The Long Ending of Mark {LEM}

*The debate over the inclusion versus non-inclusion of the long ending of Mark’s gospel (16.9-20 {hereafter LEM}) has raged for centuries within the discipline of textual criticism. Indeed, there is certainly no shortage of “evidence” offered on-line from opposing sides.

*The argument against the inclusion of the LEM is largely based on the omission of these passages from roughly a dozen early manuscripts (MSS)—most notably Codices Vaticanus (A.D. 350) and Sinaiticus (A.D. 360).  Significantly, however, Codex Vaticanus—the earlier of the two ancient codices—contains a blank space at the ending of Mark where the LEM would fit perfectly.

*As evidence against the LEM, linguists often point to the stylistic differences in the LEM in contrast to the rest of Mark’s gospel and hence, posit a non-Marcan interpolation.  It is commonly asserted that since there are 53 Greek words in the LEM that appear nowhere else in Mark’s gospel—and 21 Greek words that appear nowhere else in the entire NT, this points to a later intrusion into Mark’s original text.

 **Internal Considerations:  In Luke 1.1-12 there are at least 20 Greek words and forms that are found absolutely nowhere else in the entire NT—not just Luke’s gospel.  Laying aside the LEM, Mark’s gospel contains 102 Greek words and forms that are found nowhere else in the NT. Similarly, Matthew uses 137 Greek words, Luke uses 312 and John uses 114 words that are entirely exclusive to their gospels—i.e. found nowhere else in the NT.  Hence, using the same textual criteria used to dismiss the LEM, we could just as easily discard all four gospels!

*In the same vein, many textual critics have rejected the authenticity of 2 Peter as originally Petrine based upon a vast difference in literary genre from I Peter to 2 Peter. Dr. Richard Bauckham comments, “The evidence which really rules out composition during Peter’s lifetime is that of literary genre and that of date.  Either of these might be fatal for any degree of Petrine authorship. Together they must be regarded as entirely conclusive against Petrine authorship.” {Richard Bauckham, Word Biblical Commentary: Jude, 2 Peter (Waco: Word Books, 1983), 159.}

*Most of the literary distinctions between I and II Peter are easily solved when considering that Peter likely used an amanuensis (dictation secretary)—just as was likely done with the gospel of Mark inasmuch as textual critics affirm that the gospel of Mark was dictated by the apostle Peter (Peter’s characteristics are clearly demonstrated in Mark).  For an absolutely excellent text-critical article debunking a non-Petrine authorship for II Peter see here:    

*It is common knowledge among paleographers that it was not uncommon for the last few leaves of a parchment book to fall off due to poor binding in conjunction with constant use and copying.  One of many examples would be Codex Vaticanus referenced above inasmuch as it omits the remainder of Hebrews from 9.14 onward (see here for actual photograph of Vaticanus:  Yet no one believes that the remainder of Hebrews is not authentic.  Vaticanus is equally missing 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, and Revelation—yet, again, no reputable scholar believes these books were not in the original autographs.

*Similarly, Codex Sinaiticus contains many Apocryphal books, the spurious Epistle of Barnabas as well as portions of The Shepherd of Hermas.  Clearly these two codices, as great a discovery as they were, do not warrant an outright dismissal of the LEM simply based upon their omission—especially when the oldest of the two contains a blank space fit perfectly for these passages.     

*However, there is an even greater primitive testimony to the authenticity of the LEM.  Suffice it to say that the ancient documentation in favor of the LEM actually dates to well over a century earlier than the supposed evidence against the LEM.

**External Considerations:  The ancient Bishop Papias, writing ca. A.D. 95-120, references the same Joseph Barsabbas of Acts 1—one of the two candidates chosen for the office of apostle after Judas Iscariot lost his apostleship.  Papias relates, upon the testimony of Phillip’s daughters, that this same individual “drank a deadly poison and suffered no harm”—an example to the fulfillment of the LEM (16.18).

*Even more convincing, Justin Martyr in his “First Apology” (A.D. 156), chapter 45, states that while the apostles were “GOING forth from Jerusalem, PREACHED EVERYWHERE.”  The three Greek words in ALL CAPS above reflect three Greek words identical to the Greek words used in Mark 16.20—including the extremely rare Greek adverb translated “everywhere” (πανταχοῦ).  Indeed, this particular Greek adverb is only used 7 times in the entire NT, indicating that this was an uncommon word during the Koine’ period.  As text critics have noted, such intentional selection of words suggests that Justin is directly quoting from the LEM in ca. 156 A.D.

*A direct student of Justin Martyr, Tatian, in a famous work entitled “The Diatessaron” (ca. 172 A.D.), a single commentary integrating all four Gospels, includes the LEM.  This is well demonstrated by the Syriac manuscript of Ephrem’s Commentary on the Diatessaron, the Arabic Harmony—as well as numerous other sources.

*In ca. 180 A.D. Bishop Irenaeus wrote his infamous work entitled, “Against Heresies,” in Book III, 10.5-6 he directly quotes Mark 16.19 stating that the quotation was from the end of Mark’s gospel:  “Also, towards the conclusion of his Gospel, Mark says:  ‘So then, after the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God’.”

*At the seventh Council of Carthage in 256 A.D., Bishop Vincentius of Thibaris specifically quotes the LEM.  We could also add to this list of quotes favorable to the LEM the following: Tertullian refers to Mark 16.19 ca. 215 A.D.; Tregelles reports that Hippolytus (ca. 235 A.D.) quotes Mark 16.18-19 more than once; Codex Alexandrinus (ca. 400 A.D.); Ephraemi Rescriptus (ca. 450 A.D.).

*Jerome’s earliest translation of the Latin Vulgate from the Greek MSS (ca. 384 A.D.) includes the LEM.  Interestingly, the Old Latin (or “Vetus Latina”) was translated from Greek ca. 200 A.D. and the Italic form of these texts formed the basis for the Waldensian Bibles of the Middle-Ages.  Significantly, these translations equally contained the LEM reflecting the Old Latin MSS from which they were rendered, which, in turn was transcribed from Greek MSS ca. 200 A.D.—again placing an extremely early dating for the LEM in the Greek manuscript tradition.

*To date, I have seen little meaningful explanation offered for the direct quotations of the LEM from these ancient writers.  Typically, the only reasoning offered is that the supposed “intrusion” of the LEM into the biblical text originated in the early part of the 2nd century which would explain the early writer’s allusion(s) to this text.  However, this assumes that the LEM is an “interpolation” from the outset—hence starting the journey at the desired destination (i.e., circular reasoning).  Indeed, such an idea seems quite fanciful and likely reveals a theological bias against the supernatural nature of the LEM.    

*While this post merely reflects a sampling of the textual data favoring the LEM, hopefully the case has been set forth to some degree (?).  I would highly commend James Snapp’s exhaustive research into this ancient text:

*Hence, for me at least, it is with great certainty that we can affirm the truths set forth at the conclusion of this earliest Gospel (Matthew and Luke used Mark as their template):

9 Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons.  10 She went and told those who had been with Him, as they mourned and wept.  11 And when they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe.

12 After that, He appeared in another form to two of them as they walked and went into the country.  13 And they went and told it to the rest, but they did not believe them either.

14 Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen.

15 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.  16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.  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.”

19 So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God.  20 And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs.  Amen. (NKJV)                 

One comment on “The Long Ending of Mark {LEM}

  1. Erica says:

    Very thouughtful blog


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