Five Common Mistakes We Find When Proofreading a Bible
Remember that parable Jesus told about vinegar?
It’s a trick question. He never told such a parable.
However, if your only Bible was the Authorized Version published in 1717 by John Baskett, you might not be so sure. Baskett’s Bible accidentally titled Luke 20 “The Parable of the Vinegar” instead of “The Parable of the Vineyard.” And, sadly, that wasn’t its only flaw. Supposedly, people mocked this mistake-filled Bible project by calling it “a Baskett-ful of errors.”
Every day our proofing team catches potentially giant blunders and also offers subtle suggestions that will improve a reader’s experience with the Bible.
Because we’re dealing with God’s holy Word, we pay close attention to little things like fonts and spacing and footnotes. We work carefully to ensure that a publisher’s design helps—not hinders—readers when it comes to engaging God’s Word. Because even subtle imperfections can hinder readers from hearing God’s voice through the Bible’s pages, we do our best to eliminate any and all distractions.
Here are five of the most common mistakes we find in our Bible proofreading projects.
- Unfortunate Word Breaks
When typesetting a Bible (or any book for that matter) according to the parameters of a specific layout/design, there’s no way to avoid word breaks. Let’s say, for example, you’re nearing the end of a line, and the word everything won’t fit. As a typesetter, you’d break the word, resulting in “every-” at the end of the line in question, and “thing” at the beginning of the next.
The word everything isn’t so bad. But what if it’s the word Nazirite? On the surface that seems easy enough, until you find Amazon reviews that lump your publishing company into some crazy conspiracies because they alleged you intentionally broke the word as Nazi-rite. And not to devolve into fifth-grade-boy humor, but you can see where breaking the name Shittim (the place in Moab where the Israelites camped before entering Canaan) leads to an embarrassing result.
- Running Heads
Imagine a new believer sitting in church with a new Bible. The pastor directs the congregation to turn to Psalm 27. If a running head happens to be erroneous, our once eager reader can end up on the wrong page and lose focus. The printed Bible that should have enhanced the pastor’s sermon now becomes a distraction instead.
We check and find incorrect running heads in almost every Bible we proofread.
- Missing Verses and Words
First Corinthians 6:9 (KJV) says, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?” A Bible published in 1653 left out the second “not,” thereby creating a scandal and earning the unflattering nickname The Unrighteous Bible.
Since “all Scripture” (literally “every word of Scripture”) is inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16), the last thing any publisher needs is to leave out a God-breathed word—or worse, an entire verse.
- Misaligned Poetry
To most people, this may not seem like a big deal, but consider one example from the GOD’S WORD Translation:
The misalignment of the third line changes the emphasis of the first line. Rather than assuming a subordinate position (and highlighting the significance of the statement “I am never in need”), the phrase “He makes me lie down in green pastures” incorrectly becomes a primary and separate thought. Errant layouts can disrupt the reader’s experience, distort the author’s message, and destroy the beauty of Hebrew parallelism.
It’s our conviction that the scholars of every translation made intentional choices regarding poetry layouts and poetry indentations that can affect the reading of the lines as much as the words themselves. Our mandate is to protect and preserve the translators’ decisions as they worked hard at determining the inspired author’s intent.
- Footnote Letters (Sigla) on the Wrong Page
Sigla (plural of siglum) are those small symbols used throughout biblical texts to alert readers to look in the margin for footnotes. These footnotes offer alternate translations or additional information useful for readers. Sigla are quite common in Bible projects.
Here’s a list of modern translations and the approximate number of textual footnotes in each:
- NIV 3,300
- CSB 7,200
- NLT 4,750
- NKJV 3,000
- NRSV 3,000
- ESV 3,800
- NTV (Spanish) 4,750
While those are big numbers, the simple checking process is never straightforward. Some translations dedupe dozens of footnotes in any specific edition. This occurs when identical footnotes at the bottom of the page are combined so that multiple footnote markers in the Bible text point to the same footnote at the bottom of the page. Some translations do this a few hundred times, but knowing when to do so requires a strict adherence to following the translator’s rules.
Occasionally in the process of typesetting, sigla—and the verses they shed light on—can end up on wrong pages. This isn’t catastrophic, of course, but it is frustrating for readers and can disrupt an otherwise meaningful, devotional reading of God’s Word.
The Lord never told any parables about vinegar. He did, however, urge his followers on a number of occasions to “be careful.” In our view, nowhere is that command more important than in the handling, proofing, and printing of the very message of God as printed in his Word.
God’s Word deserves to be presented perfectly.
How can we help you print your next Bible free of distracting errors? Contact us.
Photo credit (top): The Vinegar Bible. Courtesy of Museum of the Bible Collection. All rights reserved. © Museum of the Bible, 2020.