From what I understand, these are the best codices available.

  1. Codex Sinaiticus
  2. Codex Vaticanus
  3. Codex Alexandrinus
  4. Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus.

Codex Sinaiticus is considered the only complete New Testament which was commissioned by Emperor Constantine still existing today.

Should we accept this codex as the source of truth for the New Testament? Who knows if this codex might be the most original Greek New Testament?

  • Who is "we" that "should accept"? No one can tell you what to accept as the source of truth unless you belong to a cult. – Ruminator Sep 10 '18 at 14:32

To answer your first question, we should not simply accept Sinaiticus as "the source of the truth for the New Testament". It has great weight in debates from its age, but age is not the final arbiter in textual considerations.

Codex Sinaiticus was made in the 4th century on parchment using capital letters (a manuscript in all capitals is called an "uncial"). It was discovered in the 19th century, surpassing Vaticanus as the most complete manuscript. Codex Sinaiticus is considered by most textual scholars of the New Testament to be the best complete manuscript. It and Vaticanus are hypothesized to be part of Emperor Constantine's project, though this has never been conclusively proven either way.

It should be understood that "complete manuscript" when used by a textual critic does not necessarily mean 100% of it has survived. "Complete" is a technical term meaning that the manuscript has the beginning and end of the book in question. For example, a "complete copy of John" would be required to have John 1:1 and John 21:25 and substantial portions of those verses between.

Originally, Sinaiticus had the entire, Greek Old Testament (the Septuagint) as well as the complete New Testament. Only half of the Old Testament has survived, but the New Testament is complete in that all books are represented while only a few passages and verses are missing due to pages missing, holes in the pages, or scribal exclusions.

While it is significant that Sinaiticus is the oldest complete manuscript, it is not the oldest manuscript. There are pieces of different books that are much older. P52 (a piece of John's Gospel) has been dated to the first half of the second century based on the style of hand writing (though some argue for a date into the second half of the first century). There are also copies of entire books that are older than Sinaiticus. For example, P46 contains all of Hebrews, Ephesians, Philippians, Galatians, and Colossians, and virtually all of 1 and 2 Corinthians. It is dated between AD 175 and 225. Likeiwse, P66 (from roughly the same time period) contains most of John, but the ending is missing so it is not considered complete.

For the Gospels, Sinaiticus is generally considered among scholars as the second most reliable witness of the text (after Vaticanus); in the Acts of the Apostles, its text is equal to that of Vaticanus; in the Epistles, Sinaiticus is the most reliable witness of the text. In the Book of Revelation, however, its text is corrupted and is considered of poor quality, and inferior to the texts of Codex Alexandrinus, Papyrus 47, and even some minuscule manuscripts in this place (for example, Minuscule 2053, 2062).

However, even in the epistles, where it is considered the most reliable, it is not merely accepted. Textual critics and scholars will compare many manuscripts to determine the most probable original text. By studying the copies and copying styles, they have put together a list of errors that scribes were likely to make and they can compare manuscripts to see which wording is more likely to be original.

You may enjoy this article on textual criticism in action.

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    What is also interesting is Sinaiticus contains the book Epistle of Barnabas which isn't in the canon as it is today. – user1361315 Mar 28 '14 at 15:05
  • Frank - It is misleading to suggest that "scholars will ... determine the original text." This is absolute rubbish - and not remotely possible. They do try to compile what they believe is the most probable autograph. It was a little offensive when you began by saying that "we should not simply accept Sinaiticus as the source of the truth" - when in fact there are no manuscripts that can be relied upon in this way. Presumably - that is what an actual relationship with God is for, and what the original authors expected, (even they did not expect our reliance on these texts). – elika kohen Jul 10 '17 at 3:30

Although Frank has a great answer above, I thought I'd add a couple of things. The question of the proximity of a text to the original depends on a number of factors, age being an important one, but certainly not the only one.

To think about this, it is necessary to think about the process of manuscript manufacture in the early years of the church. Manuscripts were copied meticulously by hand, but like all manual processes they suffered from copying errors. There are basically two types of errors, deliberate copying errors where the copyist chose to write something that was not in his exemplar, and accidental copying errors where the copyist accidentally wrote something different than the exemplar.

Age is actually more a proxy for generational number -- the original was first generation, the copy was the second generation, the copy of the copy the third and so forth. Consequently, since the age of the manuscript approximates the number of times it has been copied, it approximates the generational number, and with each generation there is the possibility of the introduction of errors.

So the value of a manuscript is both dependent on the generational number, and the quality of the copying at each generation.

The age and consequently generational number is determined via a science called paleography, where the style of handwriting and the materials used are used to estimate both its age and its geographical origin. The ingenuity of the people who do this is quite remarkable. I'd definitely recommend learning more about it just to be amazed at what they do.

The two different error modes tend to be determined in two different ways.

Accidental errors are usually categorized into typical and common errors. For example, copying text from a preceding line, or skipping a line, or substituting one word with a similar spelling for another, or substituting Jesus words from one gospel into another. The quality of a manuscript can be pretty readily judged by looking at non consequential errors -- how many unimportant errors did the scribe make as a measure of how many consequential errors did they make.

In terms of deliberate errors, where the scribe "corrected" the text, we are in more trouble. However, this is determined by looking at many different manuscripts, comparing them based on various criteria, and identifying where they are significantly different from the "mainstream."

However, majoritarianism does not win here. For example the majority of Greek texts are classified as Byzantine. Most early English translations came from the critical version of this called Textus Receptus. However, it is not widely regarded as a good reflection or the original because of the two modes of error mentioned above.

If you want to know more about this you absolutely have to read the introduction to Nestle and Aland's Novum Testamentum, which is the best regarded critical Greek text, and is pretty universally used, and/or Bruce Metzger's "A Textual Commentary", or final recommendation Kurt Aland's commentary on his own work The Text of the New Testament

So the answer to the question is simply that Sinacticus is a pretty faithful rendition of the original, but Nestle and Aland is better. Nonehtheless, as I have said here before, everyone who can read Greek absolutely should get his head out of the clean, sanitized version in N&A and look at some of the early texts, such as the beautiful Sinacticus, or Chester Beaty papyruses. It will give you a whole new perspective.

BTW, I did not even address the question of what does "original Greek New Testament" mean. Questions like the originality of John 21, for example, are far from trivial.

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    To give another example of the trickiness of "original", you might say the original version of Matthew is the Gospel of Mark! – Noah Feb 5 '13 at 21:42
  • @NoahSnyder Wow! What is that? Do you really mean it? :) – Mawia Feb 6 '13 at 5:12
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    You're free to believe what you want, but you should be aware that your opinion is incredibly uncommon among Christian scholars going back at least to St. Augustine. – Noah Feb 6 '13 at 5:55
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    @FraserOrr: Literary dependence between the synoptics is in a very different category historically than things like Q or JEDP. The Augustinian hypothesis (Mark used Matthew, Luke used Matthew and Mark) goes back to the 5th century and is the traditional view of the church, while JEDP or Q are modern ideas coming out of higher criticism. – Noah Feb 6 '13 at 16:50
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    In particular, I'd be very surprised to find conservative scholars who think Luke was written in isolation from the other gospels, in light of Luke 1:1-3. – Noah Feb 6 '13 at 17:11

The question of Sinaiticus authenticity toward a wild turn after the manuscript was put online in 2009 by the Codex Sinaiticus Project. It became possible to see that the 1844 Leipzig 43 leaves, about 10% of the parchment, was still a very unusual white parchment, it never yellowed with age. While the 90% of the parchment in London, which had been brought to St. Petersburg in 1859, had a more stained yellow appearance. When this disparity was connected to the specific allegations published in 1863 that Tischendorf (or his allies) had stained the manuscript in the intervening period from 1844 to 1859, you had a rather incredible before and after confirmation of tampering.

This was one of numerous elements that have arisen that has led to the questioning of Sinaiticus "authenticity". Meaning, it may not have been written in the 4th century, there is strong evidence that its production was actually around 1840.

Steven Avery

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A few things you should know:

  1. The 'Critical Text' is a synthetic text that never existed. It is the creation of the critics, which is why they can copyright it.
  2. Sinaiticus as well as the rest of the 'Great Unicials' (alefABCD) are all sterile texts that failed to reproduce themselves (they weren't worthy of copying).
  3. Sinaiticus is especially strange as it would have been a very expensive undertaking yet is is riddled with scribal errors. Who would expend such a large sum of money and yet hire such poor scribes? Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus 'C' is a Palimpsest, meaning it had been erased and recycled. The text of 'C' was quite literally regarded as not worth the paper it was printed on.
  4. Anyone who says they can date an early document such as P52 to 'A.D. 117' doesn't know what they are talking about. These manuscripts are dated by paleography (handwriting analysis) and that is nothing but opinion; plus or minus 50-100 years is more like it. (Sometimes there are other clues that narrow the range.)
  5. The 'Great Uncials' disagree with each other and with the Papyri. To find the truth in a trial you look for the consensus of the majority of reliable witnesses. The texts the critical scholars prefer show neither reliable consensus, nor fidelity of copy.
  6. Older does not mean better. Is a copy of the Constitution made in 1816 more accurate than a copy made in 2016? Accuracy depends on fidelity of transmission, not age. If these oldest manuscripts are in fact representative of the original text then they would be the text the Church reproduced and handed down. These ancient documents only survive because they were not used and were located in very dry climates.
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    Welcome to the site, and thanks for your contribution. If you haven't already, do take the site's tour to get a bit of context for this Q&A model. Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted. – Dɑvïd Dec 31 '16 at 14:04
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    In particular, ##2 and 3 are open to challenge, so could benefit from some evidence or citations to corroborate your claims. I take it in #4 it's the hard date you're unhappy with, as a window in the 1st half of the second C. is a respectable scholarly position on the dating of that ms. And in #6, note too that this site is not American (I take it you mean the "U.S. Constitution"?). Meanwhile, there isn't a lot here that informs readers about Sinaitiucs which is the point. See the textual-criticism tag "wiki" ("learn more..." link) for assumed background to questions like this one. – Dɑvïd Dec 31 '16 at 14:07
  • I agree with this, especially point 4. "Dated to 117" is a completely worthless statement, even from a purely mathematical point of view (significant places....). "Dated to the first half of the second century" is more cautious, but still a hypothesis. – fdb Jan 1 '17 at 1:39
  • Stephen. +1. Just say what you really mean! As opposed to the other objections, you are very right that there is no "scientific method" behind claiming an ability to date a manuscript to a particular year, (even within 50-100 years, based off of hand-writing analysis). Culturally, Jews, etc - went WAY out of their way to copy hand-writing EXACTLY. However, #3 is rubbish. We have no idea what the motivations were behind erasing the text, (that is 100% speculation). And for #5, you are right: there are even significant doctrinal deviations that make it impossible to reconcile differences. – elika kohen Jul 10 '17 at 3:39

I am not a Greek scholar, but I've read that the date of this codex cannot be as ancient as claimed since it contains modern Greek writing (Epistle of Barnabas) and the state of the book itself has not aged as other manuscripts of any significant age. These factors seem to put more weight on it being the writing of Simonides.

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    Very interesting. Please cite your sources for this info. Thanks and welcome to the site. – Ruminator Nov 22 '18 at 4:02

So what do you even mean by "authentic"? Do you mean was it really produced and distributed by the Roman Imperator, Constantine? Or that it is identical to what was penned by the authors of the scriptures? Or that what it included and excluded are authoritative?

The bottom line is that what we call "The Bible" is really a myth. I don't mean that what "Bibles" contain are myths but rather the whole concept of an original "The Bible" is nonsense. Every codex created that claims to be "The Bible" is a lie. All that exists is codices that claim to be "The Bible" but are actually original works. That is, they claim to be translating "The Bible" but if you ask to see what they translated from it turns out not to exist. In reality they fabricate a text from thousands of other texts and synthesize them into something new and then translate that.

But there have been texts that people have accepted as "real Bibles" over the years.

  • the Vulgate. This was a Latin text created by the Roman Church to be the authoritative "Bible" for Catholic purposes. It was intended to be "vulgar" (in the Lingua Franca) but ironically was composed in a dead language and never updated until the last century so is unreadable by anyone but scholars! No other text was permitted to be used in Catholic service. (Can you believe how dumb that is)? So in this case it became the original "The Bible". But it was a Latin text that was an adaptation of an older Latin text because the Greek texts were considered too corrupt to be trusted. Unlike "the Bible" of the authors of the NT, the OT was based on the Hebrew. It also included the "Apocrypha" (texts later rejected by the Protestants).

  • the KJV - esteemed as "The Word of God" for many Protestants. Of course, they excise the "Apocrypha" before approving it as authoritative. The provenance of the source text, however is dubious and includes many readings that do not appear in print until about 1514 so that it has been abandoned by modern translations.

No, every "The Bible" has a saga of transmission. In the modern age "Bibles" are created using scholarship rather than the hope that God preserved a text. God didn't preserve a codex. Instead scholars sift through Eastern and Western versions and use sorta scientific principles to predict what the original author probably said. Beyond that it is all tradition.

So the bottom line is that you are free to claim ANY text as your "The Bible" but people don't agree and that on which people are agreed today (to significant degree) is based on a creative process. So if one wants "simple" then pick a text and run with (as the Catholics and the KJV Only crowd does) or go with the educated guesses of Westcott-Hort but don't imagine you can find an extant codex that will be convincing as 100% original. It does not exist in time and space. What exists are the fabrications, only.

Unique readings, omissions and the like are recorded here.

There is no "The Bible" - only what people choose to keep things simple. All "Bibles" are fabrications based on a variety of texts or evidently corrupted texts.

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  • The moderator has shown up and edited my post, of course. – Ruminator Sep 10 '18 at 15:11
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    If you'd rather me delete it than edit it just let me know. It's quite a stretch to even call this an answer to the question, and it's been getting Not An Answer flags. I didn't validate them in this case and left it here, but this is more tangential polemic than answer. Also, please keep any comments/discussion about the function of the site and/or moderation, voting, or whatever on Biblical Hermeneutics Meta. That stuff does not belong on the main site. – Caleb Sep 10 '18 at 16:02
  • What is a "Not An Answer" flag? – Ruminator Sep 10 '18 at 16:08
  • See the help center, specifically: flag posts and flagging. Ask on meta if you have any further questions. – Caleb Sep 10 '18 at 19:12
  • Okay, I didn't know about that feature. That will be very helpful, thanks. It is interesting that one would flag the moderator that a question is not an answer rather than discussing it with the poster but not many here seem to want to own up to their secret efforts. – Ruminator Sep 10 '18 at 19:21

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