I have been studying Codex Sinaiticus and there is a very consistent pattern of spelling some verb endings with -αι instead of an expected -ε (as is also given in modern printed texts):

  • Luke 30:30 ἵνα ἔσθητε καὶ πίνητε (πίνω present active subj. 2nd person plural)

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  • Luke 22:35 ...ὑποδημάτων, μή τινος ὑστερήσατε (ὑστερέω aorist active 2nd singular)

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  • Luke 22:40 ...γενόμενος δὲ ἐπὶ τοῦ τόπου εἶπεν αὐτοῖς· προσεύχεσθε (προσεύχομαι present middle, 2nd plural)

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  • Luke 22:42 ...λέγων· Πάτερ, εἰ βούλει παρένεγκε (παραφέρω aorist active, 2nd singular)

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In each of these cases Sinacticus' scribe spells the verb with an -αι instead of -ε.

Does anyone know why this is? This is a VERY old MSS, so is it a reflection of an earlier or regional grammatical difference? It is consistent enough that it doesn't seem likely to be an error.

Would appreciate it if anyone knew the history of this.

  • 1
    These ancient MSS (there are many, including the LXX group) used far from uniform spelling. This is a good set of examples. See, for example, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Codex_Sinaiticus
    – Dottard
    Commented Jun 24, 2023 at 5:36
  • It must be borne in mind that Sinaiticus (and Vaticanus) were both part of a Coptic recension (an attempt to get back to the original autographs). See Hermon Hoskier Codex B and its Allies.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jun 24, 2023 at 6:55

1 Answer 1


The papyri and all of the great uncials have these sorts of patterns. And they switch between them with equal ease (i.e. the example on the right switches with the example on the left, & vice versa):

  • ⲁⲓ = ⲉ
  • ⲓ = ⲉⲓ
  • ⲉⲓ = ⲏ
  • ⲓ = ⲩ
  • ⲟⲓ = ⲩ

The first three examples are most prevalent.

The fact of the matter is that the standard spelling we have today in our UBS/NA text is different than the standard spelling of the early manuscripts. And the Tyndale GNT has put in much good effort recognizing this fact and then trying to implement it. Here's the explanation from their preface:


For spelling we have particularly relied on manuscripts from the fifth century and earlier, finding that such manuscripts frequently display different arrays of spelling from the later ones. These manuscripts contain much spelling variation that may appear random, but within the variation some patterns are detectable and at times manuscript testimony has led us to accept spellings that have not usually been adopted in printed editions. Already in the nineteenth century the editions of Tregelles and of Westcott and Hort were careful to follow early manuscripts in matters of spelling. They took such testimony seriously in making decisions such as whether to include the moveable letter nu at the end of many Greek words, or whether to assimilate to the following letter the final nu in συν- compounds. These early editions often departed from conventions that have governed the spelling of Greek since before the advent of printing. However, subsequent editors have tended to pay less attention to these questions or to regard them as decisions that modern editors may make without reference to manuscript evidence. This approach is regrettable since many of these spellings, some of which editors view as non-standard, are now far better attested than they were in the nineteenth century. It might be objected that the spelling of the authors (or amanuenses, or first compilers) is not recoverable and that readers should not therefore be distracted by the presentation of the spelling inconsistencies that inevitably occur when editors follow the earlier manuscripts in such matters. However, the spelling presented here is at least that which is most widely documented closest in time to the authors, and there is no reason to believe the authors would have been unlikely to use these spellings. In many cases, and in light of a consideration of the scribal tendencies of the relevant witnesses, we have accepted epsilon-iota (ει) as a representation of etymological ı̄, where readers of printed Greek will be used to iota (ι). Whether or not these spellings go back to the first documents, they are often widely attested in the earliest manuscripts transmitted to us. Even though these forms are not found evenly distributed throughout the books of the New Testament, there is enough evidence to suggest that they were conventional spellings. We have decided to print:

γείνομαι ‘become’ in Mark; Luke; John 3:23; 6:19; and Romans–Colossians

γεινώσκω ‘know’ in Mark; Luke; John 10:14–14:17; and 1 Corinthians–Philippians

κλειν ‘incline’: εκκλειν* in Romans 3:12; 16:17; κλείνη everywhere, except Revelation; κλεινίδιον in Luke 5:19, 24; κλείνω in Matthew, Luke, and John, but not Hebrews

μεισέω ‘hate’ in Mark, Luke, and Paul, but not Hebrews

κειν ‘move’ everywhere, except Revelation

χειλ ‘thousand’ in Mark and Luke

We have noted the habitual use in Codex Vaticanus, B(03), of ει for what is etymologically ı̄ in Greek, Latin, and Semitic forms and its ability to distinguish alternating long and short vowels by switching between ει and ι in such sequences as μη κρει̅νετε ινα μη κρῐθητε εν ω γαρ κρῐματι κρει̅νετε κρῐθησεσθε (Matthew 7:1–2; see also 1 Corinthians 5:12–6:7). For the verb κρίνω and its cognate nouns B represents over 93 percent of clear examples of etymological ı̄ by ει, while completely avoiding representing etymological ı̆ by ει (over 309 cases). Similar levels of correlation occur for other lexemes. Nevertheless, in this tendency B is sometimes completely isolated, while at other times it is well supported by early witnesses, which themselves show less thoroughgoing tendencies to represent ı̄ by ει. We have therefore concluded that these instances of ει in B should be interpreted as partly an innovation in B or its forebears and partly as a preservation from a much earlier tradition. We believe that early Greek New Testament manuscripts contain patterns of evidence demonstrating a partially preserved distinction between ı̆ and ı̄, which challenges the widespread belief that such distinctions had been entirely lost by the first centuries of our era. Though these spellings with ει for ı̄ appear non-conventional to us and are also non-Classical, there is no reason to believe that they were not regarded as legitimate in Koine scribal contexts of the first and second centuries AD. Before accepting such spellings we have required them to be well attested in manuscripts of the fifth century or earlier, by which we mean in a minimum of two manuscripts in each occurrence, as well as showing a wider attestation, such as a preponderance in certain forms or extended contexts. Thus a spelling merely supported by B plus another early manuscript in a particular case would only be adopted if the spelling were also more strongly attested in other passages. On the one hand, γεινεται in Luke 12:54 and 12:55 has the support of all the earlier manuscripts (P45 P75 ℵ A B D W) and γειν* forms dominate the earliest manuscripts throughout the whole of Luke’s Gospel. It was therefore an easy decision for the editors to spell the lexeme this way. On the other hand, in other cases the editors found the choice much more difficult. In some instances we sought a compromise. For example, we have permitted εἱλάσκεσθαι and εἵλεως in the text, but for the cognate nouns have retained ἱλαστήριον or ἱλασμός, since the nouns have less attestation for the ει-spelling than the verb and adjective. In other cases we did not feel we could accept such spellings. For instance, we noted the strength of support for ει for ı̄ in πίνω, σιγάω, and forms of τιμ ‘honour’, but were not sufficiently impressed to accept them generally into the text. If we have had a bias in this matter, it has been towards conventional spellings. Some lexemes with ει for etymological ı̄ were only accepted in Luke: δανείζω, ἐπικρείνω, κλείβανος, λείαν, λειμός, Σειδών, σεινιάζω; for Luke we also allowed the comparatives ἐντειμότερος and μεικρότερος. In a number of lexemes our spelling in Luke has been different from that of Acts, a result which may well reflect more about the manuscripts that have survived than about the compositional form of these texts. It is, of course, our primary intention as editors to present the earliest text we can within our documentary constraints rather than to make specific claims about the pronunciation of Greek at the time of the authors. It could, moreover, be said that the modern habit of printing the New Testament in a form in which the spelling is almost entirely uniform gives a misleading historical impression, and that the forms seen as standard are sometimes regarded thus only because, since the Renaissance, Greek spelling has been taught on the basis of orthography that predominated during the late Middle Ages. The received spellings of words that now dominate our dictionaries and grammars thus may not be the same as what ancient grammarians or scribes accepted, recommended, or used. At this stage we have not represented in our text the use of nomina sacra. Although for some words (θεός, Ἰησοῦς, κύριος, χριστός) nomina sacra are almost universal, for others (e.g., πατήρ, πνεῦμα, υἱός, Ἱερουσαλήμ) attestation is less consistent and it would be against our documentary principles to impose uniformity in a global way. The forms could therefore only be introduced after a great deal more research than time allowed. It would be a desideratum for future editions to contain information on these. In order to optimize readability we have naturally used lower case in contrast to the majuscule script of the early manuscripts. However, to avoid differentiation not present in these manuscripts, we have also sought to minimize differentiation between upper and lower case, only using upper case where not to do so would be a particular stumbling block to readers, as with proper names and openings of paragraphs. We took the decision not to capitalize χριστός, though we recognize that it may sometimes be a proper noun. As editors we preferred not to make a decision in print and our use of lower case should not be read as precluding proper noun status. Iota subscripts are contained in a small proportion of later minuscules, and their presence other than to mark the dative or show connections between different lexical forms does little to aid readers. Even in many cases where iota subscript is etymologically justified, its representation even in manuscripts containing iota subscript is poor. We have therefore taken the step of removing many subscripts, including all non-dative subscripts in nouns, believing there to be no loss involved in this, and indeed some modest pedagogical gain.

<Dirk Jongkind et al., eds. The Greek New Testament. Accordance electronic ed. (Wheaton and Cambridge: Crossway and Cambridge Univerity Press, 2017), paragraph 1597.>

  • Thanks for an interesting answer and the long quotation. I'd like to look at the original source of the quote but I don't really understand the citation. Is this a book or some other medium? I'm not sure I know what "Accordance electronic ed." means.
    – Fraser Orr
    Commented Jun 24, 2023 at 16:08
  • 1
    This is the greek text: thegreeknewtestament.com. And the quotation is contained in the preface. Accordance is the electronic version of the greek text that I have on my computer.
    – Epimanes
    Commented Jun 24, 2023 at 16:48

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