by Al Maxey

Issue #530 ------- April 23, 2012
The nobility of our calling will always be rooted
in two commitments difficult to observe: refusal to
lie about what we know, and resistance to oppression.

Albert Camus {1913-1960}

Mark's Mysterious Ending
Did Mark Write Mark 16:9-20?

Most serious students of the biblical text are probably aware that there are a number of passages within the New Testament writings that are suspect with respect to their genuineness. Such difficulties are quite common with any work that has survived for many centuries, and which has passed through the hands of countless scribes and translators. This is certainly true of the Bible, as well. In an effort to ascertain, to the best of our ability, the original text of the sacred Christian writings, the science of Textual Criticism was established, and over the years these scholarly men and women have succeeded, although not without their very vocal critics, in restoring to us a fairly accurate text of the 66 canonical books of the Bible. As noted, however, not all have been pleased with the results of their research, as occasionally some cherished passage has come under scrutiny and been questioned, and in some cases been rejected as a later scribal addition. This becomes especially controversial when the passage in question has been widely used by certain disciples as a "proof text" for some doctrine or practice of their particular sect within Christendom. Such is precisely the case with one of the most celebrated textual challenges to the NT writings: the so-called "long ending" to the Gospel of Mark (16:9-20). Indeed, this has come to be characterized as "something of a cause célèbre of textual criticism" [International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 3, p. 256]. Drs. Norman Geisler and William Nix called it "one of the most perplexing of all textual problems" [A General Introduction to the Bible, p. 372].

The "long ending" contains several appearances of Jesus following His resurrection, the "Great Commission," and our Lord's ascension, all of which are attested to elsewhere in the NT writings, thus there is no "critical doctrine" jeopardized if this entire section is shown to be a later addition to the text. The "Commission" of Christ is found several places, we are informed a number of times of His post-resurrection appearances, and His ascension to the Father is repeatedly detailed. Therefore, no vital Truth is compromised if this section is removed. On the other hand, there are some statements made in this passage that some disciples find quite valuable in the promotion of their doctrine and practice. For example, in verses 17-18 and in verse 20 we find mention made of "following signs," such as casting out demons, healing the sick, and speaking in tongues, and that these signs were for the purpose of confirming the message preached by the disciples of Christ. Needless to say, there are some, especially among the Pentecostal sects, who find a degree of validation in these verses for their practices. Vs. 18 also speaks of picking up serpents and drinking poison, which passage has led to some rather bizarre Christian sects who practice those very things (using this verse as their "authority"). Some, our own movement prominent among them, focus on the phrase, "He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved" (vs. 16), viewing this as substantiation for their emphasis on baptism as a "saving act" (although this statement does not appear in any of the other "Great Commission" accounts). Thus, those who have embraced the doctrine of "baptismal regeneration," and who regard baptism as virtually a sacrament, are not willing to part with Mark 16:16 without a fight. They need it too badly as a "proof text."

So, you begin to see some of the problems associated with the work of textual criticism. It has the potential of trampling a few cherished traditions and tossing out a few precious "proof texts," and such generally results in heated theological conflict. This has been the case for centuries with the challenge to Mark's "long ending" to his gospel account. Scholarly honesty, however, demands that one examine all available evidence regarding a passage so that one may determine, to the best of one's ability, whether that passage is original (written by the author himself) or a later addition (for whatever purpose) by some other individual. This is a very involved process, and no passage is discounted or discarded on a whim; there is much that goes into making such a determination, and it is not done lightly. Laws and principles of textual criticism have been formulated that strictly guide those engaged in this process, and the work of these scholars is checked and rechecked countless times. It is only at the end of literally years and years of such scrupulous scrutiny by scholars around the globe that a decision is rendered with respect to a suspect text. This was especially the case with the mysterious ending of Mark's gospel.

The bulk of the evidence seems to suggest that the gospel account of Mark ends at 16:8, although it is such an abrupt ending that it has left people scratching their heads for centuries. Why would Mark end his work in such a manner? This concern may well account for the number of different endings that have been found over the centuries: scribes may have felt compelled to "help Mark out" by adding an ending they felt would be more easily received by readers (and which, in their view, would be consistent with the other gospel accounts). Scholars have shown that many such scribal amendments and additions have occurred throughout the inspired writings, and the work of textual criticism is to identify these and return the text, as far as possible, to its original form. Their efforts have shown that, with regard to the ending of Mark, there are four different endings that are in existence in various manuscripts and versions of the text. We shall briefly examine each, so that you may be aware of these different endings to the Gospel of Mark.

The Abrupt Ending

Some scholars feel Mark intended to end his account at 16:8. Describing the action of the women who came to the tomb on resurrection morning, Mark states, "Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid" [NIV]. It is argued by some that this is simply too abrupt an ending. However, others point out that Mark also rather abruptly began his account at the baptism of Jesus by John, saying nothing whatsoever about His birth or early years. "Mark's narrative as we have it now ends as abruptly as it began. There was no introduction or background to Jesus' arrival, and none for His departure. No one knew where He came from; no one knows where He has gone; and not many understood Him when He was here" [Dr. Richard A. Burridge, Four Gospels, One Jesus?, p. 64-65]. Nevertheless, most scholars feel that Mark did not end his account at vs. 8. "It is inconceivable that 16:8, with its abrupt and inauspicious 'ephobounto gar' ('for they were afraid'), could possibly be the end of a Gospel; indeed, it seems to stop in the middle of a sentence" [Dr. James Hastings, Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels, vol. 2, p. 132].

Although, on an emotional level, it seems strange to many that Mark would end his account at vs. 8, nevertheless the evidence seems to suggest he may well have done just that, or, if he did write an ending, it is now lost to us. "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" [Dr. Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, p. 126]. Part of this evidence is that the oldest manuscripts of Mark's gospel do not contain any text beyond vs. 8. The two oldest manuscripts, Sinaiticus and Vaticanus stop at verse 8. So also does Codex Bobbiensis, over 100 Armenian manuscripts, and the two oldest Georgian manuscripts. "Neither Clement of Alexandria nor Origen show any knowledge of the existence of verses 9-20. Almost all the Greek copies of Mark known to Eusebius and Jerome did not contain these verses. Some manuscripts that include these verses have scribal notes stating that they are absent in older Greek copies, and in other Greek manuscripts the verses are marked with obeli or asterisks to indicate they are spurious" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 791; cf. Metzger, p. 123].

The view of most scholars is that Mark probably did not intend to end his account at verse 8. On the other hand, it is felt by the majority of textual scholars that there is simply insufficient evidence to validate any of the other endings. "Thus, the best solution seems to be that Mark did write an ending to his Gospel, but that it was lost in the early transmission of the text. The endings we now possess represent attempts by the church to supply what was obviously lacking" [ibid, p. 792]. Dr. Metzger concurs, pointing out that "three possibilities are open: (a) the evangelist intended to close his Gospel at this place; or (b) the Gospel was never finished; or, as seems most probable, (c) the Gospel accidentally lost its last leaf before it was multiplied by transcription" [A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, p. 126]. "It would seem that the only course open is to admit that we do not know the original ending" [The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 4, p. 82]. "The abrupt ending at verse 8 is probably because the original closing verses were lost" [Dr. Charles Ryrie, Ryrie Study Bible, p. 1556]. "On the basis of the known manuscript evidence, it seems most likely that either Mark ended in verse 8, or the real ending is not extant. It is admittedly difficult to arrive at the conclusion that any of the other endings is the original" [Norman Geisler & William Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible, p. 373]. I would agree that this seems the most probable explanation.

The Short Ending

In a few later manuscripts and versions the following passage is found immediately following vs. 8 -- "And they promptly reported all these instructions to Peter and his companions. And after that, Jesus Himself sent out through them from east to west the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation" [NASB]. This ending "has weak external evidence" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 791], and "no one maintains its genuineness" [Dr. James Hastings, Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels, vol. 2, p. 131]. This addition appears in six Greek manuscripts, and in several Ethiopic copies, but beyond that there is little evidence to commend it, and it is almost universally rejected as spurious. It was almost certainly "added by a later scribe or editor who thought that the phrase 'for they were afraid' (16:8) should not close the chapter and the Gospel" [International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 3, p. 256].

The Freer Logion

In the manuscript known as Codex Washingtonianus (which is from the late 4th or early 5th century), the longer ending of verses 9-20 is found, but placed between verses 14 and 15 is the following passage (which has come to be known as the "Freer Logion") -- "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." This expanded form of the "long ending" was spoken of by Jerome, but it is regarded by almost nobody as legitimate. "Not only is the external evidence extremely limited, but the expansion contains several non-Markan words and expressions, as well as several that occur nowhere else in the NT. 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" [Dr. Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, p. 124-125]. This expansion, therefore, cannot be accepted by serious students of the Scriptures.

The Long Ending

Clearly, the most controversial aspect of this whole discussion is whether or not one should regard Mark 16:9-20 (without the addition of the above mentioned "Freer Logion") as genuine (i.e., as written by Mark himself). If it is, then it should be considered as teaching that is "God-breathed" (2 Tim. 3:16). If not, then it is simply an addition originating in the minds of mere men, and should never be used in formulating doctrine and practice for the church. "The doubtful genuineness of verses 9-20 makes it unwise to build a doctrine or base an experience on them (especially verses 16-18)" [Dr. Charles Ryrie, Ryrie Study Bible, p. 1556]. This is certainly sound advice, yet too infrequently followed.

As previously noted in this study, Mark 16:9-20 is not found in the oldest manuscripts or versions. In fact, "the earliest Greek manuscript with that ending is from the fifth century" [The Archaeological Study Bible, p. 1661]. "Irenaeus and Tatian's Diatessaron are the earliest patristic witnesses for the inclusion. Justin Martyr is uncertain. The external evidence seems to indicate that the longer ending was in circulation by the middle of the second century and was probably composed in the first half of the same century" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 791-792]. "It is clear that the longer ending was written in the first half of the 2nd century, and it is equally clear that Mark did not write it" [ISBE, vol. 3, p. 256]. In addition to the lack of ancient manuscript and version inclusion, as well as a lack of early patristic testimony, several "other factors argue against the genuineness of this long ending" [Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 4, p. 82]. One of those factors is "the somewhat awkward connection" between the long ending and what Mark had previously written in vs. 1-8 [ibid]. There is not a smooth transition between vs. 8 and vs. 9, for one. Also, it seems odd to many that a comment is given further identifying Mary Magdalene ("out of whom He had driven seven demons" -- vs. 9), when she had already been mentioned in verse 1. It seems that if Mark needed to further identify her to his readers, it would have been when he first mentioned her, not several verses later at the second mention of her.

But, such content and transition considerations are minor when compared to differences in language and style. Dr. James Hastings correctly points out: "It is freely admitted, even by the supporters of the long ending, that its style and vocabulary are entirely different from those of the main part of the Gospel; and this consideration is decisive against the authorship being the same" [Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels, vol. 2, p. 132]. Of the words contained in Mark 16:9-20, "slightly over one-third of the words are non-Markan. After due allowance is made for different subject matter requiring different vocabulary, it would seem that the marked difference in vocabulary between 16:9-20 and the rest of Mark's Gospel makes it difficult to believe that they both came from the same author" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 792]. "The internal evidence of style confirms the impression made by the external: characteristic words of Mark wanting, words not elsewhere found in the Gospel occurring, the narrative a meagre, colourless summary, a composition based on the narratives of the other Gospels, signs ascribed to believers, some of which wear an apocryphal aspect" [Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 1, p. 454]. Thus, this Greek scholar concludes, as do most, that there is no way the long ending could have come from the pen of Mark.

"External and especially internal evidence make it difficult to escape the conclusion that vs. 9-20 were originally not a part of the Gospel of Mark" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 792]. "Our verdict must be given after weighing probabilities, and to the present writer they seem overwhelmingly to preponderate against the Markan authorship of the last twelve verses, or even against their being a real ending of the Gospel at all" [Dr. James Hastings, Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels, vol. 2, p. 133]. The renowned Greek scholar, Dr. Bruce M. Metzger, declared, "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. However, out of deference to the evident antiquity of the longer ending ... 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" [A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, p. 126]. In spite of this evidence, however, the Catholic Church, in its "Decretum de Canonicis Scripturis" issued in 1846 at the Council of Trent, decreed that Mark 16:9-20 was to be given "canonical status." It further decreed that "If anyone receive not, as sacred and canonical, the said books entire with all their parts, as they have been used to be read in the Catholic Church, and as they are contained in the old Latin Vulgate edition, and knowingly and deliberately condemn the traditions aforesaid; let him be anathema." In time, the Catholic Church backed away from this strong stand, and its members are no longer required to believe that Mark wrote the long ending. In the New American Bible (which is a Catholic version), one will find this footnote at the end of Mark -- "This passage (vs. 9-20) has traditionally been accepted as a canonical part of the gospel and was defined as such by the Council of Trent. Early citations of it by the Fathers indicate that it was composed by the second century, although vocabulary and style indicate that it was written by someone other than Mark." Quite an enlightened change from the former dogmatism of the Council of Trent.

So, what can we conclude with respect to the ending of Mark's Gospel? Although there will always be diversity of opinion on the matter among scholars, it is my personal conviction (and it seems most scholars concur with this) that the actual words of Mark end with verse 8, and that the various endings proffered over the centuries (with the long ending being the most popular) are by another person, who most likely added them during the first half of the second century. Whether Mark intended to end his account at vs. 8, or if he wrote an ending that has been lost, or if he planned to write an ending, but for some reason never did, will probably never be known to us. Therefore, I accept as "Markan" the wording of the text up to and including 16:8. I do not accept 16:9-20 as coming from the pen of Mark, thus I do not regard the content of this section to be "God-breathed," and as such no doctrine or practice should ever be based upon anything stated therein. Although the information may prove interesting from a purely intellectual or historical point of view, it is not relevant spiritually to our salvation or subsequent walk with Christ Jesus.

Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce & Remarriage
in Light of God's Healing Grace

(A 193 page book by Al Maxey)
Also Available on KINDLE

One Bread, One Body
An Examination of Eucharistic
Expectation, Evolution & Extremism

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Immersed By One Spirit
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Baptism in NT Theology and Practice

(A 304 page book by Al Maxey)
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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Texas:

Please send me an autographed copy of your new book on baptism -- Immersed By One Spirit. My check is enclosed. Also, I continue to read and enjoy your Reflections. I recently bought a copy of Leroy Garrett's book "What Must the Church of Christ Do to be Saved?" It blew my mind -- in a good way!

From a Reader in Alaska:

I went to the Concerned Members web site and posed a simple question to them: "What is the pattern I am supposed to follow?" Sure enough, just as you have predicted (and I posed this question just for independent verification of your prediction), the answers were always some variation of, "Read the Bible and figure it out for yourself." I then rephrased the question: "Can anyone articulate for me what the pattern is?" Dear Lord, I have never been so excoriated in all of my life!! How sad.

From a Minister in Florida:

Thanks for your continued writings, and also for tolerating my insanity on Facebook. You must be a good man! I was thinking about you recently, and I wondered: Have you ever written, thought about, or discussed the mindset of some of our more conservative/mean-spirited brethren compared to McCarthyism?

From a Reader in Texas:

THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU for your lesson on Acts 13:48 (Reflections #529 -- Appointed To Eternal Life). I am still studying this whole topic, and I found your thoughts very helpful and enlightening. I appreciate your time and effort in putting it together, and for doing it so quickly after I asked your advice on this verse. It is no little matter that you would actually answer my email in the first place, much less do a Reflections on it.

From a Reader in Georgia:

I have to admit that for some reason I have waited to read your last issue of Reflections ("Appointed To Eternal Life"). Perhaps I was predestined to read it when I did!! For the last week or so I have been in a Facebook "discussion" with someone regarding the very issue that you have discussed here. I must admit that I was woefully ignorant of the theological fallacy of someone being preordained from before time began to either being saved or lost. I did not think this view had a very large following, and really did not know what their beliefs were. The timing of my reading of your article could not have been any better, as I have just recently been "unfriended" by that person on Facebook, although I was still wondering how they "got there" in their thinkology. I really do appreciate this article as it has helped me greatly. Just as an aside, if they believe that God has preordained certain people to be saved, how do they "know" that they are among them?! Do they get an ID card?! Would you mind if I shared a link to your Reflections article on my Facebook page?

From an Elder/Physician in South Carolina:

Thanks for digging into this passage (Acts 13:48). I have medical partners with whom I have had many heartfelt conversations concerning Calvinism and Arminianism. What disturbed me the most was their concern about babies who were aborted, thinking that they were born with "original sin" and therefore had no hope. I mentioned passages in which Jesus compared those in the kingdom of Heaven to children. They interpreted this as meaning "open-minded," whereas I interpreted this as being "innocent." The most memorable event concerning the life of my first young daughter occurred when she was about 3 or 4, when I was still serving as a physician in the Army Medical Corps. She was playing on the floor and for some apparently unprovoked reason she came up to me and just said, "Daddy, I love you." That really melted my heart, and I have drawn parallels over the years when considering free will and the love which God desires from us.

From a Minister in Texas:

Your discussion on Calvinism/Arminianism hit the high points. It is one of those issues that may never be completely resolved this side of heaven. Years ago I began a list of all the passages that tend to support Calvinism, and another list of those passages that tend to support Arminianism. I now have over 100 passages on each list. To some degree both sides talk right past each other. The Calvinists proudly say, "We believe in the sovereignty of God." The Arminians respond, "But, of course, we do too." And then they add, "But we also believe in man's free will." The Calvinists come right back and say, "Of course, we believe in free will too." I think it is fair to say that every Christian believes in predestination and election. There is just too much mention of these in the Bible not to, however it depends on what meaning you pour into these words. What is disingenuous is for some people to ignore the many places we find these terms in the Scriptures. While I myself do not strongly hold to either side, I suggest that Arminians at least ought to listen to what Calvinist teachers really teach about predestination, rather than what they think they teach. A good place to start is with Dr. R. C. Sproul's work, such as his series on Predestination. God bless you, brother.

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