Wicked Bible

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The Wicked Bible, sometimes called Adulterous Bible or Sinners' Bible, is an edition of the Bible published in 1631 by Robert Barker and Martin Lucas, the royal printers in London, meant to be a reprint of the King James Bible. The name is derived from a mistake made by the compositors: in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:14), the word "not" in the sentence "Thou shalt not commit adultery" was omitted, thus changing the sentence into "Thou shalt commit adultery". This blunder was spread in a number of copies. About a year later, the publishers of the Wicked Bible were called to the Star Chamber and fined £300 (equivalent to £49,067 in 2018) and deprived of their printing license.[1] The fact that this edition of the Bible contained such a flagrant mistake outraged Charles I and George Abbot, the Archbishop of Canterbury.[2]

The majority of the Wicked Bible's copies were immediately cancelled and burned, and the number of extant copies remaining today, which are considered highly valuable by collectors, is thought to be relatively low.[3] One copy is in the collection of rare books in the New York Public Library and is very rarely made accessible; another can be seen in the Dunham Bible Museum in Houston, Texas, US.[4] The British Library in London had a copy on display, opened to the misprinted commandment, in a free exhibition until September 2009.[5] The Wicked Bible also appeared on display for a limited time at the Ink and Blood Exhibit in Gadsden, Alabama, from 15 August to 2 September 2009. A copy was also displayed until 18 June 2011 at the Cambridge University Library exhibition in England, for the 400-year anniversary of the King James Version.


Historically, the omission of "not" was considered quite a common mistake. Until 2004, for example, the style guide of the Associated Press advised using "innocent" instead of "not guilty" to describe acquittals, so as to prevent this eventuality.[6] The Wicked Bible is the most prominent example of the bible errata which often have absent negatives that completely reverse the scriptural meaning.[7]

Public reaction[edit]


The title page of The Wicked Bible

Apart from the contempt within the church, the case of the Wicked Bible was commented on by historians soon after the printing:

His Majesties Printers, at or about this time, had committed a scandalous mistake in our English Bibles, by leaving out the word Not in the Seventh Commandment. His Majesty being made acquainted with it by the Bishop of London, Order was given for calling the Printers into the High-Commission, whereupon Evidence of the Fact, the whole Impression was called in, and the Printers deeply fined, as they justly merited. With some part of this Fine Laud[8] caused a fair Greek Character to be provided,[9] for publishing such Manuscripts as Time and Industry should make ready for the Public view.

Modern times[edit]

The nickname Wicked Bible seems to have first been applied in 1855 by rare book dealer Henry Stevens. As he relates in his memoir of James Lenox, after buying what was then the only known copy of the 1631 octavo Bible for fifty guineas, "on June 21 I exhibited the volume at a full meeting of the Society of Antiquaries of London, at the same time nicknaming it "The Wicked Bible," a name that has stuck to it ever since, though six copies are now known."[10]

In 2008, a copy of the Wicked Bible went up for sale online, priced at $89,500.[11] The displayed book was priced at $99,500 as of 2015.[12]

In 2015, one of the remaining ten known Wicked Bibles was put on auction by Bonhams,[13] and sold for £31,250.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kohlenberger, III, John R (2008). NIV Bible Verse Finder. Grand Rapids MI: Zondervan. p. viii. ISBN 978-0310292050.
  2. ^ Ingelbart, Louis Edward (1987). Press Freedoms. A Descriptive Calendar of Concepts, Interpretations, Events, and Courts Actions, from 4000 B.C. to the Present, p. 40, Greenwood Publishing. ISBN 0-313-25636-5
  3. ^ Gekoski, Rick (23 November 2010). "The Wicked Bible: the perfect gift for collectors, but not for William and Kate". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 November 2010.
  4. ^ Turner, Allan. "Historic Bibles ‑ even a naughty one ‑ featured at Houston's Dunham Museum". Houston Chronicle. Hearst Newspapers. Retrieved 21 July 2016.
  5. ^ Wicked Bible on free public display in British Library, London
  6. ^ Stockdale, Nicole (12 May 2004). "AP style updates". A Capital Idea. Blogspot. Retrieved 25 November 2010.
  7. ^ Russell, Ray (October 1980). "The Wicked Bibles". Theology Today. 37 (3): 360–363. doi:10.1177/004057368003700311.
  8. ^ Archbishop William Laud succeeded Archbishop Abbott in 1633.
  9. ^ Timperley, Charles Henry (1842). Encyclopaedia of Literary and Typographical Anecdote. p. 484 ourcivilisation.com
  10. ^ Stevens, Henry. Recollections of Mr James Lenox of New York and the Formation of His Library. London: Henry Stevens & Son, 1886 (page 35).
  11. ^ Greatsite.com platinum room Archived 2008-06-20 at WebCite retrieved 20 June 2008.
  12. ^ "Platinum Room". December 15, 2015. Archived from the original on 2015-12-16.
  13. ^ Flood, Alison (21 October 2015). "Extremely rare Wicked Bible goes on sale". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 November 2015.
  14. ^ "Bonhams : BIBLE, IN ENGLISH, AUTHORIZED VERSION [The Holy Bible: Containing the Old Testament and the New], THE 'WICKED BIBLE', 2 parts in 1 vol., Robert Barker... and by the assignes of John Bill, 1631". www.bonhams.com.


  • Eisenstein, Elisabeth L Rewolucja Gutenberga, translated by: Henryk Hollender, Prószyński i S-ka publishing, Warsaw 2004, ISBN 83-7180-774-0
  • Ingelbart, Louis Edward. Press Freedoms. A Descriptive Calendar of Concepts, Interpretations, Events, and Courts Actions, from 4000 B.C. to the Present, Greenwood Publishing 1987, ISBN 0-313-25636-5
  • Stevens, Henry. ′The Wicked Bible,′ in Recollections of Mr James Lenox of New York and the Formation of His Library. London: Henry Stevens & Son, 1886 (pages 34-42).