In 1841, a young scholar sent a letter to his fiancÃ©e, â€˜I am confronted with a sacred task,â€™ he wrote, â€˜the struggle to regain the original form of the New Testament.â€™
Lobegott Tischendorf was born in 1815 and was one of the most prolific publishers of Biblical Greek manuscripts in the 19th century. Between 1841 and 1872, he prepared eight editions of the Greek New Testament and twenty two volumes of Biblical manuscripts; he eventually would publish more than 150 books and articles relating to biblical criticism.
His life long pursuit of the original manuscripts of the Greek New Testament began in 1844 when he traveled extensively throughout the Near East. While visiting the monastery of St. Catherine at Mount Sinai, he happened to see some ancient manuscripts in a waste-paper basket, they were being used to light the monasteries oven. As he examined the leaves, he was astonished to find they were copies of the Septuagint; the Greek translation of the Old Testament commissioned in 250 B.C. Tischendorf recognized this version of the Old Testament as written in an early Greek script dating from the 4th century A.D.. He went on to retrieve 43 such leaves which turned out to be the earliest known copies of the Greek Old Testament.
After convincing the monks to let him purchase the leaves, which contained portions of 1 Chronicles, Jeremiah, Nehemiah and Esther, he returned to the University at Leipzig. As he compared the ancient manuscripts to modern translations, he found that the texts matched almost flawlessly.
His next find would be even more astounding. He returned to the monastery on Mt. Sinai in 1859 under the patronage of the Czar of Russia. The day before he was scheduled to leave, he presented the steward of the monastery with a copy of the modern Septuagint that he had recently published in Leipzig. The steward told him that he already had a copy of the Septuagint and produced, from a closet in his cell, a manuscript wrapped in a red cloth.
Tischendorf could hardly believe his eyes as he unfolded the parchment. Concealing his excitement, he asked if he could stay and look further at the manuscript. The monk agreed and Tischendorf stayed up all night poring over the document. He found it to be beyond his wildest hopes; not only was there an almost complete version of the Old Testament but also an entire Greek New Testament that was completely intact and in excellent condition. What he had spent his life searching for was now before his eyes.
The next morning he tried to buy the manuscript but without success and was forced to leave without the precious treasure. However, upon travelling to Cairo he was introduced to the ruling abbot of the monastery who happened to be in city at the time. Tischendorf convinced him that what the monks held was of incredible significance to the historical validity and reliability of the Bible.
At the Abbots command, Bedouin messengers were sent to bring the manuscript to Cairo where Tischendorf would be allowed to copy it. Working feverishly with hired help, Tischendorf went about copying what has now become known as Codex Sinaiticus; one of the oldest and most important texts of the Old and New Testament.
Through further negotiations Tischendorf was able to secure the entire manuscript as a gift from the monastery at Mt. Sinai to the Czar of Russia. In 1862, on the one thousandth anniversary of the founding of the Russian Empire, the manuscript was published in lavish style. It is now housed in the British Museum.
Matthew 24:35 records the words spoken by the Lord Jesus Christ that, â€˜heaven and earth will pass away, but My words shall not pass away.â€™
For the past 200 years, the reliability of the Bible has been under constant assault as to its accuracy and validity. It is one of the most scrutinized documents of antiquity and yet it continues to been found amazingly consistent over thousands of years of transmission. New archeological discoveries continue to verify that there is a remarkable, almost word for word, correspondence between what we read today and the earliest known copies of the original autograph books of the Old and New Testament.
Tischendorf’s discoveries could have showed how flawed and corrupted our modern translations have become but they demonstrated the exact opposite. The Christian can wholeheartedly trust that the text before him is an accurate and reliable translation of the inspired, inerrant Word of God.
And as the Word of the God, â€˜it is to be believed, as God’s instruction in all that it affirms, obeyed as God’s command in all that it requires, and embraced as God’s pledge in all that it promises.â€™
Aland, The Text of the New Testament
Metzger. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament
Black, New Testament Textual Criticism
The Columbia Encyclopedia
The Chicago Statement on Inerrancy
** The Chicago Statement on Inerrancy Article X
We affirm that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy. We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original. We deny that any essential element of the Christian faith is affected by the absence of the autographs. We further deny that this absence renders the assertion of Biblical inerrancy invalid or irrelevant.