Biblical Archaeology Review 33:6, November/December 2007

Why Is Sinaiticus Significant?

Codex Sinaiticus, written around the middle of the fourth century A.D., is arguably the earliest extant Christian Bible. It contains the earliest complete copy of the New Testament. Only one other nearly complete manuscript of the Christian Bible—the Codex Vaticanus—is of a similarly early date. The only Christian manuscripts of scripture that are definitely of an earlier date contain relatively small portions of the text.

Three principal aspects of the codex contribute to its great significance: its roles as text, canon and book.

Codex Sinaiticus represents one of the most important witnesses to the Greek text of the Septuagint and the New Testament.a It is customarily given primacy of position in the lists of surviving manuscripts consulted for establishing the oldest text of these two traditions and is usually represented as “ℵ“ or ”01” for the New Testament. The Codex Sinaiticus is relevant not only for the history of the text of the Septuagint and New Testament, but also for the history of many layers of later revisions to the text made by generations of correctors. These range in date from those made by the original scribes of the codex in the fourth century to those made by much later correctors in the 12th century, and in extent from the alteration of one letter to the insertion of whole sentences. No other early manuscript of the Christian Bible has been so extensively corrected. A better understanding of the base text of the codex alongside its subsequent corrections will provide us with a unique insight into the history of transmission of Greek Biblical texts.

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