Alexandrinus, Vaticanus, and Sinaiticus Rejected by Erasmus, the Reformers, and the KJV Translators

Alexandrinus, Vaticanus, and Sinaiticus

So much has been said about the Alexandrinus, Vaticanus, and Sinaiticus Manuscripts being made available since 1611, that a candid examination ought to be given to see if it is all as we have repeatedly been told.

The Alexandrinus Manuscript arrived in London in 1672, we are informed, just sixteen years too late for use by the translators of the King James.  We would humbly inquire if a manuscript must dwell in the home town of scholars in order for them to have the use of its information?  If so, then the Revisers of 1881 and 1901 were in a bad way.  Who donated the Alexandrinus Manuscripts to the British Government? (17).  It was Cyril Lucar, the head of the Greek Catholic Church.  Why did he do it?  An answer to these inquiries opens up a very interesting chapter of history.

Cyril Lucar (1568-1638), born in the East, early embraced the principles of the Reformation, and for it, was pursued all his life by the Jesuits.  He spent some time at Geneva with Beza and Calvin.  When holding an important position in Lithuania, he opposed the union of the Greek Church there and in Poland with Rome.  In 1602 he was elected Patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt, where the Alexandrinus Manuscript had been kept for years.  It seems almost certain that this great Biblical scholar would have been acquainted with it. Thus he was in touch with this manuscript before the King James translators began work.  Later he was elected the head of the Greek Catholic Church.  He wrote a confession of faith which distinguished between the canonical and apocryphal books.  He was thoroughly awake to the issues of textual criticism.  These had been discussed repeatedly and to the smallest details at Geneva, where he had passed some time.  Of Lucar one encyclopedia states:

“In 1602 Cyril succeeded Meletius as patriarch of Alexandria.  While holding this position he carried on an active correspondence with David le Leu, de Wilhelm, and the Remonstrant Uytenbogaert of Holland; Abbott, Archbishop of Canterbury; Leger, professor of Geneva; the republic of Venice; the Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus; and his chancellor, Axel Oxenstierna.  Many of these letters, written in different languages, are still extant.  They show that Cyril was an earnest opponent of Rome, and a great admirer of the Protestant Reformation.  He sent for all the important works, Protestant and Roman Catholic, published in the Western countries, and sent several young men to England to get a thorough theological education.  The friends of Cyril in Constantinople, and among them the English, Dutch, and Swedish ambassadors, endeavoured to elevate Cyril to the patriarchal see of Constantinople….

….The Jesuits, in union with the agents of France, several times procured his banishment, while his friends, supported by the ambassadors of the Protestant powers in Constantinople, obtained, by means of large sums of money, his recall.  During all these troubles, Cyril, with remarkable energy, pursued the great task of his life.  In 1672 he obtained a printing press from England, and at once began to print his Confession of Faith and several catechisms.  But before these documents were ready for publication, the printing establishment was destroyed by the Turkish government at the instigation of the Jesuits.  Cyril then sent his Confession of Faith to Geneva, where it appeared, in 1629, in the Latin language, under the true name of the author, and with a dedication to Cornelius de Haga.  It created throughout Europe a profound sensation” (18).

We think enough has been given to show that the scholars of Europe and England, in particular, had ample opportunity to become fully acquainted with by 1611 with the problems involved in the Alexandrinus Manuscript.

Let us pursue the matter a little further.  The Catholic Encyclopedia does not omit to tell us that the New Testament from Acts on, in Codex A (the Alexandrinus), agrees with the Vatican Manuscript.  If the problems presented by the Alexandrinus Manuscript, and consequently by the Vaticanus, were so serious, why were we obliged to wait till 1881-1901 to learn of the glaring mistakes of the translators of the King James, when the manuscript arrived in 1627 (19)?  The Forum informs us that 250 different versions of the Bible were tried in England between 1611 and now, but they all fell flat before the mastery of the King James.  Were not the Alexandrinus and the Vaticanus able to aid these 250 versions, and overthrow the other Bible, resting, as the critics explain, on an insecure foundation?

The case with the Vaticanus and the Sinaiticus is no better.  The problems presented by these two manuscripts were well known, not only to the translators of the King James, but also to Erasmus.  We are told that the Old Testament portion of the Vaticanus has been printed since 1587.

 “The third great edition is that commonly known as the ‘Sixtine,’ published at Rome in 1587 under Pope Sixtus V….Substantially, the ‘Sixtine’ edition gives the text of B (Vaticanus)….The ‘Sixtine’ served as the basis for most of the ordinary editions of the LXX for just three centuries” (20).

We are informed by another author that, if Erasmus had desired, he could have secured a transcript of this manuscript (21).  There was no necessity, however, for Erasmus to obtain a transcript because he was in correspondence with Professor Paulus Bombasius at Rome, who sent him such variant readings as he wished (22).

“A correspondent of Erasmus in 1533 sent that scholar a number of selected readings from it (Codex B), as proof of its superiority to the Greek Received Text” (23).

Erasmus, however, rejected these varying readings of the Vatican Manuscript because he considered from the massive evidence of his day that the Received Text was correct.

The story of the finding of the Sinaitic Manuscript by Tischendorf in a monastery at the foot of Mt Sinai illustrates the history of some of these later manuscripts.  Tischendorf was visiting this monastery in 1844 to look for these documents.  He discovered in a basket, over forty pages of Greek manuscripts of the Bible.  He was told that two other basket loads had been used for kindling.  Later, in 1859, he again visited this monastery to search for other manuscripts.  He was about to give up in despair and depart when he was told of a bundle of additional leaves of a Greek manuscript.  When he examined the contents of this bundle, he saw them to be a reproduction of part of the Bible in Greek.  He could not sleep that night.  Great was the joy of those who were agitating for a revision of the Bible when they learned that the new find was similar to the Vaticanus, but differed greatly from the King James.  Dr Riddle informs us that the discovery of the Sinaiticus settled in its favor the agitation for revision.

Just a word on the two styles of manuscripts before we go further.  Manuscripts are of two kinds – uncial and cursive.  Uncials are written in large square letters much like our capital letters; cursives are of a free running hand.

We have already given authorities to show that the Sinaitic Manuscript is a brother of the Vaticanus.  Practically all of the problems of any serious nature which are presented by the Sinaitic, are the problems of the Vaticanus.  Therefore the translators of 1611 had available all the variant readings of these manuscripts and rejected them.

The following words from Dr Kenrick, Catholic Bishop of Philadelphia, will support the conclusion that the translators of the King James knew the readings of the Codices Aleph, A, B, C, D, where they translation of the Catholic Bible in 1849.  I quote from the preface:

“Since the famous manuscripts of Rome, Alexandria, Cambridge, Paris, and Dublin, were examined….a verdict has been obtained in favor of the Vulgate.

At the Reformation, the Greek Text, as it then stood, was taken as a standard, in conformity to which the versions of the Reformers were generally made; whilst the Latin Vulgate was depreciated, or despised, as a mere version” (24).

In other words, the readings of these much boasted manuscripts, recently made available, are those of the Vulgate.  The Reformers knew of these readings and rejected them as well as the Vulgate.

Men of 1611 Had All the Material Necessary

Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that the translators of 1611 did not have access to the problems of the Alexandrinus, the Sinaiticus, and the Vaticanus by direct contact with these uncials.  It mattered little.  They had other manuscripts accessible which presented all the same problems.  We are indebted for the following information to Dr F. C. Cook, editor of the “Speaker’s Commentary”, chaplain to the Queen of England, who was invited to sit on the Revision Committee, but refused:

“That Textus Receptus was taken in the first instance, from late cursive manuscripts; but its readings are maintained only so far as they agree with the best ancient versions, with the earliest and best Greek and Latin Fathers, and with the vast majority of uncial and cursive manuscripts (25).

It is then clear that among the cursive and uncial manuscripts which the Reformers possessed, the majority agreed with the Received Text; however, there were a few among these documents which belonged to the counterfeit family.  These dissenting few presented all the problems which can be found in the Alexandrinus, the Vaticanus, and the Sinaiticus.  In other words, the translators of the King James came to a diametrically opposite conclusion from that arrived at by the Revisers of 1881, although the men of 1611, as well as those of 1881, had before them the same problems and the same evidence.  We shall present testimony on this from another authority.

“The popular notion seems to be, that we are indebted for our knowledge of the true text of Scripture to the existing uncials entirely; and that the essence of the secret dwells exclusively with the four or five oldest of these uncials.  By consequence, it is popularly supposed that since we are possessed of such uncial copies, we could afford to dispense with the testimony of the cursives altogether.  A more complete misconception of the facts of the case can hardly be imagined.  For the plain truth is that all the phenomena exhibited by the uncial manuscripts are reproduced by the cursive copies” (26).

We give a further testimony from another eminent authority: “Our experience among the Greek cursives proves to us that transmission has not been careless, and they do represent a wholesome traditional text in the passages involving doctrine and so forth” (27).

As to the large number of manuscripts in existence, we have every reason to believe that the Reformers were far better acquainted with them than later scholars.  Doctor Jacobus in speaking of textual critics of 1582, says: “The present writer has been struck with the critical acumen shown at that date (1582), and the grasp of the relative value of the common Greek manuscripts and the Latin version” (28).

On the other hand, if more manuscripts have been made accessible since 1611, little use has been made of what we had before and of the majority of those made available since.  The Revisers systematically ignored the whole world of manuscripts and relied practically on only three or four.  As Dean Burgon says, “But nineteen-twentieths of those documents, for any use which has been made of them, might just as well be still lying in the monastic libraries from which they were obtained”.  We feel, therefore, that a mistaken picture of the case has been presented with reference to the material at the disposition of the translators of 1611 and concerning their ability to use that material.


17 – The manuscript was entrusted by Cyril Lucar to the English ambassador Sir Thomas Rowe to pass on as a gift to King Charles I.

18 – “Cyril Lucar”, McClintock and Strong, ‘Encyclopedia’, Vol. II, p. 635.

19 – During this interval Walton (1657), Fell (1675), Mill (1707), Bengel (1734) Wetstein (1751), Griesbach, Scholz, Lachmann, and their successors expressed views similar to those of the 1881-1901 Revisers; but their writings were not given the same wide publicity.

20 – Ottley, ‘Handbook of the Septuagint’, p. 64.

21 – Bissell, ‘Historic Origin of the Bible’, p. 84

22 – S. P. Tregelles, ‘On the Printed Text of the Greek Testament’, p. 22

23 – Kenyon, ‘Our Bible’, p. 133

24 – H. Cotton, quoted in ‘Rheims and Douay’, p. 155

25 – F. C. Cook, ‘Revised Version of the First Three Gospels’, p. 226

26 – Burgon and Miller, ‘The Traditional Text’ p. 202

27 – H. C. Hoskier, ‘Concerning the Genesis of the Versions’, p. 416

28 – Jacobus, ‘Catholic and Protestant Bibles’, p. 212


Wilkinson, Benjamin G. (undated), only publishing details are, “Offset in Australasia for those who love the “Scriptures of Truth”.  Above excerpt from pages 75-82.