The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

The Embarrassing Truth About the Bible: It’s STILL Being Edited

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 22, 2012

As most skeptics and atheists (as well as a number of well-educated religious believers) know, the Bible is a work of humans.  As such, just as any other book, it has been edited and revised quite a lot over the last couple of thousand years.  It’s not the purpose of this blog post to go into the details of who wrote what parts of the Bible when, nor will I get into the question of the numerous inconsistencies and contradictions contained within this supposedly “divinely inspired” book. (Though if you’re interested in those topics, I suggest starting with a basic primer on textual criticism of the Bible.)

Rather, I would like to address something which is easily verified by anyone: the fact that the Bible, contrary to the claims of many fundamentalists, is actually STILL being edited.  And sometimes these edits have made quite significant deviations from the “original” text.  Further, some of these edits have been made for what appear to be contemporary political purposes.

“You mean… it’s NOT the same as it was only 45 years ago?!!” — Image source

In order to prove my point, I would like to reference an excellent article on this topic from the Slacktivist blog over at titled “Mischief follows in partisan Bible translations”.  The basic point behind this article is that contrary to the claims of various fundamentalist factions that the Bible is unchanging and inerrant, it has in fact been edited quite recently.  Specifically, the evidence proves that the Bible has been edited for partisan political purposes on the issue of abortion as recently as the late 1970s (which is within the lifetime of many readers here!)  Read this excerpt from the Slacktivist article for more on this:

… As I noted earlier, this change in the words and meaning of the Bible is more recent than the introduction of the Happy Meal.

The New American Standard Bible is a popular English translation, a revision of the American Standard Version of 1901. It was completed in 1971 and then revised and updated in 1995. I want to highlight one major change in one passage of the NASB — a case in which the 1995 update alters — and is intended to reverse –  the text of the 1971 NASB.

Those dates are important in understanding the reason for this change. …

Now, let us look at the analysis of come critical Bible verses which have been edited in the context of contemporary views on abortion:

… That brings us to the text I want to highlight here as another example of politicized distortion via translation: Exodus 21:22-25.

Here is how Exodus 21:22-25 read in the New American Standard Bible’s 1977 revision of its 1971 original translation:

“And if men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she has a miscarriage, yet there is not further injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him; and he shall pay as the judges decide. But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.”

You can see how this fits in the context of the chapter. Here is another category of victim for which another set of punishments for violence is given. If a pregnant woman gets struck “so that she has a miscarriage,” but is not herself injured, then the man who struck her must pay a fine. But if the woman herself is injured, then the same rules and punishments for striking any other (non-slave) person apply — “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, etc.”

But here’s the same passage in 1995 in the updated current version of the NASB:

“If men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she gives birth prematurely, yet there is no injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him, and he shall pay as the judges decide. But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.”

“So that she has a miscarriage” has been replaced with “so that she gives birth prematurely.” [emphasis added]

Wait… what?  Why the distinction between miscarriage and premature birth with no injury (presumably to the fetus/baby)?  Because this change in the text fits with the new view on abortion which started to pervade U.S. politics starting in the late 1970s:

… But something changed between 1977 and 1995 — something that had nothing to do with scholarship, language, accuracy, fidelity or readability.

American politics had changed between 1977 and 1995. It had polarized and radicalized millions of American Protestants, rallying them around a single issue and thus, as intended, rallying them behind a single political party.

In 1977, the sort of American Protestants who purchased most Bibles couldn’t be summed up in a single word. But by 1995, they could be: “abortion.”

And for anti-abortion American evangelicals, Exodus 21:12-27 was unacceptable. It suggested that striking and killing an unborn fetus was in a separate category from striking and killing a “person.” Strike and kill a free person, you get the death penalty. Strike and kill an unborn fetus, you get a fine.

And so in 1995, like those earlier translators who invented and inserted “Junias,” the translators of the NASB reshaped this passage. “She has a miscarriage, yet there is not further injury” would, in consideration of the changes in American politics since 1977, henceforth be transformed into “she gives birth prematurely, yet there is no injury.”

Politics — specifically, the political desire to control women — shaped the translation of that text. The translators changed the words of the Bible to make it seem like it supported their political agenda. They changed the words of the Bible so that others reading it would not be able to see that its actual words challenged and contradicted their political agenda. …

So the Bible is the “unchanging and inerrant” word of God Almighty, according to these fundamentalists who “read the Bible literally”… until, apparently, it says something that they don’t like.  And then, what’s the solution?  Apparently, the solution is to change the text to say what they want it to say.

Can anyone say hypocrisy?  If these so-called “literalists” are so willing to play fast and loose with the very text upon which they place to much emphasis, it’s almost enough to cause one to ask just how much of this sort of thing has been going on for the last 2000 years, and thus question the validity of much (if not all) of the Bible, isn’t it?

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30 Responses to “The Embarrassing Truth About the Bible: It’s STILL Being Edited”

  1. woody said

    Great post. But the beliefs of devoutley religious people will not be affected even slightly by this information, will it … what a shame.

    • chris mckinley said

      i agree that this is a shame, but the last question is sort of implies a fallacy doesn’t it? just because there is one instance in recent history that supports your claim (quite well i might add) doesn’t mean the entire bible for the entirety of it’s history should be discarded. and that’s just a specific version of the bible. There are countless other interpretations of the bible, who is to say that all of them have been tainted? in comparison with the dead sea scrolls the current version of the
      bible actually retains it’s original context very well. nice article though

  2. I believe you’re committing a logical fallacy in what you conclude from the Slacktivist story here. While I certainly agree that translations have certainly been used to promote certain worldviews, jumping from this story to questioning “the validity of much (if not all) of the Bible” is at best a hasty generalization.

    While translations can certainly vary slightly, translations are based off of collections of some very old manuscripts (see, which generally agree with each other quite well.

    Certainly the use of translation to change the meaning of the text to agree with a certain group’s political leanings is deceptive and well…unbiblical, the leap you make from this issue to your point that the Bible is therefore fundamentally flawed is a large one lacking any real connection- the sort of leap I’d expect more from the type of people who would deceptively translate a Bible.

    • Jamey Grant said

      @Ben Wildeboer you are quite right. In fact it is the translations that are the fault of man, but the Word as God gave to man is perfect and unerring. Unfortunately there has never been a bible not created by man. Thus the original assumption that that the bible is a load of crap used as a tool to control the masses is accurate.

      • Say there was a researcher studying the efficacy of a certain vaccine. Due to certain pressures, this researcher somewhat dubiously selected certain data while ignoring other data in order to show the vaccine was extremely efficacious. Later the researcher’s dubious research practices were revealed and it was found the vaccine didn’t work at all. Then the anti-vaxx community comes out and says, “This researcher was playing fast and loose with the data- it makes you ask just how much of this has been going on, and thus question the validity of much (if not all) of vaccine research.

        I’m not proselytizing here (heck, I can barely even spell proselytize)- I just think we need to apply the same evidence-based critical thinking skills we apply to science and medicine to all areas. The Bible should be up for critical analysis- but let’s do that using skills from the “Skeptics Tool Belt” instead of borrowing from the “Woo Belt.”

  3. rodalena said

    These weird politically motivated edits are one valid reason for the onslaught of King James Only factions of fundamentalism. One eliminates all of the problematic editing since 1611 if one claims the KJV is the Only Correct Version For English-Speaking People.

    • rlwemm said

      Except that the KJV is much, much worse in terms of mistranslation and inclusion of spurious text.

    • Andrew said

      True, but what of any other editing done Pre-1611? The only way to get the *original* version would be to learn both Greek and Hebrew and read the Testaments in their originally written language.

      • rodalena said

        Agreed, Andrew. I don’t know if it’s possible to get an original version without time-travel. We’ll just have to settle for what we have, and exercise that frightening thing called “faith”.

      • Don’t forget Aramaic and a black belt in philology to be able to reconstruct a text! It is important to forget that the books of the Bible are historical texts that have gone through whole waves of editing, fixing and rebuilding. Even rabbis who spend their whole life studying the text need commentaries and commentaries to the commentaries, and even they differ in their interpretation.
        There are historical events in the XXth century about which people are engaged in violent diatribe as to who did what. And we have photos and films and video. It would be funny if we could agree on something like a patchwork of texts from the last three millenia.

  4. rickray1 said

    Weird how the almighty gawd could not find the exact words to give his boys to write about so that much more educated people of the future would not get confused! Has “he” not the power to rewrite his own philosophies in modern times? I think it’s time to start ripping apart a different fairy tale!

  5. Exodus contains a law for Jews; neither I nor the christians are Jewish. I do not bother with somebody elses religous laws and neither should any christians, The hebrew bible or ” Old Testiment” was writen buy Jews for Jews not for non Jews. Show some respect! Stay out of somebody elses religion!

  6. There is no proof what so ever the bible was written or “inspired” by God or any other spirit diety which do not exist!

  7. philobile said

    You may like to check out AN Wilson’s writing on the Bible – he wrote a book about Jesus, as portrayed in the Bible. (Jesus: a life, 1992) AN Wilson studied Greek at school/university, and is thus able to read the Bible, quite literally in its “orignal language”. He subjected the gospels to literary criticism and shows how the actual accounts of Jesus’s life are often completely contradictory. What Christians have done for 2000 years, is to cherry-pick bits from the Bible into a “coherent” story line, filling much of the blanks with folklore. According to AN Wilson, much of what people think they “know” about the life of Jesus is little more than folklore.

  8. And then there’s the “Wicked Bible” where the King’s printer, Robert Barker, left out the word “not” in one of the 10 commandments. He
    printed “Thou Shalt Commit Adultery” So, for a time there, many were out having orgies with other women with impunity.

  9. @blamer said

    Who at Lockman Foundation (1995) was involved in updating the NASB, Exodus 21:22-25?

    a rouge scribe? scholarly theologians? a living prophet of the Creator? some influential lobby group?

    Without identifying the participants this conspiracy sounds like a conspiracy theory. That is, attributing to troubling dominionism that which could be adequately explained by regular groupthink.

  10. Jesus Christ said

    1900 – 1.6 Billion People
    2012 – 7.0 Billion People
    112 years – 5.4 Billion People
    Solution – Stop Creating Children
    The life you save just might be the one you don’t create

  11. alex said

    Thank u for the post! if the word of god is inerrant, it is either all inerrant or it’s not. Funny how christians use old testament when it suits them and discard it when convenient.

  12. God Level Soldier said

    Oh how I love the foolish. They use carnal thinking to describe god’s word. Yes, men wrote it.but by inspiration of god. Known as the “Holy Spirit” He is the one that sends the words of god through them. The bible said: Write these things which I speak. They did. God, also made clear the lack of understanding of the wicked who knew not God. This is why they are called the foolish. They do not understand much less teach the truth of the word of god. Even what I speak comes from the father. I wrote this, but my god is the inspiration. Amen

    • @blamer said

      Prophets write down the words of their god. They know their words are dictation. We do not.

      When we hear that their written testimony itself insists that we’re being “foolish” and “wicked” to believe others, that “holy spirit” prophet is clearly inspired by a thousand yearold jewish myth, not a 14Billion yearold creator of this universe they inhabited. Those prophets of monotheism are as profoundly mistaken about how to detect a true prophet amongst countless false prophets, as they are about their own personal “god-breathed” words they have in mind. We have the benefit of historians. They only had court jesters and story tellers.

  13. Woody said

    God level soldier – People of other faiths are just as devout in their beliefs as you are in yours. Many other faiths describe, using the same talk as you, how the words of the ‘one true faith’ were revealed to mankind.
    Most of the followers of other religions are so because of where they grew up, what faith their friends and family believe in.
    Are they all damned to the eternal burning torture of hell?
    Can any such ‘inspiration’ be the one true version that will save souls, whereas any other faith is false and can only lead people to hell?

    • Raftadamus said

      There is no hell but the one we make ourselves.. Rightiousness is hard to see and even hard for man to live by. You don’t get it, some do. To take in words with mind alone is not the way to undetstand the Word. Funny though most all doubters eventually do come around. I will bet you will also.
      Yes I believe in God and bet along with other sins i was taught not to. I don’t expect to see a heaven but I know enough to be grateful for life, no matter what it offers. Who or what do you give thanks to for your existance. Parents are the vehicle but not the designer or mechanic of it.

  14. Jain said

    religion is a beautiful thing…it comforts people and puts their worries at ease. Why would you go out of your way to disrespect something that is so important to some people. Sometimes people need to keep their opinions to themselves. Be respectful, even if you don’t believe.

    • Raftadamus said

      Well said Jain. We see only the bad that man has don under the flagship of religion. I know one thing is a fact, there is no rehabilitation of the soul for cons or inmates that have done a full 180 turn like the faith they had excepted. I would not want to live in a world where Jesus’s teachings did not exist. We today can travel the world with comfort of knowing that peace is instilled in many we will encounter. Try that back in the day of head hunters and human sacraficial societies. God’s teachings has done more good than can be measured. But we are human and like that we all go through the rebellious teeage phase til we know what we had not seen to appreciate. …

  15. Raftadamus said

    There is no hell but the one we make ourselves.. Rightiousness is hard to see and even hard for man to live by. You don’t get it, some do. To take in words with mind alone is not the way to undetstand the Word. Funny though most all doubters eventually do come around. I will bet you will also.
    Yes I believe in God and bet along with other sins i was taught not to. I don’t expect to see a heaven but I know enough to be grateful for life, no matter what it offers. Who or what do you give thanks to for your existance. Parents are the vehicle but not the designer or mechanic of it.

  16. […] of the most popular posts I’ve made on this blog was about how the Bible has been edited in recent decades to promote a specific political agenda related to abortion. Since writing that post, it has become […]

  17. […] Image Source […]

  18. […] Image Source […]

  19. Eric said

    Yes the Bible is still being written today. God still gives messages to people. God even puts his signature of approval on them with his own name JEHOVAH confirming the words to be His very own. Ethnic Cleansing is coming to the United States and evil doers are the ethnic group being targeted. Tornadoes descending from the sky that look like giant elephant trunks. Seek shelter underground. Flying glass spells trouble. God’s destroying angel was released to begin surveying the United States during August of 2003, 2 years in advance of devastation. Anyone having a problem with this will surely die for my hand is upon my servant the prophet. YOU DOUBT THIS?
    Well, my sister, my dad, and my college roommate doubted, and all 3 died in the consecutive years following 2005 (i.e. 2006, 2007, 2008).
    This is a sobering warning. Believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that he died on a cross to take your punishment in his own body for your sins. He shed his blood just to save you because he loves you that much. In believing, you will receive eternal life and escape the Great White Judgment Throne. You have not earned this gift in any way. No one can make it into heaven and have eternal life apart from this great truth.

  20. well surly human hand touched the bible wither old or new testament , actually new testament doesnt have a good history or maybe most of the books , like matthew gospel is in greek while matthew didnt speak greek , its just collection of books were chosen and no proof its from matthew luk john …. and just small search will proof that
    now if u read :
    (American King James Version
    Thirty and two years old was he when he began to reign, and he reigned in Jerusalem eight years, and departed without being desired. However, they buried him in the city of David, but not in the sepulchers of the kings.)2 Chronicles 21:20
    (26Ahaziah was twenty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned one year in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Athaliah the granddaughter of Omri king of Israel.)2 Kings 8:26
    (King James 2000 Bible
    Forty and two years old was Ahaziah when he began to reign, and he reigned one year in Jerusalem. His mother’s name also was Athaliah the granddaughter of Omri.) 2 Chronicles 22:2

    so was ahaziah 22 years old or 42 years old ?
    and if he is 42 it means he is older than his father ???

    u think god may do such mistakes ?? sorry thats surely human mistake , fact has to be accepted ,

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