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Chapter 13

Emperor Constantine

 

In A.D. 331, Emperor Constantine commanded Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea to prepare fifty Greek copies of the Bible. Dr. Tischendorf, the man who rescued the Codex Sinaiticus from the Monastery of St. Catherine in the Sinai desert, devotedly believed that this manuscript and the Codex Vaticanus were two of Eusebiusí copies (Sidney Collett, The Scripture of Truth, 28).

Although Eusebius wrote a splendid history of the early Christian church,

[He] was an enthusiastic admirer, and devoted adherent of Origen. Dr. F.C. Cook, History of the Revised Version, 157

Further, Cook, who refused an invitation to sit on the committee which prepared the Revised Version, asserted:

No one needs to be reminded who knows aught of the history of that age, or who has read, however hastily, his history of the early church; that in all questions he would defer absolutely to the authority of Origen, especially in questions of criticism, is almost equally undeniable; nor do I hesitate to state my immovable conviction that in that influence is to be found the true solution of the principal phenomena which perplex or distress us in considering the readings of the Vatican and Sinaitic Manuscripts. Ibid., 155-157

This reliance upon Origen no doubt recommended Eusebiusí work to the emperor, for he designed to merge Christianity and European paganism, an aim he successfully achieved. The connection between the Codex Sinaiticus (Codex Aleph), the Codex Vaticanus (Codex B), and Eusebiusí work in Caesarea is well attested.

But in connecting B and Aleph with the library at Caesarea we are not left only to conjecture or inference. In a well-known colophon affixed to the end of the book of Esther in Aleph by the third corrector, it is stated that from the beginning of the book of Kings to the end of Esther the MS was compared with a copy "corrected by the hand of the holy martyr Pamphilus," which itself was written and corrected after the Hexapla of Origen. And a similar colophon may be found attached to the book of Ezra. It is added that the Codex Sinaiticus . . . and the codex Pamphili . . . manifested great agreement with one another. The probability that Aleph was thus at least in part copied from a manuscript executed by Pamphilus is established by the facts that a certain "Codex Marchalianus" is often mentioned which was due to Pamphilus and Eusebius; and that Origenís recension of the Old Testament, although he published no edition of the text of the New, possessed a great reputation. On the books of the Chronicles, St. Jerome mentions manuscripts executed by Origen with great care, which were published by Pamphilus and Eusebius. And in Codex H of St. Paul it is stated that that MS was compared with a MS in the library of Caesarea "which was written by the hand of the holy Pamphilus." These notices added to the frequent reference by St. Jerome and others to the critical (akribe) MSS, by which we are to understand those which were distinguished by the approval of Origen or were in consonance with the spirit of Origen, shew evidently the position in criticism which the library of Caesarea and its illustrious founder had won in those days. And it is quite in keeping with that position that Aleph should have been sent forth from that "school of criticism." The Traditional Text, 164-165

This passage is better understood if Eusebiusí relationship to Pamphilus is known. Dr. G.A. Williamson who has prepared a translation of Eusebiusí The History of the Church, (Dorset Press, New York, 1984) provides this background:

As a young man he [Eusebius] became a disciple and close friend of Pamphilus, a teacher whose influence over his receptive pupil was profound. Pamphilus was dedicated to the spread of sound learning. He established at Caesarea a school of theology, and built up a large and well-stocked library, thus largely contributing to the vast erudition later displayed by the younger man. Eusebius had already published several books, but for a time he gave up his original work to assist his tutor in the composition of a Defense of Origen. In the year 309, they were both imprisoned as confessors of Christ, but they continued their combined labours until Pamphilus was put to death for the Faithóa martyrdom which made an immense impact on his disciple. Eusebius, released from prison, withdrew to Tyre, where he honoured his friendís memory by taking the name Eusebius (son) of Pamphilus, and himself contributing the sixth and last book to the Defense. To complete his tribute, he wrote a Life of Pamphilus. G.A. Williamson, Introduction to Eusebiusí The History of the Church, 11-12

Thus it is seen that Eusebius was greatly influenced by Pamphilus, who in turn was a great admirer of the work of Origen. Abbo Martin, a Roman Catholic scholar, claimed that the Codex Sinaiticus was fabricated by Origen. If Martinís assertion is true, then it would account for Eusebiusí reliance upon such a defective manuscript in the preparation of the royally commanded fifty copies. Eusebiusí high regard for the work of Origen would no doubt have led him to accept the veracity of his manuscripts. But no true adherent to Godís Word would be similarly deceived.

A number of authorities agree that Eusebius was the source of the Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus. One states:

Constantine himself ordered fifty Greek Bibles from Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea, for the churches in Constantinople. It is quite possible that Aleph and B are two of these fifty. Dr. Robertson, Introduction to Textual Criticism, 80

Because of this possibility it is of vital importance that we examine Eusebiusí attitude toward Scripture to determine his mind-set as he undertook his task of copying the Sacred Word. Significantly he may be described as an early version of todayís higher critics. In fact, he was one of the forerunners of higher criticism.

After describing the death of James, the step-brother of Christ who he stated was thrown from a parapet of the temple, and when he survived that fall was clubbed to death, Eusebius records:

Such is the story of James, to whom is attributed the first "general" epistle. Admittedly its authenticity is doubted, since few early writers refer to it, any more than Judeís, which is also one of the seven called general. Eusebius, The History of the Church, Dorset Press, New York, 1984, 103

Eusebius also chose to cast doubt upon the second epistle of Peter.

Of Peter one epistle, known as the first, is accepted, and this the early fathers quoted freely, as undoubtedly genuine, in their own writings. But the second Petrine epistle we have been taught to regard as uncanonical. Ibid., 108

That Emperor Constantine played no small part in opening the door to the entry of paganism into the Christian church is proved beyond dispute. That he further encouraged the spread of corrupted Greek manuscripts appears all but certain. Later Eusebius states, after listing four other documents attributed to Peter:

These then are the works attributed to Peter, of which I have recognized only one epistle as authentic and accepted by the early fathers. Ibid.

Since the Codex Sinaiticus contains a book called The Shepherd, Eusebiusí comments upon this book are of interest.

As the same apostle [Paul], in the salutations that conclude the Epistle to the Romans, has referred among others to Hermas, the reputed author of the "Shepherd," it is to be noted that this, too, has been rejected by some authorities and therefore cannot be placed among the accepted books. Others, however, have judged it indispensable, especially to those in need of elementary instruction. Hence we know that it has been used before now in public worship, and some of the earliest writers made use of it, as I have discovered. Ibid., 108-109

Since Eusebius believed that James, 2 Peter, and Jude were non-canonical, he had no right to include them as part of the Scriptures he prepared for Constantine. But include them he did, thus indicating his lack of care in such matters. We firmly believe that these epistles are divinely ordered. But Eusebius has demonstrated that he was prepared to include books which he regarded as doubtful within his Scriptures. Thus we should not be surprised that they included such non-canonical books as The Shepherd, the Epistle of Barnabas, and the Apocryphal books in his Greek manuscript. It is clear that he had a reduced sense of the sacredness of the Holy Bible, which no doubt influenced his work. Yet the modern versions presume to claim such manuscripts as the oldest and most reliable. Most reliable! Hardly, for in addition to numerous copyist errors and alterations they contain non-canonical books.

It is instructive to quote one passage from the Epistle of Barnabas to demonstrate the nonsense it contains.

But he adds, neither shalt thou eat the hare. To what end? To signify this to us: Thou shalt not be an adulterer, nor liken thyself to such persons. For the hare every year multiplies the places of its conception; and so many years it lives, so many it has. Neither shalt thou eat the hyena; that is again, be not an adulterer, nor a corrupter of others; neither be like such. And wherefore so? because that creature every year changes its kind and is sometimes male and sometimes female. Epistle of Barnabas, 8:6-7

Quite rightly was this epistle rejected from the canon of Godís Word, yet the manuscripts ordered by Emperor Constantine and furnished by Eusebius were so corrupted that the inclusion of this epistle was regarded as worthy. And still many Christians accept the claims of the translators of the New International Version, that the Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus which contain such a scientific absurdity are "the two most reliable early manuscripts." May we be preserved from any less reliable than these!

Eusebius also cast doubt upon the Book of Hebrews when he claimed:

We must not shut our eyes to the fact that some authorities have rejected the Epistle to the Hebrews, pointing out that the Roman Church denies that it is the work of Paul. Eusebius, op. cit., 108

Later in his book Eusebius also cast doubt on the authenticity of 2 John and 3 John.

Those that are disputed, yet familiar to most, include the epistles known as James, Jude, and 2 Peter, and those called 2 and 3 John, the work either of the evangelist or someone else with the same name. Ibid., 134

Thus the only general epistles upon which Eusebius places undoubted authority are 1 Peter and 1 John. Emperor Constantine chose a man to prepare his ordered fifty Scriptures who was himself not settled in the Word of God.

Despite that the book known as "The Shepherd" was included in the Codex Sinaiticus, and it is likely that this was one of Eusebiusí 50 Scriptures, Eusebius acknowledged:

Among the spurious books must be placed the "Acts" of Paul, and the "Shepherd."

Thus if the Codex Sinaiticus is Eusebiusí work, it seems that he saw no harm in adding to his prepared Scripture, books that he full well knew to be non-canonical. This fact would indicate a very careless attitude toward his task.

Another disturbing point is the doubt Eusebius cast upon the book of Revelation. He states, after listing a number of books he regards as spurious including the Acts of Paul, the Shepherd, the Revelation of Peter, the Epistle of Barnabas (another book, acknowledged to be spurious, which was placed in the Codex Vaticanus) and the Teachings of the Apostles, that

together with the Revelation of John, if this seems a right place for it: as I said before, some reject it, others include it among the recognized books. Ibid.

Since the Codex Vaticanus does not include the book of Revelation one might question if it is just due to a failure to complete the manuscript, or due to later loss, or whether a more sinister matteróthat Eusebius himself accepted that it was spurious and thus saw no need to include it, as he also omitted some of the other books correctly deemed spurious and with another group he mentions including the Gospels of Hebrews, Peter, Thomas, and Matthias and the Acts of Andrew and John.1 Ibid., 135

Clearly, manuscripts based upon Eusebiusí notions are most unlikely to meet the high standards of a copyist who possesses no doubts concerning the canon of Scripture.

1 We are indebted to Russellís middle son, Timothy, and his wife, Joan, for presenting a copy of Eusebiusí History to Russell as a Christmas gift in 1990. Neither the givers nor the recipient knew what a source of information on the topic of Bible translations it would prove to be.<BACK>


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