Thursday, 30 August 2012

Four Perspectives on the Ending of Mark

The ending of Mark is one of the biggest textual variants in the Bible. Originally there were a series of lectures by four people dealing with this issue which later got turned into this book with a filth chapter added by Bock at the end.

Although I had kinda already made my mind up when coming to this book, I thought it would still be worth while reading arguments for and against my position, and this book didn't disappoint. 

Wallace was first up and he held my position: that the original intent of the author is that Mark ends at 16:8. He was honest about examine his and our own presuppositions about this topic and then set out why he thinks Mark 16:9ff was added later, mostly looking at external evidence (as Elliott focuses on the internal evidence) such as looking at the different manuscripts and what the church fathers thought about the ending of Mark. I was a little sad that this position was first up as he already dealt with some of the later arguments in the book, so when I read those I already had objections to their reasoning.

Robinson was second and they argued that the Longer Ending should be accepted and was most probably written by Mark. Robinson looked at what Justin Martyr and Irenaeus said, analysed the style, vocab and themes of the Longer Ending, saying they are consistent with the rest of Mark.

Elliott said that original intent isn't so much important as to what the Church decided to include. They said that it could be possible that the original ending has been lost and what we have is Mark 16:9-20 that has been deemed canonical by the Church. They do touch on different manuscript evidences and the church fathers, but mostly they examine the internal evidence of the text saying that it was added later, but it is still inspired.

Black thinks the Longer Ending is original and therefore is correctly canonical. He doesn't really engage with the Greek text like the others, instead he offers up a scenario in how the Synoptic Gospels came about. This idea was quite unique, having Matthew written first to Jews, and the Paul commissioning Luke to write his to the Gentiles. In order for it to get traction Paul wanted Peter to give his apostolic eye-witness approve on Luke's Gospel. Peter in Rome then gives five 25-40 minutes talks using the well know Matthew Gospel and the new Luke Gospel of which Mark wrote down to become Mark's Gospel. That is why Mark is place in between Matthew and Luke in the Bible as it is a bridging gospel. After Peter's death Mark may have then added the extra ending, but already there were copies of his gospel floating around, hence the confusion. I found this imaginative but quite lacking. Luke said his gospel was for Theophilus, not Paul. I am also not sure how tight the relationship between Paul and Peter was after Paul rebuked Peter, and Paul thought he was an apostle like Peter. Peter does affirm Paul's writings later, but that was in reference to his letters and not to Luke's Gospel.

Block wraps up the book with his own view interacting with the four essays. This made me think that the title should really be Five Perspectives on the Ending of Mark. He assess their methods and arguments. He said that Robinson in parts was unconvincing and he also agrees that Black's explanation about Luke being commissioned by Paul has little evidence.

In some parts the book is quite technical digging it to different manuscripts and weighing their importance. There is also a bit of Greek work on words used in the Longer Ending as well as arguments for and against the use of ending a sentence or a whole book with the word γὰρ.There were also side issues on solving the Synoptic Problem and not to mention the issue of  inerrancy.

Some things that I found interesting is that:
- There are only (they are pretty major) two Greek manuscripts that don't have the Longer Ending and they are the main reason why it is marked in your English Bible. Those manuscripts are Codex Sinaiticus (ℵ) and Codex Vaticanus (B). They are also the earliest manuscripts we have for Mark 16.
- There is a debate about the size left between the end of Mark and the start of Luke in Codex Sinaiticus and if that space meant that the scribe knew about the Longer Ending, but didn't put it in. You can view Mark 16 in Codex Sinaticus here.
- Eusebius was aware of different endings of Mark in the fourth centuries but said the accurate ones have the Shorter Ending.
- There is also an Intermediate Ending of Mark as well as other variations on the different endings, all after Mark 16:8.
- The argument for the use of "non-Markan" words is a bit weak, as different passages have different content, so different words.

I think all of the writes said that no doctrine is lost if we disregard the Longer Ending as it is all covered else where in the Bible, but I disagree. I think the doctrine about believers been able to handle snakes and drink poison without any harm is lost, and that doesn't make me sad. Bock say this doctrine could be implied from Acts 28, but I don't think Acts is prescribing something for all Christians, just describing what happen to Paul on Malta.

I would have liked it if the book was a counter-point one, where the authors could respond to each chapter, but that would have blown the size of this book out even more. In the end my position didn't change and if I was to do a series on Mark I would end at Mark 16:8. Only now I think my position is more secure and reasonable.

Related links
Astonishing New Additions in the Bible - Some of my comments about Hitchens and Ehrman talking about variants like the ending of Mark in the Bible
Why Mark was written before Matthew and Luke - A very brief explanation as to why I think Mark is the earliest Gospel. This was part of a bigger series on Dating the Gospels.


  1. Andrew,

    I respond to some of Dr. Wallace's claims, and offer additional analysis, in "Authentic: The Case for Mark 16:9-20." It includes an appendix that addresses various points proposed by Wallace and Elliott. Please write to me and I would be glad to send you a digital copy so that you may be more accurately informed about the evidence pertaining to Mark 16:9-20.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  2. Hi James,

    Thank you for posting on my blog.

    I would be very interested in reading your arguments for the Longer Ending of Mark. I think this book was a little stacked against that position as even the editor pretty much leaned that way.

    I have just send you an email so hopefully, when things settle down a bit, I might get some time to read what you wrote.