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 In Defense of Traditional Bible Texts

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Codex Sinaiticus: It Is Old But Is It The Best?

Pastor David L. Brown, Ph.D.

I have a number of interesting old Bibles in my library. One is a huge two-volume King James Bible that was printed by John Baskett in 1716-1717. There are only 24 copies of this particular Bible known to exist. It is more than 280 years older than the King James Bible I preach from every Sunday. If you follow the line of thinking of the modern textual critics, I should probably go back to the Basket Bible to confirm the text of the Cambridge Bible I use. However, this would be a grave mistake because this old Bible has two nicknames; the first is the Vinegar Bible, because it titles Luke 20 as "The Parable of the Vinegar" instead of "The Parable of the Vineyard." The second name given to this Bible is "The Basket Full of Errors," because there are so many typographical errors in this Bible. This certainly is a good illustration that the oldest is not necessarily the best!

I have another huge two-volume Bible in my collection. It is an exact facsimile edition of Sinaiticus. The New Testament was printed in 1911 and the Old Testament in 1922. I have been carefully reading the introductory materials and pouring over the text of ALEPH or Codex Sinaiticus. This is one of the manuscripts that textual critics assert is the oldest and the best! But is it? Allow me to quote Kirsopp Lake, the person who prepared the introduction of the New Testament volume.

"The Codex Sinaiticus has been corrected by so many hands that it affords a most interesting and intricate problem to the palaeographer who wishes to disentangle the various stages by which it has reached its present condition...." (Codex Sinaiticus - New Testament volume; page xvii of the introduction).

What is the writer talking about? Did you note the phrase "to disentangle the various stages?" This indicates that there is a scribal problem with this codex and it is a BIG problem. Tischendorf identified four different scribes who were involved writing the original text. However, as many as ten scribes tampered with the codex throughout the centuries. Tischendorf said he "counted 14,800 alterations and corrections in Sinaiticus." Alterations, more alterations, and more alterations were made, and in fact, most of them are believed to be made in the 6th and 7th centuries. "On nearly every page of the manuscript there are corrections and revisions, done by 10 different people." Tischendorf goes on to say,

"...the New Testament...is extremely unreliable...on many occasions 10, 20, 30, 40, words are dropped...letters, words even whole sentences are frequently written twice over, or begun and immediately canceled. That gross blunder, whereby a clause is omitted because it happens to end in the same word as the clause preceding, occurs no less than 115 times in the New Testament."

That brings me to the problem of the di homoeotéleuton omissions in Sinaiticus. The word di homoeotéleuton is Greek for "because of a similar ending." Here are some examples of the sloppy work of the scribes.

Note: In the following passages the italicized, bold words are omitted in Sinaiticus...

1 Cor. 13:1-2. "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. [2] And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing."

Here the scribe had copied the verse up to the end of the first "and have not charity," but when he looked up to his example again to continue copying, his eye fell upon the second occurrence of the phrase, from which he continued, omitting all of those words between the two occurrences of the phrase.

Now a more complicated example:

1 Cor. 15:25-27. "For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. [26] The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. [27] For he hath put all things under his feet."

Here it is not immediately clear what has happened. But when it is known that in some early manuscripts the order of clauses is as shown below, once again we see that the scribe's eye has jumped from the first occurrence of a phrase to the second occurrence:

[27] "For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. For he hath put all things under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death."

And in the very next verse another such omission:

1 Cor. 15:27-28. "But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did subject unto him all things. 28 And when there shall be subjected unto him all things, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all."

These di homoeotéleuton omissions number about 300 in the New Testament of Codex Sinaiticus. They are not taken seriously as variant readings by the editors of critical editions and in fact are not even mentioned in the notes of the critical editions of currently used translations. But, the sloppy scribal work, as in "The Vinegar Bible" precludes this old manuscript as being characterized as "the best" does it not?

I turn your attention once again to the introductory material in the Sinaiticus facsimile in my library. Kirsopp Lake says there were three groups and even a four groups of correctors that altered the codex. First, there were the "post Caesarean" possibly even those "at the monastery of St. Catherine's on Mt. Sinai." Second, there were "the intermediate correctors, of which certainly the earliest, and possibly all belonged to Caesarea. They are probably no earlier than the fifth nor later than the seventh century." Third, there are the early correctors, all probably "belonging to the forth and certainly no later than the fifth century." Finally, the latest correctors altered the manuscript probably in the twelfth century.

While Codex Sinaiticus may be old (or may not be since it was corrected into the twelfth century), it is obvious that it is corrupt. And yet, Sinaiticus is one of the two key manuscripts that form the basis of modern Bible versions.

Space does not allow me point out the mutilation of Codex Vaticanus (B). Perhaps I will have the opportunity of sharing this with you in another article. But I can tell you this; I use the King James Bible because 99% of all the manuscript evidence supports the Textus Receptus that underlies it.

Finally, I have one suggestion, as I close. If you are not acquainted with the Greek, you can study the alterations and changes that have come into the New Testament by Sinaiticus and Vaticanus through Westcott and Hort by getting "The Doctored New Testament" (BFT #3138 @ $25 + $5 S&H) by D.A. Waite, Jr. It is available from Bible For Today or the Dean Burgon Society (Call 856-854-4452).

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. . . 1 Corinthians 2:9 . . .

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