Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Looking for a grain of truth in Pinto's Tares Among the Wheat

The fairly high-budget documentary by Christ Pinto, titled Tares Among the Wheat somehow seeks to connect modern translation efforts of the Bible with Roman Catholicism.  In order to accomplish this, some truly bogus claims need to be espoused by Pinto.  
The first is the sloppy and untruthful mingling of higher criticism with textual criticism.  Although Pinto does make some effort to say that textual criticism is a good thing, he tries to make out that it was created by a Roman Catholic called Richard Simon, well into the counter-Reformation.  Even Erasmus, who produced the basis for the King James Version, conducted textual criticism and he of course predated this Roman Catholic, Simon.
And another thing, whilst on the subject of Erasmus, he is made out to be some big hero, yet he was a Papist.  Anyone outside of the process of developing the King James Version, who has anything to do with Rome, is not met with the same pleasant narration by Pinto.  This is hypocrisy.  Either everything to do with Roman Catholicism is evil, in which case Pinto must reject Erasmus and the King James Version too; or he bases the merit of manuscripts and translation on their own integrity, in which case Pinto cannot throw out all modern translations as he pleases.  These are the only two options.
But, to conclude this point, to suggest that the textual criticism which has produced all English translations of the Bible, not just modern ones, is a part of higher criticism and some attack on the Bible is nonsense.  Charles Spurgeon, one of the greatest preachers ever known, was integral in fighting against higher criticism in the late 1800’s, yet here is what he said of textual criticism:

'Concerning the fact of difference between the Revised and Authorised Versions, I would say that no Baptist should ever fear any honest attempt to produce the correct text, and an accurate interpretation of the Old and New Testaments.'
- Spurgeon, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, 1881, p. 342

Another point is that he continuously presents Sinaiticus as having been discovered in a ‘trash can’ waiting to be burned with other pieces of paper being used for kindling.  This is an old myth; the truth is that Tischendorf found some mouldy old leaves of the Septuagint Greek Old Testament being burned and tried to save them.  When he returned many years later to the Greek Orthodox monastery, he was talking about that text with one of the monks who then presented from his cell, wrapped in scarlet, Sinaiticus.

Aside from the many smaller contentions one might have with this film, however, Pinto’s main argument for the dismissal of Sinaiticus and any translation which has considered its text in the translation process, is the revival of an argument by another man of the 19th century called Constantine Simonides.
Sir Frederick Kenyon (1863-1952) was perhaps the leading expert on the text of the New Testament in the first half of the 20th century and presents the matter thus:
‘Since the year 1856 an ingenious Greek, named Constantine Simonides, had been creating a considerable sensation by producing quantities of Greek manuscripts professing to be of fabulous antiquity--such as a Homer in almost prehistoric style of writing, a lost Egyptian historian, a copy of St. Matthew's Gospel on papyrus, written fifteen years after the Ascension, and other portions of the New Testament dating from the first century.  These productions enjoyed a short period of notoriety, and were then exposed as forgeries.  Among the scholars concerned in the exposure was [Constantine] Tischendorf [the discoverer of the Sinaiticus manuscript--ed.]; and the revenge taken by Simonides was distinctly humorous.  While stoutly maintaining the genuineness of his own wares, he admitted that he had written one manuscript which passed as being very ancient, and that was the Codex Sinaiticus, the discovery of which had been so triumphantly proclaimed by Tischendorf!  The idea was ingenious, but it would not bear investigation.  Apart from the internal evidence of the text itself, the variation in which no forger, however clever, could have invented, it was shown that Simonides could not have completed the task in the time which he professed to have taken, and that there was no such edition of the Greek Bible as that from which he professed to have copied it.  This little cloud on the credit of the newly-discovered manuscript therefore rapidly passed away…’ - Kenyon (1941, 4th ed.) Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts, London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, p. 130

Scrivener, the producer of the Greek Textus Receptus followed by the King James translators, indirectly dismisses Simonides’ claims: ‘The claim of Simonides [was] to be the sole writer of a book which must have consisted when complete of about 730 leaves, or 1460 pages of very large size (Collation, &c. p. xxxii), and that too within the compass of eight or ten months’, which, as Scrivener then calculates in the relevant footnote, would mean that ‘He would have written about 20,000 separate uncial letters every day.’  He continues, ‘it is at all events quite plain, as well from internal considerations as from minute peculiarities in the writing, such as the frequent use of the apostrophus and of [another] mark on some sheets and their complete absence from others (Collation, &c. pp. xvi-xviii; xxxii; xxxvii), that at least two, and probably more, persons have been employed on the several parts of the volume – footnote – Prothero (Memoir of H. Bradshaw, pp. 92-118) reprints a letter of Bradshaw from Guardian, Jan. 28, 1863, worth studying: —“Simonides died hard, and to the very end was supported by a few dupes of his ingenious mendacity.” (p.99)’ - Scrivener (1883, 3rd ed.) A Plain Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testament, Cambridge: Deighton, Bell and Co., pp. 155-156

With all the amateur dramatics over and done, Pinto wonders how it is that no one has heard of Simonides and why scholars and even his fellow King James Version Only-ists do not seem to regard Simonides’ remarkable testimony in history.  It is quite simply because it is entirely apparent to everyone qualified enough to make an opinion at the time and since that Simonides clearly did not write Sinaiticus.  The reason no one sees it as a valid argument and no one attempts to use this as a valid argument is because it is not a valid argument.

See also a debate on the subject of the film between Pinto and Professor James White:


  1. Hi,

    The trash-can "myth" involves the actual claim of Tischendorf, as the "mouldy old leaves of the Septuagint Greek Old Testament" were Sinaiticus, and was originally published by Tischendorf as the Codex Frederico-Augustanus.

    Please note a number of posts on this on the TC-Alternate forum, most recently:

    [TC-Alternate-list] James White (any "scholar") myths about Codex Sinaiticus - Alan Kurschner redux


    Steven Avery
    Bayside, NY

    1. Hi Steve,

      I must disagree as the mouldy leaves being burned by the monks and the complete codex retrieved from another monk's cell, wrapped in scarlet, were two different sets of documents at two different incidents.
      The mouldy leaves which Tischendorf saw upon his first visit were certainly leaves of some copy of the Septuagint, but they were unrelated to the codex produced years later.

      Thank you for your comment,

  2. Hi,

    Rik, it is generally agreed (based on additional testimony as well) that the burning story was simply a Tischendorf embellishment, or fabrication, to help make his attempt to utilize the manuscript look more like a rescue mission (there were ethical problems with the Tischendorf actions).

    And it is 100% understood that what Tischendorf published as Codex Frederico-Augustanus is what is now known as a section from the Sinaiticus OT. The key issue. This is before the 1859 visit.

    And Tischendorf is the one who connected what he published with the supposed rescue from burning. So whether Tischendorf is lying or telling the truth, you can not separate the burning papyri story from the Sinaiticus OT.

    Maybe you are thrown for a loop by somebody like James White referencing the "Septuagint". The Sinaiticus OT (the little that exists) is in fact a Septuagint manuscript.

    Here is the Alan Millard summary of the 1859 red cloth events:

    Discoveries from Bible Times: Archaeological Treasures Throw Light on the Bible (1997)
    Alan Ralph Millard
    "To Tischendorf's amazement, there were all the leaves he had seen fifteen years earlier, with very many more. Here was most of the Old Testament and the whole of the New Testament!"

    Yours in Jesus,
    Steven Avery