In the conversation that has recently erupted regarding the authenticity and reliability of Codex Sinaiticus, a concern has been raised regarding how higher critics, particularly those featured in a recent BBC documentary, are using this manuscript in order to cast theological doubt on such core Christian doctrines as Christ’s deity and his resurrection appearances. The fear expressed by some, who cannot read Sinaiticus, is that because these Higher Critics point to particular features of the codex as alleged proof to support their hypercritical views of the New Testament, the manuscript itself is corrupted and that it is not only unwise to base any modern translations on its text, it is probably harmful to Christian orthodoxy to do so.
As someone who has a degree in Biblical languages, has been reading the Greek New Testament for 25 years and is capable of reading Codex Sinaiticus, I will demonstrate that it is not Sinaiticus that is to blame for the fear and confusion that is being spread. Instead, the real culprits, as you will soon see, are the faulty logic and selective (mis)quoting of the codex by the BBC’s higher critics.
What the BBC’s Higher Critics Said About Sinaiticus
In order to bring you up to speed, it is necessary for you to watch the BBC’s short discussion of Codex Sinaiticus. To help facilitate that, I’ve embeded the video below.
Note: I’ve already addressed the issue of the nature of the textual variants / corrections in Codex Sinaiticus on the September 9th, 2013 episode of my radio program. You can listen to it by clicking here.
In this article I will answer the question, “Does Codex Sinaiticus Teach that Jesus Wasn’t the Son of God Until He Was Baptized?"
In my follow up article I will answer the question, “Does Codex Sinaiticus Deny That Jesus Rose Bodily From the Grave by Omitting the Resurrection Appearances of Jesus?”
Does Codex Sinaiticus Teach that Jesus Wasn’t the Son of God Until He Was Baptized?
Here’s the relevant quote from the BBC’s documentary that I will be focused on in this article:
“Today’s Mark begins with “Jesus Christ the Son of God”. But, the Original Codex Sinaiticus didn’t have “Son of God”. Someone added it later... This is highly significant because in the earlier version Jesus became divine only after his baptism by John the Baptist. The edited insertion makes Jesus divine at birth. Some 19th century readers would have been shocked that Mark did not share that belief.”
Is it true that Codex Sinaiticus’ version of Mark omits the words “Son of God” and that because of that Mark didn’t believe Jesus was divine at birth?
The claim put forward by the higher critics featured in the BBC’s documentary is a classic example of a tiny bit of truth being mixed with some huge inaccuracies.
It is true that within the main body of the text of Codex Sinaiticus that the words “Son of God” are omitted in Mark 1:1. It is also true that there is a correction within the text that re-inserts the words “Son of God”. This is a well known variant within the text of Sinaiticus. What is patently false and scholastically indefensible is the outrageous conclusion that Mark didn’t believe Jesus was divine until his baptism. This is a criminal twisting of facts intentionally designed to prop up the preposterous claim that the early Christians didn’t believe Jesus was divine until his baptism. The odd thing is that the BBC’s higher critics are trying to make Codex Sinaiticus an accomplice to their crime. As you will see, Codex Sinaiticus doesn’t bend to their will and clearly reveals that the earliest Christians believed and taught that Jesus is the eternal Son of God.
How to Properly Understand Sinaiticus’ Variant at Mark 1:1
Here is a photo of the opening verses from the Gospel of Mark in Codex Sinaiticus:
Why were the words “Son of God” originally omitted then re-inserted in a correction between lines one and two of the manuscript?
The late Bruce Metzger, who was a formidable textual scholar and wasn’t known for being a conservative fundamentalist, wrote about this variant and offered two plausible explanations. Said Metzger:
“The absence of υἱοῦ θεοῦ in א (Sinaticus)...may be due to an oversight in copying, occasioned by the similarity of the endings of the nomina sacra. On the other hand, however, there was always a temptation (to which copyists often succumbed) to expand titles and quasi-titles of books.”1
Metzger believed the original omission was either due to a simple common scribal error or that the copy of the New Testament the scribe(s) who penned Sinaiticus were working from didn’t have the words υἱοῦ θεοῦ (Son of God). If the text the scribe(s) were working from didn't contain the words υἱοῦ θεοῦ, Metzger knew that there was no theological significance that could be gleaned from the omission due to the fact the first line of most ancient manuscripts oftentimes functioned as the title of that work. Therefore, Metzger knew that whether or not the original Gospel of Mark contained the words υἱοῦ θεοῦ (Son of God) in its title, no honest scholar could claim that Mark believed that Jesus wasn’t the Son of God until his baptism because the actual body of the Gospel of Mark doesn’t begin until verse two. The BBC’s higher critics either knew this fact and purposely failed to mention it or weren’t aware of this fact and are not real paleographic scholars.
Did Bruce Metzger believe that the words υἱοῦ θεοῦ (Son of God) existed in the original title of the Gospel of Mark? Here’s what he wrote:
“Since the combination of D (Codex Vaticanus) D (Codex Bezae) W (Codex Washingtonianus) al (other witnesses) in support of υἱοῦ θεοῦ is extremely strong, it was not thought advisable to omit the words altogether.”2
Metzger wasn’t comfortable removing the words υἱοῦ θεοῦ (Son of God) from the title of the Gospel of Mark because the evidence for it is, in his words, “extremely strong”. Some of our earliest and best manuscripts, most notably Codex Vaticanus, Codex Bezae, and Codex Washingtonianus all contain υἱοῦ θεοῦ in Mark 1:1.
The other reason Metzger wasn’t comfortable removing the words υἱοῦ θεοῦ (Son of God) from the title of the Gospel of Mark is because he knew that it was possible that the omission was due to a common scribal error know as, homeoteleuton. This error of omission occurs when a scribe paused, then resumed writing but skipped ahead because of the similarity of the endings of lines or words, thus leaving out a passage or small segment of a text.
A simple comparison of Sinaticus and Vaticanus will demonstrate how easy it would have been to make this error.
Below is a computerized rendition of Mark 1:1-2a from Codex Vaticanus:
Now, compare this with a computerized rendition of the same text from Sinaticus:
Notice that line two in Sinaticus has far fewer letters when compared to the same line in Vaticanus. If Metzger’s explanation is correct, the scribe who penned Sinaticus was working with a text similar to Vaticanus and accidentally did not resume where he left off and inadvertently skipped two words.
This explanation for the omission also means that it is possible that the correction in Sinaticus at Mark 1:1 could have been made by the original scribe after he noticed his mistake. There is no valid reason to conclude that the correction was inserted for theological reasons such as exalting Jesus from being a mere man to being the divine Son of God. That wouldn’t be necessary because, as you are about to see the text of Sinaticus clearly affirms Jesus’ deity throughout its leafs. There would be no reason whatsoever, therefore, to engage in theological editing of that sort.
A Survey of the Texts Supporting the Deity of Christ Taken From Codex Sinaticus
I will begin our survey of Sinaiticus by looking at Mark 1:11, the verse that the BBC's higher critics assert teaches that Jesus became divine at his Baptism. Here is the text of Sinaiticus:
The Greek text reads: και φωνη [εγενετο] εκ τω ουνων συ ει ο υς μου ο αγαπητος
My translation: and a voice [came] out of heaven, "You ARE my son, the beloved"
The verb in this sentence, ει, is the 2nd person singular present active indicative form of the verb ειμι (to be). If, as the BBC's higher critics claim, this text were saying that when Jesus was baptized He became the Son of God then the text would not use ειμι it would instead use the verb γινομαι (to become). Rather than saying,
σὺ εἶ ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἀγαπητός (you ARE my son, the beloved)
the text would instead need to say say,
σὺ γεγόνας ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἀγαπητός (you HAVE BECOME my son, the beloved).
But the text of Sinaiticus at Mark 1:11 does not have γεγόνας it has ει. This proves that the BBC's higher critics are not conveying accurate information about what this text says. Mark 1:11 in Sinaiticus, rather than teaching that Jesus became divine at his baptism actually affirms that Jesus was already divine at his birth!
There is no clearer passage in the New Testament that teaches that Jesus is the eternal divine Son of God than John 1:1. Does Codex Sinaiticus' rendering of this text confirm or deny the eternal divinity of Jesus? Let's take a look.
The Greek text reads: εν αρχη ην ο λογος και ο λογος ην προς τον θν και θς ην ο λογος
My translation: In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and God was the word.
I'm sure that this passage must prove to be an major embarrassment to the BBC's higher critics because the text of Sinaiticus so clearly and unambiguously teaches that Jesus was already God at the beginning of beginnings.
Philippians 2:5-8 is another one of the clearest passages that teach that Jesus was divine prior to the incarnation. Do you think Sinaiticus affirms or denies Jesus pre-incarnate deity? Here's the text.
The Greek text reads: τουτο [γαρ] φρονειτε εν υμιν ο και εν χω ιυ ος εν μορφη θυ ϋπαρχω ουχ αρπαγμον ηγησατο το ειναι ϊσα θω αλλα εαυτον εκενωσεν μορφη δουλου λαβων εν ομοιωματι ανθρωπων γενομενος και σχηματι ευρεθεις ως ανθρωπος εταπινωσεν εαυ τον γενομενος ϋπηκοος μεχρι θανατου θανατου δε του σταυρου.
My translation: Have this mind in ya'll which is in Christ Jesus, who being by nature God did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped. But emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men and being found in the form of a man he humbled himself becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.
In this passage, Sinaiticus clearly affirms that Jesus is by His very nature, God and was God prior to His incarnation. If the story that the BBC's scholars are feeding us were true then we'd expect to see all sorts of corrections and redactions in this text. But, we don't. Why? Because the BBC's higher critics aren't telling us the truth.
I could cite many more examples from Codex Sinaiticus that demonstrates that this manuscript clearly and unambiguously affirms Christ's divinity. However, the texts that I've already covered are enough to debunk the claim's being made by the BBC's higher critics. Their story is a liberal fiction and the text of Codex Sinaiticus itself, proves it.
Rather than reject Sinaiticus, Christians would be wise to learn how to use Sinaiticus to reject the outlandish and absurd claims of liberal higher critics.
What do you think?
χάρις ἔλεος εἰρήνη σοι,
1. Metzger, B. M., United Bible Societies. (1994). A textual commentary on the Greek New Testament, second edition a companion volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (4th rev. ed.) (p. 62). London; New York: United Bible Societies.