There has never been a book more historically debated than the Bible, especially when it comes to conversations about how and if the Bible changes over time. It’s a tome that has started wars, divided nations, and probably ended more than a few friendships, all because of the myriad ways people interpret the same core concepts in different ways. The history of the Bible is fraught with revisions, wild interpretations, and massive overhauls. Over the course of the last century, changes to the Bible have seen the book expand and retract like a 2,000-year-old accordion.
To understand why so many variations of such an important book exist, you must remember that there is no "original Bible." Rather, the text of the Old Testament existed as stories that were passed down through generations before being molded together by authors and then later edited into the book that you can may have at home today. Because the Bible had such a rocky start, scholars have multiple versions of the text to work with, each with its own interpretation of events. With that in mind, a question lingers: has the Bible changed?
To find changes in Bible verses, one simply has to find some of the most popular sections (the Ten Commandments, the immaculate birth, etc.) and compare one Bible to a different version. It’s likely that you’ll notice something different. The biggest Bible changes happen when a church branches off from its parent and tries to set out with its own identity. Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Church of Latter Day Saints, for example, have managed to add their own bible histories to the mix, making things significantly murkier than they already were.
If, after reading about these changes, you're still feeling doubts about the reality of alterations, additions, and subtractions to the foundational theological documents, take a gander at Jesus' slow transformation into a white figure for further evidence that religious dogma and doctrine can—and do—alter with the passage of time.
This fairly recent change to Exodus 21:22-25 is interesting in how a few simple words can entirely alter the meaning of a verse. In the 1977 version of the New American Standard Bible, the verse read: "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."
In 1995, the verse was changed to read: "If men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she gives birth prematurely, yet there is no injury..."
One explanation for this may be that, between 1977 and 1995, American politics had changed so that the GOP and Christian Right had essentially coalesced around the issue of how much dominion a woman has over her own body. If they were going around with Bibles that specifically stated it wasn't a huge deal for a fetus to be killed (resulting in a miscarriage), that wouldn't exactly work for their platform.
The texts were changed in the 1995 version in order to make it so the fetus doesn't die in the verse, thus supporting the Christian Right's pro-life message that killing a fetus was the same as killing a human—and now the Bible said so.
When studying the Bible, one of the biggest complications is that there's no "original" version of the text to use as a standard edition. Most of the stories were passed down through oral tradition and then written down by people who had their own variations of the stories.
For a long time, there were two "master" texts (the Greek Septuagint and the Masoretic Text) that scholars could work from, but between 1946 and 1956, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls seriously complicated everything. The Dead Sea Scrolls contain a sizable portion of the Bible, and they predate the Masoretic text by about 1,000 years, making them the closest thing scholars have to a definitive version of the Old Testament.
While the Scrolls are more likely to be a "pure" version of the Bible, they offer some large variations on stories many people know. For instance, rather than finishing work on the sixth day and resting on the seventh, God may have finished work on the seventh day and rested during a sort of late philosophical evening.
The Gospel of Mary Magdalene is an apocryphal text that Biblical scholars really don't want to include in the Bible—not because it was written in the 2nd or 3rd century (plenty of books in the Biblical canon weren't even finished until the 2nd century), but because it offers a different take on spiritualism than the rest of the books.
In this book, Mary describes a discussion she has with Jesus and the disciples where Jesus explains that people have a spirit, a mind, and a second spirit that connects them with God. Many Biblical scholars believe that by adding this book to the Bible, the message of the book would be convoluted with conflicting philosophies that would teach people to find an inner harmony, rather than only to seek salvation from a higher power.
Depending on the translation, one of the Ten Commandments may have had a very different context than the one with which you're familiar. In the original Hebrew, the tenth commandment doesn't say anything about coveting. In fact, the original word used, "chamad," is usually used as a synonym for "lakach" (to take), so the tenth (and in some versions the ninth) commandment is actually a command not to yearn for things, but to not go around taking other people's things.