Would it surprise you to know that the bible read in the fourth century was not the same as the modern bible? Most of it is the same, but there are some surprising differences. Codex Sinaiticus is called the world’s oldest bible (earlier manuscripts were probably burned by persecuting Romans, or simply didn’t survive the ages.) As such it gives us an amazing insight into what the bible was and how it has changed since then. And it is available online at http://www.codexsinaiticus.org/en/manuscript.aspx.
But first a definition is in order. What is a codex? A codex is a stack of pages bound together in a manner similar to the modern book form. This is, of course, different from the roll form of document used in Hebrew worship. Christians were among the first to use this style of document making.[i]
Codex Sinaiticus dates back to the 4th century. It is thought to be one of the 50 copies of the Bible commissioned to Eusebius by Constantine about 332 A.D.[ii] (Similarly, codex Vaticanus is thought to be another of the copies although it is not as complete.)[iii]
One of the first things you notice about this “bible” is that books are not exactly the same as modern versions, and the order is not the same. The Pauline Epistles with Hebrews are between the Gospels and Acts.[iv] The Shepard of Hermas and The Gospel of Barnabas are listed after Revelation.[v] Glancing through the whole book you will find that the order of the books differs dramatically from the current order standard throughout both the Old and New Testaments.
The Shepard of Hermas was used as scripture by Iranaeus, Tertullain, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen. The Gospel of Barnabas was called “catholic” by Origen, and Clement of Alexandria wrote a commentary on it.[vi]
The differences between Codex Sinaiticus and modern Greek texts are not just in the New Testament. Sinaiticus includes 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, 1 & 4 Maccabees, Wisdom and Sirach, which now are part of what is now called the Apochrypha, but that distinction did not exist then. In Old Testament times there is no evidence that there was any concept of a bible as a complete set of collection of authorized books, rather there were individual “books”, which in the Greek is “biblion”. These were individually recognized as part of the Law and the prophets. In ancient times this collection of books was called “ta biblia” (“the books”) which Latin speaking Christians shortened to the singular, the book or Bible.[vii]
Codex Sinaiticus is recognized as part of the Alexandrian family of texts. It does not have some of the errors of the Received Text. For example, compare these readings from Codex Sinaiticus with the forgeries talked about in Examples of Scribal Forgeries in the Bible:
and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. (Matthew 6:13)[viii]
And he said to them: This kind can come out by nothing but by prayer. (Mark 9:29)
[no verse] (Matthew 17:21)
[no verse] (Mark 16:9-20)
In these lay a multitude of sick persons, blind, lame, withered. (John 5:3, verse 4 is missing)
John 7:53 to 8:11 is missing
It is amazing to me that it took centuries for scholars to get the accepted text back to a form closer to Codex Sinaiticus. In fairness, it wasn’t available to Erasmus and his successors when they first tried reconstructing a reliable Greek New Testament. It was found in the late 18th century at the monastery of St Catherine in Sinai, hence the name “Sinaiticus”.
As far as Matthew 28:19, the reading is the full Trinitarian formula:
Go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19)
Codex Sinaiticus is a fascinating bible. I believe the above examples show that it is a better text than those used for the Received Text. The order that the books are presented suggests loudly, to me at least, that the order of the books has been an arbitrary decision all along. And likewise the additional books in both the Old and New Testaments, I think, are a protest to the divine status given to the creation of the canon, as opposed to the divine “thus spake the Lord” terminology much more easily seen in and/or concerning the individual books of the Law and the Prophets.
[i] THE MAKING OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, Origin, Collection, Text & Canon, Arthur G. Patzia, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, 1995, p. 118-119
[ii] THE CANON OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, Bruce M. Metzger, Clarendon Paperbacks, Oxford, 1997, ISBN 0-19-826954-4, p. 207
[iv] THE CANON OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, p. 295
[v] THE CANON OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, Bruce M. Metzger, Clarendon Paperbacks, Oxford, 1997, ISBN 0-19-826954-4, p. 65
[vi] THE CANON OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, p. 188
[vii] THE BOOKS AND THE PARCHMENTS, F F Bruce, Fleming H Revell Company, 1962, p. 11
[viii] This and all the readings are found on the website at http://www.codexsinaiticus.org/en/manuscript.aspx
© copyright 2011 Mark W Smith, All rights reserved.