Does Mark 16:9-20 belong in Scripture?

By Spencer D Gear

Bible Open To Psalm 118

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If you want to get into an animated discussion in some churches, raise the possibility that Mark 16:9-20 is not in the earliest manuscripts and should not be included in the Bible. I encountered this when a person complained to me about the verses that had been left out of the New International Version (NIV), so he will not read the NIV.  I said that it was probably the other way around: Those verses excluded from the NIV were those that had been added to the KJV. Now that did get the theological juices boiling for both of us. Let’s take a read of theses verses in the KJV:

Mark 16:9-20 (King James Version)

9Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.

10And she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept.

11And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not.

12After that he appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country.

13And they went and told it unto the residue: neither believed they them.

14Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.

15And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.

16He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

17And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;

18They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

19So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.

20And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.

Those who support the King James Version of the Bible tend to prefer the long ending of Mark 16 because it is located in that translation. They include vv. 9-20 in Scripture, but most modern translations indicate somehow that there are doubts that these verses should by in Scripture. For example, the English Standard Version places Mark 16:9-20 in double square brackets with the note at the end of v. 8, ‘Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9-20’. The New International Version (2011 edition) has this note before v. 9, ’The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have verses 9–20’.

Here are some statements by supporters of the long ending of Mark 16:

  • ‘Does not Mark end funny in the texts you’re relying on[ending with 16:8]? Is it not apparent that something is missing?’ (Christian Forums #204).
  • ‘Would you care to show us how the ending of mark is a corruption from mankind? Please use scripture [this is from a supporter of the longer ending]’ (Christian Forums #217).
  • ‘Is there anything in any passage here [Mark 16:9-20] that is false, that can be proven to be false by the body of scripture we have? If so, point it out’ (Christian Forums #230).
  • ‘The case of Mark 16:9-20 allows us the opportunity to demonstrate first-hand the spuriousness of the Westcott-Hortian paradigm as it is applied to textual criticism. Based upon the evidence of a small, corrupted handful of Greek manuscripts and little else, modern textual critics remove the verse even despite the overwhelming amount of evidence in its favour’ (Why Mark 16:9-20 belongs in the Bible).
  • ‘Do verses 9-20 belong in Mark 16? I don’t see how anyone could reasonably say they don’t. The rest of the Scripture supports them. The words of Jesus clearly support them. I think it’s clear that they belong there. Beware of those who try to tell you otherwise ‘ (‘Does Mark 16:9-20 belong in the Bible?’ Scott Morris).

Some of the issues

Let’s examine some of the matters relating to whether Mark 16:9-20 should in the Bible or have been added.

I could go into further detail as to why I reject vv. 9-20 as part of the New Testament. However, I consider that Kelly Iverson has summarised the material extremely well and to my exegetical and textual satisfaction in the article, “Irony in the end: A textual and literary analysis of Mark 16:8“. Iverson presents this material in footnote 6, based on the internal evidence that includes this examination of the long ending of Mark 16 (I have transliterated the Greek characters in the article to make it more accessible for the general reader):

The longer ending (vv 9-20) is clearly the most attested reading. It is validated by almost all of the extant Greek manuscripts, a significant number of minuscules, numerous versions, and scores of church Fathers. Geographically it is represented by the Byzantine, Alexandrian, and Western text types. However, one should be careful not to reduce textual criticism into an exercise of manuscript counting. Though the longer ending is widely attested, the vast bulk of manuscripts are from the generally inferior, Byzantine text type dating from the 8th to the 13th centuries (except Codex A which is a 5th century document). Due to the solidarity of the Byzantine text type we may assume that this represents at least a fourth century reading (Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 3rd ed. [New York: Oxford University, 1992], 293).

The abrupt ending (1) is found in the two oldest Greek manuscripts. These Alexandrian uncials a B, both 4th century manuscripts, are supported by the Sinaitic Syriac manuscripts, approximately one hundred Armenian texts and two Georgian manuscripts from the 9th and 10th centuries, and several church Fathers including Clement of Alexandria and Origen. That this reading was more prominent is supported by Eusebius and Jerome who claimed that vv 9-20 were absent from almost all known manuscripts (ibid., 226). It is also significant that Codex Bobiensis (k) omits the longer ending as this is deemed the “most important witness to the Old African Latin” Bible (ibid., 73). The genealogical solidarity of the two primary Alexandrian witnesses suggest that this reading can be dated to the 2nd century (Metzger, Text of the New Testament, 215-216).

To say the least, the evidence is conflicting. One should be careful not to make a firm decision one way or the other regarding Mark’s ending based on the external data alone. Though the majority of New Testament scholars believe that vv 9-20 are not original, virtually none come to this conclusion based purely on the external evidence. Even Farmer must confess that, “while a study of the external evidence is rewarding in itself and can be very illuminating in many ways . . . it does not produce the evidential grounds for a definitive solution to the problem. A study of the history of the text, by itself, has not proven sufficient, since the evidence is divided” (Farmer, Last Twelve Verses of Mark, 74).

Most text-critics appeal to the internal evidence in order to demonstrate that vv 9-20 are non-Marcan. One is immediately struck with the awkward transition between vv 8 and 9. In v 8, the subject, “they” referring to Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome (16:1) is implicit within the third, plural verb, ephobounto. But in v 9 the subject changes to “He” (from the third, singular verb ephan?). The transition is striking because the subject is unexpressed. Furthermore, in v 9 Mary Magdalene is introduced as though she were a new character even though her presence has already been established in the immediate context (15:47; 16:1) while Mary the mother of James and Salome disappear from the entire narrative. This awkward transition coupled with numerous words and phrases that are foreign to Mark, suggest the decidedly inauthentic nature of this ending.

Several examples should prove the point. In 16:9 we find the only occurrence of the verb phainw in the New Testament with respect to the resurrection (though the same verb is used in Luke 9:8 to describe Elijah’s re-appearance). Equally as unusual is the construction par hes ekbeblekei , which is a grammatical hapax. In v 10, the verb poreuvomai which is found 29 times in Matthew and 51 times in Luke is not found in Mark 1:1-16:8, but repeatedly in the longer ending (vv 10, 12, 15). In v 11, The verb theaomai which occurs in Matthew (6:1; 11:7; 22:11; 23:5) and Luke (7:24; 23:55) finds no parallel in Mark except for its multiple occurrence in the longer ending (16:11, 14). In v 12, the expression meta tauta which occurs frequently in Luke (1:24; 5:27; 10:1; 12:4; 17:8; 18:4) and John (2:12; 3:22; 5:1, 14; 6:1; 7:1; 11:7, 11; 13:7; 19:28, 38; 21:1) has no precedence in Mark. phanerow which neither Matthew or Luke use to describe resurrection appearances is found in vv 12 and 14 (J. K. Elliott, “The Text and Language of the endings of Mark’s Gospel,” TZ 27 [1971]: 258). The phrase heteros morph? is also unique to Marcan vocabulary. Neither heteros nor morph? occur elsewhere in Mark and morph? only appears in Paul’s description of the kenosis (Phil 2:6, 7). In v 14, husteros, although used by the other evangelists, is a decidedly non-Marcan term having no precedence in 1:1-16:8. Mark seems to prefer eschatos over husteros as evidenced by several parallel passages in which Mark opts for the former over the later term found in Matthew (cf. Matt 21:37Mark 12:6; Matt 22:27Mark 12:22). In v 18, aside from other lexical and syntactical phenomenon one is struck by the unusual exegetical hapax. No other text in Scripture provides a promise for the handling of snakes and imbibing deadly poison without adverse repercussions. In v 19, though Mark sparingly uses the conjunction ?u, the phrase men ou is not found in 1:1-16:8. The longer ending concludes in v 20 with a litany of non-Marcan vocabulary: sunergeww is not found in Mark or the Gospels and appears to be a Pauline term (Rom 8:28; 1 Cor 16:16; 2 Cor 6:1) but it is never used with Jesus as the subject, and bebaiow along with epakolouthew are also foreign to the Synoptic Gospels.

As is somewhat evident, the internal evidence raises significant problems with Mark 16:9-20. The awkward transition between vv 8 and 9 and the non-Marcan vocabulary has led the vast majority of New Testament scholars to conclude that the longer ending is inauthentic. In fact, even Farmer (Last Twelve Verses of Mark, 103), the leading proponent for the authenticity of the last twelve verses, must confess that some of the evidence warrants this conclusion.

Iverson’s article provides an overall analysis of some of the major issues in the short vs. long ending of Mark 16. I highly recommend it.

Yes, there is false teaching in this ‘Scripture’

Is there any teaching within Mark 16:9-20 that would be questionable when compared with the rest of Scripture? There most certainly is teaching in this passage that is false when judged by other Scriptures. Let’s look at a couple of examples.

Take Mark 16:16, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved”. This promotes the false doctrine of baptismal regeneration that a person needs to be baptised to be saved. What does the rest of the Bible teach?

  • ‘But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God’ (John 1:12 ESV).
  • “’And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” ‘(Acts 16:31).
  • ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  not a result of works, so that no one may boast’ (Eph 2:8-9).
  • ‘Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Rom. 5:1).
  • ‘and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith’ (Phil 3:9).

These Scriptures are very clear that no works (e.g. baptism) are required to become children of God and obtain salvation. It is all by grace through faith. Therefore, to teach that “Whoever believes AND is baptized” is saved, is teaching false doctrine. Baptism is not a means to salvation. Baptismal regeneration, as taught in Mark 16:16, is contrary to Scripture. See John Piper’s article, ‘What is baptism and does it save?’ See also, ‘Twisting Acts 2:38 – The question of baptism by water for salvation’ by Watchman Fellowship; and Robin Brace, ‘Baptismal regeneration refuted’.

Let’s get it clear with the teaching of Acts 2:38. Those who teach baptismal regeneration love to use this verse for support.

Acts 2:38 in the ESV reads, ‘And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”’.

This verse has been used regularly by those who support baptismal regeneration (i.e. baptism is necessary for salvation) as they indicate from this verse ‘baptized … in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins’.

The Greek grammar helps us to understand that this is not supporting baptism for the remission of sins. The command to repent is to ‘you’ plural, second person. The command to be baptised is given in singular number and third person. Therefore, it is not correct to identify ‘forgiveness of your sins’ with baptism otherwise it would mean that each person was baptised for the forgiveness of sins of all those who were present.

If we were to take baptism as that which is linked to (causes) the forgiveness of sins, the text would say something like this: ‘Let him be baptised for the remission of all your sins’, and “let him (another) be baptised for the forgiveness of all your sins’, and “let him (yet another person) be baptised for the forgiveness of all your sins’, and on and on for each person in the group.

Therefore, each person would be baptised for the forgiveness of the sins of all the people in the group.

This is not what the verse teaches. Baptism is not linked to the forgiveness of sins in Acts 2:38.

Simon J. Kistemaker in his commentary on the Book of Acts (Baker Academic 1990, p. 105) confirms this position that Acts 2:38 does not teach baptismal regeneration:

In Greek, the imperative verb repent is in the plural; Peter addresses all the people whose consciences drive them to repentance. But the verb, be baptized, is in the singular to stress the individual nature of baptism. A Christian should be baptized to be a follower of Jesus Christ, for baptism is the sign indicating that a person belongs to the company of God’s people.

Craig A Evans, an evangelical historical Jesus’ scholar, states:

The last twelve verses of the Gospel of Mark (Mk 16:9-20) are not the original ending; they were added at least two centuries after Mark first began to circulate. These passages – one from Mark, one from Luke, one from John – represent the only major textual problems in the Gospels, no important teaching hangs on any one of them (unless you belong to a snake-handling cult; see Mk 16:18 (2007. Fabricating Jesus. Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, p. 30).

This is a sample of Bruce Metzger’s assessment of the long vs. short ending of Mark 16:

Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (Stuttgart, 1971), pages 122-126.

Mark 16:9-20   The Ending(s) of Mark.

Four endings of the Gospel according to Mark are current in the manuscripts. (1) The last twelve verses of the commonly received text of Mark are absent from the two oldest Greek manuscripts (Aleph[1] and B), from the Old Latin codex Bobiensis (it k), the Sinaitic Syriac manuscript, about one hundred Armenian manuscripts, and the two oldest Georgian manuscripts (written A.D. 897 and A.D. 913). Clement of Alexandria and Origen show no knowledge of the existence of these verses; furthermore Eusebius and Jerome attest that the passage was absent from almost all Greek copies of Mark known to them. The original form of the Eusebian sections (drawn up by Ammonius) makes no provision for numbering sections of the text after 16:8. Not a few manuscripts which contain the passage have scribal notes stating that older Greek copies lack it, and in other witnesses the passage is marked with asterisks or obeli, the conventional signs used by copyists to indicate a spurious addition to a document.

(2) Several witnesses, including four uncial Greek manuscripts of the seventh, eighth, and ninth centuries (L Psi[2] 099 0112), as well as Old Latin k, the margin of the Harelean Syriac, several Sahidic and Bohairic manuscripts, and not a few Ethiopic manuscripts, continue after verse 8 as follows (with trifling variations): “But they reported briefly to Peter and those with him all that they had been told. And after this Jesus himself sent out by means of them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.” All of these witnesses except it k also continue with verses 9-20.

(3) The traditional ending of Mark, so familiar through the AV and other translations of the Textus Receptus, is present in the vast number of witnesses, including A C D K W X Delta Thi Pi Psi[3] 099 0112 f13 28 33 al. The earliest patristic witnesses to part or all of the long ending are Irenaeus and the Diatessaron. It is not certain whether Justin Martyr was acquainted with the passage; in his Apology (i.45) he includes five words that occur, in a different sequence, in ver. 20. (tou logou tou ischurou hon apo Ierousalem hoi apostoloi autou exelthontes pantachou ekeruxan).[4]

(4) In the fourth century the traditional ending also circulated, according to testimony preserved by Jerome, in an expanded form, preserved today in one Greek manuscript. Codex Washingtonianus includes the following after ver. 14: “And they excused themselves, saying, ‘This age of lawlessness and unbelief is under Satan, who does not allow the truth and power of God to prevail over the unclean things of the spirits [or, does not allow what lies under the unclean spirits to understand the truth and power of God]. Therefore reveal thy righteousness now — thus they spoke to Christ. And Christ replied to them, ‘The term of years of Satan’s power has been fulfilled, but other terrible things draw near. And for those who have sinned I was delivered over to death, that they may return to the truth and sin no more, in order that they may inherit the spiritual and incorruptible glory of righteousness which is in heaven.’ ”

How should the evidence of each of these endings be evaluated? It is obvious that the expanded form of the long ending (4) has no claim to be original. Not only is the external evidence extremely limited, but the expansion contains several non-Markan words and expressions (including ho aiwn houtos, hamartanw, apologew, alethinos, hapostrephw[5]) as well as several that occur nowhere else in the New Testament (deinos, apos, proslegw[6]). The whole expansion has about it an unmistakable apocryphal flavor. It probably is the work of a second or third century scribe who wished to soften the severe condemnation of the Eleven in 16.14.

The longer ending (3), though current in a variety of witnesses, some of them ancient, must also be judged by internal evidence to be secondary. (a) The vocabulary and style of verses 9-20 are non-Markan. (e.g. apistew, blaptw, bebaiow, epakolouthew, theaomai, meta tauta, poreuomai, sunergew, usteron[7] are found nowhere else in Mark; and thanasimon[8] and tois met autou genomenois[9], as designations of the disciples, occur only here in the New Testament). (b) The connection between ver. 8 and verses 9-20 is so awkward that it is difficult to believe that the evangelist intended the section to be a continuation of the Gospel. Thus, the subject of ver. 8 is the women, whereas Jesus is the presumed subject in ver. 9; in ver. 9 Mary Magdalene is identified even though she has been mentioned only a few lines before (15.47 and 16.1); the other women of verses 1-8 are now forgotten; the use of anastas de[10] and the position of prwton[11] are appropriate at the beginning of a comprehensive narrative, but they are ill-suited in a continuation of verses 1-8. In short, all these features indicate that the section was added by someone who knew a form of Mark that ended abruptly with ver. 8 and who wished to supply a more appropriate conclusion. In view of the inconcinnities[12] between verses 1-8 and 9-20, it is unlikely that the long ending was composed ad hoc to fill up an obvious gap; it is more likely that the section was excerpted from another document, dating perhaps from the first half of the second century.

The internal evidence for the shorter ending (2) is decidedly against its being genuine. Besides containing a high percentage of non-Markan words, its rhetorical tone differs totally from the simple style of Mark’s Gospel.

Finally it should be observed that the external evidence for the shorter ending (2) resolves itself into additional testimony supporting the omission of verses 9-20. No one who had available as the conclusion of the Second Gospel the twelve verses 9-20, so rich in interesting material, would have deliberately replaced them with four lines of a colorless and generalized summary. Therefore, the documentary evidence supporting (2) should be added to that supporting (1). Thus, on the basis of good external evidence and strong internal considerations it appears that the earliest ascertainable form of the Gospel of Mark ended with 16.8. At the same time, however out of deference to the evident antiquity of the longer ending and its importance in the textual tradition of the Gospel, the Committee decided to include verses 9-20 as part of the text, but to enclose them within double square brackets to indicate that they are the work of an author other than the evangelist.

Bruce Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament: its Origin, Development, and Significance (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), pp. 269-270:

… we may find it instructive to consider the attitude of Church Fathers toward variant readings in the text of the New Testament. On the one hand, as far as certain readings involve sensitive points of doctrine, the Fathers customarily alleged that heretics had tampered with the accuracy of the text. On the other hand, however, the question of the canonicity of a document apparently did not arise in connection with discussion of such variant readings, even though they might involve quite considerable sections of text. Today we know that the last twelve verses of the Gospel according to Mark (xvi. 9-20) are absent from the oldest Greek, Latin, Syriac, Coptic, and Armenian manuscripts, and that in other manuscripts asterisks or obeli mark the verses as doubtful or spurious. Eusebius and Jerome, well aware of such variation in the witnesses, discussed which form of text was to be preferred. It is noteworthy, however, that neither Father suggested that one form was canonical and the other was not. Furthermore, the perception that the canon was basically closed did not lead to a slavish fixing of the text of the canonical books. Thus, the category of ‘canonical’ appears to have been broad enough to include all variant readings (as well as variant renderings in early versions) that emerged during the course of the transmission of the New Testament documents while apostolic tradition was still a living entity, with an intermingling of written and oral forms of that tradition. Already in the second century, for example, the so-called long ending of Mark was known to Justin Martyr and to Tatian, who incorporated it into his Diatesseron. There seems to be good reason, therefore, to conclude that, though external and internal evidence is conclusive against the authenticity of the last twelve verses as coming from the same pen as the rest of the Gospel, the passage ought to be accepted as part of the canonical text of Mark.

Conclusion

See, ‘the ending of Mark’ in Bible Research. Overall, the problems raised above suggest that Mark 16:9-20 is an addition to the biblical text. In Craig Evans’ view, the longer ending was not added until 2 centuries after the Gospel of Mark was written.

However, taking this view should not separate us from Christian fellowship with those who accept the longer view of Mark 16.

Notes:


[1] The first letter of the Hebrew alphabet is used and I have transliterated the letter.

[2] Capital Greek letter was used.

[3] Greek characters were used for these Greek capital letters.

[4] Bruce Metzger’s commentary used the Greek characters but my homepage will not accept Greek characters so I have transliterated the Greek.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] ‘Inconcinnity’ means ‘lack of proportion and congruity; inelegance’ [dictionary.com, available at: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/inconcinnities (Accessed 11 January 2012)].

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear.  This document last updated at Date:  7 October 2015.

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