Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The world's oldest known Bible?

BBC don't often get into matters of textual criticism but here is their rather lame attempt at describing Codex Sinaiticus. There are various factual errors in this article, which are identified here by Dirk Jongkind. The most serious error is surely the description of it as the "world's oldest surviving Bible". It can only be described as such in that it contains in one place the New Testament text. It does not, however, contain it all. There are many serious omissions - the crucial verses of the end of Mark's Gospel are missing from this manuscript. It is not a complete Bible. We also have the huge problem that Vaticanus and Sinaiticus (the two preferred manuscripts) disagree with each other (and this is not counting simple errors such as spelling) more than 34 times per chapter in the gospels. In the prison epistles they disagree more times than they agree. Sinaiticus also contains books that noone thinks are part of the canon, the Shepherd of Hermas and the Epistle of Barnabas. There is no way to know whether the manuscript originally ended with Hermas or contained other works. These scribes were far astray in their view of what was Scripture. Why should we trust it? The textual critic Kirsopp Lake states.

"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). The man who discovered it, Tischendorf said that he "counted 14,800 alterations and corrections in Sinaiticus." It was corrected into the twelfth century, so how do we know which is original and old in the manuscript?

The BBC article shows how the unbelieving approach to textual criticism that prefers the critical text and manuscripts such as Sinaiticus engenders unbelief in those such as Bart Ehrman. Maurice Robinson is right to say of the current state of textual criticism that it is at sea and driving upon the rocks of liberal unbelief without the Byzantine-priority position which identifies the true text as having been preserved by the Byzantine Church rather than in the West. The most consistent Byzantine-priority position is to identify the Textus Receptus as the true text. We ought to remember that Dean Burgon and Edward F Hills have demonstrated that the writings of the Early Fathers and papyri which are far earlier than Sinaiticus witness to the early date of the Byzantine text.
'Current eclectic speculation involves heterodox scribes who are claimed to have preserved a more genuine text than the orthodox, as well as a general uncertainty whether the original text can be recovered, or whether any concept of an "original" text can be maintained. The Byzantine-priority position offers a clear theoretical and practical alternative to the pessimistic suppositions of postmodern eclectic subjectivity. The various eclectic schools continue to flounder without an underlying history of transmission to explain and anchor the hypothetically "best attainable" NT text which they have constructed out of bits and pieces of scattered readings'.