Lecture 34: Some Famous Textual Problems: Mark 16:9-20 | Free Online Biblical Library

Lecture 34: Some Famous Textual Problems: Mark 16:9-20

Course: Textual Criticism

Lecture: Some Famous Textual Problems: Mark 16:9-20

 

A. Mark 16:9-20

The question we are asking here is when the end isn’t the end. Does the Gospel end at verse 8 or does it not have an ending. A fundamental issue and question is whether the ending of Mark’s gospel is lost forever. It isn’t just these two endings that we have with verse 8 and verse 20. There are other ways in which these Gospels have ended. In fact, there have been five different ways in which the Gospel has concluded. The first of these is the one that ends with verse 8 – ‘Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.’ Which one if any actually concluded the Gospel? This first ending is often referred to the short ending or the SE. There is also the intermediate ending which most of you have never seen before. ‘But they reported briefly to Peter and those with him all that they had been told. And after these things, Jesus, himself, sent out through them from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.’ So, here they see him in his post-resurrection state where he commissions them to spread the Gospel. This is a fairly colorless ending, but we do have it in some manuscripts. In some of these manuscripts, the intermediate ending is followed by the long ending. ‘Early on the first day of the week, after he arose, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene from whom he had driven out seven demons.’ It is interesting that Mary has to be introduced again when she was already introduced earlier in the passage. ‘She went out and told those who were with them while they were mourning and weeping. And when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they didn’t believe. After this, he appeared in a different form to two of them while they were on their way to the country.’ This sounds like Luke 24 on the Road to Emmaus. ‘They went back and told the rest but they didn’t believe them. Then he appeared to the eleven themselves while they were eating and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart because they did not believe those who had seen him resurrected. He said to them, go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature. The one who believes will be baptized and saved, but the one who doesn’t believe will be condemned.’


1. Introduction

Now we get to the verses that are the most controversial with many hoping that these verses are not authentic. In verse 17, ‘and these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak in new tongues, they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will be healed. After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.’ It is verses 17 and 18 especially that are problematic for a lot of Christians.

In one manuscript and several more that was known to Gerome, we have what is known as the freer logion which is wedged in between verses 14 and 15. This is only found in Codex W, the manuscript that Charles Freer purchased in 1906 which is now at the Smithsonian Institution. ‘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. Therefore reveal your righteousness now, thus they spoke to Christ. And Christ replied to them, the term of years of Satan power has been fulfilled but other terrible things draw near. And for those who sinned, I was handed them 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 and righteousness that is in heaven.’

I want to summarize these five different endings. Three can be eliminated easily: the intermediate ending and the intermediate ending followed by the freer long ending and the freer logion between verses 14 and 15. We don’t have sufficient support to say that they have a good possibility of being viable, going back to the original. It does leave two endings, the short ending and the longer ending. These have always been the two that have been debated as to which one is authentic. However, the fundamental question relating to the internal evidence: which is more likely that scribes would intentionally omit verses 9-20 or that they would intentionally add these verses. Is it more likely that a scribe would say that these twelve verses offend me so I am going to cut them out? Or this Gospel ends without a resurrection appearance by Jesus to his disciples, so I am going to add them. Frankly, if verses 17 and 18 were not in here, the decision would be a whole lot easier, but those two verses raise some doubts. Why would a scribe be interested in cutting out all twelve verses? If that causes some offence to ancient Christians would they cut those just those two verses and keep the remainder? It doesn’t make much sense.

2. External Evidence

In terms of the external evidence. At least ninety five percent of all manuscripts versions and fathers have the long ending. That is very huge; that is a lot, but we have said all along that we don’t count manuscripts, but instead we weigh them. It is also found as early as the late 4th or early 5th century in Codex W. We are exactly sure of the date of that manuscript. The freer manuscript in the Smithsonian is the earliest manuscript that has it. It is found in all three text forms: the Byzantine, the Western and Alexandrian. So, it has wide geographical distribution. It is also found early in the fathers, beginning no later than the late 2nd century with Irenaeus. So, when you look at the external evidence and the geographical distribution being widespread and the genealogical solidarity in at least two of the text types, the Byzantine and Western along with the date and character.

Why would these verses be omitted by these scribes? Was it an embarrassment over verses 17 and 18? This is the standard thing that you from people that argue for the longer ending. They would say that scribes would have been embarrassed by that, especially the Alexandrian tradition. So, they excised all twelve verses because of two verses that embarrassed them. It doesn’t make any sense. But then you look at the patristic evidence; now that argument seems to be completely baseless. At least ten fathers quote from or allude to verses 15-20, the second half of this pericope from the 2nd to the 5th century while no fathers mentioned the first half of the pericope in verses 9-14 until the 4th century. What this means is, the part of this text that was known and appreciated was the one that talked about the snakes. The Part that wasn’t as well known was the first half of it. The very passage that offends people today was the passage that the early fathers had no problems with. The evidence reveals that the fathers did not have a problem with verses 17 and 18. Scribes would have been strongly tempted to add a resurrection appearance to this Gospel. In 8:31 and 9:9, 9:31 and 10:34 Jesus predicts his own resurrection four different times. The angels announced that he was raised from the dead, but we expect to see him raised from the dead as well. This is the only Gospel that doesn’t have a resurrection appearance by Jesus to the disciples.

About twenty years ago, there was a majority text scholar who was speaking at a concert in Dallas with nearly twenty thousand people there. He was promoting a modern translation based on the same text as the King James Version. He was telling this audience not to use these modern translations because they are based on ancient corrupt manuscripts. At the end of Mark’s Gospel, it doesn’t even have Jesus being raised from the dead. That simply isn’t true! They don’t have Jesus being seen by his disciples as raised from the dead. I talked to the fellow later telling him that was a horrible thing to say. It was a misrepresentation and it wasn’t accurate. He did a terrible misrepresentation before twenty thousand people who wanted to go out and burn their Bibles. What manuscripts lack it? Well, Codex Sinaiticus, the one that Tischendorf discovered of the 4th century doesn’t have this passage. Then there is Codex Vaticanus of the 4th century doesn’t have this passage. We have no papyri on this passage. So our earliest manuscripts are these two. These two manuscripts when they agree, the readings go back deep into the 2nd century and probably back to the original in most cases. They are the best witnesses to the most important text type, the Alexandrian. One of the things to note about this, you have guys like Dean Burgan who says that there are three thousand differences in the Gospels between these two manuscripts. How can we possibly say that they are reliable, he postulated? It is because of all those differences, it shows that they did not copy from a common ancestor that was one generation removed. It must be several generations removed. They are reliable when they agree; when they disagree, and then there is a problem. But these two manuscripts agree which goes back very early, probably ten generations or more deep into the 2nd century.

a. Codex Vaticanus and a Blank Column

For Codex Vaticanus, it has an entire blank column at the end for Mark and it is the only blank column in the New Testament of the manuscript. Does this indicate that the scribe knew of the longer ending and was making room for it? Unlikely, since there isn’t room for the long ending. It is also unlikely that this is what the scribe was doing as there are three Old Testament leafs that have a blank column. They are all at the end of a genre, like poetry moving into prose or prose moving into poetry. I suggest that this is exactly the same thing we have in Codex Vaticanus for this passage. This archetype had Mark at the end of the four Gospels, but I know that there is no basis for this whatsoever. Of the Western order of the Gospels with Matthew, John, Luke and Mark, we have this in Codex D, in Codex W and in several others. J.K. Elliot, a British New Testament textual critic said that he believes that the order of the Gospels; the first time that they would have been put into a Codex would have been the Western order. I have a strong suspicion that the archetype of Codex Vaticanus had it in the Western order. In other words, what this scribe did, he followed the text of the manuscript in front of him, but now the manuscript changed the order of the Gospels. In other words, if you have Matthew, John, Luke and Mark; the next book is going to be the Book of Acts. It is a different genre. So, what evidence do I have for this? In Paul’s letters, you have paragraphs that seemed to be numbered which are in a different order than the archetype. What you have in Vaticanus is the numbering of these letters of paragraphs within these books that are different; it is out of order. One of the books got misplaced; it got put in the front where it should have been in the back. This shows that whatever he was copying had a different order for those books and he’s keeping the same numbering system. He is that close to the copy he is copying, but he changed it in terms of the order of books. He’s changing the order of the books in Paul’s letters and changing the order of the books also in the Gospels, yet he still keeps the blank column at the end of the book.

So, this blank column has nothing to do with the long ending of Mark. There isn’t enough room for it and it has everything to do with the fact that in the original text of Vaticanus that he copied from Acts which would have come after Mark. This is significant in understanding what is going on in relationship to these two. Codex Sinaiticus doesn’t have a complete blank column at the end. If the blank column in B indicates that the scribe was aware of the long ending, then what does the blank page at the end of the Gospels in Sinaiticus indicate? Some people look at the text and wonder about the blank page. Not only do we have evidence for these two older manuscripts but the old Syriac, Arminian, Georgian in the Gospel at verse 8. The Syriac Sinitic which is a very important manuscript of which the text form is from the 2nd century. It ends at verse 8. They represent early and widespread distribution. Origen and Clement, 2nd and 3rd-century fathers are silent in regards to any material after verse 8. It doesn’t mean that they don’t know about it, but they certainly can’t be used as evidence if they do. Eusebius, early 4th century, a very important scholar, was commissioned by Constantine to create fifty Bibles; Eusebius had access to the Bibles in the East. Here, he says, the accurate copies of the Gospel of Mark conclude the story in the words, they were afraid. He is making two points, quantitatively most manuscripts that he has seen end at verse 8. Qualitatively, accurate copies end at verse 8. Eusebius would have known about this. He took over the library that Origen had in Caesarea and had a massive shop creating the Bibles for Constantine. At the end of the 4th century and beginning of the 5th, Gerome now has access to manuscripts in the West because he had the backing of the Vatican. Eusebius had the backing of Constantine whereas Gerome had the backing of the Pope.

b. Gerome and Eusebius

Here, he says that the longer ending is found scarcely in any copies of the Gospel. Almost all of the Greek Codices were without the passage. Now Gerome is making an advance over Eusebius and he was hinting at something. Gerome was saying that the Greek manuscripts didn’t have this passage. Almost none of them do. It suggests that perhaps this passage is in some other manuscripts, probably the Latin one. I suspects that is where this passage actually started. If you go about a hundred or so years later, Victor of Antioch wrote the most popular commentary on Mark’s Gospel in the Medieval Ages. He said that both endings were in wide circulation in his day and he thought that the longer ending was more accurate. So we have this said over a hundred years later! Victor wrote the most popular commentary on Mark during the Medieval Ages and that was used widely. So, you go through the first four centuries where the long ending hardly appeared in any manuscripts according to Eusebius and Gerome who had access on the east and the west. How did that text become part of the majority text? There is a strong impulse by the scribes to put something there because of not having any resurrection appearances by Jesus. It was the long ending that eventually surfaced to the top, most likely because of Victor of Antioch. So we have historical reasons for seeing this. There are some alternative endings which are very difficult to explain if that longer ending was originally there. Codex Bobiensis has the intermediate ending which is colorless. Several manuscripts and versions from the 4th to the 9th century have the intermediate ending before the long ending. None of them have it after the long ending. If they had it after the long ending, it would show the manuscripts they are copying from had the long ending and therefore they were adding the intermediate ending. If they have the intermediate and then the long one, it shows that they came across the long one after the intermediate ending was already in that text.

All this evidence really suggest something that Bruce Metsker has summarized by saying that no one who had available at the conclusion of the second Gospel the twelve verses 9-20 so rich and interesting material would have deliberately replaced them with a few lines of a colorless and generalized summary. You also have fascinating marginal notes in these manuscripts; even in many of the manuscripts that do have the log ending there is a note at verse 8 that simply says ‘the end.’ In some copies the evangelist ended it here. Others have Eusebius canonized the Gospel to this place. He recognized that it was Scripture to verse 8. These same manuscripts that have verses 9-20 are registering suspicion about these twelve verses. Others have an asterisk after verse 8 that indicates doubt about it authenticity. So you can’t just say that ninety-five percent of the manuscripts have it; you have to examine them to see what the data actually reveals.

c. Summary

So, why did this Gospel have such a major textual upheaval at the end of the book? It was because scribes weren’t comfortable with a Gospel ending without any resurrection appearances. This seems to make the most sense by far. If Mark 16:9-20 was original then why would the material be deleted? Why don’t any manuscripts delete the ending of Matthew, Luke or John? If the material was offensive, why would not they delete verses 17 and 18? So to conclude the external evidence, but I brought in the internal as well. The manuscript versions and patristic writings on behalf of the short endings are early and widespread. They represent the Alexandrian and Western and Cesarean and Byzantine text types. The short ending is found in the best witnesses of the three most important in earlier versions of Latin, Coptic and Syriac as well as the best and earliest witnesses of the Arminian and Georgian, comparing the best and earliest against the majority in each one of these cases. It is also found in the best witnesses of the Alexandrian and Cesarean and Western texts. Eusebius and Gerome whose access to manuscripts was vast; both affirmed that the short ending was by far the predominate conclusion to Mark in their day. These two statements are the strongest pieces of evidence as to why we cannot do textual criticism by counting manuscripts. If we do that, we have to ask when we are counting and what are we counting.

When are you counting? You are surely not counting in the 4th century because if you do, the long ending isn’t going to be found in the majority of manuscripts. Nor will it be found in the 5th, 6th or 7th, for it only becomes the majority in the 9th century. The reason for later manuscripts to have some meaning after 16:8 is easily explainable. Some scribes wanted to have a resurrection appearance by Jesus to the disciples. While no convincing reason has been proposed as to why some scribes should eliminate these twelve versions. I am repeating myself sometimes because this information is very important to think through some of these issues.

3. Intrinsic Evidence

Now, this is especially interesting in regards to the intrinsic evidence. Is it likely that Mark wrote it? Both the transcriptional, that is the scribal and the intrinsic authorial evidence argued decisively against the authenticity of the long ending. We have seen that scribes would be more likely to add material after 16:8 than delete it and intrinsically, there is not a single passage in Mark 1:1-16:8 that is comparable to the stylistic and grammatical and lexical anomalies that we find clusters in these twelve verses. There is no other pericope in all of Mark that has so many things that just don’t fit Mark’s style, his
grammar, his vocabulary, and his syntax and his themes. It is really different from the remainder of Mark. The person who demonstrated this was Greg Sappi who just finished his dissertation at Dallas Seminary. It was an appraisal of the longer ending of the Gospel of Mark. He said many times that there wasn’t any way that the longer ending could be authentic.

So, did Mark intentionally end his Gospel here or is the real ending actually lost? People have used three different arguments in regards to the ending being lost. Those who don’t think the long ending is authentic will say that the last leaf could have been lost, if it was written on a codex. Books don’t end in a far in Greek. This is called the post-positive position. The third argument is the open-ended conclusions are a modern convention. Some counter-arguments to this are that Mark’s Gospel would have been written on a role, not a codex. The end would have been the most protected leaf of the entire manuscript, so to assume that last leaf was lost along with Matthew and Luke would have had such is like a triple assumption which would just be impossible. Books have been discovered that end in a ‘gar’ as open-ended conclusions are in fact ancient. Some evidence in regards to the Role Verses the Codex by Roberts and in the book The Birth of the Codex, Mark was written on a role not a codex. In regards to books ending with a ‘gar’; you see this in books written by Vander Horse and another one by Kelly Iverson. Then the open-ended conclusions are ancient; Lee Magnus did this in his doctrinal dissertation. He found this in Greco-Roman literature and Jewish literature. Several Old Testament passages are open ending; even a whole book of Jonah ends this way. He is sitting under a tree complaining that the shade is gone and the book just kind of ends right there. Perhaps Mark is doing something similar and intentionally as well. I believe that Mark is foreshadowing the ‘before they were afraid’ 16:8 with the open-ended conclusion into the pericope of Jesus’ third prediction about his resurrection in 9:32 after he comes down from the Mount of Transfiguration. Now he is with all of his disciples and we read but they did not understand this statement about the resurrection and they were afraid to ask him. This is exactly the same verb form, when a verb form can be hundreds of different shapes and sizes in Greek. It is exactly the same verb sat in exactly the same form.


This foreshadows Mark 16:8 in five different ways. It deals with the resurrection and the pericope is open-ended. This is the end of the pericope and the verb is in the perfect tense which in itself by its very nature is open-ended. For they were continually afraid; it is the same verb in the same form used in 16:8 and the pericope ends with the disciples being bewildered, just like these women were. These parallels are uncanny and I think Mark has given us a clue to the way how he is going to end his Gospel. So, why did no one in the ancient world understand Mark’s intention? That is what Keith Elliot asked; no scribe understood this; it is virtually impossible that Mark could have intended to end his Gospel this way. But I think Luke understood it. Look at the conclusion to Acts. It is open-ended. You have Acts beginning with an exciting action with the church growing all the way through. Then you have eight chapters waiting for Paul to come to trial and he never does. Where did Luke get an idea to write so poorly? Ramsey says that no one can accept the idea of the ending of Acts as a conclusion of a rationally conceived history. Well, I think he is on to something. That wasn’t meant to be the end of Acts. Luke meant for his readers to write the last chapter in their own lives. He seems to have a similar purpose to Mark, get the reader involved in the narrative. You are reading along and see Paul is in prison for two years; Roman laws says that you will come to trial really soon. But for a broader audience, it is saying, ‘what are you going to do with the Gospel.’ Are you going to share the Gospel also or are you going to sit ideally by? So Acts ends with the reader having to get involved. Does Luke give any other clues that he is immolating Mark’s literary style? Mark ends it as being open-ended and I think Luke also ends it as being open-ended. I also think that the beginning of Acts also shows this.

At the beginning of Acts, he wrote about the former account of what all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up to heaven. The Gospels are the beginning of what Jesus is doing and teaching. He is continuing this with the apostles and the apostles continue that in their converts. We are continuing the story of Acts and that is why there is an Acts 29 group today. You compare that with the beginning of Mark. He opens his Gospel with the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Often the first line in an ancient book was meant to be the title and I take it that this is the case here. If this is the beginning of the Gospel, his whole Gospel is the beginning of the Gospel; he is giving us a clue that he isn’t going to end it. Mark 9:32, I am going to do something that is open-ended. Luke picks up on this as he spoke of his Gospel as the beginning of what Jesus did and Acts continues the narrative. Mark and Luke, Acts are similar and Luke understood Mark’s purpose. I take it that Mark has a goal here of getting the reader to step into the sandals of the disciples and answer the question for himself or herself. What are you going to do with Jesus? Do you accept him in his suffering? If so, you get to see him in his glory. If you don’t accept him in his suffering, you will not see him in his glory.

4. Conclusion

Although at first glance, the evidence is overwhelming on behalf of the long ending. A more penetrating analysis reveals that the earliest and manuscripts with the greatest geographical spread and the comments by Eusebius and Gerome about the majority manuscript in their day ending at verse 8. The multitude of endings before or in place of the long ending; the marginal notes in the manuscript complaining about the long ending and the overwhelming evidence from the linguistic uniqueness of this passage, all argue that Mark ended his Gospel at 16:8. Why? It is an invitation to the reader. Mark’s challenge to his readers in his day is still valid today. What are you going to do with Jesus?