CODEX VATICANUS: End of Mark’s Gospel

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Edward D. Andrews
EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored ninety-two books. Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).

Codex Vaticanus (03, B) contains the Gospels, Acts, the General Epistles, the Pauline Epistles, the Epistle to the Hebrews (up to Hebrews 9:14, καθα[ριει); it lacks 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, and Revelation. It is written on 759 leaves of vellum and is dated to c. 300–325 C.E.

Arguably, one could say that Codex Vaticanus is the most valuable witness that we have for the Greek New Testament.[1] It is of course named Vaticanus because it has been stored in the Vatican library from a time prior to 1475.[2] For centuries, the Vatican authorities kept the B (03) a private treasure and discouraged work on it by outside scholars. Paul D. Wegner writes, “At the beginning of the nineteenth century Napoleon carried off this codex to Paris with other manuscripts as a war prize, but on his death in 1815 it was returned to the Vatican library. Constantine von Tischendorf applied for and finally obtained permission to see the manuscript in order to collate difficult passages. He copied out or remembered enough of the text to be able to publish an edition of Vaticanus in 1867. Later that century (1868–1881) the Vatican published a better copy of the codex, but in 1889–1890 a complete photographic facsimile of this manuscript superseded all earlier attempts.”[3]

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The writing in Codex Vaticanus is “small and delicate majuscules, perfectly simple and unadorned”[4] as Metzger put it. The Greek runs continuously, with no separation between the words, and all letters are an equal distance from one another so that to the modern eye, each line looks like one long word. Some scholars feel that Vaticanus is a little earlier than Sinaiticus because of it having no ornamentation at all, while others feel that Vaticanus and Sinaiticus were among the fifty manuscripts ordered by Constantine the Great. Skeat, however, goes a step further, arguing that Vaticanus was to be a part of the fifty manuscripts but was a reject, “for it is deficient in the Eusebian canon tables, has many corrections by different scribes.[5] Whether Skeat is correct or not, Codex Vaticanus is one of the most important manuscripts for the text of the Septuagint and especially the Greek New Testament.

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Tischendorf claimed that Codex Vaticanus was copied by three scribes (A, B, C), suggesting that two worked on the Old Testament while the third copied the entire New Testament.[6]  Kenyon accepted Tischendorf’s view, while T. C. Skeat, who had an opportunity to do a more extensive examination of the codex, contested the position of a third scribe (C) and argued that there were only two scribes, both working on the Old Testament (A and B), and one of them copying the entire New Testament (B).[7] Other paleographers agree with Skeat. Scribe (A) wrote Genesis through 1 Kings (pp 41–334) and Psalms through Tobias (pages 625–944). Scribe (B) wrote 1 Kings through 2 Esdra (pp 335–624), Hosea through Daniel (pp 945–1234), and the entire New Testament.[8] One corrector worked on Vaticanus soon after its writing, and another corrector from the 10th or 11th century worked on the manuscript. The latter corrector traced over the faded letters with fresh ink. However, he also omitted words and letters he judged to be wrong, as well as adding accent and breathing marks. Vaticanus is a representative of the Alexandrian text-type, the Alands placing it in Category I, “manuscripts of a very special quality which should always be considered in establishing the original text …. B is by far the most significant of the uncials.” (Aland and Aland, The Text of the New Testament 1995, 109, 109)

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Note: The following are critical texts: the TR stands for Textus Receptus text (1550), WH stands for Westcott and Hort text (1881), and NU stands for the Nestle-Aland text (28th ed. 2012) and the United Bible Societies Greek New Testament (5th ed. 2014). WHNUis applicable to all three texts.

Vaticanus End of Mark-02

The Vatican Manuscript No. 1209 image above shows the end of the Gospel of Mark. (See also the article CODEX SINAITICUS: End of Mark’s Gospel) In both Vaticanus and the correspondingly important fourth-century manuscript known as Codex Sinaiticus, Mark’s account clearly concludes with the words that appear in WHNU and modern Bibles at Mark 16:8.​ It is possible that Codex Vaticanus was produced in Alexandria, Egypt. If we look at the image above, we will notice the faded writing, which in some cases might suggest that the copyist used parchment that had been used before. However, if you look at a blown-up version of the above page, you will see that the faded Greek letters are, in fact, Greek letters facing in the opposite direction, which means that they are simply letters from the opposite side of the page showing through to this side of the page. The copyist of Codex Vaticanus knew that Mark’s account clearly concluded with Mark 16:8, for if we look at the image above again, immediately after 16:8 he brings the Gospel to a close with the words, (ΚΑΤΑ ΜΑΡΚΟΝThe Gospel according to Mark. This does not mean the copyist was unaware of Mark 16:9-20. Below we will see that the copyist has a pattern of beginning the Gospels in the next column (Matthew concluded in column 2 and Mark began in column 3 and Luke ended in column 2 and John began in column 3). Why did the copyist here at the end of Mark in column 2 skip column 3 and begin John on the following page? We cannot possibly know the answer to that question, to try and answer it would be mere speculation at best.

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Vaticanus Mark endingWhat we can say is this, in the Greek, Mark 16:9-20 is made up of 971 letters. Each page of Codex Vaticanus is divided into three columns of forty lines each, with from sixteen to eighteen letters to a line, except in the poetical books. By counting the lines on this page and taking the average letters per line (17) and increasing it by one number above the average to be on the safe side (18), it is not enough space to fit the 971 letters needed, it still falls short by about 98 to 123 letters. We have added an image herein to give a visual of what it looks like to still fall short; i.e., not having enough space.

Vaticanus Matthew 28.20

Notice in the image above, we can see Matthew 28:20 has a stretch of space like Mark in the second of three columns. This means the Gospel of Mark started at the beginning of the next column, column three, which was the same page where Matthew ended on the second column. This shows that the copyist had a pattern of stopping in the column where the book ended and moving onto the next column to begin the new book. This suggests that the corrector in Mark did not leave a stretch of blank space because he was in doubt as to the validity of the long ending of Mark, or “had questions as to exactly how Mark ended.”

Codex Vaticanus Luke Ending

Notice, again, in the image above, we can see Luke 24:53 has no long stretch of space like Mark (it ends at the bottom of column two) but note that it closes with the words, (ΚΑΤΑ ΛΟΥΚΑΝThe Gospel according to Luke, which means the Gospel of John started at the beginning of the next column, which was the third column. This does not take away from the fact that the copyist had a pattern of stopping in the column where the book ended and moving onto the next column to begin the new book. This suggests that the copyist in Mark did not leave a stretch of blank space because he was in doubt as to the validity of the long ending of Mark, or “had questions as to exactly how Mark ended.”

APOSTOLIC FATHERS Lightfoot APOSTOLIC FATHERS

NTTC MARK 16:9-20: Were These Twelve Verses Written by Mark?

ΚΑΤΑ ΜΑΡΚΟΝ 16:8 Westcott-Hort New Testament (WHNU)

καὶAnd ἐξελθοῦσαιhaving gone out ἔφυγονthey fled ἀπὸfrom τοῦthe μνημείου,grave, εἶχενhad γὰρfor αὐτὰςthem τρόμοςtrembling καὶand ἔκστασις·amazement; καὶand οὐδενὶto no oneοὐδὲνnothing εἶπαν,they said, ἐφοβοῦντοthey were afraid γάρ·for;

Mark 16:8 Update American Standard Version (UASV)

And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them; 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

Mark 16:9-20 New King James Version (NKJV)

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

Credit: Vat.gr.1209 © 2016 Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana

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[1] Kurt Aland; Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, trans. Erroll F. Rhodes (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), 109.

[2] Ibid. 47

[3] Paul D. Wegner, A Student’s Guide to Textual Criticism of the Bible: Its History Methods & Results (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 260.

[4] Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (4th ed.) (Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press, 1992), 67.

[5] Ibid. 48.

[6] Constantin von Tischendorf, Editio octava critica maior, ed. C. R. Gregory (Lipsiae 1884), 360.

[7] Kurt Aland; Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, trans. Erroll F. Rhodes (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), 109.

[8] H.J.M. Milne & T.C. Skeat, “Scribes and Correctors” (British Museum: London 1938).

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