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Christian Belief



The Greek Text. 

The earliest MS of the complete Old Testament belongs only to the first decade of the eleventh century. In addition there is a MS of the Prophets dated A.D.9l6, of the Pentateuch in the ninth century and another of the Prophets at the very end of the ninth century. New Testament MSS go right back to the third century. The reason for this lack of earlier MSS is the almost superstitious veneration with which the Rabbis regarded the Scriptures.

When they became old and worn they were placed for a while in a "genizah" (literally "hiding place') a room attached to the synagogue where they deposited documents no longer in use. It was also felt that it was wrong just to dispose of them in some ordinary way, and so when the time came for the genizah to be cleared, the copies of the Scriptures contained in them were ceremonially and honourably buried, The contents of one such genizah were fortunately not buried and were discovered in the second half of last century,.

This was in Old Cairo and the Scriptures and documents discovered have added a great deal to our knowledge of the condition of the Old Testament text prior to 900 A.D. It might be thought that having no MSS of earlier data has militated against our being reasonably certain of the text of the Old Testament. This might have been so apart from the fact of the great reverence with which the Jews regarded the Scriptures, and the great care with which they copied them. They were so scrupulously careful that even if an obvious error were in the copy from which they were transcribing, they would not think of altering the words in the actual text, but would insert a note in the margin as to what the true reading should be.

Even if they found one letter larger than the others, or some other irregularity, they would not alter it but would transcribe it exactly as they found. it. To guard against slips and errors they invented a complicated system of safeguards. They recorded the number of verses in each book, the number of times each letter in the alphabet occurred in each book, the middle verse in each book, how many verses began with each letter etc.,etc.; they discovered the middle letter of the Pentateuch and of the whole Hebrew Bible and more detailed calculations still.

They even invented mnemonics by which the more easily to remember their various calculations, In view of all this care the possibility of mistakes was considerably lessened and our own certainty concerning the text therefore greatly enhanced.There are other MSS in addition to the above which have greatly assisted in the ascertaining of the correct text and which have also confirmed that the Masoretic text is substantially the same as the earlier text. These are the Greek Septuagint, the Samaritan Pentateuch, Biblical quotations in the Jewish Mishnah and fragments of Origen's transliteration of the Hebrew in Column 2 of his Hexapla.

Some of these MSS go back as far as the beginning of the third century. A.D.. The latest discovery of all is that of the Dead Sea Scrolls among which there is a copy of the Prophecy of Isaiah. This is by far the oldest copy of the scriptures yet. (Actually more than Isaiah have now been discovered. I believe it is true that most of the Old Testament books, at least in part, have been discovered amongst these Scrolls).

(c). The Greek Text.

When we turn to the text of the New Testament the situation is quite different. MSS of the complete New Testament in Greek go back as far as the 4th century A.D., and there are fragments as early as the 2nd century. In addition to these there are the various Versions of the New Testament, which is the name given to the translations into other languages e.g. Latin, Syriac, and the Egyptian. The Latin and Greek Fathers also quoted freely from the New Testament in their writings and these also assist in discovering and confirming the original text of the New Testament.

Two types of MS have already been mentioned — the Uncial and the Cursive (or Minuscule). Cursive writing always existed but it was normally only used for private correspondence etc.. Uncials, which is the word used to describe MSS written in capital letters not joined to each other (the derivation of the word is unknown), were the normal type of MS for literary productions. In the ninth century, however, Theodore the Studite, or some of his associates in the monastery of Studium in Constantinople, invented a new and beautiful type of cursive writing for literary productions. This seems to have caught on and been adopted almost immediately throughout the Greek world. Most of the later MSS therefore are in this Cursive style.

While the history and description of the various MSS is most interesting only a brief mention of the most important ones can be made here.

Codex Vaticanus.

This is the oldest and most valuable of all existing MSS. It is written on very fine vellum (said to be of antelopes' skins) and there are three narrow columns of writing to the page. It once contained the whole Greek Bibles Old and Now Testament (with the possible exception of the Apocalypse), but in its actual condition at present the New Testament lacks the Epistle to the Hebrews from chap.9 v.14, the Pastoral Epistles and the Epistle to Philemon, It has been in the Vatican Library at Rome from the year 1475 but no one knows how it got there. The MS was written in the early part of the fourth century.

Codex Sinaiticus.

This comes next in value and was written later in the 4th century. It was discovered by Tischendorf at the monastery of St.Catherine on Mt.Sinai in 1844, one of the most exciting biblical discoveries of the century. Most of it is to be found at Leningrad but a part is at Leipsig. Like the previous MS it was once a complete Bible and the New Testament still is complete. It is a large quarto volume written on beautiful thin vellum and the writing is in four narrow columns.

Codex Alexandrinus.

This is the MS which has been best known to Western Scholars during the last three centuries. It was offered to James I of England by Cyril Lucar, who was patriarch of Alexandria till 1621 and afterwards of Constantinople till 1638. The history of the MS before that is obscure. It was written in the 5th century and was also originally a complete Bible. Some small portions, however, are now missing. There are two columns to the page.

Codex Ephraemi.

This is an interesting MS in that it is what is termed a "palimpsest", that is to say, it is a MS which has been used twice. It was used first for a copy of the New Testament, then when it had become old—fashioned and mutilated, and because vellum was scarce, the writing on some of the pages was rubbed off sufficiently to allow another work to be written on them, in this case some writings of Ephraem the Syrian. By treatment with chemicals it is possible to revive the first layer of writing sufficiently to read it with some difficulty. Only 145 of the original 238 pages are left. It belongs to the fifth or sixth century.

Codox Bezae.

Another interesting MS in that it has Greek in one column and Latin in the other. It belongs to the fifth or sixth century and Theodore Beza, the Genevan Reformer, obtained it from the Convent of St. Irenaeus at Lyons in 1562 and presented it, twenty years later, to the University of Cambridge, where it now is. It is also interesting because of a number of interpolations not found in the other MSS. One of the most interesting of those is found after Luke 6:4 and reads,"The same day, seeing a certain man working on the Sabbath, He said to him, than if indeed thou knowest what thou art doing , happy art thou. But if thou knowest not, thou art accursed and a transgressor of the Law."

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