"Oldest known Bible goes online" the headline says. The article raises some familiar questions about the reliability of the Bible, particularly the New Testament text, as we know it.
Discovered in a monastery in the Sinai desert in Egypt more than 160 years ago, the handwritten Codex Sinaiticus includes two books that are not part of the official New Testament and at least seven books that are not in the Old Testament.
The New Testament books are in a different order, and include numerous handwritten corrections -- some made as much as 800 years after the texts were written, according to scholars who worked on the project of putting the Bible online. The changes range from the alteration of a single letter to the insertion of whole sentences.
And some familiar -- very important -- passages are missing, including verses dealing with the resurrection of Jesus, they said.
Juan Garces, the British Library project curator, said it should be no surprise that the ancient text is not quite the same as the modern one, since the Bible has developed and changed over the years.
"The Bible as an inspirational text has a history," he told CNN.
The Codex Sinaiticus dates to the middle of the fourth century. It was discovered in a monastery at Mt. Sinai (thus the name) in the 19th century and other portions were discovered more recently. It's not in one piece and portions are kept in four libraries around the world. The largest portion is at the British Library, which is the text being put online.
There are a couple of things in this article that are somewhat misleading. First, this is a codex, not a Bible. And the terms are not synonyms. A codex is a collection or book of writings. Codex Sinaiticus includes Old and New Testament books, and other writings that weren't considered "Bible" at the time of it's compilation. So Codex Sinaiticus is not a Bible - it's a collection that includes Biblical writings along with other writings.
Second, Codex Sinaiticus has all 27 books of the New Testament that we have today and only two other writings that were understood at the time of the compilation to be disputed. The inclusion of the Epistle of Barnabas and The Shepherd of Hermas doesn't mean this was a different version of the Bible used at the time. F.F. Bruce points out in his book on the Biblical canon that writings other than those that were considered authoritative were used for additional readings by church bodies for the insight and benefit they offered, devotional-type readings. Collections of what was read were made sometimes for convenience. So simply because this volume includes Biblical books doesn't necessarily mean that the people who compiled the codex or collection considered everything in it "Bible" or on par with the authoritative writings it does include.
Third, there was much more agreement than disagreement about the books of the Bible that were to be considered "canon." Juan Garces says in this article that "the Bible has developed and changed over the years." There is some truth to this, but that statement is easily misleading because there really hasn't been that much change or development, and the little there was was resolved quite early on. Though there was some debate in the first couple of centuries, there was primarily agreement on the books that were authoritative. These were the writings that could be traced to an Apostle of Jesus, the people who had learned directly from Jesus (this includes Paul), or could be traced to eyewitnesses (Luke). There was some minor disagreement about other books, but the New Testament books included today were agreed upon by the middle of the 4th century.
Emperor Constantine asked Eusebius in AD 330 to prepare 50 copies of the New Testament, and the volumes he compiled were the 27 books of the New Testament we have today and the five catholic epistles, which he noted were still disputed. By the time Codex Sinaiticus was compiled around the same time, the New Testament was upon with little more disagreement. So the Bible didn't develop much after the first couple of centuries and was fairly well settled by the time of Codex Sinaiticus.
Fourth, Codex Sinaiticus has some passages that are different or missing. This isn't surprising or problematic for the reliability of the text we have today. Scribes copied these collections by hand and were known to make mistakes. In fact, the text of this codex has markings of later corrections. But the good news is that we don't have to rely on one copy of the New Testament to determine what the text was or check the accuracy of the text. If we did, then were would be left to wonder about scribal mistakes. Codex Sinaitucs is only the earliest known complete collection of the New Testament, it's by no means the earliest manuscript evidence we have for the New Testament text. We have literally thousands of pieces of manuscripts of the New Testament and even more quotations of the the New Testament in the writings of the church fathers to compare and arrive at a very reliable text. Greg describes the process here: Is the New Testament Text Reliable?
So Codex Sinaiticus is a significant text, but it doesn't at all call into question the authority and reliability of the Bible. It's not one copy that tells the story of the Bible, it's the multitude of copies and pieces that can be examined. The canon of Scripture was agreed upon very early, prior to Codex Sinanticus. And the manuscript evidence we have gives us great confidence in the accuracy of the text.
You may also want to read Greg's article No "Lost" Books of the Bible.