The King James Version (KJV) has been the most influential Bible in the history of English Bibles. First published in 1611, it supplanted the popular Geneva Bible within a decade or two, and became the dominant English Bible for the next three hundred years. As recently as January 2020, it remains one of the best-selling English Bibles, trailing only the New International Version in sales.
One of the fun and interesting things about the KJV is the printing errors that inevitably crept into various editions over the centuries. Pages of print were set up by hand at least through the end of the 19th century, and it was inevitable that occasional mistakes would be made. These began with the very first print runs in 1611, which averaged about one typo every 10 pages. In fact, three editions of the KJV were printed in 1611, and they became known by their distinctive texts at Ruth 3:15. Two of the three 1611 editions had “he when into the citie,” while the third had “she went into the citie.” These editions are thus known as “He Bibles” and “She Bibles.”
1611 King James Version, “He Bible.”
1611 King James Version, “She Bible.”
Another blooper that crept into some of the 1611 printings was the placement of the name “Judas” for the name “Jesus.” The instance shown here is at Matthew 26:36; it is not known how early the Jesus sticker was placed over the name Judas in an attempt to correct the typo.
1611 King James Version, typo with “Judas” in place of “Jesus.”
Sometimes the printing errors produced rather humorous results, and others, if taken seriously, were heretical. There were several different editions that dropped one letter and a comma from Luke 23:32, resulting in the reading “And there were also two other malefactours led with him to be put to death.” It should have read, “two others, malefactors,” because Jesus was not one of the sinners. This typo came to be known as the “Blasphemous Comma.” The edition shown here was printed in 1637.
1637 King James Version, with the “Blasphemous Comma” typo.
Perhaps the best known KJV typo, if one grants that it was not purposeful, appears in the so-called “Wicked Bible” of 1631. This printing left out the all-important word “not” in the seventh commandment (Exodus 20:14), resulting in the reading “Thou shalt commit adultery.” In this case the printers were heavily fined for the error, and the print run was ordered to be destroyed. Only 11 copies are known to exist today.
1631 King James Version known as the “Wicked Bible.”
Modern Bibles are less prone to typographical errors, in large part because text is no longer hand set by compositors. Thankfully such errors are rather easily spotted, and even at their worst were relatively rare.