Our Oldest Bible: The Codex Sinaiticus

Christians have long relied on scribes’ copies of Biblical texts; J. K. Elliot describes how the Codex Sinaiticus, discovered in 1844, dates from the fourth century.

The recently published ‘Good News Bible’ is yet another attempt to translate the Christian scriptures into modern English. Some translations of the Bible stand out as milestones, such as the Authorized Version of King James, the Revised Version of 1881 and the Revised Standard Version of 1947.

To most readers the Authorized Version is The Bible. Others prefer the contemporary idiom of the New English Bible and the Jerusalem Bible. Whether the ‘Good News Bible’ will prove to be another milestone remains to be seen.

The multifarious versions of the scriptures on the market show that no one translation is perfect. The original language of the Old Testament was, for the most part, Hebrew. The New Testament was written entirely in Greek. Biblical scholars, however, are concerned not only with the rendering of these languages into modem English, but also with the reliability of the ancient manuscripts in Hebrew and Greek.

The main problem is that we unfortunately do not possess the original documents. That is to say, the actual copy of Luke’s Gospel in Luke’s own handwriting is no longer in existence. Similarly, we possess no example of the letters of Paul. The same is true for the rest of the Bible.

All we can work from are the copies scribes made from these original documents. Fortunately - unlike some Classical works of literature - the Bible was copied regularly until the invention of printing, and many thousands of manuscripts have survived. So far as the New Testament is concerned, over 5,000 manuscripts containing all or part of the New Testament in Greek are known to be in existence today.

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