Codex Sinaiticus

James R. Adair, Jr.

This brief article is an expanded version of the article which appeared in the Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible.

Codex Sinaiticus is a fourth century Greek uncial manuscript originally containing the entire Bible. Each page contains four columns of text (except the OT poetic books, which have only two columns), the only biblical manuscript to use this format. Written on fine vellum, 390 leaves were discovered by Tischendorf, though it originally must have contained more than 730. Most of the missing leaves are from the OT, with the majority of Genesis - 1 Chronicles now missing. A substantial portion of 1 Chronicles curiously appears in the middle of Esdras B (= Hebrew Ezra-Nehemiah), probably as a result of a misplaced quire in the exemplar. The remaining historical books (in the LXX order) are intact, concluding with 1 and 4 Maccabees. The major and minor prophets follow, with a lacuna of probably 56 leaves from the middle of Lamentations to the end of Micah, which presumably followed Hosea and Amos. The rest of the minor prophets are followed by the usual poetical and wisdom books, concluding with Job. The New Testament is complete, with a bonus: after Revelation, the Epistle of Barnabas and the first quarter of the Shepherd of Hermas appear. There is no way to know whether the manuscript originally ended with Hermas or contained other works.

The story of the modern discovery of Sinaiticus by Tischendorf in St. Catherine's monastery at the foot of Mt. Sinai is compelling, particularly as related by Tischendorf himself in a brief monograph. After procuring the manuscript for Czar Alexander II in 1859, the majority of the leaves of Sinaiticus passed into the possession of the British Museum, which purchased the volume from the leaders of the new Soviet Union shortly after the revolution. In 1975 the monks at St. Catherine's monastery discovered a room whose ceiling had collapsed centuries ago and which contained perhaps as many as 4000 leaves and fragments of manuscripts, including several leaves of Genesis quite possibly belonging to Sinaiticus. Unfortunately, they have not yet been published.

The original provenance of the codex is debatable, but the two likeliest contenders seem to be Egypt and Caesarea. It was certainly present in the library at Caesarea sometime between the fifth and seventh centuries, where it was corrected at one point against a manuscript that had been corrected against the original Hexapla of Origen by the martyr Pamphilius. Although it has frequently been suggested, it is unlikely that Sinaiticus (or Codex Vaticanus, a very similar manuscript) was one of the fifty parchment books ordered by the Emperor Constantine. The text of the OT reflects the Old Greek (where it has been determined), though it is inferior to Vaticanus in most books. In the NT, Sinaiticus is frequently cited as an Alexandrian witness. However, in John 1-8, at least, it contains a text more closely related to the Western tradition.


Fee, Gordon D. "Codex Sinaiticus in the Gospel of John: A Contribution to Methodology in Establishing Textual Relationships." New Testament Studies 15 (1968-69): 23-44.

Lake, Helen, and Kirsopp Lake. Codex Sinaiticus Petropolitanus. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon, 1911-1922.

© James R. Adair, Jr., 1997