CODEX VATICANUS: Why a Treasure?

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Edward D. Andrews
EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored over 100 books. Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).

Codex Vaticanus (03, B) contains the Gospels, Acts, the General Epistles, the Pauline Epistles, the Epistle to the Hebrews (up to Hebrews 9:14, καθα[ριει); it lacks 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, and Revelation. It is written on 759 leaves of vellum and is dated to c. 300–325 C.E.

Codex Vaticanus (B or 03) is the most valuable of all manuscripts, which contained the entire Bible at one time. As is indicated by its name, it is housed in the Vatican Library at Rome, first becoming known in 1475. It too was penned in Greek uncials on 759 leaves of parchment. Today, it still contains most of the Old Testament, except most of Genesis, and part of Psalms. It is missing some portions of the New Testament as well. It is dated to about 300–325 C.E. It is viewed as belonging to the earlier part of the fourth century as it lacks the Eusebian Canons mentioned above.

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P75 and Vaticanus 1209 (B). P75 is also known as Bodmer 14, 15. As has already been stated, papyrus is writing material used by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans that was made from the pith of the stem of a water plant. These are the earliest witnesses to the Greek New Testament. P75 contains most of Luke and John, dating from 175 C.E. to 225 C.E Vaticanus is designated internationally by the symbol “B” (and 03) and is known as an uncial manuscript written on parchment. It is dated to the mid-fourth-century C.E. [c. 350] and originally contained the entire Bible in Greek. At present, Vaticanus’ New Testament is missing parts of Hebrews (Hebrews 9:14 to 13:25), all of First and Second Timothy, Titus, Philemon, and Revelation. Originally, this codex probably had approximately 820 leaves, of which 759 remain.

What kind of weight or evidence do these two manuscripts carry in the eyes of textual scholars? Vaticanus 1209 is a key source for our modern translations. When determining an original reading, this manuscript can stand against other external evidence that would seem to the non-professional to be much more significant. P75 also is one of the weightiest manuscripts that we have and is virtually identical to Vaticanus 1209, which dates 175 to 125 years later than P75. When textual scholars B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort released their critical text in 1881, Hort said that Vaticanus preserved “not only a very ancient text but a very pure line of a very ancient text.” (Westcott and Hort 1882, 251) Later scholars argued that Vaticanus was a scholarly recension: a critical revision or edited text. However, P75 has vindicated Westcott and Hort because of its virtual identity with Vaticanus; it establishes that Vaticanus is essentially a copy of a second-century text, and likely, a copy of the original text, with the exception of a few minor points.

PAPYRUS 75 (P75): The Manuscript that Changed the Thinking of Textual Scholars

APOSTOLIC FATHERS Lightfoot APOSTOLIC FATHERS

Kurt Aland[1] wrote, “P75 shows such a close affinity with the Codex Vaticanus that the supposition of a recension of the text at Alexandria, in the fourth century, can no longer be held.”[2] David C. Parker[3] says of P75 that “it is extremely important for two reasons: “like Vaticanus, it is carefully copied; it is also very early and is generally dated to a period between 175 and 225. Thus, it pre-dates Vaticanus by at least a century. A careful comparison between P75 and Vaticanus in Luke by C.M. Martini demonstrated that P75 was an earlier copy of the same careful Alexandrian text. It is sometimes called proto-Alexandrian. It is our earliest example of a controlled text, one which was not intentionally or extensively changed in successive copying. Its discovery and study have provided proof that the Alexandrian text had already come into existence in the third century.” (Parker 1997, 61) Let us look at the remarks of a few more textual scholars: J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel Wallace.

Even some of the early manuscripts show compelling evidence of being copies of a much earlier source. Consider again Codex Vaticanus, whose text is very much like that of P75 (B and P75 are much closer to each other than B is to [Codex Sinaiticus]). Yet the papyrus is at least a century older than Vaticanus. When P75 was discovered in the 1950s, some entertained the possibility that Vaticanus could have been a copy of P75, but this view is no longer acceptable since the wording of Vaticanus is certainly more primitive than that of P75 in several places.’ They both must go back to a still earlier common ancestor, probably one that is from the early second century. (Komoszewski, M. Sawyer and Wallace 2006, 78)

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Comfort comments on how we can know that Vaticanus is not a copy of P75: “As was previously noted, Calvin Porter clearly established the fact that P75 displays the kind of text that was used in making codex Vaticanus. However, it is unlikely that the scribe of B used P75 as his exemplar because the scribe of B copied from a manuscript whose line length was 12–14 letters per line. We know this because when the scribe of Codex Vaticanus made large omissions, they were typically 12–14 letters long.[4] The average line length for P75 is about 29–32 letters per line. Therefore, the scribe of B must have used a manuscript like P75, but not P75 itself.”[5]

CODEX VATICANUS: End of Mark’s Gospel

Again, one could say that Codex Vaticanus is the most valuable witness that we have for the Greek New Testament.[6] It is of course named Vaticanus because it has been stored in the Vatican library from a time prior to 1475.[7] For centuries, the Vatican authorities kept the B (03) a private treasure and discouraged work on it by outside scholars. Paul D. Wegner writes, “At the beginning of the nineteenth century Napoleon carried off this codex to Paris with other manuscripts as a war prize, but on his death in 1815 it was returned to the Vatican library. Constantine von Tischendorf applied for and finally obtained permission to see the manuscript in order to collate difficult passages. He copied out or remembered enough of the text to be able to publish an edition of Vaticanus in 1867. Later that century (1868–1881) the Vatican published a better copy of the codex, but in 1889–1890 a complete photographic facsimile of this manuscript superseded all earlier attempts.”[8]

Comparison of Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus

The writing in Codex Vaticanus is “small and delicate majuscules, perfectly simple and unadorned”[9] as Metzger put it. The Greek runs continuously, with no separation between the words, and all letters are an equal distance from one another so that to the modern eye, each line looks like one long word. Some scholars feel that Vaticanus is a little earlier than Sinaiticus because of it having no ornamentation at all, while others feel that Vaticanus and Sinaiticus were among the fifty manuscripts ordered by Constantine the Great. Skeat, however, goes a step further, arguing that Vaticanus was to be a part of the fifty manuscripts but was a reject, “for it is deficient in the Eusebian canon tables, has many corrections by different scribes.[10] Whether Skeat is correct or not, Codex Vaticanus is one of the most important manuscripts for the text of the Septuagint and especially the Greek New Testament.

4th ed. MISREPRESENTING JESUS The Complete Guide to Bible Translation-2

Tischendorf claimed that Codex Vaticanus was copied by three scribes (A, B, C), suggesting that two worked on the Old Testament while the third copied the entire New Testament.[11]  Kenyon accepted Tischendorf’s view, while T. C. Skeat, who had an opportunity to do a more extensive examination of the codex, contested the position of a third scribe (C) and argued that there were only two scribes, both working on the Old Testament (A and B), and one of them copying the entire New Testament (B).[12] Other paleographers agree with Skeat. Scribe (A) wrote Genesis through 1 Kings (pp 41–334) and Psalms through Tobias (pages 625–944). Scribe (B) wrote 1 Kings through 2 Esdra (pp 335–624), Hosea through Daniel (pp 945–1234), and the entire New Testament.[13] One corrector worked on Vaticanus soon after its writing, and another corrector from the 10th or 11th century worked on the manuscript. The latter corrector traced over the faded letters with fresh ink. However, he also omitted words and letters he judged to be wrong, as well as adding accent and breathing marks. Vaticanus is a representative of the Alexandrian text-type, the Alands placing it in Category I, “manuscripts of a very special quality which should always be considered in establishing the original text …. B is by far the most significant of the uncials.” (Aland and Aland, The Text of the New Testament 1995, 109, 109)

colophon

Early copyists often included notes in their manuscripts. A frequent colophon (comment at the end of a manuscript) was: “The hand that wrote [this] moulders in a tomb, but what is written abides across the years.”[14] Certainly. We value the tireless of the thousands of anonymous copyists. They worked on behalf of the true author of the Bible, who long ago wrote, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” (Isaiah 40:8) Of course, we also appreciate the tireless efforts of the hundreds of textual scholars from Desiderius Erasmus to Daniel B. Wallace, Philip Comfort, and many others today.

Textual Character and the Scribe of P75 (Papyrus 75)

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[1] (1915 – 1994) was Professor of New Testament Research and Church History. He founded the Institute for New Testament Textual Research in Münster and served as its first director for many years (1959–83). He was one of the principal editors of The Greek New Testament for the United Bible Societies.

[2] K. Aland, “The Significance of the Papyri for New Testament Research,” 336.

[3] Professor of Theology and the Director of the Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing at the Department of Theology and Religion, University of Birmingham. Scholar of New Testament textual criticism and Greek and Latin paleography.

[4] Brooke F. Westcott and Fenton J. A. Hort, Introduction to the New Testament in the Original Greek (New York: Harper & Bros., 1882; reprint, Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1988), 233–34.

[5]  (Comfort and Barret, The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts 2001)

[6] Kurt Aland; Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, trans. Erroll F. Rhodes (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), 109.

[7] Ibid. 47

[8] Paul D. Wegner, A Student’s Guide to Textual Criticism of the Bible: Its History Methods & Results (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 260.

[9] Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (4th ed.) (Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press, 1992), 67.

[10] Ibid. 48.

[11] Constantin von Tischendorf, Editio octava critica maior, ed. C. R. Gregory (Lipsiae 1884), 360.

[12] Kurt Aland; Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, trans. Erroll F. Rhodes (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), 109.

[13] H.J.M. Milne & T.C. Skeat, “Scribes and Correctors” (British Museum: London 1938).

[14] Bruce M. Metzger, Manuscripts of the Greek Bible: An Introduction to Greek Palaeography (Oxford University Press: Oxford, England 1981, 20).

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