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Reporting The History of Codex Sinaiticus & Asking Questions Does Not Make a Conspiracy

 

 

         A review of our film, Tares Among the Wheat was posted on LogosApologia.org by author, Cris Putnam.  He refers to the thesis of the film as A Conspiracy Without a Goal.   While we are not at all offended by the disagreement, we find a number of considerable problems with his arguments, which we present below.  Mr. Putnam writes that:

“The film is centered on the idea that Codex Sinaticus or ‘Sinai Bible’ was actually created as part of a Vatican conspiracy to undermine biblical inerrancy.”

Actually, the film tells the true story of the discovery of Codex Sinaiticus in 1859 by the German scholar, Constantine von Tischendorf.  Within a year of publishing the first facsimiles, a renowned Greek paleographer named Constantine Simonides came forward and declared that the manuscript was not ancient at all, but a modern work created by him in 1840.  The film documents his writings, as well as those of his opponents, and examines why his story was rejected in the nineteenth century.

 Of course, Tares goes further than this, also showing the relationship of Constantine von Tischendorf with the Vatican, and presents a plausible thesis for why Rome would have been interested in promoting Tischendorf and his great discovery.  Our history includes the fact that Rome developed higher criticism as a weapon of the Counter Reformation and her centuries-old desire to destroy the concept of Biblical inerrancy, which is the foundation of the Protestant doctrine Sola Scriptura.

While we certainly think it’s possible that Rome worked with Tischendorf to alter the manuscript as part of her own agenda, we do not believe it was created for that purpose.  The story is more complex.  It depends largely on the testimony of Simonides, who not only claimed that he had written the codex, but that it was “systematically tampered with” by others.  In the film, we strongly suggest that his claims have never been fully disproven, something acknowledged by renowned scholar, J.A. Farrer in his classic work, Literary Forgeries (1907).

Yet to understand Rome’s motivation, we must recognize that she believes the concept of Scriptural inerrancy is the chief cause of division between herself and all Protestant churches.  In the modern online Catholic Encyclopedia under the heading of ‘Protestantism’ there is the following declaration concerning the teaching of Sola Scriptura (the Bible alone) as the foundation of the Christian faith:

“The belief in the Bible as the sole source of faith is unhistorical, illogical, fatal to the virtue of faith, and destructive of unity.”

Keep in mind the phrase destructive of unity, because this will matter as we go along in our commentary on Putnam’s review.  But first, let us examine the different parts of his objections.  He writes:

 “… I am unconvinced that Codex Sinaiticus is a forgery because the conspiracy is fundamentally incoherent.  There’s no discernable pay off for the conspirators.  The movie did not present any evidence that modern Bibles help Catholic theology in any meaningful way or undermine inerrancy… You would think that if Rome were going to concoct a forgery they might include something about Mary or purgatory but this is not the case.  Where’s the payoff for Rome?”

 

MODERN BIBLES, INERRANCY & THE CAUSE OF ROME

First, the film does not focus on modern Bibles, per se, but rather the discovery of Codex Sinaiticus and the story of Constantine Simonides.  Yes, we understand that the critical text (which undergirds most modern Bibles) is largely based on readings from Sinaiticus, but they are not exclusively based on Sinaiticus.

Second, the purpose of Rome (as we understand it) was not to promote Catholic theology, but rather to destabilize the foundation of the Biblical record by shattering the concept of Biblical inerrancy.  Her reason for doing this was to open the door to ecumenical compromise and the promotion of a one world religious movement.  This is why the film ends showing the Parliament of World Religions in 1893.  This was the beginning of the modern day ecumenical movement, the promotion of the idea that there are many paths to finding God, and that Christianity should be seen as just one religion among many.

In other words, if it could be shown that the Bible is not infallible, and that it was a book written by men who made mistakes -- then an alternative view of God and Christ could be presented.  If men made so many mistakes in the Biblical text, then maybe they were mistaken in thinking that Jesus is the only way to heaven.  If the impression could be given that the Scriptures had undergone an evolutionary process, and therefore should not be taken too literally, then Jesus might be blended in with Buddha, Krishna, Mohammed, etc.  If it could be shown that the Bible has evolved, then it could be argued that our ideas about “God” should evolve also.  That’s the idea.

According to the British Library, Sinaiticus has a total of 23,000 corrections (an average of 30 corrections per page) more than any other manuscript in Biblical history.   It is important to remember that the codex is presented loosely as “the world’s oldest Bible,” and more specifically as the oldest complete copy of the New Testament.   Dr. Scot McKendrick, head of Western manuscripts at the British Library, tells us that:

“This is the ancestor of all the Bibles that everybody else has in the world.” 

In other words, all the other Bibles have as their point of origin a manuscript that is a mass of confusion and contradiction.

Third, while Putnam claims that we presented “no evidence” that shows how the Codex Sinaiticus undermines Biblical inerrancy, we believe he is incorrect. It may be that he missed the following quote from the BBC documentary, The Beauty of Books – Ancient Bibles, the Codex Sinaiticus.  In the narration we are told:

“On closer inspection, the text of the Codex Sinaiticus is littered with revisionsIt is history’s most altered Biblical manuscript, and within those changes lie its real theological secrets…. scholars were surprised to find so many changes.  Many scribes wrote for money.  They wrote quickly which meant they sometimes made errors.  But 23,000 corrections can’t be explained in this way.  There have to be theological reasons too…. If the Biblical text could vary, it couldn’t be the immutable word of God.”

In studying the history of Rome and the Bible, and the confession set forth by the Jesuits in the Middle Ages, it becomes clear that Sinaiticus fulfilled their theory, which was that the Bible is full of errors.  This was the point Rome argued for hundreds of years against the concept of inerrancy.

While we only quote from it briefly in Tares, the BBC documentary goes on to cite a variety of readings, questioning the divinity of Christ, His resurrection, etc.  The documentary is driven by higher critical thinking, and gives the impression that the corrections in Codex Sinaiticus imply that someone inserted the idea of Jesus as the “Son of God” in Mark’s gospel.  Once this kind of argument is accepted, it diminishes the position of Christ to that of an ordinary prophet or wise man, like Confucius, Zoroaster, etc.  At one point, Dr. Scot McKendrick says that the many corrections demonstrate “that the text is being discussed, and is evolving …”

Putnam asked: Where’s the payoff for Rome?

The answer to his question is the ecumenical movement.  The answer could be seen in the ecumenical activities of Billy Graham in the 20th century, joining with Catholic priests and nuns in his crusades, or in the 1994 document Evangelicals and Catholics Together.  With this, it could also be seen in Assisi, Italy in 1986 when Pope John Paul II met with religious leaders from all over the world, with Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, American Indian Shamans, etc.  As he joined hands with them in prayer he told them, “We are all praying to the same God.”  An inerrant Bible that is taken too literally would be destructive of unity between the various “Christian” groups, and the differing religions of the world.  Destroying the concept of Biblical inerrancy opens the door to compromise and apostasy through ecumenism.  As Cardinal William Levada has said:

“Union with the Catholic Church is the goal of ecumenism.”

That’s the payoff for Rome.  Even now, the Vatican works with the United Bible Societies to produce interconfessional Bibles for the cause of ecumenism, and both parties are very open about it.  We would encourage others to go to the Vatican’s official website, and type “United Bible Societies” into the search engine to learn more about this relationship and its ecumenical nature.

 

CRITICAL CONTRADICTIONS & FAULTY REASONING

Putnam asked:

“Why does Dr. James White … find the conspiracy to be ridiculous?”

Chances are, it is because Dr. White knows little about the real history of Constantine Simonides, which is not uncommon among modern academics. Part of the reason we made our film was to inform others of what we consider to be an important and untold history of the Bible in the 19th century.  Our understanding is that Dr. White bases his primary objection on a flawed theory about text-types and manuscript families, as Putnam reveals in this quote below:

“… [White] is aware of the textual critical issues that Pinto is not… the conspiracy is not even possible once you realize what it would necessarily entail. If one bothers to look into textual criticism, you will quickly see that Sinaticus undergirds an entire text type…. the Alexandrian text-type.” (Emphasis added)

Not even possible?  Putnam is clearly uninformed of the many arguments presented by scholars on all sides concerning Alexandrian text-types and text-types in general.  In his review, he copies a series of uncials and minuscules from Wikipedia that are said to represent the alleged Alexandrian text type.  He then concludes:

“So for Pinto’s conspiracy to work not only is Codex Sinaiticus a forgery, it means that all of these papyri which share the same text type were similarly forged and planted in archeological sites around Egypt and middle east. It starts to get prohibitively absurd when you consider the amount of effort and the number of conspirators that would be required.”

 Putnam’s conclusion is like saying that if you purchased a Rolex watch on the streets of New York, and later learned that it was a counterfeit -- then that must mean that all other Rolex watches are counterfeits. The argument makes little sense.  For the record, we nowhere assert that all the other Alexandrian manuscripts or papyri are forged.  The Putnam/White argument has been engineered through faulty reasoning, which we will further demonstrate.

 

ALEXANDRIAN CHARACTER OF CODEX SINAITICUS

Based on the description given by Simonides of the various texts used for his codex, it is very probable that what might be called the Alexandrian character of Codex Sinaiticus comes, at least in part, from the influence of Codex Alexandrinus.  We remind the reader that Simonides claimed that he and his uncle (Benedict) intended the manuscript to be a gift to the Czar of Russia.  In a letter written to his friend, Charles Stewart in 1860, Simonides described the manuscripts that were chosen by Benedict as the textual basis for the codex:

“… the learned Benedict taking in his hands a copy of the Moscow edition of the Old and New Testament … collated it … with three only of the ancient copies, which he had long before annotated and corrected for another purpose and cleared their text by this collation from remarkable clerical errors, and again collated them with the edition of the Codex Alexandrinus, printed with uncial letters, and still further with another very old Syriac Codex …” (Letter of C. Simonides to Mr. Charles Stewart, as published in the Guardian, August 26, 1863, see Elliott, pp. 54-56*)

So, according to Simonides’ own testimony, Alexandrinus was one of the manuscripts used for the foundation of the text; hence, this could explain why Codex Sinaiticus is said to be comparable to Alexandrinus in the Old Testament and Pauline epistles.  Furthermore, based on the description of how Benedict used Alexandrinus alongside the Moscow Bible, and then employed three unnamed “ancient copies,” which he himself had “annotated and corrected” the result would be a very unique series of readings, unlike any other manuscript -- which is exactly what is found in the Codex Sinaiticus.  It is further possible that the three unnamed manuscripts were also of Alexandrian character, yet on this point we can only speculate.

 

ALEXANDRIAN TEXT-TYPE?

The theory that certain manuscripts come from an “Alexandrian” family was well established by the late 18th century, more than half a century before Codex Sinaiticus was fully discovered in 1859.  Hence, the argument that the Alexandrian grouping somehow depends on Sinaiticus is untenable.

Even more important is the completely flawed nature of the text-type argument to begin with.  It was something employed by Westcott and Hort in the 19th century as a manipulative device that would allow them to justify using minority manuscripts in place of the greater body of manuscript evidence (i.e. the Majority Text).  But the text-type family argument has long since been refuted by the leading textual critics in the world, as shown by the following quotes:

“We have reconstructed text-types and families and sub-families and in so doing have created things that never before existed on earth or in heaven.” (M.M. Parvis)

“It is still customary to divide manuscripts into the four well-known families: the Alexandrian, the Caesarean, the Western and the Byzantine.  This classical division can no longer be maintained…. If any progress is to be expected in textual criticism we have to get rid of the division into local texts.” (A.F.J. Klijn)

“Was there a fundamental flaw in the previous investigation which tolerated so erroneous a grouping?  Evidently there was…. Those few men who have done extensive collations of manuscripts, or paid attention to those done by others, as a rule have not accepted such erroneous groupings.” (Bruce Metzger)

“The whole question of families and recensions is thus brought prominently before the eye, and with space one could largely comment upon the deeply interesting combinations which thus present themselves to the critic…. let us … not imagine that we have successfully laid certain immutable foundation stones, and can safely continue to build thereon.  It is not so, and much, if not all, of these foundations must be demolished.” (H.C. Hoskier)

In other words, the whole concept of manuscript families (which forms the core of the Putnam/White argument) has been virtually abandoned by the leading textual critics in the field.  Why?  Because when these alleged text-types or “families” are compared, they have so many differences that they simply cannot be grouped together in any logical manner.  It is also worth noting that the above-mentioned scholars are not “King James Only” advocates by any means, quite the contrary.

Dr. Jack Moorman, after examining the arguments of the leading critics, openly refuted the Alexandrian text-type, in particular, saying:

“The [Alexandrian] text is an artificial entity that never existed.” (Moorman, “Forever Settled: A Survey of the Documents and History of the Bible,” p. 73)

If Cris Putnam had realized this, he might not have written his review.

Codex Sinaiticus is said to be part of this alleged Alexandrian family with Codex Vaticanus – yet these two manuscripts differ in more than 3,000 places in the four gospels alone.  These are not a unified family, but rivals in sharp disagreement with each other.  Dr. Moorman argues that there is really only one family of manuscripts:

“With some 85% or more of the 5000 extant MSS falling into the category of the Received Text, there is in fact only one textual family – the Received.  All that remains is so contradictory, so confused, so mixed, that not by the furthest stretch of the imagination can they be considered several families of MSS.” (Moorman, “Forever Settled,” p. 71) 

 

THE CRITICS & BIBLICAL INERRANCY

Putnam ends his review with the following remarkable statement: “… it seems to me that the modern scholars have done inerrancy a huge favor.”

A huge favor?  By ignoring the greater body of textual evidence, and in its place, promoting a small collection of manuscripts considered to be “confused” and “contradictory” with tens of thousands of differences between them?  Yet telling the modern world that these represent the “oldest and most reliable” manuscripts?  This was a favor for inerrancy?  The reality is that such illogical argumentation is the reason why so many souls have turned away from the Bible, and no longer believe it is the authoritative Word of God.

 

A NOTE ON DR. DANIEL WALLACE

Finally, the review mentioned a presentation given by Dr. Daniel Wallace of Dallas Theological Seminary, which is said to prove that the claims of Constantine Simonides cannot be true.  Several of our listeners have also mentioned this video.  Because of this, in an upcoming article, we will break down the arguments of Dr. Wallace, and show why we disagree.

 

* Codex Sinaiticus & the Simonides Affair, by J.K. Elliott, (Edited by Panayotis C. Christou, Patriarchal Institute for Patristic Studies,, Thessaloniki, 1982)