John 1:18 – Sinaiticus: The Devil in the Details

The following is taken from James E. Snapp’s post: John 1:18 – Sinaiticus: The Devil in the Details.

 In the two previous posts, I examined (a) the meaning of the term μονογενὴς, concluding that “only begotten” is an entirely proper rendering, and (b) some early patristic and versional evidence for rival forms of John 1:18, especially the contest between “only begotten Son” and “only begotten God.”  Although a simple count of manuscripts overwhelmingly favors “only begotten Son,” (1,630 versus 7) the patristic evidence indicates that in the early centuries of the church, things were not so lopsided.  My findings generally align with the observation made by Paul McReynolds:  ““There are eleven writers, with thirty-nine citations, who support μονογενὴς θεός,” and “There are 20+ Fathers, with 40+ citations, who support the ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός reading.”  In addition, McReynolds listed 14 Latin authors, with 41 citations, who support υἱός; only Hilary of Poitiers is listed as conceivable (but highly unlikely) Latin support for θεός,            

Today, I want to pause the general discussion orbiting the textual contest in John 1:18 in order to focus on the contents and character of the text in Codex Sinaiticus, one of the manuscripts that favor μονογενὴς θεός (without ὁ). 

Although Sinaiticus is usually considered to be a flagship manuscript of the Alexandrian Text, in John 1:1-8:38, its text is not Alexandrian; it is Western.  This was shown by Gordon Fee (in Codex Sinaiticus in the Gospel of John: A Contribution to Methodology in Establishing Textual Relationships, in New Testament Studies 15, 1968-69).  This elicits a question:  if  ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός is the Western reading of John 1:18 – as Hort emphatically asserted – then why is something else (μονογενὴς θεός) found in Sinaiticus?  (Here is the relevant quote from Hort:  “It comes out with perfect clearness that υἱός is one of the numerous Ante-nicene readings of a ‘Western’ type (in the technical not the strictly geographical sense of the word).”)  Finding θεός in John 1:18 in the Western portion of À is a bit like finding a lemon growing on an orange tree.             

The answer has something to do with the background of Codex Sinaiticus – but before we investigate that, let’s take a look at some anomalous readings of À in John 1.  Based on data accumulated by Reuben Swanson, here are some of À’s unusual readings:           

 v. 4 – εστιν instead of ην              

v. 6 – ην after θεου            

v. 17 – non-inclusion of Χριστου            

v. 18 – non-inclusion of ο ων before εις τον κολπον            

v. 19 – does not include και ωμολογησεν            

v. 20 – non-inclusion of αυτον            

v. 20 – includes παλιν            

v. 21 – reads επηρωτησαν            

v. 21 – non-inclusion of και before λεγει            

v. 21 – non-inclusion of ὁ before προφητης             

v. 28 – reads ποταμου after Ιορδανου            

v. 32 – reads ως περιστεραν καταβαινον εκ του ουρανου και μενον after πνευμα            

v. 34 – reads εκλεκτος του Θεου instead of υιος του Θεου                                 

Sinaiticus very often has no Greek allies in the first chapter of John.  Why?  Partly because Codex D is not extant for John 1:16-3:26, but there is more to it than that.  I deduce that the text of John 1 in Sinaiticus is not merely Western; the copyist used a Western exemplar but freely drifted from its text.  Although in theory this could occur almost anywhere in the text’s ancestry, it seems likely that this array of readings originated as À’s text of John 1:1-8:38 was transcribed.  Sinaiticus’ copyist was obligated by a lacuna in his main exemplar to resort to a secondary exemplar, but he did not trust the secondary exemplar and felt free to take some liberties with its contents.               

What is the basis for this deduction?  What would make a scribe reluctant to trust an exemplar, even a secondary one?             

Enter Heracleon.  Heracleon was a Valentinian Gnostic writer in the second century, generally regarded as one who taught in Italy, possibly in the city of Rome.  Bart Ehrman has presented some data that suggests a special relationship between the text of Sinaiticus in John 1:1-8:38 and the text used by Heracleon (see the essays Heracleon, Origen, and the Text of the Fourth Gospel and Heracleon and the ‘Western’ Textual Tradition, chapters 14 and 15 of Studies in the Textual Criticism of the New Testament, Vol. 33 of New Testament Tools & Studies, 2006). À* agrees with several readings in the text of Heracleon, as cited by Origen.  One particularly impressive example involves the text of John 1:21:  Heracleon claimed (according to Origen) that John had denied being a prophet (instead of denying that he was the prophet); this indicates that Heracleon’s text of John 1:21 lacked the article ὁ before προφήτης – and this is the extremely rare reading of À*.  We see in John 1:21 in À* the same kind of unusual reading – the omission of an article – that we also see in 1:18.  Another reading in À that corresponds to a reading which can plausibly be deduced to have been in the text used by Heracleon is the presence of εστιν (“is”) in John 1:4 instead of ην (“was”). 

Now take a close look at how Origen cites John 1:18 in his Commentary on John, Book Six, paragraph 2:  as Origen contests Heracleon’s view that John 1:18 is a statement from John the author of the Gospel – Origen considered it a statement by John the Baptist – Origen cites the text with “only begotten God” withoutthe article.  A little later, Origen cites John 1:18 again, this time without any noun after “only begotten” – that is, as Origen cites most of 1:18 in two segments, the first segment is “No one has seen God at any time,” and the second segment is, “The only-begotten who is in the bosom of the Father.” You may recall from the previous post that this was probably the reading of the Diatessaron.              

This form of the text – without either “Son” or “God” after μονογενὴς – is probably the form that Heracleon used, and the form that the scribe of À encountered in his exemplar, but rejected.  (In Book 6, paragraph 7, Origen appears to use John 1:18 in a way that refers to simply “the Only Begotten.” probably using Heracleon’s text, but his quotation with “only begotten God” is more prominent.)             

In conclusion:  a comparison between the text of Heracleon (as represented by Origen) to the text of John 1:1-8:38 in À indicates that Sinaiticus’ text of John 1:1-8:38 was influenced by an exemplar which frequently agreed with the text of Heracleon.            

If the scribe of À recognized that his secondary exemplar was a manuscript used by Heracleon, the scribe would very probably consider it right to harbor suspicions about its accuracy, and to filter its unusual readings via comparisons to the quotations embedded in Origen’s commentary.

Now let’s consider the circumstances in which Codex Sinaiticus was made, as fully as they can be deduced.  Researchers such as J. Rendel Harris and T. C. Skeat have made a strong case, based on the accumulation of small pieces of evidence, that À was made in Caesarea.  (Skeat proposed that Sinaiticus and Vaticanus were both among the 50 codices prepared by Eusebius of Caesarea for emperor Constantine; however his theory is rather complicated and requires a “Goldilocks” scenario to account for the differences between Vaticanus and Sinaiticus – and it simply does not account for the many differences between the text used by Eusebius and the contents of B and À, or for major differences between B and À, such as their differing forms of Tobit, and the inclusion in À of the books of Barnabas and Hermas, and the inept treatment of the Eusebian Canons and Sections in À.)             

Who was in charge of the scriptorium in Caesarea in the mid-300s?  Jerome informs us (in Lives of Illustrious Men and elsewhere) that at Caesarea in the mid-300’s, bishop Acacius, followed by bishop Euzoius – both of whom subscribed to Arianism – improved the library’s holdings by transferring to parchment various texts which were in danger of being damaged or lost, having been written on papyrus.             

Although Jerome does not explicitly state that Biblical texts on papyrus were among the materials that Acacius and Euzoius transferred onto parchment, it seems reasonable to think that Biblical texts would be prioritized in such a project.  And if Acacius oversaw the production of Sinaiticus at Caesarea, this would account for (a) his access to the text of John used by Heracleon – reckoning that Origen must have taken a copy of Heracleon’s work to Caesarea, inasmuch as he cited it in his Commentary on John – and (b) his willingness to replace readings in his exemplar with readings that he could recollect or harvest from the writings of Origen, and (c) the generally Alexandrian character of the text of À in the rest of the Gospels, Acts, and Epistles, echoing Egyptian exemplars either taken to Caesarea by Origen in the 200s, or acquired later in the 200s.                 

(Among the small points supportive of the theory that Acacius oversaw the production of Codex Sinaiticus, one that should not be overlooked is the size of the writing in the codex; it is the ancient equivalent of a giant-print Bible, a format that would be especially useful to Acacius, who, Jerome reports, had only one eye.)                  

The implication of all this is that although John 1:1-8:38 is essentially Western, it also contains non-Western readings where the copyist abandoned his exemplar.  The reading μονογενὴς θεός is one such non-Western reading.  Rather than show that μονογενὴς θεός was ever a Western reading, À shows its scribe’s willingness to abandon his secondary exemplar – likely an exemplar associated with Heracleon.                

In conclusion, À’s reading μονογενὴς θεός, although found in the Western section of À, is unlikely to be representative of À’s Western exemplar, and is more likely a reading introduced by the scribe of À on the basis of his personal familiarity with the reading θεός after μονογενὴς as it is found in Origen’s Commentary on John.     

One thought on “John 1:18 – Sinaiticus: The Devil in the Details

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s