Nine Common Errors We Find in Specialty Bible Projects

The next time you visit a bookstore, take a moment to marvel at the multitude of available study and devotional Bibles. You might want to tip your cap to “Bloody Mary,” the Catholic queen of England in the 1550s. She’s indirectly responsible for all those helpful Bibles.

Under Mary’s violent reign, prominent British Protestants fled to the European continent. One group of Reformation scholars hunkered down in Geneva and decided to make the most of their exile. They launched an ambitious project to give William Tyndale’s New Testament a complete makeover. 

The result in 1560 was the Geneva Bible. Talk about “new and improved”! This version of God’s Word was more readable and affordable. It was also more compact, even though it contained a wealth of extra helps for readers. Never before had a Bible contained maps, indexes, cross-references, chapter divisions, numbered verses, and explanatory marginal notes. 

In short, all those popular study and devotional Bibles used by contemporary believers—for example, the Thompson Chain-Reference Bible, the Life Application Study Bible, the ESV and NIV Study Bibles—can trace their heritage back to the venerable Geneva Bible.

Study Bibles offer not only God’s Holy Word but a wealth of information and encouragement for those who want to better understand and live out their faith. And yet all that ancillary content represents a challenge for Bible publishers. Each additional note or feature, each map and chart contains the possibility of human error. That’s why every specialty Bible project should be carefully proofread before printing.

Here are the nine common errors we catch when proofreading study and devotional Bibles:

1. Typos

“There is now condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Did you catch the missing word? It’s no small mistake. Romans 8:1 says, “There is now no condemnation . . .” (emphasis added). This is an actual example of a study note that appeared under the Bible text in a project we were proofing. Uncaught and uncorrected, this sentence would have given the opposite meaning of what God said and what an editor meant to convey.

Since study notes don’t benefit from the years of proofing that the Bible text gets, it’s easy for an error like this to slip through. Thus, the necessity of checking every word carefully, using the Chicago Manual of Style and vigilant editorial care to insure the delivery of an excellent product.

2. Wrong wording

This often happens when a study Bible is translated from one version to another (e.g., KJV to NIV). A study note may reference the previous translation—an understandable editorial mistake—but one that is confusing and potentially discouraging to the reader. Here’s a practical example, which includes the same verse in three different, excellent translations. A study note that is translated from one translation to another will need to be thoughtfully edited. While the meaning of the verse doesn’t change, the words used in the study note will likely need to be updated:

Isaiah 7:15, KJV
Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good.
Isaiah 7:15, NIV
He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right,
Isaiah 7:15, NLT
By the time this child is old enough to choose what is right and reject what is wrong, he will be eating yogurt and honey.

3. The wrong reference or cross-reference

How many times have you looked up a cited reference or cross-reference and said to yourself, “I’m sure there must be a connection here, but I don’t see it”? Rather than grasp the message of God’s undying and caring love, the reader might leave the note concluding I knew it . . . I’m not smart enough to understand the Bible. The editor may have saved time by not proofing each reference, but the choice can have unwanted consequences.

4. Notes on the wrong page

The benefit of Bible study notes is that they can live alongside the verse/verses they explain. But when they get separated from their accompanying verse and end up on a different page, it’s a hassle for the reader. When that happens, the hard work that went into a study note can be wasted because the note isn’t usually read. Again the goal in proofing and laying out a Bible is to facilitate ease of use, avoid confusion, and eliminate all possible distractions.

5. Formatting mistakes

Are certain words supposed to be in italics? In bold? In quotation marks? What if the wrong font is introduced or a layout is inconsistent? Sloppy formatting errors like these undermine the value God’s Word deserves. We check all those things—more than once.

6. Incomplete text

Occasionally in all that great ancillary material, the end of a sentence or paragraph gets deleted or somehow ends up missing. The reader was starting to gain a new insight but suddenly the note 

(See what we mean?)

7. Covering up the Bible text

Sometimes a helpful note or map looks really good, until you realize it’s covering up the biblical text! A designer or typesetter inadvertently overlaid the Bible text. Even though the text is present, it’s actually hidden, invisible to the reader. This may sound crazy but it happens in layouts more often than you’d think.

8. Inconsistent style

Is the proper term the Feast of the Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, or just Passover? Is it the Feast of Tabernacles, Festival of Booths, Sukkot, or Feast of Ingathering? Is it Abimelech or Abimelek? Is that two different people or the same person with an accidental, different spelling? Consistency in names is one of the many simple ways we can help the reader. Consistent use helps readers track along and get the main point of an explanatory note while not getting lost trying to connect dots.

9. Improper use of Lord

“The LORD said to my Lord . . .”

Setting “ord” in small caps in “Lord” is used to denote the Hebrew word Yahweh. When those are not preserved, it can change the meaning completely.

The point of all the extra features in a devotional or study Bible is to aid the reader in understanding the truth of God, not to confuse him or her. That’s why proofreaders go the extra mile. Every Bible project has more than 300,000 details to get right, and we check them all.

We do this because we believe readers deserve Bibles that are free from distracting errors. Most importantly, God deserves our best effort in transmitting his Word to the next generation of readers.