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The brief paper presented below gives a general overview of the Sahidic version of the New Testament and its importance. It was originally written and distributed by the current editor in 1989.
IMPORTANCE OF THE SAHIDIC LANGUAGE: IN
Copyright (c) 1989-2005 by J. Wells. All rights reserved.
It is noteworthy that the New Testament was translated into three languages
during the Koine period (b.330 AD), that is, while the Koine (common) Greek
was still the lingua franca of the Roman world and universally understood.
This gives us an opportunity to see how people who read, wrote, spoke, and
thought in New Testament Greek rendered the divine Word into their mother
tongues. These three
languages were Latin, Syriac (spoken in
various dialects of Coptic
To date, the vast majority of research has been done on the first two. This
is unfortunate since the Coptic (especially the Sahidic dialect) surpasses
both Latin and Syriac in several ways. First, it represents a textual
tradition generally considered to be superior. Second, it is represented by
more, and older, manuscripts. Third, it is an important source for historical
interpretation. Fourth, it is more like English in certain respects.
The following will explain each of these four aspects, primarily for the
Sahidic version of the Coptic.
1. Both the Latin and Syriac are representative of the Western textual family
(which is generally viewed as inferior), while the Sahidic ranks with the
best papyri and the "B" Uncial (Vatican Library 1209) as representative of
the Proto-Alexandrine textual family, which is generally recognized as the
best and earliest
group of manuscripts. The Westcott-Hort,
Aland master texts, and thus most modern translations, are based on this
family of manuscripts.
2. The Old Latin and Syriac are represented by two extant manuscripts each,
which can be dated as being from before the fifth century (400 AD). All four
are of the Gospels only. On the other hand, Sahidic (and other Coptic)
manuscripts dating from the same period are more numerous, more complete and
and represent many more books of the Bible.
Below is a comparison chart of the extant manuscripts for each language.
Language Manuscript Contents Century Condition
Latin: Vercellensis Gospels IV partial
Bobiensis Gospels IV/V partial
Syriac: Sinaitic Gospels IV fragmented
Curetonian Gospels IV/V fragmented
Brit. M. 7594 Acts III/IV fragmented
Kahle 22 Eph. 1Pet. 1John James IV fragmented
Lectionary 1604 Matthew IV fragmented
Berlin 15926 Acts IV fragmented
Garrido Matthew IV fragmented
Rainer V(p41) Acts IV/V partial
Bodmer XIX Matthew Romans IV/V fragmented
Kahle 21 1Timothy Titus IV/V fragmented
Other:* Achmimic Matt(p62) IV fragmented
Achmimic John James(p6) IV fragmented
Achmimic Luke IV fragmented
Fayumic John IV partial
Oxyrhynchite Matthew IV complete
Oxyrhynchite Acts IV partial
Proto-Bohairic John IV partial
Sub-Achmimic John(Q) IV partial
Achmimic Galatians IV/V fragmented
Fayumic Acts IV/V partial
* Other Coptic dialects.
3. On the subject of textual criticism, Kurt and Barbara Aland write (in
"The Text of the New Testament"):
Important as the Latin and Syriac versions may be, it is of far
to know precisely how the text developed in
On the Sahidic's importance in the field of historical interpretation,
well known coptologist J. M. Plumley observed:
By and large the Coptic version can be a valuable aid to the scholar
engaged in textual criticism, and because in certain passages it
preserves very ancient traditions of interpretation, it ought to be
of considerable interest to the scholar working on the history and
development of Christian doctrine.
4. While English is related to Latin, in some important respects it is quite
similar to the Sahidic. Where Greek has the definite article (the) but no
indefinite article (a, an) and Latin and Syriac have no articles at all,
Sahidic has both the definite and indefinite articles. Moreover, Sahidic
article usage is quite similar to English. Thus Thomas Lambdin wrote (in his
"Introduction to Sahidic Coptic"):
Because the use of the Coptic articles, both definite and indefinite,
correspond closely to the use of articles in English, only exceptions
to this general correspondence will be noted.
In light of the above, the dialects of the Coptic language are a valuable,
albeit greatly untapped, resource for New Testament researchers and
translators. It is a pity that more research has not been done into these
important version of the New Testament.
For these reasons a new version of the New Testament in Sahidic Coptic is
The last print version of the entire Sahidic version came out in seven
volumes from 1911 to 1924. This edition is quite rare. The only available
copy found by a recent used book search (12/2003)* was partial and priced
at $1300. Until 2000 the available only editions were electronic. One from
Humanities Institute (
Another was put out by the Saint Shenouda the Archimandrite Coptic Society
in 1998 in PDF format. Each of these volumes cost about $50 each. Neither
edition is in a standardized format.
2000, using the
and collating a new edition in a standardized format. The Sahidica edition
will be available online, free of charge.
The purpose of the edition is to make available a free, diglot edition of
the Sahidic Coptic version and along with original Greek version, presented
in parallel, as an easy to use html version. The edition is designed to be
useful primarily to students and researchers, but also of a quality to be
of use to scholars and translators.
* A more recent search (11/2005) found this edition no longer available.
Note on Dialect Names
Sahidic is also called Thebaic
Bohairic is also called Memphitic
Fayumic is also called Bashmuric
Fayumic is also spelled Fayyumic and Fajumic
Oxyrhynchite is also called Middle-Egyptian
Proto-Bohairic is also called Old Bohairic
Sub-Achmimic is also called Lycopolitan
Aland and Aland,
"The Text of the New Testament."
Metzger, "The Early Versions of the New Testament: Their Origin, Transmission,
Metzger, "The Text of the New Testament. Its Transmission, Corruption, and
Restoration." Third Edition.
Schmitz and Mink, "Liste Der Koptischen Handschriften Der Evangelien: Die
Sahidischen Handschriften Der Evangelien."
Other sources include: Crum, Hintze and Schenke, Horner, Husselman, Kahle,
Kasser, Kenyon and Adams, Lambdin, Plumley, Quecke, Schenke, Schussler,
Thompson and Willis.
J. Warren Wells
ADDENDUM 1 (2004): Brief Overview of Greek-Coptic Diglots.
"The Coptic version should be studied in conjunction with the original
Greek; only in this way can the reader gain a clear understanding of
the translation techniques employed and of the influence the original
has had on the grammar, vocabulary, and style of the Coptic
translation." -- Thomas Lambdin
Although very rarely stated in either secular or scholarly literature several
early Greek manuscripts (in fact about 7 percent of all papyri and uncials)
are Greek-Coptic diglots. These include 6 papyri dating from the fourth
century to eighth century and 20 uncials dating from the fifth century to the
tenth century. (This is according to Aland & Aland, ppg.96-128, which fails
to note that p6 contains portions of John and James in Coptic.)
Included among the papyri are:
p2, John, VI
p6, John & James, IV
p41, Acts, IV/V (VIII)
p62, Matt, IV
p96, Matt, VI
Included among the uncials are:
029, e, V (= 0113, 0125, 0139)
070, e, VI (= 0110, 0124, 0178-0180, 0190, 0194, 0202)
086, e, VI
0114, e, VIII
0164, e, VI/
0177, e, X
0184, e, VI
0205, p, VIII
0236, a, V
0237, e, VI
0238, e, VIII
0276, e, VIII
0298, e, VIII/IX
0299, e, X/XI
Plus two uncials now listed as lectionaries:
Lectionary 963, e,
Lectionary 1575, e, IX (= 0129, 0203)
ADDENDUM 2 (2005): Note on John's Christology in the Coptic Versions
It is noteworthy that Coptic was the first language the New Testament was
translated into that has the indefinite article; and the only language
with the indefinite article that was produced during the Koine Greek period.
The reason this is significant is that, in Coptic versions, John 1:1b is
commonly translated "the word was with God and the word was a god" using
the Coptic indefinite article.
Moreover, in the proto-Bohairic version (Papyrus Bodmer III, which was
partially reconstructed by Rodolphe Kasser) the first occurrence of "god"
in John 1:1 is in the Nomina Sacra form, but in contrast, the second
occurrence is spelled out.
Again, in John it is noteworthy that the "God" no one has seen is also
in the Nomina Sacra form, whereas the only-begotten "god" is spelled out.
This Christological aspect of the Coptic versions underscores the statement
by J. M. Plumley (already quoted above):
"By and large the Coptic version can be a valuable aid to the scholar
engaged in textual criticism, and because in certain passages it preserves
very ancient traditions of interpretation, it ought to be of considerable
interest to the scholar working on the history and development of Christian
This document is copyrighted. Copyright 1989-2005 by J. Warren Wells. All rights reserved
First edition 1989
Fifth revision 2005
Copyright 1989-2005 by J. Warren Wells.-- ® http://www.integlogic.com/sahidica/pages/sahidicpaper1990.html
by Lance Jenott (2003)
According to the Coptic text in G. Horner, The Coptic Version of the New Testament in the Southern Dialect, vol. III (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1911-1924) pp.2-4.
1:1 ϨΝ ΤЄϨΟΥЄΙΤЄ ΝЄϤϢΟΟΠ ΝϬΙΠϢΑϪЄ, ΑΥѠ ΠϢΑϪЄ ΝЄϤϢΟΟΠ ΝΝΑϨΡΜ ΠΝΟΥΤЄ. ΑΥѠ ΝЄΥΝΟΥΤЄ ΠЄ ΠϢΑϪЄ
In the beginning existed the Word, and the Word existed with God, and the Word was a God.
1:2 ΠΑΙ ϨΝ ΤЄϨΟΥЄΙΤЄ ΝЄϤϢΟΟΠ ϨΑΤΜ ΠΝΟΥΤЄ.
In the beginning this one existed with God.
1:3 ΝΚΑ ΝΙΜ ΑΥϢѠΠЄ ЄΒΟλ ϨΙΤΟΟΤϤ. ΑΥѠ ΑϪΝΤϤ ΜΠЄ λΑΑΥ ϢѠΠЄ. ΠЄΝΤΑϤϢѠΠЄ
Everything came into being through him, and without him nothing came into being. That which came into being
1:4 ϨΡΑΙ ΝϨΗΤϤ ΠЄ ΠѠΝϨ. ΑΥѠ ΠѠΝϨ ΠЄ ΠΟΥΟЄΙΝ ΝΝΡѠΜЄ.
within him was Life, and Life was the light of mankind.
1:5 ΑΥѠ ΠΟΥΟЄΙΝ ЄϤΡΟΥOЄΙΝ ϨΜ ΠΚΑΚЄ. ΑΥѠ ΜΠЄ ΠΚΑΚЄ ΤΑϨΟϤ.
And the Light shone in the the darkness and the darkness did not apprehend it.
1:6 ΑϤϢѠΠЄ ΝϬΙΟΥPѠΜЄ ЄΑΥΤΝΝΟΟΥϤ ЄΒΟλ ϨΙΤΜ ΠΝΟΥΤЄ. ЄΠЄϤΡΑΝ ΠЄ ΙѠϨΑΝΝΗС.
A man came into being, sent by God, and his name was John.
1:7 ΠΑΙ ΑϤЄΙ ЄΥΜΝΤΜΝΤΡЄ. ϪЄΚΑС ЄϤЄΡΜΝΤPЄ ЄΤΒЄ ΠΟΥOЄΙΝ. ϪЄΚΑС ЄΡЄ ΟΥΟΝ ΝΙΜ ΠΙСΤЄΥЄ ЄΒΟλ ϨΙΤΟΟΤϤ.
This one came as a witness in order to witness about the Light, so that everyone may believe through him.
1:8 ΝЄ ΠЄΤΜΜΑΥ ΑΝ ΠΟΥΟЄΙΝ. ΑλλΑ ϪЄΚΑС ΝΤΟϤ ЄϤЄΡ-ΜΝΤΡЄ ЄΤΒЄ ΠΟΥΟЄΙΝ.
That one was not the Light, rather (he came) in order to witness about the Light.
1:9 ΠΟΥΟЄΙΝ ΜΜЄ ЄΤΡΟΥΟЄΙΝ ЄΡѠΜЄ ΝΙΜ ΠЄ ЄϤΝΗΥ ЄΠΚΟСΜΟС.
It is the true Light which shines for all Mankind, coming into the world.
ΝЄϤϨΜ ΠΚΟСΜΟС ΠЄ. ΑΥѠ ΝΤΑ ΠΚΟСΜΟС ϢѠΠЄ ЄΒΟλ ϨΙΤΟΟΤϤ. ΑΥѠ ΜΠЄ ΠΚΟСΜΟС СΟΥѠΝϤ.
He (the Light) was in the world, and it was through him that the world came into being. And the world did not know him.
ΑϤЄΙ ϢΑ ΝЄΤЄΝΟΥϤ ΝЄ. ΑΥѠ ΜΠЄ ΝЄΤЄΝΟΥϤ ΝЄ ϪΙΤϤ.
He came to those who were his own, and they did not receive him.
ΝЄΝΤΑΥϪΙΤϤ ΔЄ ΑϤϮ ΝΑΥ ΝΤЄξΟΥСΙΑ ЄΤΡЄΥϢѠΠЄ ΝϢΗΡЄ ΝΤЄ ΠΝΟΥΤЄ. ΝЄΤΠΙСΤЄΥЄ ЄΠЄϤΡΑΝ.
But to those who received him he gave the power to become the children of God, those who believe his name.
ΝΑΙ ΝϨЄΝЄΒΟλ ΑΝ ΝЄ ϨΝ ΟΥѠϢ ΝСΝΟϤ ϨΙ СΑΡξ. ΟΥΔЄ ЄΒΟλ ΑΝ ϨΜ ΠΟΥѠϢ ΝΡѠΜЄ. ΑλλΑ ΝΤΑΥϪΠΟΟΥ ЄΒΟλ ϨΜ ΠΝΟΥΤЄ.
These were not out of want of blood and flesh, nor out of the want of Man, but rather it was from God that they were begotten.
ΑϤΡСΑΡξ. ΑϤΟΥѠϨ ΝΜΜΑΝ. ΑΥѠ ΑΝΝΑΥ ЄΠЄϤЄΟΟΥ. ΝΘЄ ΜΠЄΟΟΥ ΝΟΥϢΗΡЄ ΝΟΥѠΤ ЄΒΟλ ϨΙΤΜ ΠЄϤЄΙѠΤ. ЄϤϪΗΚ ЄΒΟλ ΝΧΑΡΙС ϨΙ ΜЄ.
He became flesh and dwelt among us. And we beheld his glory, like the glory of an only child from his father, filled with grace and truth.
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