Tuesday, August 22, 2023

That Time the Pope Tried To Change the Bible

Henry VIII 
Henry VIII was king of England from 1509 to 1547, coronated at age 18. To put the time period into perspective, this was 100 years before the King James Bible was published. His older brother Arthur was in line to become king, but died young, leaving a widow named Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536) -  Britannica(Catherine-of-Aragon) [1]. Henry wanted to marry Catherine, but because of Lev 18:16 had to get special dispensation from the church to do so.


Lev 18:16. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your brother’s wife. It is your brother’s nakedness.

The only exception is called Levirate marriage, where if a man dies childless, a brother marries the widow to produce a child to carry on the name of the dead man. This does not appear to have been Henry's motivation. His motive for wanting Catherine of Aragon was political - she was VERY well connected. She was the daughter of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, famous for financing of Christopher Columbus, and expulsion of the Jews from Spain, both in 1492. AND Catherine was the aunt of Emperor Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire.

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Catherine of Aragon
But Henry had a problem, which became known as King Henry's Great Matter. Though Henry and Catherine had six children together, only one daughter named Mary survived. Meaning Henry did not have a male heir to continue his dynasty. When Catherine was getting beyond child bearing age, Henry wanted an annulment of the marriage so he could marry a woman who could give him a male heir. He also thought God's curse was on them.


He convinced himself that his first marriage had been against the divine law; that is, against the biblical injunction (Lev.) forbidding marriage with a brother’s widow. The deaths of the children proved God’s judgment on the union. Britannica(Henry-VIII) [2]

Lev 20:21. And if a man shall take his brother’s wife, it is an unclean thing. He has uncovered his brother’s nakedness; they shall be childless.

It's not clear to me how Henry interpreted this verse to mean God's curse was on him. After all, he and Catherine weren't childless. Anyway he tried for years to get the church to grant an annulment. But remember Catherine's nephew was Emperor Charles. Pope Clement VII was essentially imprisoned by Charles during the Sack of Rome in 1527  till ransom was paid, so Clement was not willing to cross Charles to help Henry Wiki(Sack_of_Rome) [3]. Charles denied responsibility for the Sack of Rome. Nonetheless, he did have great influence over Clement after that.

Biblical Knowledge in 1520

Let's consider how much Bible knowledge people had in the early 16th century. Most people did not own a copy of the Bible then. Most couldn't read anyway. The King James translation was 100 years in the future. The only English language Bibles were the Wycliffe (1382) and Tyndale (1526, 1535) translations. Wycliffe was before the Gutenberg printing press (1450), so copies were made by hand. The Tyndale Bible was the first English Bible to be printed, interestingly, in the days when Henry was involved in his Great Matter. Tyndale was executed for translating the Bible into English.

Betrayed to church officials in 1536, he was defrocked in an elaborate public ceremony and turned over to the civil authorities to be strangled to death and burned at the stake. His last words are said to have been, "Lord! Open the King of England's eyes." Wiki(Tyndale_Bible) [4]

During the 1500s, the very idea of an English language Bible was shocking and subversive. This is because, for centuries, the English Church had been governed from Rome, and church services were by law conducted in Latin. Most people in Europe were unable to speak Latin, and so could not understand the Bible directly. The Church therefore acted as the mediator between God and the people, with Priests interpreting the bible on behalf of their congregations - British Library [5].

The Bologna Scroll

Back to the story. King Henry's men met with the Pope's men in Bologna, northern Italy. The pope's men told the King he could not get the annulment. Henry's responded by separating the Church of England from the Catholic Church. And since King Henry was the head of the church, he annulled his own marriage, then married Anne Boleyn. Henry also dissolved the monasteries and confiscated their assets.

What happened at that meeting in Bologna? Henry's men argued that the marriage had to be annulled because he had married his brother's widow, which was against Torah. The Pope's men countered by showing that the Torah doesn't say that. They brought out a scroll, which they said belonged to Ezra, yes THAT Ezra, which would make the scroll over 2000 years old. This scroll has no text for Lev 18:16-18, just five blank lines. Actually, it's erased, whether by a sponge or a razor. The text is not there. Which made Henry's marriage legitimate, and gave no room for an annulment. Modern high resolution photographs of that page clearly show the text that was erased, but it was apparently enough to convince Henry's men that the Torah did not say that. Apparently they forgot to erase Lev 20:21 which says the same thing.

It wasn't Ezra's scroll, and it's not clear how they got possession of an authentic Torah scroll. Scholars date the Bologna scroll to about 1200AD, and today it is the oldest complete Torah scroll in the world, just not 2000 years old.

How do we know all this? Because the Bolgona scroll was found in 2013 by the Italian scholar Mauro Perani. It had been lost since 1889 when it was “mistakenly cataloged in the University of Bologna Library as a 17th-century Sefer Torah” - Biblical Archaeology [6]. Here is a screenshot of the page in question - Academic Studies Press [7]. 

An impressive case is visible in Section 32, containing Leviticus chapter 18, where the five verses after verse 15, i.e. vv. 16–20, are cancelled in the following five lines, not substituted by any correction, and the text continues with verse 21 (Figure 10). As Saverio Campanini claimed, this erasure was not made by a scribe, but probably by emissaries of the papal party, as part of the disputations during the sixteenth century related to the divorce of King Henry the Eighth.  [7]  p35

So for the sake of politics, the Pope (or his men) changed the text of the Bible. For the want of a male heir, Henry made England a Protestant nation. This changed the course of history. Having the Bible available in the common language also changed the course of history.

Great Bible

From 1538, every parish in England was required by law to purchase a copy of an English Bible and place it in ‘some convenient place’ for all to see and read. More than 9,000 copies were printed by 1541 -  Wiki(Great_Bible) [8].


So What?

Why are we interested in this? People have attacked the Bible for a long time, maybe not for political ends like this time. Theologians attack the Bible by teaching the law is done away. Scholars attack the Bible, producing translations based on unreliable manuscripts, or inventing theories like the “Documentary Hypothesis” to cast doubt on the God inspired authorship. How about school libraries banning the Bible? - CNN [9]. Do you remember the Jesus Seminar of the 90's? A group of 50 scholars voted on what Jesus really said and did.

In The Five [sic] Gospels, the authors were able to state categorically that “eighty-two percent of the words ascribed to Jesus in the gospels were not actually spoken by him” - The Conversation [10].

It is absolutely ridiculous, even offensive, to think that a group of "scholars" today can more accurately determine what Jesus did and did not say than the authors of the gospels, who wrote in the same century in which Jesus lived, taught, died, and was resurrected -  Got Questions [11].

Most of the original leaders of the Jesus Seminar have died. They have a website, but it appears nothing has been added to it in 6 years - Virtual Religion [12]. The Jesus seminar has faded, but the Bible is still going strong.

The latest attack on the Bible comes from AI (Artificial Intelligence).

Yuval Noah Harari, the senior advisor to the WEF and its chairman Klaus Schwab, argues that using AI to replace scriptures will create unified “religions that are actually correct.” - Technocracy News  [13].

I fear that this may succeed for a season.

Not to be left behind, PETA is jumping on the AI bandwagon.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), an animal rights nonprofit organization, has taken altruism one step further and used artificial intelligence to rewrite Genesis as a vegan manifesto, leading Bible scholars to fume over whether vegetarianism is indeed a Biblical concept - Israel365news  [14].

"In the beginning, God created heaven and the Earth. And the Earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep,” the PETA version begins. “He created animals of all shapes and sizes to live harmoniously with humans. Everyone marveled at their beauty and grace, and not a single thought of fur coats crossed their minds.” -  peta.org [15]

The Bible prophesies a famine of the word. AI may be how it comes to pass. We need to remember what a valuable gift the Bible is. While it gets increasingly difficult to judge if a news story is true, remember that God has given us a book that is true and reliable. Let us internalize what it says so we won't be fooled by an AI “corrected” Bible.

Is 40:8 The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.


1. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Catherine-of-Aragon
2. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Henry-VIII-king-of-England/Loss-of-popularity
3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sack_of_Rome_(1527)
4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tyndale_Bible
5. https://www.bl.uk/learning/timeline/item101093.html
6. https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/news/a-sefer-torah-in-the-bologna-library-may-be-the-oldest-known-torah-scroll
7. https://www.academia.edu/40647752/The_Oldest_Complete_Extant_Sefer_Torah_Re_discovered_at_the_Bologna_University_Library_Codicological_Textual_and_Palaeographic_Features_of_an_Ancient_Eastern_Tradition page 35
8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Bible
9. https://www.cnn.com/2023/06/21/us/utah-davis-school-district-reversal-bible-school-libraries/index.html
10. https://theconversation.com/getting-the-gist-of-a-historical-jesus-the-jesus-seminar-30-years-on-44465
11. https://www.gotquestions.org/Jesus-seminar.html
12. https://virtualreligion.net/forum/new.html
13. https://www.technocracy.news/competing-with-god-wef-calls-for-ai-to-rewrite-the-bible-create-religions-that-are-actually-correct
14. https://www.israel365news.com/373228/peta-produces-an-ai-vegan-bible
15. https://www.peta.org/media/news-releases/peta-goes-biblical-with-chatgpt-vegan-rewrite-of-the-book-of-genesis