It was interesting that I wrote on the deutero-canonicals yesterday. I have written before that one thing I do with my children (every morning during sumner, only on the weekends during the school year) is religious readings. After reading a chapter from the Bible, I do a little question and answer. My kids ask me questions of a theological, philosophical, or Christian historical nature. Now I don’t usually tell my children what I write about each time I write. Yesterday I said nothing. During our question and answer time, my daughter unknowingly asked me a question relevant to my first post yesterday. She asked me how old the oldest copy of the Bible is.
I must admit that I was a bit unprepared for this question. Lynsey wanted to know how old the oldest complete (containing both testaments) Bible was. I knew that some very old copies had been found, but I did not know exactly how old they were. I have read about it before, but I could not remember. So, I did some research.
This is relevant to yesterday’s post “I’ll Second That”, because I have stated that the earliest extant copies of the Bible do not contain the deutero-canonicals. This is true, in part. The oldest copies of the Bible we have which contain both testaments do contain part of the deutero-canonicals, but none of them contain the whole thing. It may be that these books were originally present, and then we’re lost. This is the case with some of the other books which can be found only in part. No one seems to know for sure. Either way, it is evident that the Apostles did recognize and use the deutero-canonicals.
There is not just one copy which can be called the oldest. Right now there are two copies which scholars debate over being the oldest. The first to be known is called “Codex Vaticanus”. Its name comes from the fact that the book is kept in the Vatican Library. The other Bible is known as “Codex Sinaiticus”. The links below will give the reader more detailed information on both copies.
While no one seems to know for sure which copy is older, both date to about the middle of the fourth century. “Codex Vaticanus” is thought to have once contained at least one extra-biblical work. “Codex Sinaiticus” actually does contain more than one extra-biblical work. In both codices the extra-biblical works are in the New Testament. The most interesting element is that, at the time both codices were written, these extra-biblical works were probably not considered to be extra-biblical. Most likely they were considered a part of the New Testament, as Christians living in different areas sometimes had different books in their respective New Testaments. It was not until the latter part of the fourth century that the New Testament was officially unified for all Christians. Essentially, these codices allow us to get a real view of the “evolution”, if you will, of the New Testament.
One might insert here that the Catholic position on the deutero-canonicals is a bit weakened, due to the fact that neither of these codices contains the entire deutero-canon. Yet, a portion of the deutero-canon is in both codices. Not to mention that we have letters from the Church Fathers recognizing the entire deutero-canon.
I would also like to mention here that there has been a claim of which I just recently became aware. About two years ago, the biblical scholar Dr. Daniel B. Wallace claimed that the oldest copy of any New Testament writing had been found. It was not a complete copy, but only a portion of the Gospel According to Mark. I have not been able to verify the claim, but if it is true, this would be the oldest copy of any New Testament book. It has been dated to the first century.
I felt this information would be helpful to our readers after my first yesterday. It further proves that the Early Christians did recognize the deutero-canonicals, and that-prior to the late fourth century some Christians did recognize the canonicity of what we, today, would call apocryphal works. As Bl. Henry Cardinal Newman said, “To be familiar with history is to cease to be Protestant.”
Peace in Christ,
David J. Pollard
American Catholic Solidarity