Slandering Tischendorf

tischendorfChris Pinto has become his own unique version of David Barton. Just as David Barton re-imagines the person and life of Thomas Jefferson to create an historical individual that is largely fiction, so too Chris Pinto re-imagines the history behind Codex Sinaiticus to create a story that never happened.

One of the key, foundational elements to Chris Pinto’s documentary, Tares Among the Wheat, the film in which he re-imagines the history of Codex Sinaiticus, is the slandering of Constantine Von Tischendorf, the discoverer of the codex.  Pinto presents him as a scumbag Jesuit sympathizer who was looking for a way to help subvert the Protestant Reformation and the doctrine of sola scriptura and he found it in the manuscript of Sinaiticus.

Pinto’s revised history goes something like this:

When Tischendorf discovered Codex Sinaiticus, he recognized how important it would be to the Jesuit plot to promote their philosophy of “higher criticism.”  He proclaimed that Sinaiticus was the earliest whole codex of the NT available to the Christian Church. Because it was the “oldest” it was also better than the TR, the Greek apparatus used to translate the popular Protestant translation, the KJV.  Tischendorf’s newly found “oldest” codex would be used by the Jesuits to supplant the TR to create new English translations that would weaken Reformed Protestant theology, especially that dreaded doctrine, sola scriptura, that the Catholics hated with all their passion.

The problem with the Jesuits and Tischendorf’s scheme, however, was that a document forger named Constantine Simonides came forward around the time Tischendorf was preparing to publish the codex and exposed to the world how he was the true author of Codex Sinaiticus and that Tischendorf had essentially stolen his work and misidentified it as a fourth century manuscript.  

In reality, Simonides explained how he wrote out the codex in 1840 as a young man in his late teens. The Jesuits, who controlled much of the press in England at the time, ridiculed Simonides’s claim to the point he was ran out of England and died a few years later. Thus, the plot to subvert the Bible of the Protestant Reformation was able to move along. 

Pinto’s documentary is just the newest attempt by King James advocates (even though Pinto denies being a KJV onlyist) to slander Tischendorf and make him a devilish apostate bent on destroying the Christian faith.

Anyone who has read the works of KJV apologists know the various authors spend at least one chapter, or a portion of a chapter, telling how Tischendorf found the codex in a waste basket preparing to be burned and how the manuscript has thousands upon thousands of corrections, nearly 30 per page, that allegedly promote false doctrines.  It also has additional books that heretics claimed were meant to be in the biblical canon and it is the source of much of Roman Catholic dogma like Mary worship and the veneration of saints. That is the standard KJVO view about Tischendorf and Codex Sinaiticus.

However, the real history is nothing of the sort and if anyone were to seriously investigate the matter he would be angered by the attempt of Pinto — and all KJV onlyists for that matter– to re-write the history of one of the most important discoveries in the history of the modern church.

Contrary to Pinto’s claim, Tischendorf was not a Jesuit sympathizer at all. In fact, he was something of the 19th century equivalent to a Christian, evangelical apologist.

He was becoming alarmed at the proliferation of radical scholarship that was spreading through European seminaries and into the Christian church.  Skeptic authors wrote similar things about the life of Jesus and the Scriptures then as they do now. The kind of stuff that is readily found on the internet at atheist websites. Those skeptics in his day were claiming that Jesus didn’t exist and that the Gospels were all mythical. Others wrote books attempting to debunk the Bible with the “latest and greatest” scholarship coming out of the schools of higher criticism.

James Bentley, who wrote the book, Secrets of Mount Sinai, says this about Tischendorf’s life work,

He was passionately determined to refute those who were destroying the faith of the Christian world. Many Christians desperately longed for such a refutation. In a pamphlet published in March 1864 Tischendorf wrote, ‘May my writing serve this end: to make you mistrust those novel theories upon the Gospels — or rather, against them — which would persuade you that the wonderful details which the Gospels give of our gracious Saviour are founded upon ignorance and deceit.’ [Bentley, 37]

Bentley goes on,

But the works he was attacking were also runaway best-sellers [just like they are today]. The latest attack on the historicity of the Christian Gospels had been published by a Frenchman in the previous year. Ernest Renan’s Life of Jesus scandalized the German scholar… Tischendorf was in part simply scornful of Renan’s ignorance of the geography of the Bible…But what he found appalling was Renan’s suggestion that the Lord’s miracles were based on deceit, deceit aided by Jesus’s astute friends. Far from being dead, Jesus’s friend Lazarus arranged to be wrapped in the winding sheets of a corpse and laid in a tomb….Jesus raises him, apparently from the dead, and later discovers the family deception…This for Tischendorf was the final scandal in a book he dubbed ‘nothing else than a caricature of history from beginning to end.’ [Bentley, 37, 38].

So here we have a Christian man, stirred to action to renounce such lies and blasphemies that were being hoisted onto the Christian world at the time in the name of “scholarship.”

Tischendorf believed the TR, from which the KJV had been translated, was an inadequate text because it was not based upon the “best” manuscripts of the NT.  He believed better manuscripts were waiting to be discovered and their discovery would only serve to refute the skeptics and critics who wrote those trashy novels about the life of Jesus.

The only thing he knew he had to do was find those best manuscripts of the NT.  But that cost time and money.  So he took it upon himself to acquire funding and the necessary means to scour the European libraries, monasteries, and even the Vatican, in order to locate the best manuscripts he could find to defend the NT.

His visit to the Vatican is important to note. Pinto mentions Tischendorf’s traveling to Rome and the Vatican in 1843 in order to have a mysterious meeting with pope Gregory XVI and his cardinals. The scene in his documentary is ridiculously played out with a fawning Tischendorf kissing the ring of the pope, laughing and chortling with the Vatican priests and cardinals, while toasting each other with glasses of wine.

But his purpose with visiting the Vatican was for the primary reason of viewing their collection of manuscripts for his apologetic work, not to plot the destruction of the Protestant Reformation.

The Vatican authorities were not at all accommodating to scholars, particularly Protestant ones, and just like other scholars who went to the Vatican library, Tischendorf ran into something of a wall with his efforts.  A number of other men attempted to view the collection but were denied. Tischendorf, according to George E. Merrill in his book The Parchments of the Faith (a book Pinto cites in his documentary to smear Tischendorf) had become well-known as a critic when he applied to view the Vatican collection in 1843. Merrill explains how Tischendorf even secured a number of letters of recommendation from such men as French Ambassador Count Latour Maunborg and Prince John of Saxony, as well as received a “very flattering note” from Archbishop Affre of Paris [Merrill, 176].

The note from the archbishop, according to Tischendorf, granted him a prolonged audience with the pope. It is that meeting that Pinto seizes upon to spin a bizarre conspiracy that Tischendorf’s visit had a sinister purpose attached to it. Pinto points out how one cardinal by the name of Messofanti wrote a poem in Greek for Tischendorf’s honor. Merrill, however, quotes Tischendorf’s retelling of that incident, and he merely brushes by it as if it were odd, which it probably was. It certainly isn’t a smoking gun sign of Tischendorf’s involvement with the Jesuit order as Pinto would have his viewers believe.

That meeting with the pope had the intended effect Tischendorf was looking for, because he was granted an examination of Codex Vaticanus, Yet, even after the pope had granted him permission, a Cardinal Mai, who had plans to publish his own edition of Vaticanius, blocked Tischendorf’s efforts and he was allowed to study the codex, but only for about 6 hours. Bentley writes that the whole situation “soured his later relationships with Roman Catholic scholars of the day,” [Bentley, 43].

So rather than being a nefarious, clandestine meeting between members of the Jesuit order plotting out how to destroy the Protestant Reformation, it was an attempt by an honest, biblical scholar who wanted to secure the best resources for his work as an apologist.

st catherinesTischendorf then heard about the possibility of manuscripts being housed in monasteries in Egypt and that is when he made his trip to St. Catherine’s in 1844.

On May 24th, he was visiting the monastery and saw in the middle of a large hall a wide basket full of old parchments. After examination, he saw that they were sheets of the OT in Greek, and he wrote that they “seemed to me to be one of the most ancient that I ever seen” [Tischendorf’s, When Were Our Gospels Written?, 24]. The librarian told him that the papers were mouldered by time and they had already burned two large heaps of them. He was only able to secure 43 sheets, because even though they were being used to start fires, the Catherine’s monks were just as guarded of their stuff as the Vatican was.

Tischendorf’s second return in 1853 to the monastery was unfruitful, but on his third visit in 1859, he took a walk with a young Athenian steward who invited him back to his room for some refreshment. The steward told Tischendorf that he had read the OT in Greek and then revealed to him a bulky parcel wrapped in a red cloth. When he unwrapped it, it contained not only the sheets Tischendorf saw in 1844 that were being used to light fires, it contained some 346 parchments from the same volume.

Through some diplomatic negotiations, Tischendorf was able to secure the codex for Czar Alexander II of Russia who had commissioned him to seek the manuscript. The manuscript remained in Russia until 1933 when the Marxists sold it to the British Museum.

A couple of points should be noted with the true version of the discovery. First, the monks were not burning the Sinaiticus when Tischendorf saw those parchments in the so-called “trash can” in 1844. They were probably manuscripts of the OT in Greek similar to what was found later in the actual Codex Sinaiticus. Secondly, the monks were not burning those parchments because they were proto-KJV onlyists who believed those manuscripts had been corrupted by heretics and were only fit to be burned as most KJVO apologists would have us believe. They were ignorant monks who more than likely didn’t recognize the value of those manuscripts. All they saw was a practical use for moldy old papers no one was really using: lighting fires to keep warm.

Chris Pinto’s retelling of those events as a Jesuit effort to create an alternative history of the Bible so as to supplant the doctrines of the Reformation is pure fantasy. It would be a comical parody if it weren’t for the fact his documentary is being promoted as the truth. It’s shameful  that a discernment ministry like Worldview Weekend, that is otherwise reliable with their information regarding other important areas, would push this nonsense off to an audience who probably doesn’t really know any better.

14 thoughts on “Slandering Tischendorf

  1. Really interesting, thank you. Can you recommend a reliable source book for information about Tischendorf, please?

  2. The two books I mention in the article are good, or at least I found them to be good:

    “Secrets of Mount Sinai” by James Bentley and the “Parchments of Faith” by George E. Merrill. Bentley’s book deals specifically with Tischendorf and Sinaiticus, whereas Merrill’s deals with him in a chapter. His section talking about Simonides was an outstanding read and I may reproduce it for my blog.
    BTW, both books may be out of print so you will either have to secure them at a seminary library or check to see if they are digitalized online.

  3. Mr. Bentley writes: “But ultimately, according to the mystical theology of St. Maximus, the spiritual takes over. Human beings are, he says, even deified. ‘Man becomes God … because the grace of the Holy Spirit triumphs in him and God alone manifestly acts in him.’ Fascinatingly
    enough, this notion of the resurrection is far more spiritual than the concept of a resurrected corpse with which many once erroneously supposed St. Mark ended his Gospel.” (Source: “Secrets of Mount Sinai,” by James Bentley, p. 195)

    Sounds like Mr. Bentley didn’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus. So he would certainly love the idea of a shortened Gospel of Mark. Kind of biased.

    Also, Fred, you make light of Tischendorf spending time at the Vatican, enjoying the company of the pope. Has Dr. MacArthur ever commented on Billy Graham spending time at the Vatican, enjoying the company of the pope? Does Dr. MacArthur think that’s a light thing?

  4. So do you really believe there is no counter reformation being led by Jesuits? Do you underestimate the Vatican and its fakery? Pinto is setting forth a hypothesis and trying to prove it. He leaves it with a question mark not an exclamation point. So looking at Tischendorf with all of this in mind is slander? Seriously? Since when can we not re-examine history and ask questions of those who have already interpreted it? From what I can see, those who are Wescott and Hort and anti-Textus Receptus cannot see any other possibility than that the W & H is perfect. To call someone who favors the TR as KJVO is slander and does not allow the discussion over which is preferable. When I was at Moody Bible Institute in the late 70s W&H was for sure preferred by them but to favor TR was a completely viable intellectual option.

    My biggest concern over this is that deception and demonic efforts of people like the Jesuits is dangerously underestimated.

  5. Thank you for this expose and also covering the real history of Tishendorf. I have heard the name Tishendorf for years now, always in the context of Textual Criticism but didn’t know what his theological background was until now.

  6. “His visit to the Vatican is important to note. Pinto mentions Tischendorf’s traveling to Rome and the Vatican in 1843 in order to have a mysterious meeting with pope Gregory XVI and his cardinals. The scene in his documentary is ridiculously played out with a fawning Tischendorf kissing the ring of the pope, laughing and chortling with the Vatican priests and cardinals, while toasting each other with glasses of wine.”

    I also thought that was odd. Where is Pinto’s evidence for justifying this dramatic (so-called) re-enactment of Tischendorf’s meeting with the pope, complete with ominous music in the background? One can almost imagine the conspiratorial muwa-ha-ha laughter as well.

  7. Sandy asks,
    So do you really believe there is no counter reformation being led by Jesuits?

    No, not today, nor in the manner that Chris Pinto describes. You have to consider the fact that a number of men committed to the importance of Sinaiticus are Bible-believing, God-fearing, evangelical Christians who are squarely anti-Catholics. Pinto’s thesis implicates them as either being duped by the Jesuits, which would throw their spiritual discernment into being seriously questioned, or unbelieving Catholic sympathizers who are secretly aiding the Jesuits. Both of those scenarios are patently absurd.

    Do you underestimate the Vatican and its fakery?

    In his documentary, Pinto talks about the Catholics being involved with forgery, but the forgery they were involved with, even according to Pinto, was not the altering of biblical manuscripts, but the forging of other official, non-biblical documents.

    Pinto is setting forth a hypothesis and trying to prove it. He leaves it with a question mark not an exclamation point.

    No. He is not just “leaving it with a question mark.” Unless he has a different documentary that you have watched. The one that I have watched and reviewed is extremely explicit in wanting the viewer to adopt his interpretation of the events. The fact that he ignores the powerful counter arguments against his thesis, as well as limits his experts to only those of the KJVO position, proves that he is not being honest with his research.

    So looking at Tischendorf with all of this in mind is slander? Seriously?

    Yes, seriously, because Pinto presents a make-believe Tischendorf that never existed whose life is based upon half-truths and guilt by association arguments. If someone did the same with you you’d be outraged. Liberals did that with the life of Ronald Regan and race relations in the recent movie “The Butler” and it is the same thing Pinto is doing to Tischendorf. The difference being the distance in time between the individuals in question.

    Since when can we not re-examine history and ask questions of those who have already interpreted it?

    When the person is not examining history, but is presenting a tissue of lies about the events that all historians recognize are bogus and being twisted and that person refuses to hear the truth from those who are experts in the matter.

  8. You have completely closed the door to discussion when you insist there is no counter-reformation any longer and that those who believe it are simple anti-Catholic. Those like Pinto who you would call anti-Catholic (you would include me in that) are not just against Cathoics per se but rather understand the evil anti-Biblical system that is sending millions to hell. Many in history (as well as today) see the Roman system as the women who rides on the beast in Revelation. So what, they are all kooks? Come on man. You don’t seem very knowledgeable on the Church of Rome and its history at all.

  9. Pingback: Answering the Claims of KJV-Onlyism | hipandthigh

  10. for good and facts based articles / Books see:

    Böttrich, Christfried (2011). Der Jahrhundertfund. Entdeckung und Geschichte des Codex Sinaiticus (The Discovery of the Century. Discovery and history of Codex Sinaiticus). Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt. ISBN 978-3-374-02586-2.

    Christfried Böttrich: “One Story – Different Perspectives. The Case of the Codex Sinaiticus”, in: Codex Sinaiticus – New Perspectives on the Ancient Biblical Manuscript, Scot McKendrick, David Parker, Amy David Myshrall, Cillian O’Hogan (Hg.), London 2015 (Papers from the Sinaticus-Conference July 2009 in the British Library London).

    Porter, Stanley E.: Constantine Tischendorf. The Life and Work of a 19th Century Bible Hunter. London (2015): Bloomsbury T&T Clark. ISBN 978-0-5676-5803-6.

    Porter, Stanley E.: “Hero or Thief: Constantine Tischendorf Turns Two Hundred”, p. 45-53, 66 (BAR September/October 2015).

    Schick, Alexander: Tischendorf und die älteste Bibel der Welt – Die Entdeckung des CODEX SINAITICUS im Katharinenkloster (Tischendorf and the oldest Bible in the world – The discovery of the Codex Sinaiticus in St. Catherine’s Monastery – Biography cause of the anniversary of the 200th birthday of Tischendorf with many unpublished documents from his estate. These provide insight into previously unknown details of the discoveries and the reasons behind the donation of the manuscript. Recent research on Tischendorf and the Codex Sinaiticus and its significance for New Testament Textual Research. Alexander Schick is working on the private archive of C. Tischendorf still in the hands of the Tischendoffamily!). Muldenhammer (2105): Jota. ISBN 978-3-935707-80-0.

Comments are closed.