A collection of facts with references relevant to the Codex Sinaiticus…
Two of the oldest complete (or nearly complete) manuscripts are the Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus. They are both written on parchment, and have a large number of corrections written over the original text.
Codex Sinaiticus, also known as “Aleph” (the Hebrew letter א), was found by Count Tischendorf in 1859 at the Monastery of St Catherine on Mount Sinai. Portions of the manuscript were found in the monastery dump, and a larger portion was presented to Tischendorf by one of the monks. It is a large codex, with 400 pages (or leaves) comprising about half of the Old Testament in the Septuagint version and the full New Testament. It has been dated to the second half of the 4th century and has been highly valued by Bible scholars in their efforts to reconstruct the original biblical text. Sinaiticus has heavily influenced the translation work of modern Bible versions. Though it is considered by some scholars to represent an original form of the text, it is also recognized as the most heavily corrected early New Testament manuscript.
There is much to be learned from examining these and other ancient texts, and they should continue to be highly valued by scholars. While there may be differences in opinion as to how they are to be used, one thing is certain—even with their textual variations, they show us that God has preserved His Word through the ages. We may debate the particular wording in a few passages, but the fact remains that over 90 percent of the New Testament text is unanimously supported by all the ancient manuscripts. In those passages where the proper reading is disputed, there is no major doctrinal change, and we can rest assured that we have the accurate, revealed words of God passed down to us.
- The CNN article notes that many of the changes are as minor as “the alteration of a single letter,” while the BBC News article states that “many of the other alterations and differences are minor.” Indeed, we examined several discrepancies; the omitted verses are, almost across the board, not central to the biblical accounts. For example, consider two of the verses missing: Matthew 23:14 and Luke 17:36. Removing those verses does not change the Bible from saying that Jesus is Lord to saying that He isn’t, or from saying that Jesus rose again to saying that He didn’t. If a person were to try to strike all verses from the Bible that recorded miracles or Jesus’s claims to be God, the result would be a very different (and far longer) list of missing verses.
- Many modern Bible translations either exclude or bracket the verses in question, anyway. For instance, the New American Standard Bible and the Holman Christian Standard Bible put such verses in brackets and note that some manuscripts omit the bracketed text. The New King James Version does not bracket such verses but does footnote that some manuscripts omit the passages. The New International Version excludes the verses entirely. So it’s not as if the missing verses are presented by modern English translations as original when they really might not be; most modern versions acknowledge that there is some uncertainty over whether or not the verses were part of the original, inspired manuscripts. And, again, since these verses are not central to Christianity, it’s less of an issue than some suggest.
- The Bible didn’t drop out of the sky in completed form; we recognize the role of inspired and godly individuals in recording, collecting, and preserving God’s Word. From the time of the Apostles’ ministry to the closing of the canon, fragments of both genuine and fake gospels circulated (though the latter only later). Human copyists and translators through the centuries could introduce an error—accidentally or intentionally—just as easily as any of us could today (and the Codex Sinaiticus has missing Old Testament fragments as well). The existence of minimally divergent manuscripts shows the role of human error but, conversely, elevates the important role of the early church in weighing the evidence and clarifying which books were canonical and which were erroneous (again, by accident or by intent). Likewise, the inclusion of Apocryphal books may have been done for historical purposes, even though the early church consistently rejected these books as canonical.
- As always, presuppositions come into play. If two versions of a book are slightly different, does that mean one has added material or that the other has deleted material? Furthermore, there is no concrete way to determine (1) which extant manuscript was first (the Codex Sinaiticus or the Codex Vaticanus), (2) the content of manuscripts that no longer exist, or (3) whether just because a manuscript is the oldest means it is the most accurate copy.
- Ignored by news reports is how similar the codex is to the today’s Bible. The media points out the few, mostly minor, discrepancies but ignores the fact that the essential message of the New Testament remains unchanged.
Ultimately, believers and unbelievers alike are faced with a key question, “Who would die for a lie?” And if all the supernatural doctrines of Christianity were introduced after the fact (as some skeptics believe), why do the earliest manuscripts not omit all references to Christ’s deity, the miracles, the Resurrection, etc.? The Codex Sinaiticus is an interesting insight into early church history, and while it reminds us of the important role copyists and others played in preserving God’s Word, its age and similarity to today’s translation confirm, rather than dispute, the Bible’s accuracy.
FYI – “Oldest Bible” DOES include resurrection
I was recently asked “How are Christians dealing with the resurrection not appearing in the Bible recently published online as the worlds oldest bible?”
I thought you might be interested in my answer:
I take it you are talking about the “codex sinaiticus” The resurrection does appear in all four gospels… However there is a part of mark that is “missing” this really isn’t news. Most modern bibles note that some manuscripts don’t include the end. The codex itself is something scholars have had access to for some time, although it was split up. It’s not actually that old compared to many of the other manuscripts (4th century vs 1st Century). The media has reported poorly on this. I am excited to have it online though. It is a VERY important manuscript.
However it is not oldest manuscript
Also it does not leave out the resurrection anywhere but does “omit” appearances of Jesus to many people FOLLOWING the resurrection at the end of MARK (one of four gospels)
The way Christians deal with that is pretty simple.
1) We either believe that particular section is not “inspired”
2) We believe it was an Oral tradition similar to the “women caught in adultery” passage that was added by a scribe, but validated in the process of Canonization (my personal take)
3) We don’t care… or some other perspective