Mark 16:9-20

 Mark 16:9-20 is considered a “controversial passage” in that there is a debate as to whether they belong to the Canon of Scripture. Michael Marlowe says it “… has been called a later addition … by most New Testament scholars in the past century. The main reason for doubting the authenticity of the ending is that it does not appear in some of the oldest existing witnesses …” He adds,

Nevertheless, some scholars have not been impressed with the evidence against these verses, and have maintained that they are original. These scholars have pointed out that the witnesses which bring the verses into question are few, and that the verses are quoted by church Fathers very early, even in the second century.

John Walvoord and Roy Zuck, writing in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, say “The last 12 verses of Mark known as ‘the longer ending of Mark’ constitute one of the most difficult and most disputed textual problems in the New Testament.” They ask “Were these verses included or omitted in Mark’s original text?” Before examining both the external and internal evidence, they point out that,

Most modern English translations call attention to the problem in some way such as adding an explanatory footnote at verse 9 (nasb), setting this section apart from verse 8 with an explanatory note (niv), or printing the whole section in the margin (rsv).

They conclude by admitting, “Equally astute and conscientious interpreters differ widely in their evaluations of this data and reach opposing conclusions.”

The Complete Biblical Library states that “Some Bible scholars doubt the authenticity of 16:9-20, insisting that Mark did not write this portion,” then explains,

These verses are not found in two early manuscripts, the Vatican Codex and the Sinaitic Codex. However, they are found in the overwhelming majority of early manuscripts. Those who reject verses 9-20 have attempted to support their opinion by a process called hapax legomena, the citing of some terms found here and not elsewhere in the Gospel. It is one of the least scientific or scholarly methods used to criticize authorship. The futility of such a process may be seen easily by applying it to an equal part of the writings of most any erudite scholar. Some of the same ones who reject these verses also say that Paul did not write Ephesians because they have found 36 words in that epistle, not found elsewhere in Paul’s writings.

Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe in The Big Book of Bible Difficulties ask the question, “Why is this passage of Scripture omitted in some Bibles?” They then list the “Problem,” saying,

Most modern Bibles contain this ending of the Gospel of Mark, including the KJV, ASV, NASB, and the NKJV. However, both the RSV and the NIV set it off from the rest of the text. A note in the NIV says, “Most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20.” Were these verses in the original Gospel of Mark?

Geisler and Howe then give the “Solution,” stating, in part,

Scholars are divided over the authenticity of these verses. Those who follow the received text tradition point to the fact that this text is found in the majority of biblical manuscripts down through the centuries. Thus, they believe it was in the original manuscript of Mark.

On the other hand, those who follow the critical text tradition insist that we should not add evidence, but weigh it. Truth is not determined, they say, by majority vote, but by the most qualified witnesses. They point to the following arguments for rejecting these verses: (1) These verses are lacking in many of the oldest and most reliable Greek manuscripts, as well as in important Old Latin, Syriac, Armenian, and Ethiopic manuscripts. (2) Many of the ancient church fathers reveal no knowledge of these verses, including Clement, Origen, and Eusebius. Jerome admitted that almost all Greek copies do not have it. (3) Many manuscripts that do have this section place a mark by it indicating it is a spurious addition to the text. (4) There is another (shorter) ending to Mark that is found in some manuscripts. (5) Others point to the fact that the style and vocabulary are not the same as the rest of the Gospel of Mark.

Geisler and Howe add, “Whether or not this piece of text belongs in the original, the truth it contains certainly accords with it,” before concluding,

So, the bottom line is that it does not make any difference, since if it does belong here there is nothing in it contrary to the rest of Scripture. And if it does not belong, there is no truth missing in the Bible, since everything taught here is found elsewhere in Scripture. So, in the final analysis, it is simply a debate about whether this particular text belongs in the Bible, not over whether any truth is missing.

Michael Marlowe points out that Mark “is obviously incomplete without these verses, and so most scholars believe that the final leaf of the original manuscript was lost, and that the ending which appears in English versions today (verses 9-20) was supplied during the second century.” This, in my opinion, would lead to several important questions. First, if we trust God enough to believe He is capable of giving us an inspired, infallible Book, do we then question His ability to make sure parts of that Book are not “lost?” Second, if the conclusion of Mark has been lost, what other portions (or entire books) may also have been lost?

William Barclay states “the gospel cannot have been meant to stop at Mark 16:8. What then happened?” He offers one possible answer, saying “It may be that Mark died, perhaps even suffered martyrdom, before he could complete his gospel.” If that is the case, I believe a legitimate question is, “If God, the Divine author of Scripture, ‘moved’ Mark, the human instrument to write (2 Pet. 1:21), did He not give Mark enough time to complete the task before his untimely death?” The absurdity of that doesn’t seem to justify an answer. Barclay offers another possible solution. He says

More likely, it may be that at one time only one copy of the gospel remained, and that a copy in which the last part of the roll on which it was written had got torn off. There was a time when the church did not much use Mark, preferring Matthew and Luke. It may well be that Mark’s gospel was so neglected that all copies except for a mutilated one were lost. If that is so we were within an ace of losing the gospel which in many ways is the most important of all.

Barclay often has some very insightful and profitable comments on the Word of God. However, if one seriously thinks about these statements, it begs the question, “Was God not able to safeguard his Word?” Fortunate for us we only came “within an ace of losing” this gospel. The Word of God is under attack. It has been since the Garden (Gen. 3:1). In my opinion, the debate over Mark 16:9-20 is simply an exercise in attacking God’s Word.

John Phillips, in his commentary on the Gospel of Mark says, “Some people reject out of hand the closing dozen verses of Mark. The issues are highly technical and beyond the scope of this commentary.” Phillips does briefly state his position, which we agree with, saying,

We can note in passing, however, that a considerable number of old versions do contain these verses. The Syriac in its various forms (the “Peshitto” and the “Curetonian Syriac”) contains them. Jerome (who had access to Greek MSS older than are generally available today) includes them in the Vulgate, a revision of the Vetus Itala, which goes back to the second century and also contains them. The Egyptian versions (Memphitic and Thebiac) contain them. The Armenian, Ethiopian, and Georgian versions contain them. Many of the church fathers refer to them—Papias, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Hoppolytus, Eusebias, Chrysostom, Augustine, Nestorius, and Cyril of Alexandria, for instance.

The problem with these verses seems to stem from their mention of the sign gifts (16:17-18), which were discontinued after the fall of Jerusalem. Indications that this would happen are found in 1 Cor. 13:8-13. For the next hundred years, little or nothing is known of church history. Organized Christianity, as we see it today, did not begin until later. Later scholars, transcribing the Greek manuscripts, saw no trace of these transitional gifts. They concluded that there must be something spurious about these verses, so they left them out!

We have the opposite problem today. Many people are determined to have these gifts regardless of the Holy Spirit’s having discontinued them. They go to all extremes and to the most dangerous expedients to get them. Their boasts, claims, and excesses deceive many people. We, however, accept these verses at their face value as part of the God-breathed Word of God.

Sorenson says, “the historic traditional text received by Bible believers through nineteen centuries, the Received Text, certainly includes it. Only modernists in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have discounted it as the Word of God.” Study to Answer.net says “It is difficult to understand why Critical text supports are so enamored with the removal of Mark 16:9-20 from the Word of God.” That website adds,

Critical text supporters continue to count the exclusion of Mark 16:9-20 as the “scholarly” position to take – any other makes you an uneducated bumpkin or a purposeful obscurant. In their attitudes and methodology, many of these Critics (and not just on this single issue) are very much like the evolutionists. Evolutionists will claim that their theory is supported by “mountains of scientific evidence,” yet they cannot produce a single piece of this evidence which will stand up to the test of reasoned and scientific inquiry. Further, practically the entire abiogenetic foundation of evolutionary theory of origins rests upon arguments which can be debunked by appeal to knowledge gained from undergraduate science courses. Likewise, Critical text supporters will cite “the scholars” and “mountains of evidence” to support their positions, but will inevitably fall back onto some version of the less-than-cogent “oldest is best” argument, and will usually completely disregard other evidences (such as patristic quotations, etc.) which are destructive to their reconstructions.

Regardless, the Christian who desires the entire council of God need not fear that Mark 16:9-20 does not belong there. When all the Critical text supporters can offer are circular reasoning and partial evidences spun to their satisfaction, there is really no reason for the practical Christian to give much credence to their arguments.

Dave Miller says, “For the unbiased observer, this matter is settled: the strongest piece of internal evidence mustered against the genuineness of Mark 16:9-20 is no evidence at all.” He explains, “The two strongest arguments offered to discredit the inspiration of these verses as the production of Mark are seen to be lacking in substance and legitimacy.” Miller then concludes, “The reader of the New Testament may be confidently assured that these verses are original – written by the Holy Spirit through the hand of Mark as part of his original gospel account.” Having listened to both sides of this debate and weighed the supposed evidence, I concur with Phillips and The Complete Biblical Library, which says,

The authenticity of these verses should not be doubted: (1) They are found in nearly all Greek manuscripts and have been accepted in the Church from the Second Century a.d. (2) Nothing in these verses contradicts anything in the rest of Scripture.

REFERENCES

Barclay, William, Barclay’s Daily Study Bible (NT), WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

 

Geisler, Norman and Thomas Howe, The Big Book of Bible Difficulties: Clear and Concise Answers from Genesis to Revelation, (MI: Baker Books, Grand Rapids), WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

 

Gilbrant, Thoralf, ed., The Complete Biblical Library – Mark, (Springfield, IL: World Library Press, Inc., 1988), WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

 

Marlowe, Michael. “Mark 16:9-20.” Bible Research. 29 March, 2013. <http://www.bible-researcher.com/endmark.html#dissent>

 

Miller, Dave. “Is Mark 16:9-20 Inspired?” Apologetics Press. 29 March, 2013. <http://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=13&article=704>

 

Phillips, John, The John Phillips Commentary Series – Exploring the Gospel of Mark: An Expository Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2004), WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

 

Sorenson, David, Understanding the Bible: An Independent Baptist Commentary, (Duluth, MN: Northstar Ministries, 2007)

 

Walvoord, John and Roy Zuck, ed., The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Faculty, (Colorado Springs, CO: Cook Communications, 1985), WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

 

“Why Mark 16:9-20 Belongs in the Bible: A Case Study in Westcott-Hortian Silliness.” Study to Answer.net. 29 March, 2013. <http://www.studytoanswer.net/bibleversions/markend.html>

 

 

 

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  • James Snapp, Jr.

    Hi Steve C.,

    Greetings in Christ! I noticed the material at http://thecorbettfamily.org/study/mark-169-20/
    and since this is a subject on which I have done extensive research I thought I’d chime in with a few thoughts and observations.

    The note in the Bible Knowledge Commentary (by Walvoord and Zuck) tends to view the evidence at a distance, and is wrong when it says that Vaticanus and Sinaiticus both leave space for verses 9-20; this is true of Vaticanus but not Sinaiticus. (There is blank space below Mk. 16:8 in Sinaiticus but it was the copyists’ standard practice to leave space below the end of a book, and start the next book at the top of the next column.)

    I don’t know who’s writing “The Complete Biblical Library” but the writer does not seem to know what “hapax legomena” means when he refers to “a process called hapax legomena.” The term simply means a word used only once.

    Norman Geisler’s statements in “The Big Book of Bible Difficulties” (which has also been published as “When Critics Ask”) have some problems, indicating that the authors have conducted very shallow research about this. Specifically:

    (1) Geisler’s claim that “These verses are lacking in many of the oldest and most reliable Greek manuscripts” is simply false. A total of five manuscripts of Mark 16, Greek and non-Greek, from before the time of Charlemagne, do not contain text from 16:9-20. Five is not many.

    (2) Geisler’s reference to “important Old Latin” and “Syriac” manuscripts refers to only two manuscripts: the Sinaitic Syriac manuscript, and the Old Latin Codex Bobbiensis (which is
    probably the worst-copied manuscript of Mark in existence).

    (3) Geisler’s claim that “Ethiopic manuscripts” lack Mark 16:9-20 is false. Metzger, who is partly responsible for spreading this false claim, retracted it in an extensive article in 1980, in New Testament Tools & Studies. Unfortunately, Geisler seems not to have noticed.

    (4) Geisler’s claim that “Many of the ancient church fathers reveal no knowledge of these verses” is extremely misleading, because the same thing can be said about practically every 12-verse section of the Gospel of Mark, and because there are over two dozen patristic writings which use the contents of Mark 16:9-20.

    (5) Geisler’s claim that Clement reveals no knowledge of these verses is extremely misleading, partly because he seems to allude to Mark 16:19 in a comment on Jude 24, preserved by Cassiodorus, but mainly because Clement does not quote from 12 entire chapters of the Gospel of Mark, so his non-use of 12 verses says nothing about whether
    or not they were in his copies of Mark.

    Most people do not realize that Clement of Alexandria hardly ever quoted from Mark except for chapter 10, and so this statement by Geisler (which he got from an early edition of Metzger’s book “The Text of the New Testament”) gives a false impression.

    (6) Geisler’s claim that Origen reveals no knowledge of these verses is misleading, because Origen does not use most 12-verse sections of Mark. If Origen’s non-use of a 12-verse passage is interpreted to mean that it was not in his copies of Mark, then Origen’s copies of Mark were pretty thin. There are large segments of text of Mark that Origen never used in his extant writings.

    (7) Geisler’s claim that Eusebius reveals no knowledge of Mark 16:9-20 is false.
    Eusebius specifically and repeatedly refers to the contents of Mark 16:9 in his composition Ad Marinum. What has happened is that Metzger mistakenly made this claim in an early edition of Text of the New Testament, and Geisler has repeated it without testing it.

    (8) Geisler’s claim that “Jerome admitted that almost all Greek copies do not have it” is very misleading, because in the composition in which this statement occurs (Epistle 120, Ad Hedibiam), Jerome is not writing independently; he is passing along a spontaneously translated summary of what Eusebius wrote in Ad Marinum. In other words, this is Eusebius’ comment, not an independent statement from Jerome.

    (9) Geisler’s claim that “Many manuscripts that do have this section place a mark by it indicating it is a spurious addition to the text” is false. Once again he has repeated Metzger’s claims, without testing them, and exaggerated the claim in the process.

    Also, several statements found in William Barclay’s commentary on Mark need to be corrected. The shallowness of his research is displayed by his statement that verses 9-20 “are not in any of the great early manuscripts.” One need only consider Codices A, C, and D to see that Barclay’s claim is ridiculous and that any opinion based on such minimal research is worthless.

    Regarding the comments by John Phillips: some of these statements need to be corrected
    and clarified too. Most of the Syriac versions support the inclusion of Mark 16:9-20 but there is one Syriac manuscript (the Sinaitic Syriac) in which Mark’s text stops at 16:8. Most of the Egyptian versions include Mark 16:9-20 but there is one Sahidic manuscript, and one Sahidic amulet, in which the text ends at 16:8. Also, the statement, “The Armenian, Ethiopian, and Georgian versions contain them” must be changed; the
    Armenian version and the Old Georgian version are divided on the question; keeping in mind that the Old Georgian was translated from Armenian, it looks like there were two Armenian transmission-streams that flow all the way back to the 400’s – one that contained Mark 16:9-20, and one that did not. Also, the statement that “Papias, Justin
    Martyr, Irenaeus, Hoppolytus, Eusebias, Chrysostom, Augustine, Nestorius, and Cyril of Alexandria” refer to Mark 16:9-20 should be adjusted: Papias’s statement is only a possible allusion, and the names of Hippolytus and Eusebius should be spelled correctly.

    There’s more information about this in my book, “Authentic: The Case for Mark 16:9-20,” which is sold at Amazon as an inexpensive Kindle e-book, or if you send me a request by e-mail I can send you a slightly longer edition of the book, for free, formatted as a Word
    document.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.
    Minister, Curtisville Christian Church
    Indiana