One widely assumed fact about the Messiah is probably wrong. That’s what Bible scholars are saying – and their evidence is basically flawless. After all, the Bible is actually the source of this jaw-dropping problem with what we know about the Son of God. And while that may come as a surprise, it’s not too hard to see how this monumental error could have happened. But, if what the scholars are saying is true, it does beg the question: just how accurate are our assumptions about Jesus?
Well, it could be that they’re not that accurate at all. Think about it: most of what we think we know about Jesus comes from what’s written in four books of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And sure, the accounts given of Jesus’ life in these gospels do not always match — but they do give a rounded picture of Christ’s time on Earth. They are also part of the problem.
The written account came afterward
You see, the four gospels were written sometime between 66 and 110 A.D. So that’s after Jesus’ death. It’s also likely that the books were written by people who hadn’t actually seen the events of Christ’s life. Instead, they may simply have recorded stories that had been passed from person to person. This is the first problem.
Room for errors
Because if the gospels were not written by first-hand witnesses, this means that there is room for factual errors. And if mistakes did creep in to the text, then these would have been carried over from one version of the Bible to the next. This could account for the shocking inaccuracy that’s stood the test of time — until now, of course. But there are ways to verify Bible stories, too.
Historians tracing down the truth
Yep, there are other sources we can rely on for information about Jesus. Historians are nothing new, after all, and there have been plenty of notable scholars through the ages. Take Roman historians Publius Cornelius Tacitus and Titus Flavius Josephus, for example. Aside from having magnificent names, these guys confirmed that Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judea, put Jesus to death. This assertion tallies with details contained within the gospels.
Evidence of existence
And Josephus was actually Jewish. He was born in Jerusalem in around 37 A.D. and originally given the Hebrew name Yosef ben Matityahu. When Josephus refers to both Jesus and his brother James, then, we can be fairly certain he’s talking about a real guy. So we do have good historical evidence for the existence of Jesus. But that doesn’t mean that the Bible is faultless —as we shall see.
That’s because unfortunate mistakes can still creep into the information we have about the Messiah. And while it may come as a result of second-hand information, it could equally be because the four gospels were written in ancient Greek. Why? Because it’s in the translation of these biblical texts that errors can slip in.
Translation versus transliteration
Here is where it gets a bit technical — but bear with us. There’s an important difference between translation and transliteration. You probably know that translation is changing a word in one language to the same word in another. Pretty straightforward, right? Well, maybe — but translation is never easy and can have its pitfalls. So what’s transliteration?
Matching up alphabets
Transliteration involves changing a word from one alphabet to another. This can be severely complicated where two different alphabets don’t have exactly corresponding letters. The upshot is that the scholars who translated — or transliterated — the words of the Bible were faced with various tricky problems. And this leaves them open to monumental mistakes.
Errors have been found
And trust us, there have been some glaring mistakes in Bibles over the centuries. As far back as 1562, the Geneva Bible’s second edition featured the words “Blessed be the place-makers” instead of “Blessed be the peacemakers.” This version of the sacred book even became known as the “Place-makers’ Bible.”
The Wicked Bible
Another particularly noteworthy error occurred in an edition of the Bible that was published in English in 1631. Two men called Robert Barker and Martin Lucas were responsible for this version of the good book, which rather alarmingly came to be known as the “Sinner’s Bible” — or sometimes the “Wicked Bible.”
They aimed to reproduce the King James Bible
Barker and Lucas were not trying to create a new translation of the book, either. Instead, their intention had been simply to publish a new edition of the King James Bible that reproduced every word. And as Barker had in fact been the publisher of the very first edition of the King James Bible in 1611, the more recent version should have been in good hands.
A terrible inaccuracy slipped by
But a terrible inaccuracy crept into Barker and Lucas’ work — probably owing to the carelessness of a compositor. The compositor was the skilled worker tasked with setting the individual lead letters into wooden blocks ready for the printing press. So, if either this individual or the typesetter made an error, then it would appear in the final text.
Their mistake altered the meaning
And, unfortunately, said typographical error was slap bang in the middle of one of the most important passages of the Old Testament: the Ten Commandments. Even worse, the mistake succeeded in completely reversing the commandment’s meaning. Ultimately, the text should have read, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”
One important word was skipped
In the Barker and Lucas Bible, however, the affected passage read, “Thou shalt commit adultery.” Crucially, the word “not” was entirely omitted by the compositor. Somewhat inevitably, then, this edition of the book was also dubbed the “Adulterer’s Bible.” And the consequences of this inexcusable blunder were dire.
The King was livid
The English king of the time, Charles I, was said to have been particularly furious with the error, and so Barker and Lucas were summoned to appear before the Star Chamber — a powerful special court of the day. The two men were then fined the large sum of £300 – approximately $40,000 in today’s money — while their licenses as printers were revoked. Most of the copies of the so-called Wicked Bible were then tracked down and burned.
Copies of the 'Wicked Bible' are worth a fortune
But not all of the Bibles in question were destroyed. And while no one knows for sure how many are still in existence today, the consensus is that they are rare indeed. That makes copies of the Wicked Bible very valuable; when one came up for sale at auctioneers Bonhams in 2015, it sold for some $40,000. So, if you happen to stumble across a very old version of the Good Book, check the Ten Commandments — as you may just have hit the jackpot.
Another error crept into a 1653 printing of the King James Bible by the Cambridge Press. More specifically, the slip-up was included within the New Testament’s 1 Corinthians, which states “Know ye not that the righteous shall inherit the kingdom of God?” This, of course, makes perfect sense to any practicing Christian.
An unintended "un"
Yet the Cambridge Press managed to change the meaning of this verse entirely simply by adding an unintended “un.” And as a result, the passage printed ended up reading, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall inherit the kingdom of God?” Understandably, the affected edition would go on to be known as the “Unrighteous Bible.”
Jesus wasn't actually his name
But while these are typographical lapses, the most monumental mistake about Jesus came as a result of translation errors. You see, “Jesus” was not how the man was known during his own life. Instead, his Hebrew name — the one used in the Gospels in their original Greek — is Yeshua. It’s easy to see how this mistake could happen, though.
A particularly unfortunate gaffe
In a 1716 edition of the King James Bible, for instance, the book of Jeremiah contained a particularly unfortunate gaffe. There, the phrase “Sin no more” had somehow been changed to “Sin on more” — which obviously has a quite different meaning. And, apparently, some 8,000 copies of this version of the Bible were printed before the typo was spotted.
One letter makes a big difference
Then, in 1795, came what would ultimately be dubbed the “Child Killer Bible.” Normally, the Gospel of Mark, chapter 27, verse 27, should read, “But Jesus said unto her, let the children first be filled...” In this, the Messiah appears to say that the youngsters should be allowed to eat first. Yet the meaning of this verse changes dramatically if — as in this edition of the Bible — you replace “filled” with “killed.”
The Owl husband Bible
Perhaps the most bizarre misprint of them all, though, appears in what has since become known as the “Owl husband Bible.” While women should have been beseeched to “submit [themselves] to [their] own husbands,” this 1944 edition had “owl” in place of “own” — making the entreaty strangely surrealistic.
The biggest blunder of all
So, over the centuries, a choice collection of errors have been printed in various Bibles — with the examples we’ve cited being only a selection. But there is one mistake that puts all others in the shade. This blunder concerns Jesus himself, and it’s related to the very name that we know the Messiah by.
Breaking down the name
Before we get onto this monumental inaccuracy, though, let’s just take a moment to consider how we refer to the man whom many believe to be the Son of God. Often, he is simply known as Jesus Christ — despite the fact that Christ is not actually a name but a title.
What they called him in everyday life
Yes, Christ is an honorific that comes from the Greek word christos, which in turn derives from the Hebrew term mashiakh. This means “the anointed,” and it has been transliterated into English as “messiah.” In the Hebrew tradition, you see, outstandingly righteous people were anointed with a special holy oil. But this particular messiah would not have been known in his everyday life as Jesus Christ.
The "son of" forumula
In Jesus’ time, Jewish people typically followed a first name with “son of.” This meant that Christ would likely have been referred to as “Jesus son of Joseph.” Alternatively, the “son of” formula could be replaced by location, with this perhaps explaining why we speak of Jesus of Nazareth.
Referencing the family
And the “son of” or “daughter of” system could be extended further. For example, in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is referred to as “the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon.” This brings to the table Jesus’ entire family — with the notable exception of his father, Joseph.
More than one Yeshua
But an error we all make almost every time we refer to the Christian Messiah has to do with the very name “Jesus.” Why? Well, in modern English, it’s incorrect to render Yeshua as Jesus, as the moniker is in fact the Hebrew version of Joshua. What’s more, there are actually several other Yeshuas in the Bible.
Who was who?
In fact, the name appearing no fewer than 30 times in the Old Testament in reference to four different characters. And we don’t call any of these men Jesus; instead, Yeshua is transliterated as Joshua. Perhaps the Bible’s most famous Joshua is the one who brought down the walls of Jericho and seized the Canaanite city — massacring all of its inhabitants as a consequence.
How modern day references came to be
So, as Christ was actually called Yeshua in his own time, how have modern Christians come to refer to him as Jesus? And why do we refer to the four Yeshuas in the Old Testament as Joshua rather than Jesus? Well, the explanation largely comes down to translational and transliterational mistakes.
Cycles of translation
Let’s remember for starters that the Old Testament was written mostly in Hebrew with some Aramaic, and in time it was translated from those languages into English. By contrast, the New Testament — including the four gospels — was originally written in Greek. And as we’ve seen, when scholars came across the Hebrew name Yeshua in the Old Testament, they transliterated that as Joshua.
The "sh" became "s"
However, when “Yeshua” appeared in Greek in the New Testament, it looked rather different. The ancient Greeks did not have the sound “sh” in their language, and this led them to substitute the “sh” with an “s” sound. An extra “s” was then added to the end of what would have been “Yesua” to conform to Greek grammar rules and make the name masculine.
Yesus, Leus, and Jesus
So, thanks to those changes to the Son of God’s name, we end up with Yesus. Then the initial “Y” was changed to an “I” in the Romanized transliteration, turning the word into “Iesus.” And that moniker is said to have been featured within the initialism “INRI” that was supposedly inscribed on Jesus’ cross. Those letters stand for the Latin phrase Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum — meaning “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”
"J" doesn't exist in other languages
Meanwhile, the “J” that we are familiar with at the beginning of Jesus’ name only appeared much later. There is no such letter in the Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and Latin alphabets, nor an equivalent sound in those respective languages — hence the Latin use of “I” instead. And even in English, “Iesus” was frequently used right up until the 18th century.
Where did the "J" come from?
In fact, there was no distinction between “I” and “J” in the English language until sometime around the middle of the 17th century. As a result, the first King James Bible — published in 1611 — used the form “Iesus,” with Jesus’ father’s name similarly being rendered as “Ioseph.” So, where did the “J” eventually come from? Well, the surprising answer to that question is most probably Switzerland.
Mary I's influence
An English queen had a part to play, too. Mary I began her reign in 1553 and was a determined Roman Catholic at a time when many of her people had left the church to become Protestants. And her persecution of religious dissenters was so cruel that it would go on to earn her the nickname “Bloody Mary.” During the Tudor monarch’s time on the throne, some 280 Protestants were burned at the stake.
Protestants fled to Switzerland and drafted a new bible
In the face of this persecution, many English Protestants therefore fled their homeland and went to Switzerland, where their religious beliefs were tolerated. Then, while in the country, the refugees began work on a new English edition of the Bible. And during their time in exile, these people came across a linguistic innovation: the Swiss “J.” In that way, the first complete Geneva Bible — published in 1560 — used the form “Jesus” for the Messiah’s name.
The "J" prevailed
And over time, this moniker was the one that prevailed. By 1769, then, the Geneva Bible’s new formulation of Jesus was the only way in which the Son of God’s name was spelled. In English, Yeshua, Joshua and Iesus had been completely replaced, and today they are largely forgotten.
The name that resonates
It’s possible to argue, then, that the most glaring error in all contemporary English Bibles is the Messiah’s name. A purist could argue that it should be Yeshua, after all, though perhaps Joshua would be more accurate. But in the real world Yeshua became Iesus, and eventually this was changed to a word that resonates around the world: Jesus.