The translation of the Bible into the common English language has long been heralded as one of the greatest accomplishments in both the religious and publishing worlds. In 1631, two of London's most respected printers, Robert Barker and Martin Lucas, produced what they believed to be a faithful reproduction of the King James Bible. Instead, one simple typographical error in the Book of Exodus cost them a month's salary and their printing licenses. Their version of the Holy Bible has come to be known as the Wicked Bible, also called the Adulterous Bible or Sinners' Bible.
The passage in Exodus misquoted by the publishers happened to be the Ten Commandments, a set of laws imposed on the Hebrews by God Himself. The Wicked Bible's translation of the seventh Commandment should have read "Thou shalt not commit adultery", but actually omitted the word not, rendering the passage as "Thou shalt commit adultery." This single typographical error caused significant distress in the religious community, since it could conceivably be interpreted as holy permission to commit a sinful act.
When word of the publishers' error reached England's King Charles I and the Archbishop of Canterbury, the two men were summoned into a special courtroom until the matter could be fully investigated. After the error had been independently verified, Barker and Lucas were ordered to pay a fine equivalent to a month's salary and to surrender their publishing license. The existing copies of the so-called Wicked Bible were summarily burned by order of the king.
At least 11 copies of the Wicked Bible managed to escape the flames, and are considered to be extremely valuable in rare book circles. The rare book room of the New York City library holds one copy under strict lock and key, while a Bible museum in Branson, Missouri also has a copy on display. The other copies of the Wicked Bible are thought to be in private collections, although one copy has been offered for sale through a website featuring rare books and other antiquities.
The Wicked Bible also contains a second lesser-known error in the book of Deuteronomy. Instead of translating one passage as the Lord showing his "glory and greatness," the verse actually suggests the Lord showed His glory and "great arse." Had this second, and in some ways even more egregious, typographical error been discovered in time, Barker and Lucas may have been forced to pay a much higher price for their unfortunate errors.