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Incredible discoveries have brought to light the better-understood Bible. How can we uncover this Bible for ourselves?
“TRULY (good Christian Reader) wee neuer thought from the beginning, that we should neede to make a new Translation” [“Honestly, (good Christian reader), we never thought from the beginning that we would need to make a new translation.”]
A group of Bible translators once stated the above in the preface to the King James Bible, which was published in 1611, that they never thought they would need to make a new translation. However, in the 20th century, the need for modern language translations has become more apparent. In the past, even Bible scholars and translators did not fully comprehend the urgency of this need. What has caused this shift in thinking? It is due to recent discoveries that have led to a better understanding of the Bible, some of which are quite surprising.
The Great Discovery at St. Catherine’s Monastery
Count Tischendorf, a German biblical scholar and textual critic was born in Lengenfeld, Saxony, in 1815. Throughout his life, he was known for his passion for manuscripts and his dedication to preserving them. In 1844, he embarked on a journey to the Near East with the purpose of finding and collecting ancient biblical manuscripts.
His first trip was to the Holy Land, where he visited various libraries and monasteries in search of manuscripts. He was successful in acquiring several manuscripts, including several Greek New Testament codices, which he later sold to the King of Saxony. This first trip was just the beginning of Count Tischendorf’s adventures in search of ancient manuscripts.
In 1853, Count Tischendorf embarked on his second journey to the Near East, this time with the purpose of visiting the monasteries of Mount Sinai. After a difficult and treacherous journey, he finally arrived at the base of Mount Sinai, where he visited St. Catherine’s Monastery. St. Catherine’s Monastery is one of the oldest monasteries in the world, and it was here that Count Tischendorf would make his most significant discovery.
Upon his arrival at the monastery, Count Tischendorf was shown a basket of old parchment fragments that were about to be burned in the monastery’s oven. He was able to rescue 43 parchment leaves from the basket and take them with him. These 43 leaves turned out to be part of a 4th-century Greek New Testament codex, which he later named Codex Friderico-Augustanus.
In 1859, Count Tischendorf returned to St. Catherine’s Monastery for a third time. This time, he was able to spend several months at the monastery, during which he was allowed to examine the monastery’s library. It was during this stay that he discovered the Codex Sinaiticus, one of the oldest and most complete copies of the Greek New Testament.
The Codex Sinaiticus was discovered in a basket in the library, where it was being used to wrap other manuscripts. Count Tischendorf was able to persuade the monks to allow him to take the codex with him for further study. He took the codex to Leipzig, Germany, where he worked on it for several years, transcribing and publishing its contents.
In 1866, Count Tischendorf offered the Codex Sinaiticus to the Russian Tsar, Alexander II, who purchased it for the Imperial Library of St. Petersburg. The Codex Sinaiticus remained in the library until 1933 when it was transferred to the Soviet Union.
In the 1960s, the Soviet government agreed to return the Codex Sinaiticus to St. Catherine’s Monastery. The codex is now housed at the British Library in London, where it is available for study and research.
In conclusion, Count Tischendorf’s journey to the Near East and his discovery of the Codex Sinaiticus at St. Catherine’s Monastery are a testament to his dedication and passion for manuscripts. His discovery of the Codex Sinaiticus is considered one of the greatest achievements in the field of biblical scholarship and has had a significant impact on our understanding of the New Testament.
Many Like Discoveries
Count Tischendorf, a German biblical scholar, and textual critic, was a part of a long line of individuals who dedicated themselves to the discovery and preservation of ancient manuscripts. This tradition can be traced back to 1628, several years after the publication of the King James Bible, when a package from the patriarch of Constantinople arrived at an English port and was given to King Charles I. The package contained a handwritten Greek Bible consisting of nearly 800 vellum leaves, which dated back to the 5th century. This manuscript was named Codex Alexandrinus and sparked a new interest in ancient manuscripts among scholars all over Europe. In response to this renewed interest, scholars began searching old libraries for other treasures. This led to the discovery of numerous other ancient biblical manuscripts, including Codex Sinaiticus, which was discovered by Count Tischendorf in 1859 at St. Catherine’s Monastery located at the base of Mount Sinai.
The Codex Vaticanus, also known as Vatican manuscript 1209, is another important find in the world of ancient biblical manuscripts. Like the Codex Alexandrinus, it is believed to have been made in Egypt, specifically in Alexandria, but it was written much earlier, estimated to be before 350 AD. Despite its historical significance, the exact history and journey of the Codex Vaticanus remains shrouded in mystery.
Despite the lack of information about its discovery, there is a compelling story about the attempts of scholars to examine the manuscript in order to gain a better understanding of the Bible. For generations, the officials of the Vatican Library made it difficult for scholars to study the Codex Vaticanus, putting up various obstacles. This only fueled the determination of scholars who were determined to unlock the secrets of this ancient manuscript.
It wasn’t until the late 19th century that the Vatican Library finally allowed scholars to study the Codex Vaticanus. Since then, it has become one of the most important sources of information for biblical scholars, providing valuable insights into the development of the Bible and its text.
The Codex Vaticanus, along with the Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Alexandrinus, is considered one of the three most important ancient biblical manuscripts, providing a glimpse into the history of the Bible and the way it was transmitted from generation to generation. The continued study of these ancient manuscripts is essential for a deeper understanding of the Bible and its evolution over time.
NOT AVAILABLE TO KING JAMES TRANSLATORS
What is the significance of these and other discoveries of biblical manuscripts for us today? The most important aspect to consider is that the translators of the King James Version, the most widely used English translation of the Bible, did not have access to these ancient manuscripts. The Codex Alexandrinus, for example, was not even available to Bible translators until 1628, after the publication of the King James Bible in 1611. This means that the foundation for a more accurate and comprehensible Bible has been established since the publication of the King James Version.
These ancient manuscripts, including the Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus, provide a wealth of information and insight into the development and transmission of the Bible over time. They allow us to understand the original text better and to make more informed translations. The continued study of these manuscripts is essential for a deeper appreciation and understanding of the Bible and its role in shaping the course of Western civilization.
The King James Version of the Greek Scriptures, for example, was based on manuscripts from the 12th and 15th centuries. This is in stark contrast to the much older 4th-century manuscripts that are now available to us. As a general rule, the earlier a manuscript is, the less likely it is to contain errors. Throughout history, the process of copying the Bible by hand led to the introduction of errors into the text. As a result, the King James Version was based on a Greek text that contained mistakes that could have been avoided if the translators had access to the 4th and 5th-century manuscripts.
The increased effort to produce new translations of the Bible into English did not begin until the beginning of the 20th century. Since 1900, there has been a steady stream of new English translations of the Bible. This intense activity was not seen earlier due primarily to the recent discoveries of sensational ancient manuscripts. For example, the discovery of the Chester Beatty collections, made by Egyptians digging in an old graveyard near Fayum, was a major milestone. The jars they uncovered contained papyrus books, which were later purchased by Chester Beatty, an American living in England. When the contents of these papyri were announced in 1931, scholars were shocked to find three codices, or book-like volumes, of manuscripts of the Christian Scriptures, with a Greek text that was a hundred years older than the Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus. These collections contained fragments mostly from the epistles of Paul and are now known as the Chester Beatty collections.
Since the late 19th century, a significant number of New Testament papyrus manuscripts have been discovered in the dry sands of Egypt. According to various sources, over 100 papyrus manuscripts of the New Testament have been discovered in Egypt, with many of them dating back to the 2nd and 3rd centuries.
These papyrus manuscripts are extremely valuable for restoring the original words of the Greek New Testament. They provide important evidence for the text of the New Testament, as they are some of the earliest surviving copies of the New Testament that we have. By comparing these papyrus manuscripts with later copies of the New Testament, scholars can get a better understanding of the original text and make informed decisions about what the original words of the New Testament were.
NEW LIGHT ON BIBLE LANGUAGES
Another factor that contributed to the late recognition of the need for new translations was the limited understanding of the Greek language in which the Bible was written. Prior to the turn of the 20th century, scholars had a limited understanding of this language. This changed in the 1890s when archaeologists made significant discoveries in Egypt, uncovering a wide variety of documents, including letters, bills, contracts, petitions, invitations, and even copies of plays and poems, written in Greek. It was not until around 1895 that scholars realized the significance of this discovery and that the Greek used in these papyri was the same as the Greek used in the Bible.
This realization was a turning point in the study of the Greek language and the Bible, as it provided a new and more comprehensive understanding of the language in which the Bible was written. This, in turn, opened up new avenues for the study and translation of the Bible, leading to a greater appreciation of the need for new and more accurate translations.
This discovery was crucial because prior to this, scholars believed that the Greek used in the Bible was a special type of language, distinct from classical or literary Greek and referred to as “Biblical Greek.” Some even went as far as to claim that it was a language created by the Holy Spirit. However, the discoveries in Egypt revealed that the Greek used in the Bible was actually the everyday language of the people of the first century. The Greek used in the everyday documents uncovered in Egypt was found to be the same as the Greek used in the Bible.
This realization showed that the Greek New Testament was written in the koiné or common Greek of the people and not in a unique jargon. The Bible writers chose to express God’s message in the simplest language possible, the language of the common people. This made the message of the Bible more accessible and understandable to a wider audience.
The translators of the King James Bible did not have access to the extensive knowledge of Bible Greek that is available today. This lack of understanding of the Greek language resulted in passages in the King James Version that are hard to understand or sound odd. For example, in 1 Peter 2:2, the phrase “sincere milk of the word” was translated from the Greek word that was often used in koiné Greek to describe pure food or drink. Modern translations, based on the knowledge gained from the papyri discovered in Egypt, provide a clearer understanding, rendering the phrase as “spiritual unadulterated milk of the word” or “pure milk of the word.”
Another example can be seen in Matthew 6:27, where the King James Version has Jesus asking “Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?” However, this rendering is weak and not easily understandable to a modern audience. The translators of the King James Bible consulted dictionaries of classical Greek and came up with the word “stature.” However, they did not realize that the Bible was written in common Greek, which used the word to mean “life span.” Modern translations, such as the Updated American Standard Version, provide a clearer understanding, rendering Jesus’ question as “And who of you by being anxious can add one cubit [that is, a single hour] to his life span?” or “And who among you, by being anxious, is able to add one hour to his life span?”
In addition to the Greek language, there has also been a significant increase in knowledge of the Hebrew language. The understanding of Hebrew today is vastly greater than what was available to the translators of the King James Version. This allows for a better-understood translation of the Hebrew Scriptures.
A PHENOMENAL DISCOVERY
The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the 1940s in the vicinity of the Dead Sea, which is located between Israel and Jordan. The exact date of the discovery is uncertain, but it is believed to have occurred between 1947 and 1956. The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered by a Bedouin shepherd who stumbled upon a cave while searching for a lost sheep. Inside the cave, he found several clay jars containing leather and papyrus scrolls. The relevant period of occupation of this site runs from c. 100 to c. 68 BCE, and the scrolls themselves nearly all date from the 3rd to the 1st century BCE. The 15,000 fragments (most of which are tiny) represent the remains of 800 to 900 original manuscripts.
The significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls is that they are among the oldest surviving copies of the Hebrew Bible, and they provide a unique glimpse into the history of Judaism and the development of the Hebrew text of the Bible. The scrolls are believed to have been written between the second century BCE and the first century CE and include fragments from every book of the Hebrew Bible, except for the Book of Esther. The scrolls also include other Jewish texts, such as hymns, prayers, and commentaries on the Bible.
The Dead Sea Scrolls are also significant because they provide evidence of the diversity of Jewish thought and practice during the Second Temple period, as well as the textual stability of the Hebrew Bible over time. They also offer insight into the historical context of the development of early Christianity and the relationship between early Christians and Jews.
The Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in the 1940s near the Dead Sea, contain some of the oldest surviving copies of the Hebrew Bible and other Jewish texts. The most significant of these scrolls is a complete scroll of the book of Isaiah from the second century BCE and a commentary on the book of Habakkuk, which provides the oldest text of that book that we have. The scrolls are approximately a thousand years older than the Hebrew manuscripts used for the King James Version of the Bible.
The Dead Sea Scrolls have already been utilized in the field of biblical studies. For instance, a thorough examination of the Isaiah scroll has allowed modern translators to correct an error in Isaiah 3:24, which was present in the King James Version. The word used in the King James Version, “burning,” was often translated as “branding” in earlier translations, but the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah added an additional word, making it possible to render the verse as “branding instead of beauty.”
This wealth of new knowledge about the Bible raises important questions about how we can take advantage of it and use it to understand God’s Word better. How can individuals discover a better-understood Bible for themselves? The answer to these questions will depend on each individual’s approach to studying the Bible and utilizing the resources available to them.
Much of the new information that has been uncovered about the Bible has been applied in the creation of modern-speech translations. These translations not only use language that is more accessible to people today, but they also provide a more accurate and understandable representation of the original text. This means that individuals can access a better-understood Bible by obtaining a modern-speech translation for their own personal study. It is important to note that relying exclusively on the King James Version, simply because of a desire for familiarity or a poetic effect, may limit one’s understanding of the text. As the King James translators themselves stated in their preface, “Is the kingdom of God made up of words and syllables? Why should we be in bondage to them when we can be free?” It is time to embrace the new knowledge and advancements in translation to gain a deeper and clearer understanding of God’s word.
Discovering the deeper meaning of the Bible is a journey that can be both fulfilling and transformative. To start this journey, there are several steps you can take:
Read the Bible regularly: Start by setting aside time each day to read the Bible. Choose a translation that is easy for you to understand and that resonates with you.
Study the Bible in context: Understanding the historical and cultural context in which the Bible was written can help you gain a deeper understanding of its message.
Seek guidance from trusted sources: Turn to commentaries, study Bibles, or join a Bible study group to gain insights and perspectives from others who have studied the Bible in depth.
Pray for understanding: Ask God to guide you in your study of the Bible and to reveal its message to you.
Apply its teachings to your life: The Bible is not just a historical document but a practical guide for living. As you study, ask yourself how its teachings apply to your life and seek to put them into practice.
By following these steps, you can discover the deeper meaning of the Bible and the transformative power of its teachings.