Mark's Long Ending


Nearly two years ago we began an expository journey through the Gospel of Mark, traveling with Christ and the disciples from Galilee to Judea, from Capernaum to Jerusalem. I pray that throughout the course of our study the Holy Spirit has challenged, edified, and blessed your souls as He has mine. If the Lord wills, we will reach the end of Mark in the coming weeks, and after careful and prayerful consideration, I have decided not to preach Mark 16:9-20 at this time. My decision was based on an examination of external and internal evidence, and a rigorous commitment to the authenticity, authority, and inerrancy of Scripture.

External evidence (data outside the Bible itself) would include Biblical archeology, the testimony of the ancient church, and modern canonical studies. This evidence presents a compelling case against the authenticity of Mark’s long ending. Many of your Bibles bracket this section under the heading, “Some of the Earliest Manuscripts Do Not Include 16:9-20.” Before the advent of Guttenberg’s printing press, the books of the New Testament were preserved and propagated through the painstaking labors of scribes and copyists. Since the original autographs have been lost, buried in the sands of time, modern English versions of the New Testament are translated from ancient and reliable scribal copies of the original autographs. This need not be a source of concern or consternation: there are more than 5,500 ancient Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, making the Bible the most reliable and well preserved document in all of antiquity. You can trust it!

Unlike the original autographs, being immediately inspired by God, these copies contain textual variants, or differences, the vast majority of which are utterly insignificant.  Mark’s long ending, however, is the largest and most controversial textual variant of the New Testament. The two earliest complete copies of the Greek New Testament (Vaticanus and Sinaiticus) date back to the 4th century and do not include Mark’s long ending. This has led most evangelical Biblical scholars to conclude that Mark 16:9-20 was not written by Mark, but rather, was a later addition and not part of the canon.

The debate over the canonicity of verses 9-20 is not the product of modern liberal criticism, but is an ancient question that Bible-believing Christians have been grappling with for nearly two millennia. In his Questions to Marinus, Eusebius, the father of church history (260-340), said of Mark 16:8, “at those words, in almost all copies of the Gospel according to Mark, comes the end…what follows, [is found] rarely in some but not in all [copies of the New Testament].” Additionally, it seems that Jerome, the author of the Latin Vulgate (347-420), did not accept Mark’s long ending, explaining in his Letter to Hedibia that “this final portion [Mark 16:9-20] is not contained in most of the Gospels that bear his name – almost all the Greek codices lacking it.” To date, the general consensus among modern church fathers like R.C. Sproul, Sinclair Ferguson, Derek Thomas, Michael Kruger, and Richard Phillips is that the long ending is not original to the Gospel of Mark.

Internal evidence within the passage also poses challenges to its authenticity. Stylistically, verses 9-20 do not seem to fit. In the first place, verses 8 and 9 lack the subject agreement we would expect at a scene change in Mark. The subject of verse 8 is the women, while the subject in verse 9 is “he.” The awkwardness of the transition is felt when reading the verses together: “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. Now when he rose early on the first day of the week…” (italics mine).

Second, in many cases when Matthew, Mark, and Luke record the same event, Mark provides unique details (the calming of the storm is a classic example: Mark 4:35-41, Matthew 8:23-27, Luke 8:22-25). But Mark 16:9-20 appears to be an abbreviated conglomeration of events from the other three Gospels.

Mark 16:9-11: The appearance to Mary Magdalene from John 20:14, 18
Mark 16:12-13: Jesus’ appearance to two disciples in the country from Luke 24:13-31
Mark 16:14-18: The great commission from Matthew 28:19-20   
Mark 16: 19-20: The ascension from Luke 24:50-53

Last, verse 17 includes the phrase, “they will speak in new tongues.”  Though the charismatic gift of speaking in tongues is treated elsewhere in the Scripture (Acts 2:4-11, 10:46, 19:6; 1 Corinthians 12-14) it is not mentioned by Jesus anywhere else in the four gospels making it's inclusion in Mark 16:9-20 conspicuous.   

In light of this internal and external evidence, I do not believe that Mark 16:9-20 was the product of divine revelation. However, I do believe that the content of these verses is true. Therefore, my issue with the long ending is its authenticity not its theology. At the end of the day, I would rather abstain from preaching a portion of Scripture that truly was Scripture than preach something as Scripture that was not inspired by God Himself. 

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