Many textual critics consider Codex Vaticanus the centerpiece of the church’s collection of New Testament manuscripts. Besides containing Greek text from much of the Old Testament (in a form of the Septuagint), Codex Vaticanus includes all books of the New Testament except First Timothy, Second Timothy, Titus, Philemon, and Revelation. (After the book of Hebrews, which abruptly stops midway through
at the end of a page, the text of the book of Revelation is present, but it is
written in handwriting typical of the 1400’s, and constitutes a separate
manuscript from the much more ancient portion.)
Today, let’s take a close look at one of the better-known pages of this important manuscript, which was produced around 325: the page that contains the first chapter of the book of Hebrews. I will simply list twelve features on this page, and describe them one by one.
First, though, for those who might want to explore Codex Vaticanus’ pages directly, here is an index of the online images of the first page of every New Testament book that is included in the manuscript, in the order in which they appear in Codex Vaticanus. Clicking the embedded link will take you to the image of that page at the Vatican Library’s website.
|From Codex Vaticanus: Second Thess. 3:11-18 and Hebrews 1:1-2:2.
This image is digitally altered; a digital photo of the page
is at the Vatican Library website.
1. Book title, in the upper margin of the manuscript.
2. Decoration. Similar decorative lines are not unusual in later manuscripts, which sometimes feature horizontal lines made of braided ropes or thorns. In this case, the decoration was added long after the initial production of the manuscript. Such decorations serve a practical purpose as well as an artistic one, helping draw attention to the beginnings of books.
3. Enlarged initial. When Codex Vaticanus was produced, it did not have this feature, which was added later. A close look at the page shows that originally the letter pi at the beginning of Hebrews 1:1 was written in the same script, and in the same size, as the rest of the letters in the word Πολυμερως. (In some manuscripts, the initial at the beginning of books is not only enlarged, but drawn in the shape of animals, or even of people. It is not unusual, in medieval Gospels-manuscripts, for an initial to signify the beginning of a Eusebian Section, and for the initials to be written larger, and in different ink, than the rest of the text.)
4. Distigme. The two dots in the margin which resemble an umlaut (¨) seem to have been added to draw attention to a textual variant in the text. In some other manuscripts, margin-notes similarly draw attention to textual variants, but they usually mention the alternative reading. Probably whoever added these symbols to the pages of Codex Vaticanus (and there are wide-ranging opinions about whether these marks are ancient, or medieval, or even Renaissance-era) possessed another volume in which the same points of textual variation were marked, with notes about the readings in Codex Vaticanus. More distigmai appear on this page (for example, at Hebrews 1:3).
5. Coronis. Barely visible, a simple decorative design here, made of dots and flourishes, designates the end of a book. Early copyists tended to use their own distinct designs, so the occurrence of different designs in the same manuscript is a clue that more than one copyist contributed to its production. The remarkable similarity between a coronis-design that appears repeatedly in Codex Vaticanus (for example, at the end of Genesis), and a coronis that appears in Codex Sinaiticus (at the end of Mark), has suggested to some researchers that the same copyist was involved in the production of both manuscripts, possibly as a normal copyist for Vaticanus, and as a scriptorium-supervisor for Sinaiticus.
6. Subscription. This is the closing-title of a book – in this case, Second Thessalonians.
7. Subscription expansion. After the closing-title of Second Thessalonians, someone wrote an additional note: “Written from Athens.”
8. Secondary Corrector’s Note. Made somewhat famous by Bruce Metzger in his 1981 book Manuscripts of the Greek New Testament: An Introduction to Palaeography, this note was written by someone who had discovered that someone had corrected an erroneous reading. The copyist of Codex Vaticanus had written Φανερων in Hebrews 1:3, and a corrector had replaced that with the correct reading, Φέρων (which is supported by all other manuscripts, including Papyrus 46). The person who wrote this note, however, objected to this correction, and wrote, ἀμαθέστατε καὶ κακέ, ἂφες τὸν παλαιόν, μὴ μεταποίει. Metzger translated these words as, “Fool and knave, can’t you leave the old reading alone, and not alter it!” Another rendering: “Untrained troublemaker, forgive the ancient [reading]; do not convert it.” He re-wrote Φανερων, erasing most of the corrector’s Φερων. Apparently, the note-writer regarded Codex Vaticanus as a museum-piece to be protected and preserved, rather than as a copy of Scripture to be used as such.
9. Diple-marks. The “>” symbols in the margin accompany quotations from the Old Testament – in this case, quotations from Psalm 2:7 and Second Samuel 7:14.
10. A Correction. The copyist of Codex Vaticanus appears to have written ελεον, but the person who reinforced the otherwise faded lettering throughout the manuscript declined to reinforce the second ε (epsilon), and either he or another corrector wrote above it the correct letters, αι. See also the insertion of the letter ε in λειτουργοὺς in verse 7, in the last line of the second column on this page, and the lack of reinforcement of the letters ε and ν in εχρεισεν in verse 9, in the tenth line of the third column.
11. Modern Chapter-number. A relatively recent owner (or steward) of the manuscript wrote the modern chapter-number directly on the page in the margin, and crudely but clearly delineated the chapter-division in the text.
12. Editorial Pruning. Somewhere in the transmission-stream of Codex Vaticanus’ text, a copyist removed the words του αἰωνος, probably because he considered them superfluous. (There seems to be nothing that would make these words vulnerable to accidental loss, and the difference between the inclusion or omission of the words is the difference between “forever and ever” and “forever.”)
It is sometimes claimed that no textual variants that are closely contested have an impact on Christian doctrine. In Hebrews 1:3, however, most Greek manuscripts affirm that Jesus, by Himself – δι’ αὐτου or δι’ ἑαυτου – cleansed our – ἡμων – sins. This unquestionably impacts the interpretation of the verse: is there room for any other source of purification of sins – for instance, is it valid to seek purification through one’s own works, or through the intercession of Mary or of other saints – or was purification from sins fully obtained by Christ, and by Him alone? And, did Jesus achieve the forgiveness of the sins of all people (as the American Bible Society’s 1976 Good News Translation says: “after achieving forgiveness for the sins of all human beings”), or forgiveness for the sins of believers (as the New Living Translation says: “When He had cleansed us from our sins”)? Does this verse teach that atonement was provided solely by Christ? And does it affirm that the atonement covers believers, or does it allow the belief that the atonement covers all people in general?
(It is difficult to see how the
compilations could beget the New Living Translation’s rendering. Neither compilation has the Greek equivalent
of “us” or “our.” Yet the
NLT’s publisher explicitly asserts that the text of the fourth edition of
the UBS Greek
New Testament and the 27th edition of the Nestle-Aland
compilation was its New Testament base-text.)
It is possible, of course, to find answers to questions about the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice, and about the range of His atonement’s effectiveness, elsewhere in the New Testament, and that is what is meant (or, what should be meant) by those who say that closely contested textual variants do not have an impact on doctrine: if one were to simply ignore the verse in which the textual contest takes place, the doctrine which one might, or might not, find in that verse is affirmed elsewhere in the New Testament. However, the fact remains that some textual variants do have an impact on the interpretation of specific passages of the New Testament.