The Vaticanus Bible — Review

Ἡ τῆς Καινὴς Διαθήκης ἔκδοσις ἡ παλαιτάτη

The oldest version of the New Testament


I would like to start off this article with a quote from one of the letters I have written in Ancient Greek, as I believe it illustrates nicely the reason for my buying this book and finding it most intriguing: —

ὅτῳ οὖν τόπῳ ἂν λαλήσαιμεν τοῖς πρὶν ἡμῶν βιοῦσιν; δοκεῖ δ’ ἐμοί γ’ ὅτι μήποτε οἷος τ’ ἐσόμεθα τοῦτο τὸ πρᾶγμα ποιεῖσθαι· ἀλλὰ τὰς φωνὰς αὐτῶν, διὰ τὸ ἀναγνῶσαι τοὺς ὑπ’ αὐτῶν γεγράφαται λόγους, δυνάμεθα ῥαδίως ἀκοῦσαι. οὐκοῦν μὲν δεῖ ἡμᾶς τὰς γλώττας αὐτῶν μαθεῖν ἵν’ αὐτῶν ἀκούσωμεν· οὐ δύνατος γὰρ εἴη τὰς φωνὰς αὐτῶν ἀκοῦσαι εἰ ἀναγνοῖμεν αὐτὰς ἐν γλώττῃ τινι ἅ οὐκ ἐλαλήθη ὐπ’ αὐτῶν.

In what manner are we to speak to those who lived before us? It seems to me, at least, that we will never be able to do this; but we can listen to their words through the reading of the words that were written by them. We, therefore, need to learn their language so that we might hear them; for it would not be possible to listen to their words when they are written in a language they did not speak.

For, indeed, when one learns a foreign language, one tends to feel more closely connected to the culture behind said language, especially since — in my opinion — one cannot truly learn a foreign language without knowing at least something about the culture by which it is spoken. Therefore, I find the process of learning an ancient language and subsequently reading ancient texts akin to time travel; we may be unable to travel backwards in time — and, depending on whom you ask, we will never be able to do so —, but we can come close, namely by learning ancient languages.

The book’s cover

And whilst the reading of a modern reproduction of an ancient text allows you to get close to experiencing what it must have been like reading these texts back when they were first written, there is still quite a significant difference; modern reproductions of, for example, the New Testament use a very consistent, modern spelling with upper- and lowercase letters, accents, spaces, punctuation and more. All of these, however, are comparatively modern inventions and would not have been found in a text written in the 4th century AD. Instead, most texts at the time would not have had any punctuation or spaces between words, nor would there have been a distinction between upper- and lowercase letters; the script used by scribes at the time was a so-called uncial script, an all-majuscule script with no spaces or punctuation marks.

Uncial scripts were the norm for languages such as Latin and Greek for quite a significant amount of time, so that coming across them when attempting to read original texts on their original medium is almost definitely guaranteed. Therefore, to get an even more proper experience, one should really read the ancient texts the way they were actually written — and the Vaticanus Bible allows this. You can really imagine yourself being transported back in time, reading the codex as if it had just been written by a scribe and there is much more of a connection with the people of ancient times than there is when reading a modern reproduction.

Despite all of this, however, this particular edition does include a handful of more modern niceties that help someone who is unaccustomed to this type of text. Let us, then, begin to explore this edition of the Codex Vaticanus more in-depth.

The Vaticanus Bible

Now that we have briefly explored the reasons behind my really enjoying this Bible, I believe it is time to more thoroughly explore it. Therefore, in the following section, you will be presented with some information on the book (who it was published and written by, what makes it special &c.) and plenty of photographs.

General Information

This particular edition of the Codex Vaticanus was created by Benjamin Paul Kantor of There currently (as of March 10, 2022) exist two volumes of this Bible, one which includes the Gospels and another which includes Acts and the Epistles. Each of the volumes costs $39.99, but due to my not living in the US, I had to pay €49.50 by ordering it from the German Amazon. The edition that I currently own is the one which includes the Gospels — I may, at a later date, buy the second volume as well. I personally find this price somewhat on the steep side, especially considering one — perhaps rather small — drawback that I shall be discussing later on.

The beginning of the Gospel of John


The book is not a proper facismile, but something which the author calls a pseudo-facsimile. This is mostly due to the fact that this is not an exact replica of the original text; rather, it has been modernised and compacted slightly. The latter is especially important, as the original manuscript had three columns of text per page; and thus, actual facismiles of this text tend to be rather large. Instead, the editor of this book has turned one column of the original text into one page of the book and put a short note at the top of the page telling the reader which column (right, middle or left) on what page of the original manuscript he is currently reading.

Additionally, verse and chapter numbers have been added to the margins so that one can immediately see what part of the Bible you are currently looking at so that if you are having trouble reading a passage — due to the fact that there is no punctuation and no distinction between upper- and lower-case letters —, you can quite easily grab your more modern copy of the Greek New Testament and read it there; you could even compare the two editions to see how and if they differ from one another.

An overview of the unical letters

The book itself

The book presents itself in a rather nice and very handy format that you should not have any trouble carrying around with you. It has rather nice and thick paper and the letters themselves are quite large as well so that reading the text is — not including the fact that it is a uncial script — an easy affair, even if your eye — like mine — are not in top shape. It also includes a rather brief introduction to the manuscript and an overview of the unical letters at the beginning.

Unfortunately, the book does not have a nice binding, especially not considering the price that I had to pay for it. It is a simple glue binding and the cover itself does neither feel nor look very high-quality either. This is considering the price of, for example, the Greek New Testament reader which I have previously reviewed on this site and which has a much higher quality binding for a much lower price. The high price of this edition may be in part due to the lower number of copies sold and printed, but I am not entirely certain. I would, however, have much preferred a higher quality binding for the price. This is, however, the only real complaint I have about this book.

The text

The text itself also contains a lot of interesting things which a more modern edition of the Greek New Testament will most certainly not include — at least not the ones which I have, thus far, seen and read. For example, frequently notes and references to passages in the Old Testament can be found hiding in the margins, as well as things such as corrections of scribal errors. There are also a handful of spelling mistakes, such as the scribe(s) writing words that should contain an ι with an ει instead.


All in all, I have to say that I find this book a great and most certainly new way to read the Greek New Testament. It is certainly a more real and original experience than reading a modern copy of it and you definitely feel more connected with the people from back in the day. The unical script does require some getting used to, but you quickly get used to it after having read a couple of chapters and it becomes a second nature.