which has appeared after John
7:36, John 7:52, John 21:25, and Luke 21:38 in various manuscripts.
Some scholars believe that the story may have had its origins in oral
traditions about Jesus.
It is a
pity that the status of verses John 8:1-11 are not certain. If they were
known to be a
reliable description of Jesus' ministry, they would
have given a clear indication of Jesus' stance on the death penalty.
||Mark 9:29: Jesus comments that a certain type of indwelling demon can
only be exorcised through "prayer and fasting" (KJV) This is also found
in the Rheims New Testament. But the word "fasting" did not appear in
the oldest manuscripts. 5 Many new English translations have dropped the word.
||Mark 16:9-20: The original version of Mark ended rather abruptly at the end of
Verse 8. Verses 9 to 20, which are shown in most translations of
the Bible, were added later by an unknown forger*. The verses were based on portions of
Luke, John and other sources.
||Luke 3:22: This passage describes Jesus' baptism by John the Baptist.
According to Justin Martyr, the original version of this verse has God speaking the words:
"You are my son, today have I begotten thee." Justin Martyr, Clement of
Alexandria, Augustine, and other ancient Christian authorities also quoted it this way. 1 The implication is that Jesus was first recognized by God as his son at the time of
baptism. But a forger* altered the words to read: "You are my son, whom I love."
The altered passage conformed more to the evolving Christian belief that Jesus was the son
of God at his birth, (as described in Luke and Matthew) or before the beginning of creation (as in
John), and not at his baptism.
||John 5:3-4: These verses describe how "a great multitude" of
disabled people stayed by the water. From time to time an angel arrived, and stirred the
waters. The first person who stepped in was cured. This passage seems strange. The process
would not be at all just, because the blind could not see the waters being stirred, and
the less mobile of the disabled would have no chance of a cure. Part of Verse 3 and all of
Verse 4 are missing from the oldest manuscripts of John. 3 It appears to be a piece of
free-floating magical text that someone added to John.
||John 21: There is general agreement among liberal and mainline Biblical
scholars that the original version of the Gospel of John ended at the end of John
20. John 21 appears to either be an afterthought of the author(s) of John, or a
later addition by a forger*. Most scholars believe that the latter occurred. 4
||1 Corinthians 14:34-35: This is a curious passage. It appears to prohibit all
talking by women during services. But it contradicts verse 11:5, in which
St. Paul states that women can actively pray and prophesy during services. It is obvious
to some theologians that verses 14:33b to 36 are a later addition, added by an unknown
counterfeiter* with little talent at forgery.*
Bible scholar, Hans
Conzelmann, comments on
these three and a half verses: "Moreover, there are peculiarities of linguistic
usage, and of thought. [within them]." 2 If they are removed, then Verse 33a
merges well with Verse 37 in a seamless transition.
Since they were a later forgery*, they
do not fulfill the basic requirement to be considered inerrant: they were not in the
original manuscript written by Paul. This is a very important passage, because much many
denominations opposition to female ordination is based on these
Revelation 1:11: The phrase "Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the
first and the last: and," which is found in the King James Version was not
in the original Greek texts. It is also found in the New King James Version (NKJV)
and in the 21st Century King James Version (KJ21) The latter are basically re-writes of
the original KJV. Modern English, is used, but the translators seem to have made little or
no effort to correct errors. The Alpha/Omega phrase
"... is not found in virtually
any ancient texts, nor is it mentioned, even as a footnote, in any modern translation or
in Bruce Metzger's definitive 'A Textual Commentary' on the Greek New Testament, Second
Edition (New York: United Bible Societies, 1994..." 7
* A note concerning forged and counterfeit writings:
We are using these terms with reference to today's value systems. For example, if
someone wrote in 1999 an essay in the form of an encyclical by Pope John XXIII, and
attempted to pass it off as an unknown work of the Pope, then we would consider it a
forgery or counterfeit. If someone write today a speech in the style of George Washington
and tried to publish it as if it were written by the first President, we would also
consider it a forgery.
But things were a little different in the 1st and 2nd century CE. It was quite an
accepted practice at that time for followers of a great philosopher or religious thinker
to write material which emulated their leader. They passed it off as if that leader wrote
it. This was not considered unethical at the time. We use the term forger and counterfeiter in this essay to emphasize that the
passages were written by person or persons unknown. It does not necessarily
indicate that the passages are any less valid than other texts in the Bible.
The term means simply that the passages were added to the writings of the
original author(s) by an unknown person.
There were about 40 gospels, large numbers of epistles, and even a few books on the style
of Revelation that were considered religious texts by various movements within the early
Christian church. When some of these were selected to form the official canon of the
Christian Scriptures (New Testament), the main criteria was whether the book appeared to be written
by an apostle or someone very close to an apostle. The canon was regarded as inerrant and as inspired by God.
It still is by most conservative Christians. Liberal theologians have reached a consensus that many books in
the New Testament were not
written by the authors that they claim to be written by. This puts their legitimacy in
question. We also know that unknown persons later inserted their own writings into some
Some of the books that liberal theologians believe were written by authors
different from the ones indicated by the Bible itself are:
||Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy (a.k.a. The Pentateuch,
the 5 Books of Moses, the Books of the Law, the Law, the Torah). These
state in numerous places that they were written
by Moses. But mainline and liberal theologians have long accepted
the "Documentary Hypothesis" which asserts that the
Pentateuch was written by a group of four authors, from various
locations in Palestine, over a period of centuries. Each wrote with
the goal of promoting his/her own religious views. A fifth individual
cut and pasted the original documents in to the present Pentateuch.
||The authors of the
gospels claim to have been eyewitnesses of Jesus' ministry. Yet
liberal theologians believe that the gospels were written during the
period 70 to 100 CE by anonymous writers who had only second-hand or third-hand knowledge
about Jesus, and who incorporated oral material that had materialized after Jesus' death.
||The text of various
Pauline epistles state that they were written by Paul. However,
liberal theologians believe that Ephesians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2
Timothy and Titus were written by persons
unknown, mostly in the 2nd century, many decades after
||Other epistles of unknown authorship,
according to religious liberals, are Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 1, 2
& 3 John, and Jude.
||Religious liberals have concluded that Revelation was written
by an unknown author - perhaps a Jewish Christian whose primary language was
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Adrian Swindler, "The Flat Earth: Still an Embarrassment to Biblical
Inerrantists," at: http://www.infidels.org/
- 1 Corinthians 14:33: http://www.bibletexts.com/versecom/
- Bruce Metzger, "Textual Commentary of the Greek New Testament, Second Edition,"
United Bible Societies, New York NY, (1993). Available at: http://www.bibletexts.com/versecom/joh05v03.htm
- John, Chapter 21: http://www.bibletexts.com/
- Mark, 9:29: http://www.bibletexts.com/
- Matthew 6:13: http://www.bibletexts.com/
- Revelation 1:11: http://www.bibletexts.com/
Copyright © 1996 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2015-JUL-25
Author: B.A. Robinson