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"Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call ye upon him while He is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon." (Isaiah 55:6-7)


Jul 12, 2017

Have you ever heard that Mark 16:9-20 are not in the oldest and best manuscripts? Is there a marginal reference in your Bible that says something similar? Has your pastor, teacher, or favorite theologian said so? On what do they base these claims and are they correct? In this brief clip Brother Jonathan goes over all the evidence against the passage and all the evidence for it.

Here are the notes for this question:


Are the last twelve verses of Mark supposed to be there?

  1. So if we are to think about those copies of the Gospel of Mark, how could we discern the true form of the text? Well, we would first look at all the forms of the text that are shown in the manuscripts. Then we would look at each manuscript and examine its respectability—where was it copied, is there any signs of corruption, etc. That is, if we can determine those things. But we would look mainly at the outside evidence. Did any church fathers quote from the Gospel of Mark? What passages, and how did they reference them? In the early translations, or Versions, of the scriptures, how did they render the passages in question in those Versions? Also, check the lectionaries of the churches and see how they copied the passages in general for reading in the church services. Finally, consider the grammatical structure of the passages. There are rules in grammar, especially in Koine Greek, that can enable you to discern an incorrect copy mistake sometimes. Notice that none of this is left to the opinion of a man.
  2. When you really look at these two methods of ascertaining the true textual reading it really does make you wonder why anyone would have any problem in seeing the difference in methodology. Perhaps it’s the people whose authoritative opinion would be undermined that have a problem.

An Example

Let’s consider, as an example, the issue of the last 12 verses of the Gospel according to Mark. Because in some early manuscripts the last 12 verses of Mark chapter 16 isn’t there some people have said that it is not supposed to be there at all. They allege that those 12 verses which appear later—practically everywhere else—were supplied by a scribe. The 12 verses we are talking about are the normal ending of Mark 16 that everyone is familiar with. This is a highly contested passage for some people, and others were unaware there was ever even an issue in the first place. I’ll briefly talk about some points brought up in the discussion.

James White says:

“Only the dreaded, hated [aleph and B] (and one other manuscript) do not have the passage, and even then room is left for it in B.”

So James White here admits that the only manuscripts that don’t have it are those two uncials we talked about at length: Sinaiticus and Vaticanus; and also one other manuscript as well. That other manuscript not dating any older than the 12th century.

Just like I said about textual critics, James White says this:

“One must explain the existence of the shorter ending and the use of asterisks and obeli in some manuscripts to set off verses 9 through 20 and the long paragraph’s inclusion in W and the manuscripts that put both endings together. There simply would be no need for all these different endings if verses 9 through 20 were a part of the originally written gospel.” (James White, The King James Only Controversy, p. 318)

My question is WHY do we have to explain all the variations in how the passage is recorded? It has absolutely nothing to do with figuring out which form of the text is the original. Also, White falsely says that this would not happen if the passage in question was in the original. That doesn’t follow, and he bases that on nothing else but his opinion. If the passage was intentionally changed very early on, as we know the scriptures were, and no one else had the original to check either, what should we expect but people trying to patch the obviously missing text? The fact that some scribes tried to patch the ending proves that there was a longer ending there in the first place.

Instead of trying to figure out what led to what, let’s just see that at some point it all diverged into the variants. Because these aren’t variants like normal variants. These are endings several verses long made-up by people who saw that something had been taken out. Now, you read verse 8 of Mark 16 and tell me if you think that’s how God ended this account of the gospel. It wouldn’t have been Mark who screwed something up, unless you deny that God inspired its writing. For someone to say that some theorized different original ending has been “lost”, and many say that, that have to believe and teach that God’s originally inspired text has been lost. That is something that undermines the entire integrity of someone’s view of the preservation of God’s Word. For someone even to say that and to openly teach that God may have permanently “lost” a portion of the Gospel of Mark seems to me intentionally designed to cast doubt upon the written Word of God. And as you’ll see it’s completely without merit.

James White himself states that only 3 manuscripts don’t have an ending longer than verse 8—those MSS dating from the 4th century and the 12th century. Then he states that there are several early Versions that have different endings, and some have critical marks around the passage—none earlier than the 4th century I believe. Next he proceeds to discuss internal considerations (Which are simply people not liking how other people use words most of the time), because as he himself states it—there is no more external evidence.

So the earliest supposed evidence that the traditional passage is incorrect is no earlier than the 4th century. The two early uncials Sinaiticus and Vaticanus don’t have those verses of Mark. One of them doesn’t have the last 3 chapters of the book of Hebrews either though—but that’s a separate matter.

What is interesting though, is that the earlier of the two codices leaves a space just large enough for this entire passage to be there. It’s the only place in the entire manuscript where the scribe ends a book like that—the only place. Odd that a scribe would just happen to leave a space just large enough for a passage 12 verses long when that passage in question is supposed to have never existed before. It’s also a strange coincidence that the scribe never ends another book in the entire MSS like that anywhere else. It’s almost like it was intentional…odd.

Since that is ALL the evidence against these verses being there according to James White, and he has publicly stated that he believes they aren’t supposed to be there, let’s consider the evidence FOR this passage being there.

In the 4th century (the same century as the earliest against the passage) you have 5 Greek writers that quote from it, one Syriac writer that quotes from it, two Latin Fathers that quote from it (excluding the Vulgate), the Gothic and Memphitic Versions all testifying to this passage being there.

But let’s go earlier! In the 3rd century Hippolytus references from this passage, and both the Curetonian Syriac and the Thebaic Versions bear testimony that in these three different provinces there was no suspicion of this passage.

iii.        But let’s go earlier! In the 2nd century Irenaeus quotes from the passage, and the Peshito and the Italic Versions have it. That means that in Gaul, Mesopotamia, and Africa (a good geographical distance) this passage was received as scripture within 100 years of the original inspired autograph.

To summarize, the earliest Fathers, the most respected early Versions, and ALSO the lectionary evidence all bear witness to the legitimacy of this passage.

There is something very interesting to note at this point. It used to be claimed that a Victor of Antioch was an early source against this passage. John Burgon showed quite succinctly that that was not the case at all. Burgon quotes from Victor of Antioch, and then explains:

This is from Victor of Antioch’s commentary on the Gospel according to Mark: “Notwithstanding that in very many copies of the present Gospel, the passage beginning, ‘Now when (Jesus) was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene,’ be not found (certain individuals having supposed it to be spurious)—yet we, at all events, inasmuch as in very many we have discovered it to exist, have, out of accurate copies, subjoined also the account of our Lord’s ascension (following the words ‘for they were afraid’) in conformity with the Palestinian exemplar of Mark which exhibits the Gospel verity: that is to say, from the words, ‘Now when (Jesus) was risen early the first day of the week,’ &c., down to ‘with signs following. Amen’

Now listen to Burgons comments on this quotation: “And with these words Victor of Antioch brings his Commentary on St. Mark to an end. Here then we find it roundly stated by a highly intelligent Father, writing in the first half of the fifth century—

That the reason why the last twelve verses of St. Mark are absent from some ancient copies of his Gospel is because they have been deliberately omitted by copyists;

That the ground for such omission was the subjective judgment of individuals, not the result of any appeal to documentary evidence. Victor, therefore, clearly held that the verses in question had been expunged in consequence of the (seeming) inconsistency with what is met with in the other Gospels;

That he, on the other hand, had convinced himself by reference to “very many” and “accurate” copies, that the verses in question are genuine;

That in particular the Palestinian Copy, which enjoyed the reputation of “exhibiting the genuine text of St. Mark,” contained the verses in dispute. To opinion, therefore, Victor opposes authority. He makes his appeal to the most trustworthy documentary evidence with which he is acquainted; and the deliberate testimony which he delivers is a complete counterpoise and antidote to the loose phrases of Eusebius on the same subject;

That in consequence of all this, following the Palestinian exemplar, he had from accurate copies furnished his own work with the last twelve verses in dispute…” (Burgon, as quoted in Counterfeit or Genuine?, edited by David Otis Fuller, pp. 56-7)

iii.        Now may I ask, “Does the margin of your Bible mention any of that?” Just to prove a point, let me reread the marginal notes in a few Bible versions:

In my copy of the NLT the margin says, “The most reliable early manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark end at verse 8.” In my copy of the ESV the margin says this, “Some manuscripts end the book with 16:8.” In my copy of the CEB the margin says this, “In most critical editions of the Gk New Testament, the Gospel of Mark end at 16:8.” In the NASB the passage is in brackets. In my copy of the NIV, the 2008 edition, they don’t even try to hide anything. It says in the margin, “Serious doubt exists as to whether these verses belong to the Gospel of Mark. They are absent from important early manuscripts and display certain peculiarities of vocabulary, style, and theological content that are unlike the rest of Mark. His Gospel probably ended at 16:8, or its original ending has been lost.”

Listen to that! The 2008 NIV says that there are “serious doubts” based upon 2 early uncials, a 12th century MSS, and “vocabulary, style, and theological content”. I want you to ask yourself what objective fact is there in determining another author’s choice of vocabulary or style of writing as being correct or incorrect? Or what gives someone license to say that something should not be there because they don’t believe that the “theological content” is correct? According to who, you? That rests entirely upon your opinion! Given the external evidence which is overwhelming I find myself scratching my head when I read things like this. Now let me ask you, given the evidence that I just went over is there any doubt in your mind about which tips the scale?