Session 5: How Important Is Sinaticus, and What Difference Does It Make?
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When examining the textual evidence related to Codex Sinaiticus, it is helpful to understand the symbols and abbreviations used by scholars. In the field of textual criticism, Greek and Hebrew letters are used to designate important biblical manuscripts. א (aleph) refers to Codex Sinaiticus, indicating its status as the first major manuscript. The letter A indicates Codex Alexandrinus, B is Codex Vaticanus, and D is Codex Bezae. Papyrus fragments are also denoted using numbers, such as P75 and P66.
By comparing these manuscript symbols, scholars can concisely summarize textual evidence. For example, “א and B agree” means Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus share a particular reading. If “P75 disagrees with א,” it indicates a divergence between the papyrus and Codex Sinaiticus.
As we examine the textual impact of Codex Sinaiticus and claims regarding its origins, these shorthand references will allow us to succinctly survey its relationship to other key manuscripts.
Codex Sinaiticus As The Source Text for Modern Translations
Where would “The Bible” be without א?
The Codex Sinaiticus, long considered a reliable 4th-century manuscript of the Greek Bible, faces challenges to its authenticity. Evidence points to it being a 19th-century forgery crafted by Constantine Simonides, a known producer of fake biblical texts. Simonides himself admitted to the forgery, describing it as "the one poor work of my youth." German scholar Constantin von Tischendorf, motivated by academic ambition, discovered the manuscript at St. Catherine's Monastery and presented it as an ancient artifact. Due to Tischendorf's standing, the academic community accepted this claim without critical examination. The numerous textual anomalies in the Codex Sinaiticus have forced scholars into complicated explanations, although evidence leans toward confirming Simonides' admission that the codex is a scam.
Sadly, nearly every modern Bible has relied heavily on this fabricated text, unwittingly propagating its omissions and errors. Entire passages have been excluded based solely on the falsified testimony of א. Only when we finally reject the deceptions of Simonides and Tischendorf can we reclaim an accurate biblical text free of corrupted variations.
The story of Jesus and the adulterous woman in John 7:53-8:11, a narrative cherished by many for its themes of grace, judgment, and hypocrisy, is notably absent in the Codex Sinaiticus. Most other Greek manuscripts include this story, sometimes with annotations encouraging closer scrutiny. The Codex also omits the endings of Mark, Luke, and John, along with various other passages. Dr. Jim Hamilton, a significant figure in biblical theology and a professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, argues that such passages should be relegated to footnotes in modern Bible translations. According to him, "Mark 16:9–20 was not written by Mark, and John 7:53–8:11 was not written by John. Those passages do not belong in the text and should not be preached from pulpits." He further states that misinterpretations stemming from these passages are harmful, such as the notion of snake-handling as a biblical mandate. Therefore, these texts should be set apart as footnotes rather than presented as canonical Scripture.
Here is what modern version do with John 7:53-8:11:
· NASB95: Later mss add the story of the adulterous woman, numbering it as John 7:53–8:11.
· ESV: [The earliest manuscripts do not include 7:53–8:11.]
· NIV: Depending on the print edition, many copies of the NIV ommit the text and contain only a footnote reading, “[The earliest manuscripts and many other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53–8:11. A few manuscripts include these verses, wholly or in part, after John 7:36, John 21:25, Luke 21:38 or Luke 24:53.]”
· The NET Bible, a textual criticism resource and translation, says,
This entire section, 7:53–8:11, traditionally known as the pericope adulterae, is not contained in the earliest and best mss and was almost certainly not an original part of the Gospel of John. Among modern commentators and textual critics, it is a foregone conclusion that the section is not original but represents a later addition to the text of the Gospel. B. M. Metzger summarizes: “the evidence for the non-Johannine origin of the pericope of the adulteress is overwhelming” (TCGNT 187). External evidence is as follows. For the omission of 7:53–8:11: 𝔓66, 75 א B L N T W Δ Θ Ψ 0141 0211 33 565 1241.
The “Oldest And Best” Assumption
Proponents of Codex Sinaiticus (א) argue that its 4th-century origin makes it one of the earliest complete manuscripts of the Greek Bible, thereby providing a critical benchmark for textual criticism. They highlight its comprehensive scope, containing both the Septuagint and the entire New Testament, and commend its relative reliability in transcription. Advocates contend that its unique readings offer valuable insights into the earliest forms of biblical texts.
However, this consensus faces challenges on multiple fronts. One possibility is that Sinaiticus is not an ancient document but a 19th-century forgery, undermining its utility for reconstructing the original biblical writings. Alternatively, even if it's genuinely old, its quality and accuracy may be inferior, meaning the textual variations it presents could be errors rather than authentic readings. If either of these scenarios were confirmed, the textual authority currently ascribed to א would necessitate a significant revision.
This would have implications for modern Bible translations that rely heavily on Sinaiticus, potentially leading to a shift in efforts to reconstruct the earliest biblical texts. Such a reconsideration could be groundbreaking for the field of textual criticism and could usher in new perspectives on the development and transmission of Scripture. Given that fringe opinions have occasionally been vindicated by later evidence, a reassessment of Sinaiticus' standing could be revolutionary.
Watch Christianity Unravel
Step 1: Omission of Key Verses in Mark's Gospel
Codex Sinaiticus is notable for omitting Mark 16:9-20, which detail the resurrection of Jesus. This is crucial as, according to these omitted verses, the Gospel of Mark would end with Jesus' death and the women fleeing the tomb in fear, thus removing the resurrection account from this Gospel. Marilyn Mellowes, on NPR, supports this, stating that the resurrection ending “was added by a later author.”
Step 2: Prioritizing the Gospel of Mark
Scholars like Westcott and Hort, who have been influential in textual criticism, often contend that Mark was the first Gospel written. Subsequent Gospel writers, Matthew and Luke, are said to have drawn upon Mark. This claim is widely accepted, as seen in Wikipedia’s article on the Gospel of Matthew, which states, “The majority of scholars believe that Mark was the first gospel to be composed.”
Step 3: Casting Doubt on Other Resurrection Accounts
By promoting the idea that Mark wrote first and that Matthew and Luke derived from his Gospel, scholars can more easily argue that the resurrection accounts in these later Gospels were added to embellish the story. This methodology can serve the agenda of proponents of German Rationalism, who may seek to undermine the resurrection narrative.
Step 4: Questioning the Divine Inspiration of the Gospels
The "Mark wrote first" doctrine raises questions about divine inspiration. It suggests that later Gospel writers may have been copying or modifying Mark’s Gospel rather than receiving divine revelation. Ethelbert W. Bullinger criticizes this approach, emphasizing that the Gospels were given “from above.”
Step 5: Speculating on the Reason for the Omission
Some commentators, like Erin Vroom from The Bible Project, suggest that the emphasis of Mark’s Gospel could be on a spiritual, rather than a physical, resurrection. Such interpretations can further contribute to questioning the literal resurrection of Jesus.
Step 6: The Erosion of Biblical Authority
The cumulative effect of these steps could be to undermine the concept of the resurrection, as well as the authority of Scripture itself. The omission of key texts like Mark 16:9-20 could serve to deconstruct Christian belief systems, providing rationalists a seeming "biblical" authority to dismiss revelation and foundational tenets of Christianity.
The Sinai Way
Adopting the Codex Sinaiticus and the textual criticism methods that follow implicitly challenges the belief that God has preserved His Word, and suggests that scholarly revision is necessary. This notion conflicts with the idea of divine preservation and inerrancy. The approach championed by Tischendorf gives scholars the authority to decide what constitutes an error in the text, raising questions about who should hold such authority.
Before the advent of German Rationalism and Tischendorf, discrepancies in the Gospel accounts were typically harmonized, emphasizing a unity in the varied perspectives. The rise of Rationalism and Textual Criticism shifted this approach, giving textual critics the authority to decide which passages are original and which are later additions, based on their own criteria of manuscript evidence. This shift deemphasizes the earlier focus on harmonization of Gospel accounts and raises concerns about the erosion of the Scripture's authority and integrity.
A Choice: Textus Receptus or Codex Sinaiticus?
The dilemma that confronts the serious student of Scripture is one of stark contrast, framed by competing viewpoints that have reverberated throughout the ages: Will you, as Paul urged Timothy, "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15, KJV)? The crux of the matter lies in what one considers to be "the word of truth."
Majority Texts Versus Minority Fragments
On one hand, we have the Textus Receptus, supported by a large number of manuscripts and broadly recognized by the early church. It forms the basis for the King James Version and its readings resonate with verses like Psalm 12:6-7, which declares, "The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Thou shalt keep them, O Lord, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.”
On the other hand, there are the minority texts, like the Codex Sinaiticus, that often diverge from the majority text. These texts seem to resonate with Jeremiah 8:8, which warns, "How do ye say, We are wise, and the law of the Lord is with us? Lo, certainly in vain made he it; the pen of the scribes is in vain.”
The Codex Sinaiticus as a "New Bible"
The discovery of the Codex Sinaiticus by Constantin von Tischendorf was groundbreaking but also controversial. It introduced a "new Bible." Tischendorf was an ardent textual critic, whose findings brought into question not just specific verses but also the very ethos surrounding Biblical inerrancy and preservation. For instance, Tischendorf's endorsement of the Sinaiticus led him to question the authenticity of long-accepted passages like Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53-8:11. These omissions directly impact our understanding of Christ's post-resurrection appearances and the story of the woman taken in adultery, respectively.
Theological Underpinnings: Which Bible Will You Choose?
The implications for our view of Scripture are far-reaching. If we opt for the majority texts, we stand with centuries of believers who echo the assurance given in Isaiah 40:8: “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.” Here, a strong conviction in the lasting preservation and inerrancy of the Scriptures is reinforced.
Conversely, accepting the authority of minority texts such as the Sinaiticus seems to give credence to human agency, fallibility, and scholarly intervention in the transmission of the Biblical text. It raises significant questions about our understanding of scriptural authority and whether it has indeed been "kept pure in all ages" as various confessions have affirmed.
In conclusion, we each need to answer the question: Which Bible will you choose? Your decision will not only impact your interpretation of the text, but also your underlying theology and the way you interact with centuries of Judeo-Christian tradition. This is a decision that should not be taken lightly, but rather made with careful and prayerful consideration.