Memebuster #1: "The Sinai Bible"

I was sent this meme/picture by an atheist I was conversing with on Twitter today, and it gave me the idea of adding a section to the blog for unpacking this kind of image and running them through a fact check. Images like this are often rhetorically powerful, packing a 5 second punch that takes more than 5 seconds to respond to. 

This is one of the strategies used online by some atheists when discussing Christianity. Rather than reply to a communication by typing a response, they will simply plonk in a picture like this one and let it do the talking. It’s actually hard to respond to these in a timely, effective manner, even when they are as bad as this one. Maybe I need to have some canned answers I could lob into discussions too!

Like many of these memes, even a quick inspection is enough to discover that the claims it makes are either factually wrong or completely pointless. Maybe it’s unfair to start with one so bad, but this is the one that was sent to me like it was some kind of a trump card, so here is where I will start. Let’s walk through the claims one-by-one:

1. The Oldest Version of the Bible is the Sinai Bible

A minor, nitpicky point, but the “Sinai Bible” is more accurately called the Codex Sinaiticus, and is really a codex, not a bible. A codex is a collection of writings collated into a book, and accordingly Codex Sinaiticus contains both canonical scriptures and other non-canonical Christian writings. 

While Codex Sinaiticus (330-360 AD) is often referred to as the “Oldest Bible in the World” in media articles, another ancient book, Codex Vaticanus, is from the same time-period and often estimated to be slightly older (300-325 AD). 

2. Housed in the British Museum

Another unimportant factual error, but Codex Sinaiticus generally resides in the British Library, not the British Museum. On two occasions the Library has allowed the Museum to borrow the codex for its displays (once in 1990, and in August this year). 

3. 14,800 Differences Between Codex Sinaiticus and the King James Version

This is where the claims start to get really wild! Why compare a 4th Century Greek text to an English translation published in 1611? What would it prove?

The KJV comes from the Byzantine family of texts, while Codex Sinaiticus is an Alexandrian text-type, so both come from different scribal traditions, which would account for some of the variations. 

But perhaps the biggest factor creating differences would be that the KJV is derived from the Textus Receptus, which is a Greek text cobbled together in the early 1500s. Erasmus, the Dutch scholar and theologian who assembled the Textus Receptus from a number of source texts, was known to have altered some passages so that they matched the quotations of the early church fathers a little more closely. 

He also lacked a source text for parts of Revelation, so he improvised, re-translating a Latin translation of Revelation back into Greek! And despite all of the variations this translation and retranslation caused, the KJV is still pretty close in what it says to the English translations we have today based on better, older Greek manuscripts.

What does this claim about 14,800 differences show? Nothing really. It’s an apples and oranges comparison, and where there are differences, we know EXACTLY why they’re different. 

4. Never Mentions the Resurrection

But the last claim is by far the best. According to the person who created this image, Codex Sinaiticus never mentions the resurrection of Jesus Christ! Presumably they claim this because (like many older manuscripts) Codex Sinaiticus lacks the longer ending of Mark (Mark 16:9-20) which depicts the resurrected Christ appearing to his disciples. Christian scholars have known for centuries that these verses don’t appear until later in history and may not be original elements of the text – that’s why they’re always clearly marked or footnoted in study bibles. There’s nothing new or scary for the Christian here.

Ultimately though this claim about the resurrection being absent from Codex Sinaiticus doesn’t even hold true for Mark. The original ending is intact, including verse 6, where an angel tells some of Jesus’ women followers “He is not here, he is risen.” So any critics reading this know I’m not making this up, here it is, straight from the source: Codex Sinaiticus - Mark 16:6

Codex Sinaiticus also gives us access to the resurrection story in Matthew 28:1-20,  Luke 24:36-40, and John 20:19-20.  The claim that the Codex Sinaiticus never mentions the resurrection is so badly wrong you simply have to interpret it as a deliberate attempt to mislead the uninformed public. And if you have to lie to sell your worldview, it reflects badly on your worldview. Let the evidence do the talking.

5. Do You Still Think It’s The True Word of God?

It is interesting that an image discussing the Codex Sinaiticus in particular tries to draw a conclusion about the reliability of the scriptures in general. If any of these points were somehow proved true about the Codex Sinaiticus, all it would show is that one of the ancient codices was somehow radically different to Codex Vaticanus, Codex Alexandrinus and Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus – not to mention the thousands of partial manuscripts we have dating as far back as the early 2nd Century. Any serious discrepancies in the text would lead investigators to ask why Sinaiticus is an outlier, and any conclusions they would draw would be about that text only. It would be a problem for the Codex Sinaiticus, not a problem for the reliability of the Christian scriptures. This reflects the strength and unity of the manuscript evidence, particularly for the New Testament texts.

Do I think Codex Sinaiticus is the true word of God? The canonical parts of it, absolutely. As for the scriptures, resoundlingly yes. This entire image fails to land any of its punches – it’s so dodgy I wonder if the URL on the bottom of the image is even accurate. 

In the absence of any good evidence (or any evidence at all) that the biblical texts are unreliable, there is no compulsion for the Christian to abandon the classical understanding of the divine inspiration of the scriptures.


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