Biblical Authenticity

When I was in graduate school in Edinburgh, Scotland, I went to see the famous Codex Sinaiticus in the British Library in London. But first, I must give you a little background: there are four very old codices of the Bible. A codex is an ancient manuscript in a book format. Pages of papyri or parchment are folded together to form leaves (or folios). The texts are all handwritten in Greek. The Codex Sinaiticus is one of the oldest of the codices in existence, dating to the mid-fourth century AD (300s). The manuscripts are dated by their letters, scripts, styles of writing, and additions such as the “nomina sacra,” which are lines above (or sometimes below) the letters to indicate the holy name of God and of Jesus.

Separate parts of the Sinaiticus are preserved in four different institutions:  in Germany, Russia, in London, and in Saint Catherine’s Monastery on the Sinai Peninsula, which is where the codex was originally found in the mid-19th Century. Sinaiticus contains the Greek New Testament and is missing some large portions of the Greek Old Testament. But it is the most complete of all the codices, with 347 folios. In addition to the familiar NT canonical books, it contains all the “Deuterocanonical books” (or the “Apocryphal books”) which are in the Roman Catholic Jerusalem Bible today. Historically, the “Apocrypha” (or “secondary canonical” books) is about 14 documents which were written after the OT books of the Bible, but before the NT books. Sinaiticus also contains two other documents that are not in the canonical Bible today: the “Epistle of Barnabas” and portions of “The Shepherd of Hermas.” Both are placed after the NT documents in the codex. “Barnabas” is a Greek letter written sometime between 70 AD to 135 AD; it is preserved in the Codex Sinaiticus in its entirety. “The Shepherd” is a Christian literary work that was probably written in the late first-half of the second century.

I relate this background to set the stage for my unique experience. Some information tells readers that the Sinaiticus is on “public display” in the British Museum for anyone to see. That is false. I really wanted to see the ancient codex, and figured it might be the only chance I had in my lifetime to do so. I was so excited to actually see the very ancient biblical manuscripts! I petitioned for admittance to the reference section of the museum by letter in advance. I had to prove that I was a student at the University of Edinburgh and I had to include a letter from my supervising professor to verify my position. When my husband and I arrived at the museum on our prescribed day and time, I had to present my student ID (with a photograph) and my American Social Security card (another form of ID). Talk about security!!

We sat at a table and put on white cotton gloves loaned to us. A man brought me a heavy book, perhaps 2 feet by 3 feet in size. He laid it on the table and he told me I had a limited time to investigate the book. I was astonished; I did not expect so large a book. The pages inside were clean and the writing was equally clear. I carefully turned to the Gospel of John (my area of research) and observed the pages, the long columns, the Greek letters, and even the margins. For a document that was over 1700 years old, it was incredible.

That’s when I found out that I was touching an authentic facsimile, a real fake, of the book.

This story was an eye-widening experience for me. Of course, they are not going to allow people to turn the pages of a book that was 1700 years old. The ink would fade to nothing and the parchment pages would crack, split and disintegrate. It was silly of me to think that I could actually touch the real, certifiable, genuine pages. So, I happily experienced a real copy of the actual pages of the ancient Codex. I was fortunate just to do that.

My old approach was to see authenticity as a very clear issue; then I realized that it is often not easy to readily perceive the difference between whatever is authentic and that which is artificial. Even careful investigation can be deceiving. Think of artificial sweeteners that taste like sugar, artificial flowers, artificial fabrics and leather, artificial hair and hair colorings. With the advancement of technology, we really don’t know what is real and what is contrived in terms of digitalization and photographs. Now we have “artificial intelligence!” What is real and what is not? So, I had the unique experience of seeing the great Codex Sinaiticus, even if it was a facsimile. That’s okay; I was able to see it and touch it. It was as real to me as the original – maybe even better. Furthermore, the physical dating of the pages does not modify or alter or negate the authentic truth in the inspired, timeless words found therein.

Yes, the Bible is an archaic book, composed by fallible human hands, in another time, another culture, and in strange languages. God chose to reveal himself through human creatures. But, it is remarkable that it has been so well preserved, protected, believed and beloved by people for many centuries. This experience taught me that there is no doubt about the proven, indisputable, verifiable Word of God, and guardianship of the Holy Spirit, who safeguards God’s inspired, actual words, and makes them valid for all humanity in all times.

Now, as a related question, what does authenticity mean to us in our personal lives today??  Stay tuned……

Author: Judy

Christian educator, writer, specializing in the New Testament

2 thoughts on “Biblical Authenticity”

  1. Thank you for sharing that story! I was transported to the library where you sat and nearly held my breath at the moment you turned to one of my favorite authors.

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