Today's post is about the Facebook graphic shown below from on the Facebook page of a group at These folks are out there on the liberal fringe - so far out, in fact, that they advocate that everyone should eschew the technology of the modern world and go live off-grid on self-supporting homesteads. Ideologically, the folks on this facebook page are true communistic anarchists - complete with a strategy of destroying modern society by refusing to participate in it, by walking away and ignoring it in a true anarchistic fashion. They are against all governments and all religions. As they are Marxists, they advocate atheism so it isn't a stretch that the following was posted to their facebook page during November 2013:


I'm not going to address the ideology of these folks at all or even say anything about believing or not believing in any religion. Today, I am merely going to point out the copious errors about the King James Bible (KJB) from this Facebook post. Frankly, if the author of this FB graphic-full-of-errors wanted to successfully promote atheism, he or she should have at least done enough research on biblical translation and the creation of the KJB to get the facts right.

The information I'm using today is so mainstream that most of it is from the Encyclopedia Britannica. The author of this Facebook graphic really has no excuse since correct information from universally-acknowledged authoritative sources is easily accessed on the internet. In a way, I think the author of this gem is doubly damned since even the Wikipedia entries on the KJB and the oldest biblical manuscripts are really very good.

Let us deconstruct the text of this Facebook graphic.

"The King James version of the New Testament was completed in 1611 by 8 members of the Church of England."

For the KJB, the translation of the Gospels, Acts and the Apocalypse was done by a committee of 10 scholars. The translation of the Epistles was done by a committee of 7 scholars. So the number of translators for the New Testament was 17, not 8. As for the Jewish scriptures compiled into the Old Testament and the Apocrypha, those were translated by four committees of some 35 additional scholars. When the translations were complete, they were peer reviewed by a committee of four known and several unknown scholars who were not on the original translation committees. The work of producing the KJB took 6 years and produced something that's rather mind-boggling: the only work of great literature ever produced by a committee.

"There were (and still are) no original texts to translate."

Okay, this is a bit underhanded. It certainly is true that there are no original texts to translate so long as one is clear that the texts under question are those known as autographs, i.e. texts in the handwriting of the actual authors. On one hand, yes, not having originals is a problem, especially from the point of view of our literate and lettered 21st century modern society were the written word is taken as the highest form of reliable evidence for everything. "He said, she said..." is always trumped by "get it in writing."

The lack of original autographs of New Testament works - or Old Testament works - is problematic but it's a problem that is universal for almost every manuscript source in existence. No written work from Antiquity exists in autograph manuscript form - not a single one. Not the Bible, not Cicero, not Caesar, not the Koran, not the Lotus Sutra, not the I Ching, not Confucius, not Homer, not Ibn Batuta, not even a single play of Shakespeare exists as an original in the hand of its author. The entire edifice of classical (i.e. from Antiquity) western learning rests completely on copied texts because before the printing press, everything eventually existed as a copy.

To protest that the validity of a text can be challenged on the basis that the only surviving manuscripts are copies and not originals is a bad argument. The implied argument here is that because copies can be errant, all texts that rely on copies are errant; however, the potential for errors in a copy does not make any particular work of literature invalid. Now one can argue further that the possibility of copying errors is sufficient to cast doubt on any work that relies on copies but that's actually specious.

Certainly, there are problems with any written text that has come down to us from antiquity because copyists make mistake and always have. In addition, when it comes to copying things that people consider to be scripture, a copyist who sees something in a text that is at odds with personal belief can be tempted to make changes in that text like changing an inconvenient word or adding a few lines here and there. In fact, we know this happened in certain ancient texts, like the ending of the Gospel of Mark and the gloss in Josephus's Jewish Antiquities about Jesus. We know about these because scholars have taken the time to assemble the oldest copies of ancient texts to compare them for the express purpose of finding additions and changes made by copyists through time.

One of the benefits of academic scholarship is that people who study ancient texts, literature and scripture - in all fields, not just biblical studies - find and publish their findings on texts which only exist today as copies. Because of the work of such scholars, we are able to know about changes and glosses in the works of antiquity. Some of this scholarship is hard to access, only appearing in academic journals or presented at conferences of scholars; however, because scriptures are important to a wide range of non-scholars, a lot of this scholarship on textual analysis of the Bible is available to the general public. For example, in superior publications of biblical texts, the kinds used in academic and congregational bible studies, you'll often find footnotes in the text to tell the reader there were variations of a word in different ancient manuscripts. For example, in my copy of the Revised Standard Version published by the Oxford University Press, the word "freed" in Rev. 1:5 has a footnoted alternative reading in some manuscripts of "washed." This alternative reading likely arises from a copying mistake of writing LUSANTI (freed) as LOUSANTI (washed).

The problem of mistakes, willful changes and additions to texts while copying is actually addressed in the New Testament itself, though you might not realize this. Here's the passage, which is the third to last sentence in the New Testament:

I warn every one who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if any one adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if any one takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

It's St. John the Divine's curse to discourage copyists from making willful changes in his text. Personally, I suspect he was doing hallucinogenic mushrooms while on Patmos.

"The oldest manuscripts we have were written down hundreds of years after the last apostle died. There are over 8,000 of these old manuscripts, with no two alike."

Biblical Scholars date the writing of the Gospel of John before the reign of Trajan, which began in 98 AD. The oldest known fragment of the Gospel of John has a probably date of 117 to 138 AD. Most of the other New Testament books have fragments which date from the second century AD, though sadly, the earliest known fragment of the oldest Gospel, Mark, is dated to the third century AD. The reason that fragments can be identified is because their text matches more complete but more recent manuscripts. In a way, the existence of fragments is reassuring because it shows that copying drift in the text is not too bad. And consider that every new fragment or manuscript found improves all future translations.

There are four ancient bibles known as the four great uncial codices. They are: the Codex Sinaticus dated between 325 and 360 AD, the Codex Vaticanus dated between 325 and 350 AD, the Codex Alexandrinus dated between 400 and 440 AD, and the Codex Ephraemi dated ~450 AD. Most modern translations of the New Testament rely heavily on the Codices Sinaticus and Vaticanus.

Yes, there are thousands of surviving manuscripts and fragments. This wealth of surviving texts makes it possible for scholars to correct copyist mistakes that have crept in over the centuries. And yes, each manuscript or fragment is unique because each was written by hand. That's the nature of handwritten texts. But the author or authors of this Facebook graphic are insinuating that the differences are proof of errancy. That's the gimmick in this sort of argument. It works like this: the word of God should be inerrant because being God means being perfect - but because we can find errors in a Bible, that means it's not the word of God. This again is specious because to make this work, one must impose a precondition on God that God would intervene to insure the error-free transmission of the scriptures. If that unstated precondition is in force, then the existence of errors would imply that the bible was not the Word of God. The problem is that you can't assume that God would intervene to prevent human error. The absence of divine intervention is not proof of the absence of the divine.

"The King James translators used none of these, anyway. Instead they edited previous translations to create a version their king and parliament would approve."

My first quibble here is that many of the manuscripts and fragments we know about today were unknown in 1604 when the translators began their work on the KJB; however, the KJB translators did not just slap a bible together based on previous translations. That statement is just plain incorrect. They used multiple sources, including Greek and Hebrew biblical texts and rabbinical commentary on Hebrew scriptures as well as utilizing the Tyndale and 1572 Bishops' Bible as a base upon which they built the new translation. One of the sources that they relied upon the most was the Greek New Testament compiled by Theodore Beza. Beza's work relied heavily on previous compilations by both Erasmus and Estienne and also on a 400 AD New Testament, the Codex Bezae Cantabrigensis and a 550 AD New Testament, the Codex Claromontanus, both of which were among the oldest complete Greek New Testaments of their day. For the Old Testament, they used the Hebrew Rabbinical Bible published in 1525 by Venice printer Daniel Bomberg. In addition, they used the Vulgate in places. Basically, they obtained what they believed were the best resources at the time and used them to create the KJB translation.

The quip about the King and Parliament is a red herring.

"21st Century Christians believe the 'Word of God' is a book edited in the 17th century from 16th century translations of 8,000 contradictory copies of 4th centuries scrolls that claim to be copies of lost letters written in the 1st century."

I'm afraid my flabber is gasted here. Lost letters? I think the author is referring to the Epistles but the Epistles are only part of the New Testament and the New Testament doesn't include the Apocrypha or the Rabbinical Bible portions of the Christian Bible. Fourth century scrolls? Is the author referring to the Great Uncials? The Great Uncials are all codices. There are no surviving complete Bibles from antiquity in scroll form. I'm going to take issue with the author saying "claim to be copies." There's no claim here. We know the surviving oldest biblical texts are all copies and the existence of fragments consistent with younger whole texts shows that the chain of copying gets us to within 30 years of some of the original texts with some confidence that the essence of the originals is not lost to us.

The author of this piece has equated every single Christian with English-speaking Protestant biblical literalists and I don't think I need to detail just how wrong that it.

Frankly I've seen some brilliant anti-theodicy arguments in my day. This isn't one of them. All this FB spew has shown me is that someone didn't do their homework before spewing.

Post Script One

One of the most famous editions of the King James Bible is known as the Wicked Bible, printed in 1631. There was a typographical error in the Ten Commandments, where Exodus 20:14 reads:

Thou shalt commit adultery.

Post Script Two

For an excellent work on how errors sneak into scripture and how scholars ferret them out, try Misquoting Jesus by Prof. Bart Erhman. While Wikipedia has some really marginal pages in it, its article on early biblical manuscripts is really good. Check it out at:


  • Biblical literature. 2015. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 19 January, 2015, from
  • Ehrman, B. D., 2005. Misquoting Jesus. Harper Collins Publishers. ISBN 0-06-073817-0.
  • Great Uncial Codices, 2015. Wikipedia Retrieved 19 January, 2015, from Retrieved 19 January, 2015, from
  • King James Version (KJV). 2015. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 19 January, 2015, from
  • King James Version, 2015. Wikipedia Retrieved 19 January, 2015, from Retrieved 19 January, 2015, from
  • Norton, David, 2005. A Textual History of the King James Bible, Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-77100-5.
  • Rylands Library Papyrus P52, Wikipedia Retrieved 19 January, 2015, from Retrieved 19 January, 2015, from