Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Authentic: The Case for Mark 16:9-20

A while back I reviewed a book that presented different perspectives about the ending of Mark. In that review I stated that my mind hadn't been changed about the ending, but I did find a few things interesting, such as the fact that in our Bibles that state "some early manuscripts" do not have the longer ending of Mark, really only mean two copies: Codex Sinaiticus (ℵ) and Codex Vaticanus (B). I also thought there was a bit of weight with Eusebius who said that the accurate copies of Mark stop at 16:8. My position was that if I was to lead a Bible study on Mark, I would stop at Mark 16:8 and not go onto the Longer Ending.

After I wrote that review James Snapps posted on this blog and offered me a free copy of a book he had written on the ending of Mark, of which I was very appreciative of his kind offer. After readings his book I have to say he presents quite a good in-death argument for the Longer Ending of Mark being authentic. Although "authentic" might not mean exactly what you may think. James should have been one of the authors in the Perspective book, as the other authors who deemed Mark 16:9-20 as authentic didn't present a strong case (they also had less pages to argue with as James had an entire book).

James said that the copy of his book that he gave me was an updated version of the one released. Within this document there were some textual errors that had me puzzled. The biggest one was that there were two chapter nines. This had me stumped as to which chapter nine I could trust as coming from his hand. Was a later chapter nine added by someone else, or was it just a typo and an oversight on the contents page? To work this out I could possibly look at the rest of the book and language used in it to see which chapter agrees up with James' vocab and style. But what if this extra unknown author was really good and was able to write in James' style to fool a reader? Maybe if the copy I received was hand written I could look at the writing and see if the shape of the letters were the same and if the same type of paper and ink was used throughout the book. Also if there were any extra markings in the margins throughout the book, they might also help me work out what was originally intended. Of cause I am being flippant with all this speculation as this can be solved by asking James about it and also by comparing the text with the one you can buy from Amazon. But unlike Mark's gospel we can not do either to work out what the 'real' ending is.

Snapps must have easily looked at over a hundred different ancient sources commenting on their witness for or against the different endings of Mark and also on some other ancient texts that should be considered non-witnesses as they don't say one way or the other for or against a certain ending for Mark. Some of the evidence he presented seemed a bit weak to me, but he was very thorough.

The book gave a really good insight into all the markings and comments that scribes wrote in the columns of ancient versions of Mark. It is not that straight forward. Some markings may mean other copies do not have the text, some could be for markings for set readings. The meta data of the scribes could show they are not sure about something, or they might cite someone or another authority about a particular text, which might lead down another rabbit hole. I like the obscure reference to "Ariston Eritzou" (a friend of Peter, who Mark would have known) in Matenadaran 2374 which pointed to Ariston being the author of the extra ending of Mark. Snapps looks into this reference, along with a host of others, weighing up the evidence for and against the markings and inscriptions.

Looking at both Codex Sinaiticus (ℵ) and Codex Vaticanus (B) it became evident that the ending of Mark in both copies were written on different paper to the rest of Mark indicating that the original pages had been removed. This was most likely from a scribal error either in Mark or on the other side of the paper in Luke. I do not think there is much weight from the argument of blank columns space at the end of Mark (see Sinaticius and Vaticanus). The scribes may have known about the Longer Ending, thus leaving room, but they did sign off on them, and in the end that is what we have to examine.

What I found interesting was the link between the two codexs. Based on the handwriting (and their markings) one of the scribes on ℵ may have also worked on B, and mostly likely they came from the same place. Eusebuis was also in the same area at the same time, and so all three of these pieces of evidence might reflect the same school of thought and so the strength of their independent witness might be reduced.

The strength of the Eusebius quote about the copies of Mark stopping at 16:8 being "the accurate ones" gets a bit weaker when put in its originally context. Although it was Eusebius position that Mark should end at 16:8 the quote he was writing was in the voice of a hypothetical person who's argument about the ending of Mark may have them saying that the accurate copies end at 16:8, but he goes on to say what else they might say if they do include the Longer Ending.

Some of the church father evidence before Eusebius I found a bit lacking with "possible allusions" to Mark 16:9-20, but what didn't stand out for me in the Perspective book, was Irenaeus. He seems to clearly quote Mark 16:19 (See Section 5) and this pushes back the date for the ending much closer to the source before the second century.

Another argument I found reasonable was that the Longer Ending most likely wasn't a late edition as it doesn't harmonies well with the other gospel accounts. If it was a late edition, you would think the scribe (or whoever) when adding to Mark would have known the other endings to the Gospels and they could have made them fit in better. In fact this was Eusebius; main reason for jettison the end of Mark because it doesn't harmonize well with the other Gospels.

The addition would have also had to be an early edition as 200 years later the church was quite particular about their text and they would not have allowed such additions. Around 403 AD someone used a text (Jerome's translation) that said the plant Jonah sat under was a species of ivy and not a gourd, which caused quite an ruckus. In the mid 350's Bishop Triphyllius used the word σκιμποδα (small couch, pallet) and not κραββατόν (grabattus - an old word meaning bed or pallet) in regard to Jesus healing a paralytic. Spyridon stopped this and everyone left in protest. The point is, back then they took the text (and translation) very seriously. The addition of an extra 11 verses to the end of a gospel would not be stood for as a late edition. Also all the old set readings/lectionaries include Mark 16:9-20. Although they came around the 300's they may point to an earlier time and at least back then indicate that the church took the end of Mark as authoritative.

What Snapp puts forward is that Mark was not meant to end at 16:8. It is clear from the text that it ends abruptly and that 16:9-20 seemed to be a summary or quick notes about events afterwards. It could have been a rough draft of what the ending was going to say if Mark wasn't finished yet, or it could be a free standing scene (previously written by Mark?) that was added (after Marks death?) when the ending was lost very early on. Some features that indicate that the ending was freestanding from the rest of Mark is that Mary in Mark 16:9 is reintroduced in the story, which is a strange feature; the mention of the time ("early on the first day") is an extra fact not needed as 16:1-2 already said that. Previously in Mark there is a foreshadowing of a meeting in Galilee (Mark 14:28 and 16:7) but that never happens.

So where do I now land on all this? I do think that Mark 16:9-20 was the the original ending. When reading the Perspectives book I didn't put much weight in the Church's acceptance of the passage and therefore making it authoritative. I might be like Eusebius who disregarded the ending for apologetic reasons, but not because of a Gospel harmony reason, but because of the crazy snake handing and drinking poison bit. The hardest part in all this is working out the original intent using secondary pieces of evidence. I think it is impossible to know for certain if Mark intended for his gospel to end at 16:8 or at 16:20 or at some other place that is now forever lost.

If I was to now lead a Bible study on Mark, I would continue on and read 16:9-20 stating that the NIV and ESV notes are misleading. I would setup the passage as being a free standing scene added afterwards, but very early on. I would also comment that the church throughout history has deemed it scripture.

Related links
Perspectives on the Ending of Mark - This presented four (really five if including the editors) views on the end of Mark and has my initial thoughts on this issue.


  1. The 2016 edition of Authentic: The Case for Mark 16:9-20 is now available at Amazon as a Kindle e-book.

  2. Hey James, thanks for coming back and posting, here is the 2016 link:

    You might be interested to know that at the start of this year I was leading a Bible study going through the Gospel of Mark and about two months ago when we got to the end, we did in fact go all the way to 16:20 and I didn't even put in a defence for keeping it, just that it is in the Bible and we need to trust that the Holy Spirit used ordinary means to put it in there.