The Codex Sinaiticus (formerly known as the Codex Sinaiticus Petropolitanus) was written in Koine Greek in the mid-4th century, by at least three scribes. The codex was written in Biblical majuscule in scriptio continua, without word division, punctuation or pagination; it incorporates two ancient methods for numbering its quires, and it also incorporates a version of the system of numbering the paragraphs of the Gospels developed by Eusebius of Caesarea. It was written in a four-column format except for the poetical and wisdom literature in which a two-column format was used. This is the only surviving biblical manuscript employing the four-column page format, and it has been suggested that this is reminiscent of the roll format rather than the codex. It is thought that the codex was written somewhere in Asia Minor, Palestine (Caesarea?) or Egypt.
The Codex Sinaiticus is unique among ancient manuscripts for the number of corrections that were made to it by ancient correctors. In his monograph on the codex (reference below, p. 76) D. C. Parker states that there may be as many as 27,000 corrections to the text. The number of corrections and the care in which they were made suggests, according to Parker, the importance that may have been given to this manuscript early in its history.
Originally the Codex Sinaiticus contained the Old Testament, according to the canon of the Greek Septuagint, including the books known in English as the Apocrypha, (but without 2 and 3 Maccabees) along with the New Testament and two other early Christian books—the Shepherd of Hermas and the Epistle of Barnabas. The complete codex originally incorporated 743 parchment leaves (1486 pages) with a page size of 43 cm. wide by 38 cm. high (16.9 x 15 inches). In size and extent this represented a quantum leap from the papyrus codices in which early Christian documents were most typically written. Most papyrus codices are thought to have contained only one of the Gospels, and the most it is thought that could have been incorporated in the largest papyrus codex would have been the Gospels and Acts.
Compared to the smaller papyrus codices, from the standpoint of book history the completion of the Codex Sinaiticus on parchment may represent an achievement comparable to Gutenberg's invention of printing by movable type more than 1000 years later. However, just over half of the original book survived, now dispersed between four institutions: St Catherine's Monastery in Sinai, the British Library, Leipzig University Library, and the National Library of Russia in St. Petersburg. At the British Library the largest surviving portion - 347 leaves, or 694 pages - includes the whole of the New Testament. The other institutions hold portions of the Septuagint, which also survived almost complete, plus the Epistle of Barnabas, and portions of The Shepherd of Hermas.
After his conversion to Christianity the Emperor Constantine commissioned fifty Greek Bibles for the churches of his new capitol, Constantinople, and it is possible that the Codex Sinaiticus was among those commissioned. However, there is no evidence to substantiate this speculation.
♦ You can page through a digital facsimile of the Codex and listen to podcasts at the British Library website web at this link.
All surviving portions of the Codex have been joined in a virtual electronic edition at Codexsinaiticus.org.
♦ Please use the exact phrase keyword search under Codex Sinaiticus to locate several other entries in this database pertinent to this codex as it appears in book history over the centuries.
For a general guide to the codex see Parker, Codex Sinaiticus. The Story of the World's Oldest Bible (2010).