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Posts Tagged ‘Sinaiticus’

I have said that there are no textual variants that affect doctrine or theology. Actually, the one I wish to discuss today does have doctrinal implications, but primarily in the religious tradition of which I am a part. My heritage practices adult baptism by immersion and almost exclusively asks the person being baptized, “Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” Most people today would be hard pressed to state where that confession comes from. The reality is that it comes from Acts 8:37 which is routinely footnoted in most translations except the King James. The question today is why do most modern translations not include verse 37 in the body of the text?

The simplest answer to that question is that the most ancient Greek manuscripts do not include it. The manuscripts that do not have verse 37 include—p45 (3rd century), and the big three codices, Vaticanus and Sinaiticus (4th century),and  Alexandrinus (5th century), along with other manuscripts.

Verse 37 is included in Codex E which dates from the 6th century and in many of the later cursive manuscripts. It is also included in the Old Latin. Irenaeus quotes part of it, which shows that the passage was in existence at least in the latter part of the second century, perhaps earlier. Bruce Metzger provides an interesting perspective when he writes in A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, “Although the passage does not appear in the late medieval manuscript on which Erasmus chiefly depended for his edition (ms. 2), it stands in the margin of another (ms. 4), from which he inserted it into his text because he ‘judged that it had been omitted by the carelessness of scribes.’”

All of this is probably more detail than most of my readers care about. The bottom line is that we should be able to see that the passage is certainly questionable. Possibly it was inserted as a possible answer to the Eunuch’s question in verse 36, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” (ESV). Certainly the passage retains perhaps the most ancient baptismal confessional handed down to us. I like it because of its simplicity and its emphasis on the primacy of faith in Jesus as the Christ. I can think of nothing with which I would want to replace it.

At the same time, it probably was not originally part of the text of Acts. As I said earlier, this may disturb some people within my religious heritage, but I am first of all interested in truth, not in preserving what I was taught to believe. This is the lesson I would like for my readers to get from this post. We should not come to the Bible seeking to validate what we already believe. Nor should we bring our preconceptions to it. I have always attempted simply to accept what I find there, and I feel comfortable doing so.

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A previous post contained information regarding a few of the earliest manuscripts of the New Testament. As I said then, the few discussed were selected because they were in some ways the most significant of the earliest manuscripts. Of course, all of them contained only portions of the New Testament. A couple of the earliest were mere scraps of papyrus with a few verses, all that remained from what were originally larger manuscripts. Others, were longer, but even these did not contain the entire Bible or even the entire New Testament, partially because they come from a time when the New Testament canon was not yet finalized.

Today I want us to come forward in time to look at the earliest essentially complete Bibles. We shall see that even at this stage, nothing is cut and dry. And once again, I shall only talk about three manuscripts out of several we could consider. I have selected for consideration the three manuscripts which most scholars agree are the most important of what were originally essentially complete Bibles. There are a number of others. Books are available should you wish to do further study.

All three of these manuscripts share some characteristics in common. All of them are written on vellum or parchment, which made them much more expensive to produce. They would likely have been commissioned by either a government or a wealthy church. These manuscripts come from a time not long after Christianity became the official religion of Rome, so it is possible the Roman government paid for them. All three manuscripts are written in Greek (which means the Old Testament is the Septuagint, the Greek translation discussed in an earlier post). All three are written with Greek letters called uncials. That means they are written in all capital letters, and there is no spacing between words, and they do not employ any punctuation. They do make use of something called “Nomina Sacra” which we may discuss at a later date. Finally, all three manuscripts include (or originally included) the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Apocrypha.

Codex Vaticanus — This manuscript dates from @ AD 325-350, and it gets its name because it has been in the Vatican library since at least the 1400s. The wallpaper for this blog is in fact derived from a photograph of one page of the Codex Vaticanus. Some portions are missing, so it is impossible to be certain as to what the Vaticanus originally included. Missing from the Apocrypha are the Prayer of Manasseh and the Books of Maccabees. From the New Testament, the manuscript lacks the Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus), Philemon, and the book of Revelation. Because the ending is missing we cannot be certain whether these books were originally included or if others were included which are now lost.

A previous post mentioned a manuscript designated as p75 which was copied @ AD 200 and contains the earliest copy of the Gospel of Luke and portions of the Gospel of John. The text of these books in the Codex Vaticanus is so similar to p75 that some scholars believe that p75 was actually the manuscript the scribe used to copy these books to the Codex Vaticanus. If so, it is also possible that p75 originally contained all four gospels and that the Vaticanus represents the text of these gospels from AD 200 as well. This would place our text of the gospels back to around 100-150 years of the originals. Of course this is only supposition, but it is intriguing to consider.

Codex Sinaiticus — This manuscript gets its name, because it was discovered in 1859 at the Monastery of Saint Catherine at the foot of Mount Sinai. There is a marvelous story behind that discovery, but time does not permit. Here is a picture of the Sinaiticus.

Codex Sinaiticus
@ AD 350-375

You can see how similar it is to the Vaticanus. This is because it was written about the same time (@ AD 350-375). Apparently it originally contained all of the Old Testament, but much of it is missing. It contains the entire New Testament as well as two books that are not in our New Testament — The Epistle of Barnabas and a portion of The Shepherd of Hermas. The Sinaiticus is in the British Museum in London.

Codex Alexandrinus — Although this manuscript dates somewhat later (AD 400-450), it is still an important witness to the early text of the New Testament. It is also kept in the British Museum, and the writing is very similar to the Vaticanus and the Sinaiticus. Only 10 leaves are missing from the Old Testament, but more are missing from the New Testament.

These three manuscripts are important, because they are the earliest examples of what Christians today would call “the Bible.” The manuscripts are also important for New Testament studies, because they share textual similarities. In other words, the three oldest Bibles we have agree in many areas about which there are textual questions. This is so significant, that whenever these three manuscripts agree about a reading, scholars quite often accept their reading even if a majority of other manuscripts have different readings. That may appear strange, but when we study textual variations, I hope to demonstrate why that is an appropriate position to take.

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Daniel B. Wallace

Executive Director of CSNTM & Senior Research Professor of NT Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary

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