In the Mail: The Explicit Gospel

ImageThe nice folks over at Crossway were kind enough to send along a review copy of Matt Chandler’s new book The Explicit Gospel. I look forward to digging into this one in the coming weeks. Look out for a review once I am finished.


Quote of the Day

On healings and exorcisms in our world today, T. Desmond Alexander writes:

…It is possible for Jesus’ followers also to experience in the present something of the eschatological age in terms of healings and exorcisms. However, this will always be less than what awaits us. God may heal, here and now, but not on every occasion. There may be occasions, here and now, when evil powers are defeated, but not always. This should not surprise us. The present evil age will eventually give way to the next. If we all received from God complete holiness and wholeness now, there would be no need for the new earth. As it is, however, we live on an earth presently controlled by the evil one. Only when Satan is finally defeated shall we know life as God intended it (From Eden to the New Jerusalem,155: emphasis added).

Presently we find ourselves living in the tension of the already-but-not-yet. We are now experiencing the kingdom of God as believers, but the kingdom awaits its full consummation. We await the return of the king of kings, who will bring with him the new heavens and new earth we long for. But as Alexander states, right now we only “have a glimpse of what the coming age will be like.”

A Word from Paul

…Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τοῦ δόντος ἑαυτὸν ὑπὲρ τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ἡμῶν, ὅπως ἐξέληται ἡμᾶς ἐκ τοῦ αἰῶνος τοῦ ἐνεστῶτος πονηροῦ κατὰ τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ πατρὸς ἡμῶν, ᾧ ἡ δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων, ἀμήν (Gal 1.3b-5).

When you sit and think about, for Christ to give his life for sinners like us is the most amazing thing we mortals will ever see.

Quote of the Day

Biblical theology is that discipline which sets forth the message of the books of the Bible in their historical setting. Biblical theology is primarily a descriptive discipline. It is not initially concerned with the final meaning of the teachings of the Bible or their relevance for today. This is the task of systematic theology. Biblical theology has the task of expounding the theology found in the Bible in its own historical setting, and its own terms, categories, and thought forms

George E. Ladd. A Theology of the New Testament (20).

Codex Sinaiticus: The Story of the World’s Oldest Bible (pt. 3)

Setting to Work

In chapter-four Parker discusses in some detail the various aspects that go into producing a manuscript in the fourth-century. Topics discussed in this chapter are focus on the materials, techniques, people, place, budget, and binding of Sinaiticus. Also included is a brief section on palaeography (the study of ancient writing). Because of the amount of detailed information contained in this chapter I will on focus on a few interesting points.


Parker’s detailed discussion on the production of parchment in antiquity was quite fascinating. Maybe it’s me, but I found the whole process that goes into making sheets of paper suitable for writing amazing and quite remarkable really. What we have discovered from manuscripts that we have found written on parchment is that they tended to be made from the skins of sheep of calves. The process that went into skinning the animal all the way to the finished product of paper contained many time-consuming steps.

The skins had to be soaked in some form of acidic or alkaline bath. Next, the hair had to be scraped off. Once the hair was removed, it was returned to a bath for further soaking. It was then removed from its bath and stretched out and scraped thinner. Finally, after drying out and scraped for its determined thickness, it was cut to its predetermined size and rubbed with pumice stone.

What we know of Sinaiticus and the parchment used for it is that it is one of the highest quality codices from antiquity ever discovered. The amount of care, detail, and expense that was put into Sinaiticus is without compare. According to Parker

“What is certain is that the makers [of Sinaiticus] were exceptionally skilled, and that they worked with excellent materials. It is clear that no expense was spared” (45).

Usually in parchment manuscripts we would find many places of defect scattered throughout the manuscript. This is not so with Sinaiticus. While we do find defects, they are few and far between, usually found in the margins of the pages (45). Further, the difficulty finding veins on the pages is probably due to a very thorough job in draining the blood. Another aspect which indicates a more professional job in producing Sinaiticus is the thinness of the pages. Parker indicates that the thickness of the pages of Sinaiticus range from 100-150 micrometres, with the average page size somewhere in the neighborhood of 116.2. when compared to the thickness of Parker’s own book (125 micrometres) we see just how amazing this really is.

In case you may be interested in the production process of parchment, I have included this brief video illustrating for us just went into making parchment paper

The Scribes

Another informative section was on the scribes of Sinaiticus. Parker indicates that Tischendorf (the discoverer of the codex) identified four different scribes, which he labeled A, B, C, D. Each of these scribes were responsible for the writing of particular sections of Sinaiticus. Imagine the amount of hours that Tischendorf must have spent analyzing the pages of Sinaiticus and cataloguing the differences he found, and then placing these differences into four different groups. The even more astonishing thing is that he was able to accomplish this without the technology of computer readily available to us today. That alone speaks to the genius and dedication of Tischendorf. Since Tischendorf’s work there has been some changes to the number of scribes identified responsible for Sinaiticus, but nothing too radical. What can be said regarding Sinaiticus is that there were a number of scribes working on this manuscript. Both in the writings and correcting stages, scribes would assist each other in the writing of Sinaiticus.


Although misplaced in my opinion, the section on palaeography is an important one. No doubt a page-and-a-half summary of palaeography will not cover every aspect of the subject, nevertheless it is a vital part of a book like this. Parker briefly outlines some examples of differences in the writing style of Sinaiticus, things such as differences in letter formation, compression of the text as the scribe reached the end of a margin, spelling errors consistent with one particular scribe, etc. All of these idiosyncrasies are discovered by studying the writing style and observing changes and patterns in the text.

Another job of the palaeographer is to determine the approximate date of a manuscript. Because a scribe would not date his manuscript once he finished, it is up to the palaeographer to determine the dating of a particular manuscript. According to Parker, he is aided in such a task by means of external and internal clues. Externally, things like paper type, elaborate artwork, and historical circumstances may help shed light on a date for a manuscript. Internally, things like writing style (was the script in capital or lowercase letters?) may give clues for dating. It’s safe to assume that the job of a palaeographer is one of great detail. He must be a master of the language written on the manuscript, and he must be one of great patience and discipline.

There is much more that can be covered in chapter-four, but I will leave it here. One thing I have noticed is that Parker references Sinaiticus a number of times in his examples. It would benefit the reader greatly to access Sinaiticus online and follow along with Parker as he describes aspects of Sinaiticus in detail.

Codex Sinaiticus: The Story of the World’s Oldest Bible (pt. 2)

Making a Bible in the Year 350

After laying a historical/theological foundation in chapter two, Parker begins to turn his attention to Sinaiticus itself.

In the opening pages of chapter three, Parker lists a number of “defining characteristics” of a codex. Because a codex is written by the hand of a scribe(s), there is a certain amount of freedom in how he shapes his manuscript. He is able to define his margins at the exact length he needs for his writing. Also, he is given the freedom to include decorative aspects to the manuscript, unique to his own work. The scribe is in full control of every aspect of his work, from beginning to end.

On the negative side, because a codex or manuscript is hand written in ink this allowed for later scribes to add what he felt was missing, or correct what he felt was a wrong reading of the text. Sinaiticus was not immune to scribal corrections or additions. For example, see the image below


What we notice is that an addition has been added to the bottom of the text by a later scribe, altering the neat flow of the block of text. At other places in Sinaiticus the original text has been erased with no chance of recovery. All of these additions and omissions are important in understanding the textual history of Sinaiticus and in aiding the recovery of the original reading. Regarding these changes to the text, Parker writes

The kind of changes that will have occurred range from alterations in the spelling which reflect the way the scribe was used to speaking the word rather than the correct spelling, through a wide range of unconscious errors, to places where conscious decisions were made (28).

The remaining focus of chapter three is on the contents of Sinaiticus. Sinaiticus originally contained the Greek OT (including the Apocrypha), the New Testament, and two additional writings: The Shepherd of Hermas and the Epistle of Barnabas. Parker gives us a survey of these textual units, including a nice analysis of each unit. The canonization of the Old and New Testament was a long and tedious process, but Parker does a nice job navigating the reader through the process in the limited space he has. While some readers may not agree with his conclusions regarding the process of canonization, one cannot argue that he presents his case in a fair and sensitive manner.

Parker concludes with the hypothesis that because Sinaiticus includes books not considered part of the canon, but nonetheless still useful for catechumens, it may be that Sinaiticus was used as a family or community Bible. As the title indicates, the making of Sinaiticus took place in the middle of the fourth-century. This was a volatile time in the history of the Church and no doubt the production of Sinaiticus was influenced to a certain degree by the theological tension in Christendom.

Codex Sinaiticus: The Story of the World’s Oldest Bible (pt. 1)

My first exposure to Codex Sinaiticus came during my first semester of intermediate Greek. I was an eager student who loved all things Greek. For a few weeks we focused on textual criticism, specifically as it relates to exegesis and interpretation. We were introduced to various manuscripts, one of which was Sinaiticus, and I remember being enamored with the story of it’s discovery in a monastery in the Sinai peninsula. Since that initial exposure to textual criticism, I have kept an elementary interest in text-critical studies.

So, when I first came across David Parker’s book my interest was piqued for a couple of reasons. The first, as mentioned above, was my continuing interest in text-critical studies. The second was my love of historical studies. I have always told myself that if I did not get my degree in biblical languages I would have majored in history, probably the history of the American and French Revolutions. But that’s a different post for another day.

Anyways, back to the subject on hand. Parker, who himself is a leading expert in the field of text-critical, has written a very helpful and informative introduction and history of the famous Codex Sinaiticus.

Every Book it’s Destiny
Parker’s first chapter is a quick overview of both the history as well as the future of Sinaiticus. Parker briefly discusses the process that went into the writing and copying of the codex. Likewise, Parker gives a concise synopsis on the the use of Sinaiticus in antiquity, explaining the number of corrections that have appeared since it’s original writing. Also included is a brief discussion on the transportation of the Codex from one place to another. A quick discussion of it’s discovery in St. Catherine’s Monestary and the dispersion of the codex to three different countries is included as well. Much of this will be show up in greater detail in subsequent chapters.

Next, Parker outlines the present project that is taking place to have the entire codex published online for all the world to see. This project also includes a conference (which took place in 2009), the present book under review, and a new print facsimile. Each of these projects are a welcomed addition for the Church and the academy.

Parker’s last section in chapter one is an outline of Sinaiticus as well as a quick reference to the pagination of the codex (this pagination key is very helpful when wanting to look up specific examples in Sinaiticus online). Included at the end of chapter one-and at the end of every chapter-are recommended resources for further study. If you are anything like me, then you will find these short summaries a gold mine of potential study.

The Christian Book in the Age of Constantine
Chapter two centers mainly around the time of Constantine. One fascinating topic was Parker’s discussion of the writing materials used in antiquity. At the time of Sinaiticus’ publication, two types of writing material were in use: papyrus and parchment. Papyrus was easier to come by and much quicker to produce than parchment. Because parchment was produced from the skins of sheep and calves, it was not as readily available for use. But unlike papyrus, which would deteriorate at a much faster rate, parchment was much more durable and withstood the elements far better than papyrus.

Another fascinating element is the theory that Sinaiticus was produced at the request of Constantine himself. While only a theory at best, there are similarities with some of the specifics for codices to be produced in Constantine’s letter to Eusebius and Sinaiticus.

What Parker does extremely well is bring the reader into the fourth-century at the time of Sinaiticus’ publication. He gives the reader a historical and theological framework by which he can understand the reasons for such a codex to have been produced. I am looing forward to the remaining chapters.