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Is Mark 16:9-20 the Original Ending to the Gospel of Mark?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

We don’t know.  Scholars divide sharply on this issue, although it seems that the majority of New Testament scholars believe that verses 9-20 were not part of the original Gospel written by Mark.

Why?  Because the two oldest manuscripts containing Mark’s Gospel (Sinaiticus and Vaticanus) do not contain these verses, church fathers Eusebius and Jerome both said that these verses were missing from Greek manuscripts they knew of, the style and vocabulary of verses 9-20 are decidedly different from the rest of Mark, and it would make sense for later writers to add to the Gospel because verse 8 seems like an abrupt ending.

On the other hand, most manuscripts from the fifth century on contain the verses and second century church fathers Justin Martyr, Tatian, and Irenaeus quoted verse 19, thus supporting its early existence.

One popular compromise view is presented by John D. Grassmick in The Bible Knowledge Commentary:

A view which seems to account for the relevant evidence and to raise the least number of objections is that (a) Mark purposely ended his Gospel with verse 8 and (b) verses 9-20, though written or compiled by an anonymous Christian writer, are historically authentic and are part of the New Testament canon . . . .

In other words, the early church accepted the tradition represented in Mark 16:9-20 even though many understood that Mark did not write it himself.

Again, we do not have enough data to determine the answer with certainty, so dogmatism is unwarranted.  Whether or not you believe that verses 9-20 were part of the original Gospel, according to Timothy Paul Jones in Misquoting Truth,  should not affect “Christian faith or practice in any significant way” because the concepts found in these verses echo ideas found in other Old and New Testament passages (see Luke 10:19; Isaiah 11:8; Psalm 69:21, 29 for references to protection from snakes and poison).


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  • James Clark

    This article is written as if God has totaly failed in prserving and perfecting His Word as written in Psalm 12. I don’t know about the rest of you but I believe God. If He has preserved his Word you can find the truth in the AV (King James) version. If He has failed then we just as well chuck the whole thing and we are most miserable!
    I Believe!

  • Bill Pratt

    James,
    In no way am I implying that God has failed. But the fact is that we don’t have the original manuscripts written by the biblical authors. We only have copies that have been handed down to us and sometimes the copyists made errors. We are still confident of more than 99% of the New Testament, even with the errors, and no major doctrines of the faith are in question due to these errors. To say that we should chuck the whole thing if there are errors made by copyists is a bit of an extreme position, don’t you think?

    Please read my post on textual criticism to see how scholars attempt to reconstruct the original words of the Bible using the manuscript copies we have discovered.

    God bless,
    Bill

  • http://www.curtisvillechristian.org/MarkOne.html James Snapp, Jr.

    Greetings.

    About Mark 16:9-20: I invite you to visit http://www.textexcavation.com/jimsnapp.html and download my paper “The Origin of Mark 16:9-20, Email Edition,” which is available via a link near the bottom of the page.

    Vaticanus and Sinaiticus do not contain these verses, but Vaticanus features a prolonged blank space after Mark 16:8, even though elsewhere in the NT the copyist does not leave blank columns between books. (There are three blank spaces in the OT in Vaticanus, but each one is the result of a special factor involved in the production-process; none of them are the sort of deliberate placement of blank space that we see at the end of Mark.) It looks very much like although the copyist of Codex Vaticanus used an exemplar that did not have verses 9-20, he had those verses in his head, and reserved space to allow for their future inclusion.

    As for Sinaiticus, all four pages containing Mark 14:54 to Luke 1:56 are not the original pages made by the copyist who made the surrounding pages. These four pages are a cancel-sheet, written to replace the pages made by the main copyist’s pages. We don’t know what the original pages contained; possibly they included a blank column between Mk. 16:8 and Lk. 1:1, like Vaticanus, or perhaps the original pages contained the “Shorter Ending.” We can see that the person who made the replacement-pages emphasized the ending at the end of 16:8 – the decorative line that he drew after 16:8 is uniquely emphatic, when one compares it to other such decorative lines in the manuscript. (And we can do this without much trouble, since Codex Sinaiticus is now online.) The most natural explanation of this emphatic line is that its maker was aware of, but rejected, some additional text after 16:8.

    As for Eusebius and Jerome: yes, Eusebius states that 16:9-20 is absent from almost all the copies. Nevertheless in the same letter (Ad Marinum) in which he said that, he instructs Marinus about how to harmonize Mark 16:9 with Matthew 28:1-2. As for Jerome, he does NOT say that these verses were missing from Greek manuscripts /that he knew of./ Jerome’s statement that Mark 16:9-20 is “absent from almost all the Greek codices” appears in his Epistle #120, To Hedibia. And the thing to see about Jerome’s Epistle #120 is that he answers Hedibia’s third question – “Why do the evangelists speak differently about the resurrection of our Lord, and how He appeared to His apostles?” – by providing an extract from Eusebius’ earlier letter to Marinus, which he reshapes into Latin on the spot as he is dictating the letter. Jerome’s statement is not a result of his own research at all; it is part of an extract from Eusebius’ letter, plain and simple. (See http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/jerome_hedibia_2_trans.htm for an English rendering of Jerome’s letter.)

    Regarding the vocabulary of Mark 16:9-20, I welcome you to read Dr. Bruce Terry’s essay on that subject, at http://bible.ovu.edu/terry/articles/mkendsty.htm .
    You wrote, “Most manuscripts from the fifth century on contain the verses and second century church fathers Justin Martyr, Tatian, and Irenaeus quoted verse 19, thus supporting its early existence.” A few clarifications are needed. Besides Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, all undamaged Greek copies of Mark contain Mark 16:9-20. One possible exception is MS 304, a medieval commentary-MS, but it is probably the first volume of what was originally a two-volume set of Gospel-commentary; its text is Byzantine (which in undamaged MSS includes vv. 9-20), and its format at the end of Mark is quirky; the text ends, but the accompanying commentary ends abruptly too.

    Meanwhile, something around 1,500 Greek manuscripts (plus the lectionaries, in which Mk. 16:9-20 is a reading for Eastertime and Ascension-Day, and is the third lection in the Heothina-cycle) weigh in for the inclusion of Mark 16:9-20 – copies from diverse locales, attesting to different text-types.

    Justin Martyr did not explicitly quote 16:19; he used terminology distinct to 16:20 in First Apology 45. Tatian did not use only verse 19; he incorporated the entire passage into his Diatessaron, a narrative which blended together the text of the four Gospels.

    I think the idea that Mark purposefully stopped writing at the end of 16:8 is unrealistic; to me, the abrupt stoppage looks unintentional because it was unintentional. Mark was forced by some emergency to suddenly leave Rome, and entrusted his unfinished work to colleagues there. They finished his Gospel-account not by writing an entirely new ending, but by attaching a short Marcan composition about Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances which was already being used in the church at Rome, and it is this attachment that we know as Mark 16:9-20. The passage is, via this approach, no less canonical than Jeremiah 52, or any other passage for which someone other than the main author of a book is responsible.

    There is a lot of misinformation about Mark 16:9-20 floating around in commentaries and other books, even by authors who are normally reliable (Geisler, Wallace, Witherington, Metzger, and so forth). Test all things.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  • Bill Pratt

    James,
    Thank you for this additional information. Much appreciated.

    God bless,
    Bill

  • DavidC99

    Doesn’t it seem odd to call the Bible the Word of God and yet not be sure of what it actually says or doesn’t say? Shouldn’t we be able, with certainty, to say what the ending of Mark actually is?

    I would urge people to rethink their position, if so be they actually believe that the Word of God can be here on Earth but not in perfect form. If the Word of God isn’t perfect, it isn’t the Word of God.

  • Bill Pratt

    Hi David,
    What exactly do you mean by perfect?

    Thanks,
    Bill

  • DavidC99

    I mean perfect in the sense of the way an Old Testament sacrifice was described, and the way Christ himself had to be. For example, a sacrifice had to be without blemish, not blind nor lame. Christ himself was found perfect, without any sin or impurity, a holy sacrifice to God.

    Since Christ is the Word of God made flesh, and his perfection was certainly not due to his flesh, but rather his status as the Word of God, it means the Word of God must contain no impurities or faults. We all ought to agree anyway that the Word of God must be perfect, given various verses such as Psalm 18:30.

    The place where many fall to pieces is in the area of considering our Bibles to be the Word of God. Perfection implies that we should not have mistranslations, imperfections, and incorrect underlying manuscripts. I believe that our Bibles must be completely free from all error.

    After all, shouldn’t we be able to know how Mark ends?

  • Bill Pratt

    Unfortunately there is not a book from the ancient world that meets your criteria. Documents age and wear out, so we must rely on copies made by fallible humans, who, though they meant well, often made mistakes. Even with all the mistakes, we are still able to reconstruct the texts of the Bible with great accuracy and be very confident in most of the words we have today in our modern Bibles (~95% of the OT and ~99% of the NT). I’m not sure why you think this is unacceptable. The Christian community has understood this to be the case since the beginning.

  • DavidC99

    By having only parts of the Word preserved in the world, even if 99%, we have then lost some of the jots and tittles that are still important and necessary.

    Since God’s Word is not bound, why does the “Christian community” attempt to bind the Word’s preservation according to physical limitations?

  • Bill Pratt

    David,
    God determined that man would be the instrument to write his Word and to transmit his Word from generation to generation, and God has ensured that his message has stayed intact for thousands of years through men, just not to the degree you would like. God has often used men to accomplish important tasks, so I don’t see any problem with God choosing to use man with regards to his Word. Those are the facts.

    You can wish that God did not use man, but it doesn’t make it come true. Given that the original manuscripts from the biblical authors are lost, and that we have copies of those manuscripts today, and that many of those copies have differences in them, what would you propose we do?

  • DavidC99

    There is no problem with God using men to do physical writing. After all, God ensured that the originals were correct, and he used men for that. We don’t have to assume that the usage of men implies imperfection when it comes to the Word of God. In fact, it’s the opposite; God demanded perfection in the transmission of his Word through the prophets, telling the people to demand the same level of perfection, branding those who fell short to be false prophets. I find it compelling that he would continue to give the same perfection in transmission over time.

    Given that we have conflicting manuscripts, I propose that we ask God which ones are correct. This is a spiritual issue, not a physical one.

  • Bill Pratt

    “Given that we have conflicting manuscripts, I propose that we ask God which ones are correct. This is a spiritual issue, not a physical one.”

    How do we actually go about doing that? Who gets to be the official spokesman for God on this issue?

  • DavidC99

    We go about that by prayer.

    Why do we need a spokesman? The spokesmen from God that we are supposed to receive (ie. prophets) have to be tested by the Word. In order to find the Word, you need such knowledge directly from God. The official spokesman for God is Christ — the Word himself.

  • Bill Pratt

    But many men of God have prayed about the ending of Mark, and they are receiving different “answers” to their prayers. How do we know which “answers” to prayer are correct?

  • DavidC99

    As I said, we test what others say by the Word. When trying to find out what the Word is, we pray.

    John the Baptist noted that a man could only receive something if he got it from Heaven. When Peter declared Christ to be the Christ, he was told, by Christ, that he received this knowledge from the Father.

    In the same vein, we need this knowledge about God’s Word directly from God, just as it was given to Peter. Our faith can’t be in men, but only in God and his Word.

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  • Bill Pratt

    Yes, but there is nothing in God’s Word that tells us what the correct ending of Mark is!! So all we are left with are earnest Christians praying to God for an answer about this subject. Unfortunately, these earnest Christians have arrived at different answers to the question, so what I’m asking you is how do we determine who is right? How will God show you the correct ending to Mark? What is the practical way this occurs?

  • Bill Pratt

    David,
    Please see three posts I wrote on inerrancy to further understand what I believe about the Bible’s origins.

    God bless,
    Bill

  • DavidC99

    The ending of Mark *is* in God’s Word. Doubt about its veracity and validity doesn’t change the fact that it *is* part of God’s Word. See Romans 3:3-4 perhaps.

    You seem to be dismissive of prayer because not everyone claims the exact same results. Why should you expect everyone to agree? First of all, not everyone is working with an honest heart, seeking God, in all matters of prayer. Others deceive themselves and are deceived by others, in receiving faked answers. Only the few are righteous, and these know the voice of their Shepherd.

    When you ask for a “practical way” to tell if Mark’s ending is Mark’s ending, I think you are asking for a “physical way,” but not a spiritual way. Prayer is about as practical as you can possibly get, but it’s spiritual, even though it can have physical elements.

    God speaks to man through his Word. How does one know his Word? God has to give him this ability to recognize it. This is why we should, in faith, pray for it if we are unsure.

    On the subject of inerrancy, which you asked me to read, I have already read those posts of yours already, but I have looked over them again. In fact, in one you posted a logical step-by-step reasoning as to why the Bible is God’s Word and is inerrant. It was actually a very good article, in a sense, at first until, according to your own reasoning in that article, you more or less conclude that the Bibles we have today are not God’s Word, since they aren’t inerrant.

    Think about it. God wouldn’t let his inerrant Word be taken from us. He gave it to us with purpose, purpose that still exists to this day.

  • Bill Pratt

    “The ending of Mark *is* in God’s Word.”

    Which version of God’s Word? There are many different translations derived from thousands of manuscripts, so which translation and which manuscripts are you referring to?

  • DavidC99

    Why don’t you tell me after you’ve prayed about it?

  • Bill Pratt

    My prayer life is another topic. Would you mind just answering the question I asked you instead of deflecting the conversation back to me? Which version of God’s Word? Which translation and which manuscripts are you referring to? If you don’t know, then just say so.

  • DavidC99

    You’ve been obtuse throughout this entire conversation, and even before it when you said that “We” can’t figure out what the ending of Mark is.

    All you’ve done is ask basic spiritual questions, one after the other, without consideration of what was being given to you. I’ve answered you quite a few times, but you seem intent on ignoring my answers only to exhaust my efforts so you can say there is no real answer regardless of whether there is one or not.

    At this point, I think your prayer life *is* the topic. Obviously, it’s pathetic beyond belief if you can’t figure out the ending of a book of the Bible, but you’re going to pretend to answer “Tough Questions.” Don’t you see the complete irony of this situation?

    How can you answer real questions on doctrine if you don’t even believe you have the complete Word of God? How do you know that you have most of it? Is not your faith in the scholars that tell you this? How do you know that the stuff from the originals that you believe was lost or is in doubt doesn’t matter (as if God speaks irrelevant words). Again, is not your faith in the scholars that tell you this? How do you even know that the originals were perfect? Is this not also based on what the scholars tell you? Have you ever seen the originals and examined them? Could such examination, in and of itself from the physical point of view, tell you whether or not they were genuinely from God in perfect form?

    “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.”

    Does this not describe you? Shouldn’t you be ready to teach others properly by now? Don’t you claim already to actively teach people currently? If you’re not teaching from the perfect Word of God, *what* are you teaching? Are you not then claiming to teach from a guesswork of imperfect manuscripts blessed and approved by men? Where does God come into this equation?

    Didn’t you say that God expressly called you to be a Christian? Instead of trying to drive those crazy who would like to help you and correct these blatant and rather embarrassing errors, you should be taking these objections to God. Seek him, and ask him to show you these things.

    Since you seem so far gone, I’ll give you one more push in the right direction, and then I think I may be done here, depending on a number of factors. I’ll give you an example of a preserved text: The Masoretic Text, the Old Testament in Hebrew. This is a preserved copy that contains the Word of God as God gave it. If you actually want an exact hard copy, consider going to your local synagogue and asking them where to find it.

  • http://mattdabbs.wordpress.com/ mattdabbs

    Bill,

    You won’t win this discussion…not that it is about winning. I have been through similar conversations on my blog regarding textual criticism, missing verses, and all the rest. It always goes the same direction. I have seen it a dozen times with a dozen different people. You make valid points. They criticize and make weak arguments without addressing any of your points or questions. They talk over you and fail to follow any semblance of logic or even the facts themselves. They bring up a whole new string of things to keep you running for the answers or responses to their points but they are never willing to really engage any of the things you bring up in a meaningful way.

    This never ends well. Good luck.

  • http://mattdabbs.wordpress.com/ mattdabbs

    Looking at the dates, it looks like this ended a month ago. Sorry about that. You did the best thing to just leave this discussion all together. Good news is we can disagree on this and all still be brothers in Christ. Keep up the good work here on the blog and don’t let anyone discourage you due to their ignorance or their unwillingness to be informed.

  • http://mattdabbs.wordpress.com/ mattdabbs

    Bill,

    I am saying you are making valid points…sorry if that was confusing! David is following the same pattern of argumentation that many people in his line of thinking take. He just defies logic, ignores your points without addressing them and doesn’t do any work to advance an actual dialog.

  • Bill Pratt

    Thanks, Matt. I thought that’s what you were saying, but I was a little confused by the wording. Have a wonderful Christmas!

  • http://www.calvaryle.org Steve Wright

    BIll,

    I am teaching Mark 16 tonight. As background, our midweek study is 60 minutes (vs. 30 on Sunday) so I am freer to go into more depth and wrestle with difficult issues. I have my view on the ending (which seems to match Metzger and the Grassmick quote you cite (and thus I assume matches your view as well).

    One note from my study on the topic, mentioned above was the blank space in Vaticanus – I too have read this (never seen it myself obviously) but I have read this blank space is of the size that would only support the ‘shorter ending’ and not vv.9-20.

    I also commend you on your replies to some other comments above. This sort of discussion gets quite emotional with some people, usually KJV only proponents, and their arguments are usually laced with over-the-top rhetoric.

    As to the discussion with DavidC99 – the whole ‘pray about whether it is Scripture’ is straight from the Mormon handbook. So either DavidC99 is Mormon (and it is my online experience that often Mormons do not identify themselves on evangelical blogs while also seeking to gain admission to their belief systems on priesthoods, sons of God etc), or DavidC is an evangelical brother who is misguided as to how Scripture evaluation by textual criticism is conducted.

    Blessings to you.

  • DavidC99

    Steve Wright:

    Only Mormons pray about testing scripture? What do the good guys do then? Guess? If the bad guys are the ones praying and the good guys are the ones guessing, then what makes the good guys good and the bad guys bad? Do you think God ignores the honest prayers of people who want to know how Mark ends?

    It is hard to view anyone who criticizes honest prayer in such a situation as a brother. If you’re going to get into wild speculation about my status before God simply because I said that God’s Word can be found in the world and that prayer should be employed, then perhaps you ought not to be preaching.

  • Bill Pratt

    Steve,
    Thanks for your encouragement. I am so glad to hear that you are covering textual criticism, as applied to Mark 16, in your church. May God bless your efforts!

  • http://www.calvaryle.org Steve Wright

    Bill,
    If interested, you can hear how I handled it by going to the church website I list and on the homepage there is the wednesday 1/6/10 study. I take it up at verse 8 a few minutes into the message if you want to fastforward to that point.

    Wednesdays are different than my Sunday messages in style (though we still go book by book), and this last Wednesday was even more different than most given the more academic nature of the message. I deliberately finished early so we had 20 minutes or so at the end for questions and answers (not recorded).

    I don’t know about you, but I get a little concerned when I come to a conclusion that I can’t find anyone else agreeing with – so I was pleased to not only discover Metzger’s view (fairly well known), but your website where you have the quote by Grassmick (I don’t usually look to the BKC in my New Testament studies). I know Grassmick, but was not aware of his agreement with Metzger on this point.

    So your site was a blessing to me yesterday – God bless your efforts. I’m sure you will see me around the comments from time to time in the future.

  • http://www.curtisvillechristian.org/MarkOne.html James Snapp, Jr.

    Just a quick note to Steve Wright:

    If you consult the online presentation I mentioned in an earlier comment here, particularly, the webpage at
    http://www.curtisvillechristian.org/Vaticanus.html
    then you will be able to view a picture of the pertinent page of Vaticanus, and you will also be able to see reconstructions of the page’s final two columns with the “Shorter Ending,” and with the “Longer Ending,” within the blank space after Mk. 16:8.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  • http://www.calvaryle.org Steve Wright

    Thanks James! Most interesting and informative.

    Blessings to you brother.

  • Mark Finch

    I think it’s pointless to be arguing over what’s in the bible or not. It’s been canonized for over a thousand years. The conversation is over, and we’re just bringing up old news. We should focus on more important issues. This article is interesting, but it won’t change that’s in or out of the bible.

  • FireSpeaks

    We must not contend all of our thoughts to the missing passages of Mark 16:9-20. Faith must have a portion of our thought when we consider anything of God. Would an almighty God allows His revelation to man be incomplete? On what level do we believe that God is God?

    Consider the argument of “Partial to “Plenary Inspiration” If we take the second opinion than we can assume that even though Mark 16:9-20 was added (this is not a confession of belief) the addition is therefore still the inspired word of God, or we can argue, as I do, that verse 8 was not the intended ending for the chapter and God rectified the problem.

    When considering spiritual warfare we can see how the devil wants us to argue a point that does not affect Christian faith in anyway, because when our minds are on the least of important things we cannot do the greatest of things which is win souls for God . So is this point worth arguing? Of course it is, that we may be able to defend our faith, so I Thank God for theologians of which I definitely am not!

  • James Snapp

    Dear Bill:

    It has been a while since I wrote to you to clarify some of the contents of your blog-entry here. Repeating my concerns:

    Your statement, “Because the two oldest manuscripts containing Mark’s Gospel (Sinaiticus and Vaticanus) do not contain these verses” should be rephrased to convey that Vaticanus and Sinaiticus are the two oldest existing manuscripts that contain Mark 16. Papyrus 45 also contains Mark’s Gospel, but P45 is so extensively damaged that it has no text from chapter 16.

    Your statement, “Church fathers Eusebius and Jerome both said that these verses were missing from Greek manuscripts they knew of” should be adjusted so that readers understand that in the composition Ad Hedibiam where Jerome’s statement is found, Jerome was simply abridging and translating into Latin the previous statement that Eusebius had written in Ad Marinum. In other words, Jerome was merely borrowing Eusebius’ material (not unlike the way in which so many modern-day commentators have borrowed words from Bruce Metzger). Jerome’s own research is reflected in the Vulgate Gospels, which he produced in 383 as a standardization of the Latin texts, brought into general conformity to old Greek manuscripts; Jerome included Mark 16:9-20 in the Vulgate Gospels.

    Your statement, “Most manuscripts from the fifth century on contain the verses” should be brought into focus; I recommend restating it: “All undamaged Greek manuscripts from the 400’s onward contain these verses.”

    Your statement, “Second century church fathers Justin Martyr, Tatian, and Irenaeus quoted verse 19” is inaccurate; Irenaeus quoted verse 19, but the evidence from Justin Martyr consists of a strong allusion to verse 20 (and probably to verse 14 as well); the evidence from Tatian consists of the incorporation of all twelve verses in his Diatessaron.

    Do you have any plans to modify the old blog-entry, or to remove it and create a new blog-entry to bring the evidence into focus more accurately for your readers?

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

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