The Alexandrine Codex
THE Alexandrine Codex was the first of the major Bible manuscripts to be made accessible to scholars. Its discovery led to the constructive criticism of the Greek Bible text for the benefit of all subsequent translators of the Holy Scriptures. How and when did it come to light?
Kyrillos Loukaris, patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt, was a great collector of books, and in the year 1621, when he became patriarch in Constantinople, Turkey, he took with him this Codex Alexandrinus. With the unrest in the Middle East, however, and the possibility that the manuscript might be destroyed if it fell into the hands of Muslims, Loukaris felt that it would be much safer in England. Accordingly, in 1624 he offered it to the British ambassador in Turkey as a gift for the English king, James I. The king died before the manuscript could be handed over, so it was given instead to his successor, Charles I, three years later.
Was this manuscript as valuable as Kyrillos Loukaris felt it was? Yes. It dates back to the early part of the fifth century C.E. Several scribes evidently shared in writing it, and the text has been corrected throughout. It is written on vellum, two columns to each page, in uncial (capital) letters without any spaces between words. Most of Matthew is missing, as are some portions of Genesis, Psalms, John, and 2 Corinthians. Now officially designated Codex A, it consists of 773 leaves and remains an early witness of considerable importance.
Most Bible manuscripts can be placed into groups, or families, on account of similarities that exist between them. These arose when scribes made their copies from the same source or close exemplars. With the Alexandrine Codex, however, the scribes seemed concerned with bringing together readings from different families so as to provide as good a text as possible. In fact, it proved to be older and better than any of the Greek manuscripts used as the basis for the King James Version of 1611.
The Alexandrine reading of 1 Timothy 3:16 provoked much controversy when it was published. The King James Version here reads: “God was manifest in the flesh,” in referring to Christ Jesus. But in this ancient codex, the contraction for “God,” formed by two Greek letters “ΘC,” appears originally to have read “ΟC,” the word for “who.” Obviously, this meant that Christ Jesus was not “God.”
It took more than 200 years and the discovery of other older manuscripts to confirm the rendering “who” or “which” as being correct. Bruce M. Metzger in his Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament concludes: “No uncial (in the first hand) earlier than the eighth or ninth century . . . supports θεός [the·osʹ]; all ancient versions presuppose ὅς or ὅ; and no patristic writer prior to the last third of the fourth century testifies to the reading θεός [the·osʹ].” Today, most translations concur in omitting any reference to “God” in this text.
In 1757 the king’s Royal Library became part of the British Library, and this fine codex is now clearly displayed in the manuscript room of the British Museum. It is a treasure well worth seeing.