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Wicked Bible

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Wicked Bible
An edition of the Wicked Bible
Original titleThe Holy Bible
PublisherRobert Barker and Martin Lucas
Publication date
Publication placeEngland
Media typePrint

The Wicked Bible, sometimes called the Adulterous Bible or the 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 in Exodus 20:14, the word "not" was omitted from the sentence, "Thou shalt not commit adultery," causing the verse to instead read, "Thou shalt commit adultery."


Wicked Bible (1631 KJV) Exodus 20, with the typographical error highlighted
A picture of the Deuteronomy 5:24 passage in the University of Cambridge copy of the Wicked Bible (201.C31.6) showing no misprint.

The Wicked Bible is best known for the omission of the word "not" in the sentence "Thou shalt not commit adultery" (Exodus 20:14), thus changing the sentence into "Thou shalt commit adultery".

The 1886 Reports of Cases in the Courts of Star Chamber and High Commission (which gives the Bodleian Library manuscript Rawlinson A 128 as its source) lists this as one of the "two grossest errors", among "divers other faults".[1] The other is a misprint appearing in Deuteronomy 5: the word "greatness" appearing as "great-asse", leading to a sentence reading: "Behold, the LORD our God hath shewed us his glory and his great-asse".[1][2][3] Gordon Campbell reports that there are no surviving copies of the book that contain the second error ("great-asse"), but that in three of the surviving copies there is an inkblot where the missing "n" would be, suggesting such a mistake may have been covered up in these copies. He also notes that, at the time of the Wicked Bible's publication, the word "asse" only had the sense of "donkey".[4] Rob Ainsley of the British Library, in a 2009 letter to the London Review of Books, suggested that the existence of this second error was highly dubious.[5]

Diana Severance, director of the Dunham Bible Museum at the Houston Baptist University, and Gordon Campbell have suggested that the potential second error could indicate that someone (possibly a rival printer) purposely sabotaged the printing of the Wicked Bible so that Robert Barker and Martin Lucas would lose their exclusive license to print the Bible.[2][3][4] However, Campbell also notes that neither Barker nor Lucas suggested the possibility of sabotage in their defence when they were arraigned.[4]

About a year after publication, Barker and Lucas were called to the Star Chamber and fined £300 (equivalent to £63,097 in 2023) and deprived of their printing license.[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

The case of the Wicked Bible was commented on by Peter Heylyn in 1668:

His Majesties [sic] Printers, at or about this time [1632], 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 where upon the Evidence of the Fact, the whole Impression was called in, and the Printers deeply fined, as they justly merited.[8]

The "... £300 fine ... was eventually quashed ... [but] most of the texts were destroyed."[9]

The Archbishop of Canterbury, George Abbot expressed anger at both errors.[10]

Origin of the name[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."[11]

Remaining copies[edit]

The majority of the Wicked Bible's copies were immediately cancelled and destroyed, and the number of extant copies remaining today, which are considered highly valuable by collectors, is thought to be relatively low.[12] 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.[13]

The British Library in London had a copy of the Wicked Bible on display, opened to the misprinted commandment, in a free exhibition until September 2009.[14]

There are fifteen known copies of the Wicked Bible today in the collections of museums and libraries in the British Isles, North America and Australasia:[15]

A number of copies also exist in private collections. In 2008, a copy of the Wicked Bible went up for sale online, priced at $89,500.[21] A second copy was put up for sale from the same website which was priced at $99,500 as of 2015.[22]

In 2014, William Scheide donated his library of rare books and manuscripts to Princeton University, with a copy of the Wicked Bible among its holdings.[23][24]

In 2015, one of the remaining Bible copies was put on auction by Bonhams,[25] and sold for £31,250 (equivalent to US$47,740 today).[26]

In 2016, a copy of the Wicked Bible was put on auction by Sotheby's and sold for $46,500.[27] In 2018, the same copy of the Wicked Bible was put on auction again by Sotheby's, and sold for $56,250.[28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Rawson Gardiner, Samuel (1886). Reports of Cases in the Courts of Star Chamber and High Commission. Nichols and Sons. p. 305. Retrieved 28 April 2021.
  2. ^ a b c Brown, DeNeen. "New museum's 'Wicked Bible': Thou Shalt Commit Adultery". The Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved April 6, 2020.
  3. ^ a b ""Thou Shalt Commit Adultery: A rare copy of the so-called Wicked Bible of 1631, which omitted a rather important "not" from the 10 Commandments, is going on auction in the U.K." The Atlantic. Retrieved March 30, 2020.
  4. ^ a b c Campbell, Gordon (2010). Bible: The Story of the King James Version 1611 — 2011. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0199693016. Retrieved 28 April 2021.
  5. ^ Rob Ainsley (6 August 2009). "Great Arse". London Review of Books. 31 (15).
  6. ^ Kohlenberger, III, John R (2008). NIV Bible Verse Finder. Grand Rapids MI: Zondervan. p. viii. ISBN 978-0310292050.
  7. ^ Russell, Ray (October 1980). "The Wicked Bibles". Theology Today. 37 (3): 360–363. doi:10.1177/004057368003700311. S2CID 170449311.
  8. ^ "Challenges in Printing Early English Bibles | Religious Studies Center". rsc.byu.edu.
  9. ^ Corlett, Eva (2022-05-02). "Rare 'Wicked' bible that encourages adultery discovered in New Zealand". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2024-02-26.
  10. ^ 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
  11. ^ Stevens, Henry. Recollections of Mr James Lenox of New York and the Formation of His Library. London: Henry Stevens & Son, 1886 (page 35).
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ Turner, Allan (31 August 2015). "Historic Bibles ‑ even a naughty one ‑ featured at Houston's Dunham Museum". Houston Chronicle. Hearst Newspapers. Retrieved 21 July 2016.
  14. ^ Wicked Bible on free public display in British Library, London
  15. ^ "English Short Title Catalogue". www.estc.bl.uk. ESTC system number 006195643, ESTC Citation Number S161
  16. ^ Dixon, Simon. "Who owned the Wicked Bible?". Library of Special Collections. University of Leicester. Retrieved April 10, 2020.
  17. ^ "University of Cambridge". University of Cambridge. iDiscover. Retrieved April 10, 2020.
  18. ^ Stephen Lewis (29 November 2008). "The treasures of York Minster Library". York Press. Retrieved 12 September 2016.
  19. ^ The Wicked Bible. OCLC 43064147. Retrieved 11 May 2021 – via WorldCat.
  20. ^ Corlett, Eva (2 May 2022). "Rare 'Wicked' bible that encourages adultery discovered in New Zealand". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 May 2022. Alternate URL
  21. ^ Greatsite.com platinum room Archived 2008-07-06 at the Wayback Machine retrieved 20 June 2008.
  22. ^ "Platinum Room". December 15, 2015. Archived from the original on 2015-12-16.
  23. ^ "Alumnus William Scheide leaves 'lasting legacy' to Princeton". Princeton University. Retrieved 2022-05-02.
  24. ^ The Holy Bible : containing the Old Testament and the Neuu. London: Robert Barker and assigns of John Bill. 1631.
  25. ^ Flood, Alison (21 October 2015). "Extremely rare Wicked Bible goes on sale". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 November 2015.
  26. ^ "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.
  27. ^ "Bible in English [The "Wicked" Bible]". www.sothebys.com.
  28. ^ "Bible in English [The "Wicked" Bible]". www.sothebys.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).