Posts Tagged ‘The Wicked Bible’

imageProofread Your Fine Print

For years I’ve wanted to see this particular edition of the Bible, but who knew that Holy Thursday would provide the occasion?  The said Bible was printed in London in 1631, and there was little to distinguish it from all the other editions of The King James Version, save for one glaring omission.  In his rush to publish, Robert Barker may have cut a few corners a little too closely.  We’ll never know whether the shoddy proofreading was due to budget cuts or poor execution, but the results have not lost their power to startle.  Nested in the fine print of Exodus chapter twenty, there is a line that should have a “not,” but it does not.  And a critically important “not” it was, as surprised and delighted readers discovered when they first stumbled onto the seventh commandment.  There it was in all its glory:  “Thou shalt commit adultery.”  Who could have imagined!

That little variant in the text may explain why this edition became a run-away best-seller.  It may also have inspired not a few people to pick up their Bibles to find out what else they may have missed in earlier readings.  In any case, the king’s agents burned as many copies as they could find, which has fueled a steady price rise ever since.  Meanwhile, the king also levied a big fat fine on Barker, ensuring that he would reap no financial gain from his happy fault.

imageThis may seem an odd prologue to a reflection on Easter, but it reminds us of the importance of reading the fine print in any human endeavor.  As often as not, the devil is in the details, and when it came to this particular Bible, the omission of one three-letter word earned the book its monicker for all time:  The Wicked Bible.

On Wednesday of Holy Week chapter twenty-six from the gospel of Saint Matthew provided good grist for my thoughts on the fine print in any of our endeavors.  Who knows when it first entered the mind of Judas to betray Jesus, but at some point he decided to approach the chief priests to see if he could do a deal.  “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?”

Several things struck me about this, and not the least of them was the sheer audacity of the man.  There’s egomania in Judas, with the thought that he controlled Jesus and could turn him over at will.  It’s as if Jesus were some commodity or intellectual property.  Then there’s the self-delusion that allowed Judas to believe that he wielded all the levers of power.  “If people want to deal with Jesus, they’ll have to deal with me first, and they’ll have to do it on my terms.  But the good news is that we can do business together.”

imageTo think of this as a form of prayer may seem a little odd, but in some respects it’s not unlike many of our prayers.  It is in fact the obverse of the prayer that Jesus uttered in the Garden only a few hours later.  “Not my will, but thy will be done,” he agonized.  The contrast may be as stark as can be, but it is prayer.  The difference?  Judas bargained for power and control;  Jesus bargained for the strength to surrender.

The irony of these two prayers shouldn’t be lost on us in the aftermath of Easter.  Judas prayed to be master of the moment, but what he thought was a good deal turned out to be a bust.  He sought to capitalize on a difficult situation, but he ended up losing everything.  Jesus, by contrast, surrendered himself completely.  But in losing his life he gained it.  And into his new life he gathers us all.

When Jesus called Judas to be his disciple, I just can’t imagine that Judas intended to have it end the way it did.  Who knows when it began to go off track?  Who knows when the urge to control all the details asserted itself?  But it happened; and what had begun as a promising discipleship ended in tragedy.

imageThe lesson for us, it seems to me, is this.  All of us begin relationships with the best of intentions.  Whether it is in our commitment to a spouse, to a friend or to God, we plunge in with high expectation.  But all such relationships require work, and any neglect is never benign.  Our lives require that we make regular course correction, or they will suffer from unplanned course correction.  All of us need to re-examine our motives;  all of us need to proofread our contracts with God and with one another, just to make sure that key words have neither slipped out nor been wedged in.  Such little changes can seem innocent enough at first, but over a lifetime they have the power to transform.

So it was with Judas, whose life as a disciple veered off course at some point.  So it was with Jesus, who grew in age and wisdom.  With Judas the prayer morphed into the self-serving demand to the high priests: “What can you do for me?”  And with Jesus it morphed into the conformity of his will to that of the Father.

As we enter Easter week the same is true for us.  The resurrection has the capacity to wipe our slate clean and to orient our lives to God.  But if it’s going to work, we must pay attention to those little changes in our own text that can redirect our lives, one way or the other.  Like Judas, we can gain a few pieces of silver and think we’ve won life’s grand prize;  or with Jesus we can appear to lose our lives entirely, and yet gain everything.


+This was a crazy week for me, and I spent the first part of it recovering from the flu as well as allergies.  On Tuesday I finally managed to get my car towed from the airport garage in Minneapolis, back to Saint John’s, where I now await the verdict of the automotive physicians.

+On April 2nd I spoke on The Saint John’s Bible at the Dunham Bible Museum on the campus of Houston Baptist University, located (appropriately enough) in Houston, TX.  It was through their courtesy that I was at last able to see and photograph The Wicked Bible.

+On April 4th the monastic community, joined by a large gathering of friends, celebrated the Easter vigil.  Lasting two hours and forty-five minutes, the music was flawless and beautiful, and the entire service flowed wonderfully.  We were blessed by the absence of anyone from the Environimental Protection Agency, since the clouds of incense qualified us to be a major industrial polluter.

+The top photo in today’s post is of an icon by Aidan Hart, which is on display in the Abbey church during the Easter season.  Two come from the interior of the church, while two show the promise of spring outdoors.  And the Ten Commandments speak for themselves.


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