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Major Critical Texts of the New Testament
Byz RP: 2005 Byzantine Greek New Testament, Robinson & Pierpont
TR1550: 1550 Stephanus New Testament
Maj: The Majority Text (thousands of minuscules which display a similar text)
Gries: 1774-1775 Johann Jakob Griesbach Greek New Testament
Treg: 1857-1879 Samuel Prideaux Tregelles Greek New Testament
Tisch: 1872 Tischendorf’s Greek New Testament
WH: 1881 Westcott-Hort Greek New Testament
NA28: 2012 Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament
UBS5: 2014 Greek New Testament
NU: Both Nestle-Aland and the United Bible Society
TGNT: 2017 The Greek New Testament by Tyndale House
Mark 16:17-18 New King James Version (NKJV)
17 And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; 18 they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
First, there is the telling fact that two of the oldest and most highly respected Bible manuscripts, the Vaticanus 03 and the Sinaiticus 01, do not contain this section; they conclude Mark’s Gospel with verse eight. This is true of the early versions as well: Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, and Georgian. The early church fathers, Clement, Origen, Cyprian, and Cyril of Jerusalem had no knowledge of anything beyond verse eight. There is little wonder that the noted manuscript authority Dr. Westcott states, “the verses which follow [9-20] are no part of the original narrative but an appendage.” Among other noted scholars of the same opinion are Tregelles, Tischendorf, Griesbach, Metzger, and Comfort, to mention just a few.
Adding weight to this evidence of the Greek manuscripts, versions and church fathers are the church historian Eusebius and the Bible translator Jerome. Eusebius wrote that the longer ending was not in the “accurate copies,” for “at this point [verse 8] the end of the Gospel according to Mark is determined in nearly all the copies of the Gospel according to Mark.” In addition, Jerome, writing about 407 C.E. said, “nearly all Greek MSS have not got this passage.”
The vocabulary and style of Mark 16:9-20 vary so drastically from the Gospel of Mark that it scarcely seems possible that Mark himself wrote those verses. Mark’s style is plain, direct; his paragraphs are short and the transitions are simple. However, in this ending, there is well-arranged succession of statements, each of them having proper introductory expressions.
Then there is the consideration of the vocabulary of Mark. Verses 9 through 20 contain words that do not appear elsewhere in Mark’s Gospel, and some that do not appear in any of the Gospels, and some still that do not appear in the whole of the Greek New Testament. Verses 9 through 20 contain 163 Greek words, of which, 19 words, 2 phrases do not occur elsewhere in the Gospel of Mark. Looking at it another way, in these 12 verses there are 109 different words, and, of these, 11 words and 2 phrases are exclusive to these 12 verses. Moreover, the doctrinal thesis of Joseph Hug showed that when compared with the vocabulary of the other Gospels, the Apostolic Fathers, and the apocryphal literature, you have 12 verses in “an advanced state of tradition.” The note at the end of Metzger’s The Text of the New Testament, where I found a summary of Hug’s thesis, states:
The vocabulary suggests that the composition of the ending is appropriately located at the end of the first century or in the middle of the second century. Those who were responsible for adding the verses were intent, not only to supply a suitable ending for the Second Gospel, but also to provide missionary instruction to a Christian Hellenistic community that participated in charismatic activities… (Metzger 1964, 1968, 1992, 297)
The content of these verses also removes them from being considered as original. There is nothing within the whole of the New Testament, which would support the contention in verse 18 that the disciples of Christ were able to drink poison, having no harm come to them. In addition, within this spurious text, you have eleven apostles refusing to believe the testimony of two disciples whom Jesus had come across on the way and to whom he made himself known. However, when the two disciples found the eleven, their reaction was quite different, stating, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Luke 24:13-35
In summary, Mark 16:9-20 (1) is not found in two of the oldest and most highly regarded Greek manuscripts as well as others. (2) They are also not found in many of the oldest versions. (3) The early church fathers had no knowledge of anything beyond verse eight. (4) Such ancient scholars as Eusebius and Jerome marked them spurious. (5) The style of these verses is utterly different from that of Mark. (6) The vocabulary used in these verses is different from that of Mark. (7) Verse 8 does not transition well with verse 9, jumping from the women disciples to Jesus’ resurrection appearance. Jesus does not need to appear because Mark ended with the announcement that he had. We only want that because the other Gospels give us an appearance. So we expect it. (8) The very content of these verses contradicts the facts and the rest of the Greek New Testament. With textual scholarship, being very well aware of Mark’s abrupt style of writing, and abrupt ending to his Gospel does not seem out of place. Eusebius and Jerome, as well as this writer, agree.
Mark 16:17-18 New King James Version (NKJV)
17 And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name (1) they will cast out demons; (2) they will speak with new tongues; (3) 18 they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; (4) they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
Is This, Really, What the Bible Teaches?
While Paul was bitten by a poisonous snake and survived, we never find anyone in the New Testament going out to find poisonous snakes, for the purpose of handling them in a religious service. To the contrary, Paul quickly shook off the poisonous snake that had attached itself to his hand. One must ask, ‘what purpose would religious snake handling have?’ All of the gifts that were bestowed on the first century Christians had a practical purpose. The number one purpose was to evidence to the Jews that the Israelite nation was no longer the way to God, faith in Jesus Christ was.
“Thou Shall Not Tempt the Lord”
1 John 4:8 in the King James Version reads, “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” “Symptoms of a venomous snakebite include pain and swelling followed by nausea, vomiting, and weakness. These signs usually emerge within 30 to 60 minutes of the bite, but may also be delayed for several hours.” Does it seem like a loving God, who would expect his followers, purposely to inflict pain, suffering and possibly death on themselves?
There is a far greater difference of a God, who expects his followers to be faithful unto death, as opposed to violating Scripture; contrasted with one, who expects his followers needlessly to demonstrate their faith by handling poisonous snakes that can inflict pain and even death. This is especially true when God can read their heart and mind, and knows whether they are faithful, and would be faithful in a life-threatening situation. Moreover, Christians, who die or suffer pain for their faith, are usually the result of an enemy of God inflicting it on them.
Now, recall the words of Satan to Jesus, “If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.” Jesus responded, “It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” (Matt 7:6-7) When a minister asks you to test God, or prove your faith, by risking your life in snake-handing, would not Jesus’ very words apply? If you test God, are not you demonstrating a lack of faith? Are you not forcing him to carry out your will and purposes of protecting you, upon being bit?
Bruce M. Metzger
16:9–20 The Ending(s) of Mark
Four endings of the Gospel according to Mark are current in the manuscripts. (1) The last twelve verses of the commonly received text of Mark are absent from the two oldest Greek manuscripts (א and B), from the Old Latin codex Bobiensis (itk), the Sinaitic Syriac manuscript, about one hundred Armenian manuscripts, and the two oldest Georgian manuscripts (written A.D. 897 and A.D. 913). Clement of Alexandria and Origen show no knowledge of the existence of these verses; furthermore, Eusebius and Jerome attest that the passage was absent from almost all Greek copies of Mark known to them. The original form of the Eusebian sections (drawn up by Ammonius) makes no provision for numbering sections of the text after 16:8. Not a few manuscripts that contain the passage have scribal notes stating that older Greek copies lack it, and in other witnesses, the passage is marked with asterisks or obeli, the conventional signs used by copyists to indicate a spurious addition to a document.
(2) Several witnesses, including four uncial Greek manuscripts of the seventh, eighth, and ninth centuries (L Ψ 099 0112 al), as well as Old Latin k, the margin of the Harclean Syriac, several Sahidic and Bohairic manuscripts, and not a few Ethiopic manuscripts, continue after verse 8 as follows (with trifling variations): “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.” All of these witnesses except itk also continue with verses 9–20.
(3) The traditional ending of Mark, so familiar through the AV and other translations of the Textus Receptus, is present in the vast number of witnesses, including A C D K W X Δ Θ Π Ψ 099 0112 f 28 33 al. The earliest patristic witnesses to part or all of the long ending are Irenaeus and the Diatessaron. It is not certain whether Justin Martyr was acquainted with the passage; in his Apology (I.45) he includes five words that occur, in a different sequence, in ver. 20 (τοῦ λόγου τοῦ ἰσχυροῦ ὃν ἀπὸ Ἰερουσαλὴμ οἱ ἀπόστολοι αὐτοῦ ἐξελθόντες πανταχοῦ ἐκήρυξαν).
(4) In the fourth century the traditional ending also circulated, according to testimony preserved by Jerome, in an expanded form, preserved today in one Greek manuscript. Codex Washingtonianus includes the following after ver. 14: “And 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 [or, does not allow what lies under the unclean spirits to understand the truth and power of God]. Therefore reveal your righteousness now’—thus they spoke to Christ. And Christ replied to them, ‘The term of years of Satan’s power has been fulfilled, but other terrible things draw near. And for those who have sinned I was handed 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 of righteousness that is in heaven.’ ”
How should the evidence of each of these endings be evaluated? It is obvious that the expanded form of the long ending (4) has no claim to be original. Not only is the external evidence extremely limited, but the expansion contains several non-Markan words and expressions (including ὁ αἰὼν οὗτος, ἁμαρτάνω, ἀπολογέω, ἀληθινός, ὑποστρέφω) as well as several that occur nowhere else in the New Testament (δεινός, ὅρος, προσλέγω). The whole expansion has about it an unmistakable apocryphal flavor. It probably is the work of a second or third century scribe who wished to soften the severe condemnation of the Eleven in 16:14.
The longer ending (3), though current in a variety of witnesses, some of them ancient, must also be judged by internal evidence to be secondary. (a) The vocabulary and style of verses 9–20 are non-Markan (e. g. ἀπιστέω, βλάπτω, βεβαιόω, ἐπακολουθέω, θεάομαι, μετὰ ταῦτα, πορεύομαι, συνεργέω, ὕστερον are found nowhere else in Mark; and θανάσιμον and τοῖς μετʼ αὐτοῦ γενομένοις, as designations of the disciples, occur only here in the New Testament). (b) The connection between ver. 8 and verses 9–20 is so awkward that it is difficult to believe that the evangelist intended the section to be a continuation of the Gospel. Thus, the subject of ver. 8 is the women, whereas Jesus is the presumed subject in ver. 9; in ver. 9 Mary Magdalene is identified even though she has been mentioned only a few lines before (15:47 and 16:1); the other women of verses 1–8 are now forgotten; the use of ἀναστὰς δέ and the position of πρῶτον are appropriate at the beginning of a comprehensive narrative, but they are ill-suited in a continuation of verses 1–8. In short, all these features indicate that the section was added by someone who knew a form of Mark that ended abruptly with ver. 8 and who wished to supply a more appropriate conclusion. In view of the inconcinnities between verses 1–8 and 9–20, it is unlikely that the long ending was composed ad hoc to fill up an obvious gap; it is more likely that the section was excerpted from another document, dating perhaps from the first half of the second century.
The internal evidence for the shorter ending (2) is decidedly against its being genuine. Besides containing a high percentage of non-Markan words, its rhetorical tone differs totally from the simple style of Mark’s Gospel.
Finally, it should be observed that the external evidence for the shorter ending (2) resolves itself into additional testimony supporting the omission of verses 9–20. No one who had available as the conclusion of the Second Gospel the twelve verses 9–20, so rich in interesting material, would have deliberately replaced them with a few lines of a colorless and generalized summary. Therefore, the documentary evidence supporting (2) should be added to that supporting (1). Thus, on the basis of good external evidence and strong internal considerations it appears that the earliest ascertainable form of the Gospel of Mark ended with 16:8. At the same time, however, out of deference to the evident antiquity of the longer ending and its importance in the textual tradition of the Gospel, the Committee decided to include verses 9–20 as part of the text, but to enclose them within double square brackets in order to indicate that they are the work of an author other than the evangelist.
Bruce Manning Metzger, United Bible Societies, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition a Companion Volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (4th Rev. Ed.) (London; New York: United Bible Societies, 1994), 102–106.
The Endings of Mark
The Gospel of Mark concludes in five ways:
1. End at 16:8
καὶ ἐξελθοῦσαι ἔφυγον ἀπὸ τοῦ μνημείου, εἶχεν γὰρ αὐτὰς τρόμος καὶ ἔκστασις· καὶ οὐδενὶ οὐδὲν εἶπαν· ἐφοβοῦντο γάρ
“So they went out and fled from the tomb, seized with terror and amazement; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
א B 304 syr cop (l MS) arm geo (2 MSS) Hesychius Eusebian canons
MSSaccording to Eusebius MSSaccording to Jerome MSSaccording to Severus
NKJVmg RSVmg NRSVmg ESVmg NASBmg NIVmg TNIVmg NEBmg REBmg NJBmg NABmg NLTmg HCSBmg NETmg
2. Shorter Ending
πάντα δὲ τὰ παρηγγελμένα τοῖς περὶ τὸν Πέτρον συντόμως ἐξήγγειλαν. Μετὰ δὲ ταῦτα καὶ αὐτὸς ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἀπὸ ἀνατολῆς καὶ ἄχρι δύσεως ἐξαπέστειλεν διʼ αὐτῶν τὸ ἱερὸν καὶ ἄφθαρτον κήρυγμα τῆς αἰωνίου σωτηρίας. ἀμήν.
“And all that had been commanded them they told briefly to those with Peter. And afterward Jesus himself sent out through them, from the east and as far as the west, the holy and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation. Amen.”
itk (see MSS supporting 5 below)
included in NRSV NASB NEB REB NAB NLT; noted in RSVmg ESVmg NJBmg HCSBmg
3. Traditional Longer Ending (Mark 16:9–20)/TR WH
9 Ἀναστὰς δὲ πρωῒ πρώτῃ σαββάτου ἐφάνη πρῶτον Μαρίᾳ τῇ Μαγδαληνῇ, παρʼ ἧς ἐκβεβλήκει ἑπτὰ δαιμόνια. 10 ἐκείνη πορευθεῖσα ἀπήγγειλεν τοῖς μετʼ αὐτοῦ γενομένοις πενθοῦσι καὶ κλαίουσιν· 11κἀκεῖνοι ἀκούσαντες ὅτι ζῇ καὶ ἐθεάθη ὑπʼ αὐτῆς ἠπίστησαν. 12 Μετὰ δὲ ταῦτα δυσὶν ἐξ αὐτῶν περιπατοῦσιν ἐφανερώθη ἐν ἑτέρᾳ μορφῇ πορευομένοις εἰς ἀγρόν· 13κἀκεῖνοι ἀπελθόντες ἀπήγγειλαν τοῖς λοιποῖς· οὐδὲ ἐκείνοις ἐπίστευσαν. 14 Ὕστερον [δε] ἀνακειμένοις αὐτοῖς τοῖς ἕνδεκα ἐφανερώθη καὶ ὠνείδισεν τὴν ἀπιστίαν αὐτῶν καὶ σκληροκαρδίαν ὅτι τοῖς θεασαμένοις αὐτὸν ἐγηγερμένον οὐκ ἐπίστευσαν. 15 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς· πορευθέντες εἰς τὸν κόσμον ἅπαντα κηρύξατε τὸ εὐαγγέλιον πάσῃ τῇ κτίσει. 16 ὁ πιστεύσας καὶ βαπτισθεὶς σωθήσεται, ὁ δὲ ἀπιστήσας κατακριθήσεται. 17 σημεῖα δὲ τοῖς πιστεύσασιν ταῦτα παρακολουθήσει· ἐν τῷ ὀνόματί μου δαιμόνια ἐκβαλοῦσιν, γλώσσαις λαλήσουσιν καιναῖς, 18 [καὶ ἐν ταῖς χερσὶν] ὄφεις ἀροῦσιν κἂν θανάσιμόν τι πίωσιν οὐ μὴ αὐτοὺς βλάψῃ, ἐπὶ ἀρρώστους χεῖρας ἐπιθήσουσιν καὶ καλῶς ἕξουσιν. 19 Ὁ μὲν οὖν κύριος Ἰησοῦς μετὰ τὸ λαλῆσαι αὐτοῖς ἀνελήμφθη εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ ἐκάθισεν ἐκ δεξιῶν τοῦ θεοῦ. 20 ἐκεῖνοι δὲ ἐξελθόντες ἐκήρυξαν πανταχοῦ, τοῦ κυρίου συνεργοῦντος καὶ τὸν λόγον βεβαιοῦντος διὰ τῶν ἐπακολουθούντων σημείων.
“9 Now after he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. 10 She went out and told those who had been with him, while they were mourning and weeping. 11 But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it. 12 After this he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. 13 And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them. 14 Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. 15 And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. 16 The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.’ 19So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it.”
A C D Δ Θ f 33 Maj MSSaccording to Eusebius MSSaccording to Jerome MSSaccording to Severus
Irenaeus Apostolic Constitutions (Epiphanius) Severian Nestorius Ambrose Augustine
4. Traditional Longer Ending with an Addition after 16:14, which reads,
κακεινοι απελογουντο λεγοντες οτι ο αιων ουτος της ανομιας και της απιστιας υπο τον σαταναν εστιν, ο μη εων τα υπο των πνευματων ακαθαρτα την αληθειαν του θεου καταλαβεσθαι δυναμιν· δια τουτο αποκαλυψον σου την δικαιοσυνην ηδη, εκεινοι ελεγον τω χριστω. και ο χριστος εκεινοις προσελεγεν οτι πεπληρωται ο ορος των ετων της εξουσιας του σατανα, αλλα εγγιζει αλλα δεινα· και υπερ ων εγω αμαρτησαντων παρεδοθην εις θανατον ινα υποστρεψωσιν εις την αληθειαν και μηκετι αμαρτησωσιν ινα την εν τω ουρανω πνευματικην και αφθαρτον της δικαιοσυνης δοξαν κληρονομησωσιν
“And 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’s power has been fulfilled, but other terrible things draw near.
And for those who have sinned I was handed over to death, that they may return to the truth and sin no more, that they may inherit the spiritual and imperishable glory of righteousness that is in heaven.’ ” (from NRSVmg)
W (MSSaccording to Jerome)
RSVmg NRSVmg NJBmg NABmg NLTmg
5. Both Shorter Ending and Traditional Longer Ending/NU
L Ψ 083 099 274mg 579 syr cop,boMSS
RSVmg (NRSV NLT)
The citation of patristic witnesses was greatly revised from the third edition of UBS to the fourth. The patristic witnesses cited above are from the fourth edition. Furthermore, UBS3 lists 0112 in support of the fifth reading noted above; it has been changed to 083 in UBS4 (as in NA27) because 0112 belongs to the same manuscript as 083, discovered in the 1970s at St. Catherine’s Monastery.
The ending to Mark’s gospel presents an intriguing dilemma for textual scholars: Which of the five endings, as presented above, did Mark write? Or is it possible that the original ending to Mark’s gospel was lost forever and that none of the above endings is the way the book originally ended?
The textual evidence for the first reading (stopping at verse 8) is the best. This reading is attested to by א and B (the two earliest extant manuscripts that preserve this portion of Mark) and some early versions (Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Georgian). Of the church fathers, Clement, Origen, Cyprian, and Cyril of Jerusalem show no knowledge of any verses beyond 16:8. Eusebius said that the accurate copies of Mark ended with verse 8, adding that 16:9–20 were missing from almost all manuscripts (Quaest. Mar. 1 [PG 22:937]). The pericope is also absent from the Eusebian canons. Jerome affirmed the same by saying that almost all the Greek codices did not have 16:9–20 (Epist. 120.3 ad Hedibiam). Several minuscule manuscripts (1, 20, 22, 137, 1216, 1582) that include 16:9–20 have scholia (marginal notes) indicating that the more ancient manuscripts do not include this section.
Other manuscripts mark off the longer reading with obeli to indicate its questionable status. The textual evidence, therefore, shows that Mark’s gospel circulated in many ancient copies with an ending at verse 8. But this ending seemed to be too abrupt for many readers—both ancient and modern! As a result, various endings were appended. One short ending was appended to round off verse 8 and to indicate that the women had followed the angels’ orders in bringing the report to Peter and the disciples. But in order to make this addition, it is necessary to delete the words “and said nothing to no one” from verse 8—which is exactly what was done in itk.
The most well-known ending is the longer, traditional ending of 16:9–20. The earliest witnesses to this ending come from Irenaeus (via a Latin translation of his work). The other patristic witnesses cited above are no earlier than the fourth century (MSSaccording to Eusebius MSSaccording to Jerome MSSaccording to Severus Apostolic Constitutions [Epiphanius] Severian Nestorius Ambrose Augustine). Thus, we know that this ending was probably in circulation in the third century. It became the most popular of the endings after the fourth century, and was copied again and again in many uncial manuscripts. Eventually, it was accepted as canonical by the Council of Trent.
But the longer ending is stylistically incongruous with 16:1–8. Any fair-minded reader can detect the non-Markan flavor of the style, tone, and vocabulary of 16:9–20. This is apparent in the very first word in 16:9. The Greek verb αναστας (“having risen”) is an active aorist participle; it conveys the thought that Jesus himself rose from the dead. But almost everywhere else in the Gospels, the passive verb is used with respect to Jesus’ resurrection. Furthermore, the additions are all narratively noncontiguous. This is especially apparent in the connection between verses 8 and 9. The subject of verse 8 is the women, whereas the presumed subject of verse 9 is Jesus. And Mary Magdalene is introduced as if she was not mentioned before or was not among the women of 15:47–16:8.
This longer ending was made even longer in W (the Freer Gospels, Codex W) with an addition after 16:14. Prior to the discovery of W, we had the record from Jerome that there was another similar ending:
In certain exemplars and especially in the Greek manuscripts [of the Gospel] according to Mark, at the end of his Gospel, there is written, “Afterward, when the Eleven reclined at meal, Jesus appeared to them and upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart because they had not believed those who had seen him after his resurrection. And they made excuse, saying, ‘This age of iniquity and unbelief is under Satan who, through unclean spirits, does not permit the true power of God to be apprehended. Therefore, reveal your righteousness now.’ ”
The Freer Logion is an expansion of what was known to Jerome inasmuch as Jesus gives a response to their excuse concerning unbelief. The disciples, blaming Satan for the unbelief, made an appeal to Jesus for his parousia, which will bring the full revelation of his vindicating righteousness. In response, Jesus declares that Satan’s time has already come to its end, but before he (Jesus) can reveal his righteous kingdom, there will a time “of terrible things.” This terrible time—of apostasy and judgment—would be the prelude to the second coming (Lane 1974, 606–611).
Finally, some manuscripts include both the shorter reading and the traditional longer reading. The earliest evidence for these is in two eighth-century manuscripts, L and Ψ. Some ancient versions (syrhmg copsa,MSS) also have both endings. This is clearly the result of scribal ambiguity—the same kind that is manifest in several modern English versions that print both endings in the text.
What then do we make of the evidence? Scholarly consensus is that Mark did not write any of the endings (2–5 above); all are the work of other hands. Farmer’s (1974) attempt to defend the view that Mark 16:9–20 was originally part of Mark’s gospel, which was later deleted by Alexandrian scribes, is not convincing. Farmer argues that Alexandrian scribes were troubled by the references to picking up snakes and drinking poison and therefore deleted the passage. If they had been troubled by these references, they would have deleted only those verses, not the entire passage! No one else has made a good case for the originality of any of the various additions. The historical fact appears to be that various readers, bothered that Mark ended so abruptly, completed the Gospel with a variety of additions. According to Aland (1969, 157–180), the shorter and longer endings were composed independently in different geographical locations, and both were probably circulating in the second century. Metzger says that the longer ending displays some vocabulary (particularly ανιστημι for εγειρω) which “suggests that the composition of the ending is appropriately located at the end of the first century or in the middle of the second century” (1992, 297).
The reason the shorter ending was created has already been explained. The longer ending was composed afresh or taken verbatim from some other source so as to fill up what was perceived to be a gap in the text of Mark. This writer provided an extended conclusion derived from various sources, including the other gospels and Acts, inserting his own theological peculiarities. The reason the longer ending has become so popular is that it is a collage of events found in the other gospels and the book of Acts.
Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalene (16:9) was adapted from John 20:11–17. Her report to the disciples (16:10) was taken from Luke 24:10 and John 20:18. However, the writer of the longer ending has this report concerning Jesus’ appearance, whereas Mary’s report in John comes after she has seen the empty tomb. John’s account is affirmed by the account in Luke 24:11. In both John and Luke the disciples do not believe the report concerning the angelic appearance and the empty tomb; there was no mention yet of any appearance made by Jesus. The change of story in the longer ending to Mark was contrived because Mark 16:8 says that the women said nothing to anybody after seeing the empty tomb and the angelic messenger. The writer could not controvert this blatantly (by saying that Mary or any of the other women then went to the disciples and told them about the empty tomb), so the writer has Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene, then Mary telling the disciples, who do not believe. Since this particular account contradicts the authentic gospels, it should be dismissed.
After this, the writer of the longer ending relates Jesus’ appearance to two disciples as they were walking from Jerusalem into the country (16:12); this clearly was taken from Luke 24:13–35. The report of further unbelief (16:13) was the interpretation of the composer; Luke does not tell us that the report of the two disciples was disbelieved. Jesus’ first resurrection appearance to the disciples (16:14) was borrowed from Luke 24:36–49—with an added emphasis on their unbelief (perhaps adapted from Matt 28:16–20). Jesus’ great commission (16:15–16) is loosely based on Matt 28:19–20—with an emphasis on baptism as a prerequisite to salvation. The promise of signs accompanying the believers (16:17–18) comes from the record of what happened in Acts—including the speaking in tongues (Acts 2:4; 10:46) and protection against snakes (Acts 28:3–6). The ascension (16:19) is adapted from Luke 24:50–53, and the final verse (16:20) seems to be a summary of the book of Acts, which seems to be preemptively out of place for inclusion in a gospel and is another indication of its spuriousness. (None of the other gospels tell us anything about the disciples’ work after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension.)
Even though much of this longer ending was drawn from other gospels and Acts, the composer had an unusual emphasis on the disciples’ unbelief in the resurrection of Christ. In this regard, the composer may have been following through on the Markan theme of identifying the unbelief and stubbornness of the disciples. Indeed, this gospel, more than any other, focuses on the disciples’ repeated failures to believe Jesus and follow him (see Osborne 1992, 679). The composer of the longer ending also had a preference for belief and baptism as a requisite for salvation, as well as an exalted view of signs. Christians need to be warned against using this text for Christian doctrine because it is not on the same par as verifiable New Testament Scripture. Nothing in it should be used to establish Christian doctrine or practice. Unfortunately, certain churches have used Mark 16:16 to affirm dogmatically that one must believe and be baptized in order to be saved, and other churches have used Mark 16:18 to promote the practice of snake-handling. (Even some boxes that keep the rattlesnakes are marked with “Mark 16:18.”) Those who are bitten by rattlesnakes, they believe, will not be harmed if they are true followers of Christ. The writer of the longer ending also emphasized what we would call charismatic experiences—speaking in tongues, performing healings, protection from snakes and poison. Although the book of Acts affirms these experiences for certain believers, they are not necessarily the norm for all.
The longer ending of W (noted also by Jerome) was probably a marginal gloss written in the third century that found its way into the text of some manuscripts prior to the fourth century. This gloss was likely created by a scribe who wanted to provide a reason for the unbelief that is prevalent in the longer ending. Satan is blamed for the faithlessness, and an appeal is made for Jesus to reveal his righteousness immediately. But this revelation would be postponed until after a time of terrible things. This interpolation may have been drawn from several sources, including Acts 1:6–7; 3:19–21; and Barnabas 4:9; 15:7. In any case, it is quite clear that Mark did not write it. The style is blatantly non-Markan.
Having concluded that Mark did not write any of the endings, we are still left with the question: Did Mark originally conclude his gospel with verse 8 or was an original extended ending lost?
In defense of the view that Mark originally ended his gospel at verse 8, four arguments can be posited: (1) As is, the Gospel ends with an announcement of Christ’s resurrection. Jesus does not need to actually appear in resurrection to validate the announcement. Our demand that the Gospel must record this appearance comes from our knowledge of the other gospels. Mark did not have to end his gospel the way the others did. (2) Mark, as a creative writer, may have purposely ended abruptly in order to force his readers to fill in the gap with their own imaginations. Perhaps Mark did not want to describe—or think himself capable of describing—the resurrection of Christ and the risen Christ; thus, he left it to the readers to imagine how the risen Christ appeared to Peter and the other disciples. (3) Throughout this gospel, Mark presented a secrecy motif concerning Jesus being the Messiah (see note on 8:26). The final verse is the culmination of this motif: The women “said nothing to anyone.” Of course, the reader knows that this silence would not last; indeed, the very opposite will happen—the word of Christ’s resurrection will be announced to the disciples, and the disciples will proclaim this to the world. Thus, the ending was calculated by Mark to be the irony of ironies; perhaps he thought it would bring a smile to the face of the Christians reading or hearing this gospel for the first time, for they knew how the word had gone out! (4) Guelich (1989, 524) adds yet another reason for the short ending: It ends on a note of failure—the women’s failure to go to Peter and the other disciples—because this is consistent with discipleship failure, another major theme in Mark’s gospel. All these four reasons could account for Mark purposely concluding the Gospel at 16:8.
However, many readers are not satisfied with these reasons—primarily because they, having read the other gospels, have a different horizon of expectation for the conclusion of Mark. Thus, many readers have questioned whether it was Mark’s original design to conclude with verse 8. Why conclude with merely an announcement of Jesus’ resurrection and a description of the women’s fear and bewilderment? In the Gospel of Mark, a pattern is set in which every one of Jesus’ predictions is actually fulfilled in narrative form. According to Gundry (1993, 1009), the predictions that were fulfilled were as follows: God’s kingdom having come with power at the transfiguration, the finding of a colt, the disciples’ being met by a man carrying a jar of water, the showing of the upper room, the betrayal of Jesus by one of the Twelve, the scattering of the rest of the Twelve, the denials of Jesus by Peter, the passion, and the resurrection. Thus, since Jesus announced that he would see his disciples in Galilee (14:28), the narrative should have depicted an actual appearance of the risen Christ to his disciples in Galilee.
Since there is not such a record (even in the additions), some readers have thought that an original extended ending got lost in the early phase of textual transmission—probably because it was written on the last leaf of a papyrus codex and was tom away from the rest of the manuscript. The codex was in use by the end of the first century (see discussion in Comfort 2005, 27–39). The last part of Mark could not have been lost earlier if it was written on a scroll because this portion would have been rolled into the innermost part. The codex form of Mark could have contained just the Gospel of Mark or all four gospels set in the typical Western order: Matthew, John, Luke, Mark (which is the case for 𝔓45). In both scenarios, Mark 16 would have been the last sheet. However, it seems very odd and most unusual that this ending would not have survived in some manuscript somewhere. The history of textual transmission is characterized by tenacity; once a reading enters the textual stream, it will usually be preserved in some manuscript and show up somewhere down the line. Thus, this imagined ending to Mark must have been lost very soon after the composition of the Gospel, if there was such an ending.
It is possible that 16:7 was intended to be the concluding verse of the first paragraph of Mark’s original last chapter (inasmuch as it concludes with the glorious angelic announcement of Christ’s resurrection) and that 16:8 was the first sentence of the next paragraph. It seems that the last two words of 16:8, εφοβουντο γαρ (“for they were afraid”), could have been the first two words of a new sentence. Indeed, it is highly unusual for a sentence, let alone an entire gospel, to end with the conjunctive γαρ; so it is likely that some word or words followed, such as εφοβουντο γαρ λαλειν (“for they were afraid to speak”). After this, Mark’s narrative would have continued to relate, most likely, that Jesus appeared to the women (as in Matthew and John), and that the women, no longer afraid, then went and told the disciples what they saw. This would have probably been followed by Jesus appearing to his disciples in Jerusalem and then in Galilee. This is the basic pattern found in the other gospels. And since Mark was probably used by the other gospel writers, it stands to reason that their narrative pattern reflects Mark’s original work.
With respect to the inclusion of the various endings of Mark in WH NU, it would be better if the editions more accurately reflected the evidence of the earliest manuscripts and did, in fact, conclude the Gospel at 16:8. All the endings, then, should be placed in the textual apparatus. English translators should do the same: conclude the Gospel at 16:8 and then place all the endings in an extended footnote or endnote.
Philip W. Comfort, New Testament Text and Translation Commentary: Commentary on the Variant Readings of the Ancient New Testament Manuscripts and How They Relate to the Major English Translations (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2008), 157–163.
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