Thursday, April 27, 2023

Preserving the Bible - The British Museum

All photographs courtesy of Unsplash

In the British Museum in London is one of the most wonderful of ancient manuscripts and it is a copy of the Bible known as Codex Sinaiticus.  Today it is carefully preserved by the experts of the Museum but during its history, it was very close to destruction.  

A German scholar named Tischendorf discovered it and incredibly he spotted the Codex amongst waste material that was being used for lighting fires in the Monastery of St. Catherine on Mount Sinai in 1844 and he saved it from being burnt and destroyed. The monastery presented the codex to the Czar of Russia in return for certain favours and decorations.  Later it fell into the hands of the Soviet government following the Russian revolution. As an atheistic regime, they had no interest in Biblical material and were prepared to sell the codex and so it was purchased for the British Museum through public subscription in 1933 for £100,000.  

The codex is written on antelope skins and therefore the writing surface is of very fine quality, which we might call Royal vellum.  It has been dated to the end of the fourth century and was copied therefore approximately 250 years after the New Testament was completed in the first century.  Such a period of time may seem long but when compared with other works from the ancient world it pales into insignificance.  The earliest copy of Caesar’s ‘the Gallic Wars’ date from 1,000 years after it was written and is considered authentic.  While Aristotle’s works are 1,400 years and Plato’s 1,200 years after their completion.  On these grounds Professor F.F. Bruce has written, ‘If the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond doubt.’ This is because the copy was written only 250 years after the original.

The codex is only one of many copies of Scripture dating from ancient times and it has been worked out that there are over 5000 copies of the Greek New Testament and many more translations, especially in Latin.  The Lord has certainly preserved His Word and we can have confidence that the Scriptures we read are the authentic Holy Scriptures of the first century.  It is good to remember that nothing and nobody can destroy the Word of God.   God says, “Heaven and earth shall pass away but my words shall never pass away” and again He says, “The Word of the Lord endures forever”.  

The Bible may have its critics and its deriding opponents but its integrity has never been invalidated and its truth never undermined. Also many have tried to destroy it and wipe it out from atheistic regimes of modern times to the bonfires of Bibles in the Middle Ages.  None have ever succeeded and even now the Bible continues to be the world’s best selling publication. It has been translated into hundreds of languages, with at least parts of the Bible translated into over 2,000 languages or dialects.

Preserved versions like Codex Sinaiticus and many others stand as a great reminder that we can trust God and His Word and as we believe it and obey it we can know the wonderful blessing of salvation, forgiveness and eternal life.   Surely it is worth looking into the Bible to find out first hand what the message is and see personally whether that message has genuine application for us in the twenty-first century.  May we read it and be blessed by Almighty God Himself.

 Messages with Meaning (16/01/21) Written by Paul Young for Your542Today


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