Should the New Testament Scriptures contain Mark 16:9–20? Christians have little to fear if Mark’s Gospel stops at Mark 16:8.

Doubt for keeping Mark 16:9–20 in the Bible comes from the fact that this section is missing in two of the most ancient copies of the Christian Scriptures. These manuscripts are Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, which come from the fourth century. Scribes copied these manuscripts by hand. Scholars note that Vaticanus and Sinaiticus have errors in spelling and grammar like all other manuscripts. Scribes also edited these manuscripts throughout the centuries. They edited Sinaiticus unto the twelfth century (Bruce Metzger, “The Text of the New Testament”; Dirk Jongkind, “Scribal Habits of Codex Sinaiticus“). Both of these fourth-century manuscripts often disagree, but the Alexandrinus manuscript resolves most of these variants. Academics associate Alexandrinus with the Byzantine text-type. This family of handwritten scriptures contain the majority of Koine Greek copies of the Christian Scriptures and include Mark 16:9–20 (5th–17th c.).

This early fifth-century manuscript, Alexandrinus, contains Mark 16:9–20. In addition to Alexandrinus, other fifth-century manuscripts named Ephraemi, Bezae, and Washingtonianus also contain the long-ending. Add also the whole family of manuscripts from the Byzantine text-type (7th–10th c.) and early church writers like Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (Florian Voss, “Textual Notes,” The UBS Greek New Testament. 4th ed. 152). In AD 180, Irenaeus quoted Mark 16:19, “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 sits on the right hand of God'” (Against Heresies 3.10.5). Mark 16:9–20 was an early part of the Gospel of Mark. Presumption has caused critical scholarship to adopt a critical position and hesitancy of accepting Mark 16:9–20. Here are further academic observations of critical scholarship:

Donahue recorded that the fourth-century texts of Sinaiticus and Vaticanus along with the fifth-century Alexandrinus attest to the text of Mark. There is a significant textual variant for the Gospel of Mark, because Sinaiticus and Vaticanus lack Mark 16:9–20. Donahue described Mark 16:9–20 as the canonical and traditional ending.[1] The long ending of Mark has external textual support. Alands reported that 99 percent of the Greek manuscripts include the traditional ending of Mark 16:9–20.[2] Furthermore, Irenaeus quoted Mark 16:19 in reference to Psalm 110:1 in the late second century (Haer. 3.10.5).

Scholars rely upon internal evidence as indication that the Gospel of Mark concluded at 16:8. Travis B. Williams reported that scholars reject Mark 16:9–20 because of its style. However, Williams described that conclusions upon statistics exceed the evidence. Williams argued that a case cannot form upon vocabulary because such can change according to subject matter. Williams revealed that the style of the Gospel of Mark changes from the first half to the second without questioning the authorship.[3]

Boomershine and Bartholomew reported that the narrative technique of ancient literature required that the author completely finish a narrative leaving nothing to the imagination. By comparing Mark to the other Gospels, they observed that the short-ending of Mark was accidental. The author of Mark often included comments as brief notes to explain events to the audience, and yet ending the Gospel of Mark at 16:8 is the opposite of what the author did throughout the Gospel of Mark.[4] However, Boomershire and Bartholomew rejected this point, because they perceived that other sections of Mark including Mark 6:52, 11:18, and 12:12 left the reader without a full conclusion.[5]

John Christopher Thomas concluded that scholars should prefer the short ending of Mark 16:8. However, Thomas recognized William R. Farmer’s position that Mark 16:9–20 is genuine because this pericope may consist of older source material, which explains the difference in style.[6] However, others like Donahue perceived that redactionists extended Mark to include a resurrection appearance.[7] Despite the ending, Mark does conclude with an empty tomb and an angelic proclamation of Christ’s bodily resurrection. Furthermore, the significance of Mark to critical scholarship is that, “Mark represents the oldest surviving account of Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection.”[8] Marcus observed that the defense of the short-ending of Mark does not exclude experiences of the resurrection appearances (Mark 14:28; 16:7).[9]

[1] Donahue, “Mark,” 903.

[2] Kurt Aland and Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987) 287.

[3] Travis B. Williams, “Bringing Method to the Madness: Examining the Style of the Longer Ending of Mark,” BBR 20 (2010): 398.

[4] Thomas E. Boomershire and Gilbert L. Bartholomew, “The Narrative Technique of Mark 16:8,” JBL 100 (1981): 214.

[5] Boomershire and Bartholomew, “The Narrative Technique of Mark 16:8,” 217.

[6] John Christopher Thomas, “A Reconsideration of the Ending of Mark,” JETS 26 (1983): 418.

[7] Donahue, “Mark,” 903.

[8] Evans, “Mark,” 1065.

[9] Marcus, “Gospel of Mark,” 860.

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