Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus - The Oldest Christian Bibles in the World

Above: One of the two bound volumes of the Codex Sinaiticus in The British Library.

Codices A and B, known respectively as Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus are the two most important extant manuscripts of the entire Bible.

The term “manuscript” refers to those copies of the Bible that were made in the same language in which it was originally written. An "extant" manuscript is one that is still existing, not destroyed or lost.

A codex is manuscript pages held together by stitching. This is the earliest form of book, which replaced the scrolls and wax tablets of earlier times.

Codex Sinaiticus

One of the earliest manuscripts of the Christian Bible (c. 340 BCE), Codex Sinaiticus was discovered in 1844 by the German biblical professor, Constantin von Tischendorf. It was found at the monastery of St. Catherine at Mt. Sinai.

The name literally means 'the Sinai Book'. The only manuscripts of the Christian Bible that are of an earlier date than the Sinaiticus contain small portions of the text of the Bible, such as the Rylands fragment from St. John's gospel.

Written in Greek, the Sinaiticus contains part of the Septuagint (Greek) translation of the Old Testament, all of the New Testament, and some apocryphal literature.

The manuscript was copied by more than one scribe. Tischendorf identified four, but subsequent research decided that there were three.

Each of the three scribes has a distinctive way of writing which can be identified. Each also had a distinctive way of spelling many sounds, particularly vowels which scribes often wrote phonetically.

In 1869, the manuscript was deposited in the Imperial Library at St. Petersburg. In 1933 the principal surviving portion of Codex Sinaiticus, comprising 347 leaves, was sold by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) sold to the British Museum in London for £100,000.

In 1975, the monks at Saint Catherine’s Monastery discovered a further twelve leaves and forty fragments in the northern wall of the monastery.

When I served as a Bible college president in England, the highlight for our first-year students was our annual field trip to the British Library to see important biblical artifacts, including the Sinaiticus.

The British Library, together with St. Catherine's Monastery, Leipzig University Library, and the National Library of Russia is a participant in the Codex Sinaiticus Project. The Project is engaged in historical research, conservation, digitization, transcription, and dissemination of the Codex.

Codex Vaticanus

Only one other nearly complete manuscript of the Christian Bible, Codex Vaticanus, is of a similarly early date.

The Vaticanus dates from between AD 325 and 350. Written in Greek on 759 vellum leaves, it contains the Septuagint, some of the Apocrypha and most of the New Testament. As the name suggests, this manuscript is now in the Vatican Library in Rome where it was first cataloged in 1481.

The Vaticanus is considered to contain the most exact copy of the New Testament known. It is interesting to note that it does not contain the Mark 16:9-20, but the scribe left more than a column blank at this place as though he knew of these verses, but was undecided whether to include them or not.

Scholars agree that the Vaticanus is one of the best manuscripts of the Bible in Greek. Almost every present edition of the Greek New Testament is based on the text of the Vaticanus.

Return from Codex Sinaiticus to Who Wrote the Bible.

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