This is the sixth post in a series discussing literary features of the Gospel of Mark. You might first look at the Introduction, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.
“And they fled from the tomb, for fear and trembling had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid…”
The above quote would seem like a strange ending for a book. It certainly does not present any kind of closure. However, this is how the Gospel of Mark ends. If you open up your bible to the ending of Mark, you might question that statement. Look closer. Most bibles will have a small footnote mentioning that Mark 16:9-20 is omitted in earlier manuscripts. Many modern translations will bracket the text and maybe even include two possible endings (a longer and shorter version). The Revised Standard Version (RSV) takes 16:9-20 completely out of the main body of the text and puts it in a footnote.
There are many reasons that Mark 16:9-20 is questioned. One should be obvious to the reader. Try this exercise. Read through Mark in one sitting. On a long reading, you will become acquainted with Mark’s overall style. Then, you are jarred out of that style at the end. Even in translation, the difference in style and vocabulary is evident in 16:9-20. The theory that these last verses are not original to the text is bolstered by the fact that they are not contained in our earliest manuscripts. All of this internal and external evidence points to the conclusion that the Gospel of Mark (as we have it) ends on 16:8. This has been the conclusion of most scholars of every stripe and inclination.
This post ballooned into a 2600-word behemoth. The following is a somewhat technical discussion of textual criticism and the theological implications of the mystery of the ending of Mark. If you want to skip the technical part and go to the ending conclusions concerning what to do with a Gospel that ends on 16:8, then click here.
Textual Criticism and Discernment
Determining the ending to Mark is an exercise in textual criticism. The evidence that Mark 16:9-20 is not original to the Gospel is significant. Most importantly, the verses are missing from the two oldest Greek Manuscripts that we have (Codices Sinaiticus and Vaticanus). These two manuscripts date from the 4th century. No earlier fragments contain the verses. Furthermore, the early Church witnesses largely agree that the verses are not original. Both Eusebius (4th century) and Jerome (4th – 5th century) note that the verses are missing from almost all of the Greek copies they had available to them. Scribes copying the manuscript marked 16:9-20 with asterisks and other signs to indicate their skepticism concerning the passage. The general principle at work here is scribes copying these manuscripts would be extremely unlikely to subtract anything from them. You do not hand copy manuscripts unless you revere them deeply. It is even more incredulous to think that a scribe would omit resurrection appearances from a Gospel. It is much more likely that a scribe would be disturbed by the lack of resurrection appearances in Mark and feel compelled to supplement the Gospel. Scribes are much more likely to add, whether intentionally or unintentionally, material to manuscripts. Therefore, the addition that only shows up in later manuscripts is not likely to be original.
Contrary to all this, there are at least two early Church witnesses to Mark 16:9-20. Irenaeus (writing in the 2nd century) appears to be aware of the verses. Also, the Diatessaron, a 2nd century harmony of the Gospels by Tatian, also includes the verses. However, these two witnesses are not actual manuscripts of Mark. They do show that Mark 16:9-20 is undeniably ancient and was connected with the Gospel of Mark at an early date. It is possible that Mark 16:9-20 was not created specifically for the ending of Mark but was a separate source altogether. This shorter source could have been appended to Mark to as a supplement.
All of the above is called external evidence dealing with the manuscripts themselves. There is also internal evidence within the text itself to consider. It is mentioned above that even the difference in style and vocabulary is evident in translation. Metzger mentions a number of non-Markan words and expressions such as ἀπιστέω, βλάπτω, βεβαιόω, επακολουθέω, θεάομαι, μετα ταῦτα, πορεύομαι, συνεργέω, and ὕστερον. These words and phrases do not appear anywhere else in the Gospel of Mark. Internal evidence is always a little shaky. Mark could have finished his Gospel at a later time and used slightly different vocabulary. My writing looks different now than five years ago. Vocabulary can change. However, when coupled with the external evidence, the case is strong that Mark 16:9-20 is not original to the Gospel.
The Question of Consensus
This leaves the reader to decide whether Mark intended to finish his Gospel at 16:8 or the Gospel is unfinished as we have it. Mark might have been unable to finish the Gospel. Or the manuscript could have lost its ending — due to damage, neglect, etc. — before extensive copying took place. In my cursory survey of materials immediately available to me, it is difficult to tell where the scholarly consensus comes down on this issue. Kümmel (1966) believes the consensus is that Mark did intend to end his Gospel on 16:8. Powell (1998) agrees with him. Köstenberger, Kellum, and Quarles (2009) are somewhat noncommittal, but note that “there seems to be no compelling reason not to accept Mark 16:8 as the original ending intended by Mark.” However, Metzger (1994) believes that it is most probable that the manuscript lost its original ending before being copied. R.H. Stein (2009) believes that the original ending has been lost and he cites a number of recent commentaries that agree with him. If Stein is correct, it appears that the consensus of scholarship has shifted in the early 21st century to a position that the original ending of Mark has been lost.
The consensus may be shifting, but there are still a number of scholars that argue Mark intended to end his gospel on 16:8. Though R.H. Stein disagrees, he provides a helpful and fair summary of the solutions of those who believe the Gospel ends at 16:8. There is no point to listing out all of the options here, but the best options are those in which the reader is brought into the story. The reader is invited by the abrupt ending to finish the story. Stein notes that most of the conclusions of those who argue that Mark intended his Gospel to end at 16:8 envision readers that are more like “highly-educated 20th and 21st century existentialists than like 1st century Christians, the great majority of whom could not read or write.”
Original Ending Lost
Stein makes a good point about the original readers of Mark. The abrupt ending is great for modern readers. Indicative of this is a quote from Julius Wellhausen included by Stein. “It would be a shame if something came after [16:8].” However, we must be careful not to turn Mark into a postmodern master that envisioned a narrative style 2000 years before its inception. Mark’s original readers were probably not satisfied by the abrupt ending at 16:8. This is illustrated by the fact that Mark 16:9-20 was attached to the Gospel at a very early date to supplement it. Obviously, many readers felt the Gospel was lacking a proper ending. It is also telling that neither Matthew, Luke, or John followed Mark in his abruptness. They all ended their Gospels with resurrection appearances.
Stein’s argument that Mark did not intend to end his Gospel on 16:8 has two primary components. The first is that ending on 16:8 would leave the prophetic statements in Mark 14:28 and 16:7 unfulfilled. These would be the only unfulfilled prophecies in the Gospel. This is also awkward because every Christian reader would know that Jesus made resurrection appearances. Why would Mark include predictions of these appearances and yet not include them?
Stein’s second main assertion is that Mark’s Gospel up until 16:8 has kept its focus on Jesus. It is highly Christological. The various explanations for why the Gospel would end on 16:8 shift that focus to something else. They highlight the reader, the disciples, the women, etc. Thus, they betray Mark’s laser focus on Jesus throughout the Gospel, which makes it unlikely that Mark intended his Gospel on 16:8.
N.T. Wright agrees with Stein that Mark did not intend to end the Gospel on 16:8. Wright makes further structural arguments as to why he believes Mark’s intention was to continue his account past 16:8. He makes an intriguing argument using the structure of Mark’s Gospel. Wright feels that Mark’s first half is brought to a conclusion with Peter’s confession of Jesus as Christ, which is confirmed by the remarkable event of the transfiguration. After the transfiguration, Jesus tells them of his impending death and resurrection. Wright argues that Mark would repeat that pattern at the end of his second act. Jesus’s confession at his trial and the proclamation of the centurion would be confirmed by an even more remarkable event. Mark would want to make this remarkable event of Jesus’s resurrection more concrete than scared women at an empty tomb. Ending on 16:8 makes all of Mark’s emphasis on Jesus’s predictions of his death and resurrection feel incomplete.
What should the 21st century reader do with the ending of the Gospel of Mark? Stein makes another helpful distinction that provides a stepping stone forward to a solution. Stein’s primary concern is whether Mark intended to end his Gospel on 16:8. This is a historical question. What we do as readers with the ending of Mark is a hermeneutical question. I am inclined to agree with Stein and Wright that Mark did not intend to end his account on 16:8. However, we do not possess Mark’s original ending. Even though I agree with Wright and Stein, that answer to the historical question of Mark’s intentions does not help us greatly as readers now. We are still left with an account that ends at 16:8 followed by material added at a later time and composed by a different author. How do we navigate that hermeneutical maze?
The first option would be to accept the material as canonical. Representative of this approach is F.F. Bruce. Bruce agreed with the majority consensus that Mark 16:9-20 were not original to Mark’s account. However, he further argues that human authorship has little to do with divine inspiration. Regarding Mark 16:9-20, Bruce states, “if we find that the Holy Spirit by His testimonium internum thus authenticates these verses as His, we accept them without further question as part of God’s Word written. But that is quite apart from the question of their human authorship.” Bruce believes that Mark 16:9-20 does have this inner testimony of the Spirit and concludes, “while we cannot regard them as an integral part of the Gospel to which they are now attached, no Christian need have any hesitation in reading them as Holy Scripture.” Bruce compares the situation to John 7:53-8:11 (the account of the woman caught in adultery). This passage is similar in that the vast majority of scholars agree that it is not original to the Gospel, but it is still undeniably ancient. Personally, I have no problems reading John 7:53-8:11 as Christian Scripture. It is a visceral account that reinforces teachings found in the Sermon on the Mount among other places. Compare “Let the sinless ones among you throw the first stone” (John 8:7) with “Judge not, in order that you may not be judged” (Matthew 7:1) and “First take the log out of your own eye…” (Matthew 7:5). To me, these teachings cohere and I have no problem reading and learning from the passage in John 7:53-8:11.
The “inner testimony” of Mark 16:9-20 is not as clear to me. It does not feel right. Any judgment on the testimony of the Spirit regarding possibly spurious verses is necessarily subjective. This post has taken longer for me to write because Bruce’s argument bothered me. It bothered me because I feel that his general point is correct. Human authorship has nothing to do with divine inspiration. Otherwise, we should stop reading Hebrews. However, I had to ask myself why I do not consider Mark 16:9-20 Christian Scripture?
My thought is more clouded than when I started writing this post, but I still take the second option that stops reading Mark at 16:8. In the end, I am still very bothered by the emphasis on signs and miracles in Mark 16:9-20. To be sure, Mark has been a Gospel full of miracles, but I feel there is a key difference. In Mark 1-16:8, the miracles and signs are only corroborating evidence that Jesus is indeed the Messiah. However, Mark 16:20 reads, “And they went out preaching everywhere, and the Lord worked together with them confirming the message with accompanying signs.” In this passage, the further signs by human preachers confirm the message. It is my conviction that the resurrection is the vindication of the Christian message and we need no further signs. In Matthew 28:18-20, we are not encouraged to perform further miracles (the same is true of the other Gospels). Paul facilitated a few miracles in Acts, but he does not emphasize them in his letters. The resurrection is the vindication and foundation of hope in the Christian message (see 1 Corinthians 15, 1 Timothy 3:16, among many others). We do not need nor should we look for anything further. Mark 16:9-20 betrays this very important point with an emphasis on accompanying signs. Therefore, in my judgment, they lack the testimonium internum that Bruce argued for and I will not read them as genuine Scripture.
Literary Value to ending at 16:8
This abrupt ending does not hamper the reader. I believe that it does invite the reader into the story. There are good reasons to speculate that Mark’s original ending also invited readers into the story. Look at Matthew 28:18-20. I believe that this Great Commission is addressed to all Christians everywhere. It is an invitation into the story and a call to continue it. It is not as abrupt as Mark 16:8, but it is still “open.” N.T. Wright argues that Matthew has followed Mark closely and that it is reasonable to assume that Mark’s ending looked similar to what we have in Matthew. This assumes that Matthew had a copy of Mark that included the original ending. If so, it is reasonable to think that Mark’s original ending was “open” in a similar way as Matthew 28:18-20. Inviting the reader to continue the story is not foreign to the Gospel tradition.
Wright also flirts with the idea that Mark left his Gospel unfinished so that an actual eyewitness to the resurrection in the congregation can finish the story — possibly one of the 500 mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:6. That is pure speculation, but it helps envision how Mark’s ending should be read now. If you have found salvation in Christ, then you are living in a resurrection experience. Your life in Christ provides the needed “ending” to the Gospel with your own resurrection experience. I disagree with Stein when he argues that this betrays the Gospel’s Christological focus. It enhances it because it brings into focus the reader’s life in Christ. I believe this can apply to an individual or a congregation. Were I to preach through Mark, I would stop at 16:8 and invite testimonies from the congregation about their resurrection experience. Read this way, ending Mark on 16:8 has a powerful rhetorical effect for the faithful audience. It may not be the ending that Mark intended, but it is the ending that providence has given us. I like it so much that I am inclined to agree with Wellhausen. It would be a shame if something came after.
 The following is largely a summary of Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary of the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. (Stuttgart: United Bible Societies, 1994), 102-106.
 Metzger, 104.
 Paul Feine, Johannes Behm, and Werner Georg Kümmel, Introduction to the New Testament, 14th rev. ed. (Nashville: Abigdon Press, 1966), 71-72.
 Mark Allan Powell, Fortress Introduction to the Gospels (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998), 39.
 Andreas Köstenberger, L. Scott Kellum, and Charles L. Quarles, The Cradle, The Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament (Nashville, B&H Academic, 2009), 239.
 Metzger, 105 n7.
 Robert H. Stein, “The Ending of the Gospel of Mark,” Bulletin of Biblical Research 18.1 (2009), 98.
 Stein, 88.
 Julius Wellhausen, Das Evangelium Marci (Berlin: Reimer, 1903), 137. Cited in Stein, 85. The original German quote is, “Es wäre schade, wenn noch etwas hinterher käme.”
 One might note that Acts 28 has an ending almost as abrupt as Mark 16:8.
 N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, vol 3 of Christian Origins and the Question of God (Minneapolis: Fortress 2003), 620-621.
 Stein, 92.
 F.F. Bruce, “The End of the Second Gospel,” The Evangelical Quarterly 17 (1945): 177-178.
 Bruce, 181.
 Metzger, 187-189.
 There is an important lesson here about possible bias and subjectivity. I am a 5th generation hillbilly from the Southern Appalachian foothills and I love that region like no other. Mark 16:18 has been abused by some in my home region who have taken to “snake-handling.” It has become an object of ridicule from outside observers. Therefore, I am eager to argue that these verses are not genuine.
 After writing this I discovered that Karl Barth argues along similar lines in Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II.2 (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2010), 448. This seems appropriate as Barth has shaped my thought more than most.
 Wright, 624.
 Wright, 623.
7 Comments Add yours
Another excellent post!
I guess I have my own peculiar perspective on Mark, because I think it was written as a specific chiasmus. For me, even though Mark could have given his gospel a typical ending (and the ending can be figured out using the chiasmus), I think he was quite happy to shorten his gospel, for a number of reasons.
1) Mark likes his structures to have inclusions (bookends). IMO, his two halves have inclusions. The second half inclusion runs from Jesus’ first prediction of death and resurrection (8:31) to Jesus’ actual death and resurrection (15:1-16:8). This inclusion is only accomplished by shortening his ending.
2) Sometimes the centre and end of a chiasmus match (this is a common chiastic feature). By shortening his gospel, Mark is able to make this happen. 8:31-38 and 15:1-16:8 make a nice match.
3) Some chiasmi are designed to be read helically (see John Breck, “The Shape of Biblical Language”). I don’t think this is always the case, but at times I think chiasmi are designed to do this. Mark seems to be one of those cases. A helical read follows the ‘matches’ in order. That is, a reader would first read A, then its match A’, then B, then B’, then C, etc, until he/she would arrive at the centre of the chiasmus. A helical read moves from the outside to the inside. Eg., Psalm 150 can be read this way. So, imo, Mark can be read in two different ways. In the primary, linear read, the reader would end with 15:1-16:8 – and specifically, the enigmatic, 16:8. In the secondary, helical read, the reader would end with 8:34-38. In my opinion, these two endings work well together. 8:34-38 challenges the reader to be strong, ‘take up their cross’, lose life, and not be ashamed. 16:8 leaves the reader wondering and struggling with the women, who are challenged by their fear. What happened? Did they overcome their fear? (Yes) … … … And, can we overcome ours?
I guess one of the questions for my approach is whether the above reasons are strong enough to allow Mark to leave out the stories and information that would have normally come at the end. That’s an interesting question. I like to think the answer is yes. 1) Mark’s audience may have needed the message his centre and endings emphasize. 2) I would assume that by the time of Mark’s writing (as we now have it), the missing ending was well known, and so could be sacrificed for Mark’s current structure and subsequent meaning. 3) In fact, I think Mark’s missing ending can be supplied by his chiastic structure. … So, in a way, he actually didn’t entirely eliminate it. It’s there, but a little bit hidden. 🙂
And by the way, I basically ignore the endings that have been added by later authors. For me, Mark ends at 16:8.
A couple things regarding my previous comment.
I would add an important fourth item (doh!) to my list on why Mark would be willing to leave out his ending stories. 4) Mark really loves good structure. As in, inclusions, a matching centre/end match, and a good helical read. … Shortening his gospel gave him all that.
I mentioned Psalm 150 as an example of a helical read. Regarding that, here’s a link to my blog … http://tinyurl.com/y9k97wj7
So, I’m back. I’m thinking that what I wrote above is a little obscure. 1). I haven’t laid out the entire chiasmus so it’s pretty hard to truly judge what I’ve said. 2). No scholar out there is using my chiasmus (or really any chiasmus) to understand Mark, so again, it’s really, really outside the normal way of looking at Mark.
Anyway, I thought I would come back with something else. I’ll still relate it to my chiasmus, but it doesn’t have to be.
In your post you mention that 14:18 and 16:7 are the only unfulfilled prophecies in Mark’s gospel. I would like to suggest another: 1:8. This is where John the Baptist says that Jesus will ‘baptize with the Holy Spirit’. In the past I’ve read 2 or 3 commentaries that suggest that this promise/prophecy refers to Pentecost. Eg., Morna Hooker. … And I can see why. For example, note the similarity between the language of 1:8 and Acts 1:5.
In fact, this forms the A/A’ pairing in my chiasmus for Mark, and helps to fill in Mark’s missing ending. I would suggest that if Mark had chosen to entirely fill in the ending to his gospel, he would have finished it with a Pentecost story, where his followers would have been ‘baptized with the Spirit’. In this way, just as Jesus was empowered/baptized by the Spirit at the beginning of Mark’s gospel, to fulfill His upcoming mission, Jesus’ followers would have been empowered/baptized with the Spirit at the end of Mark, to fulfill their upcoming mission. I think it would have been a fitting way to end Mark’s Gospel. The Gospel would have ended, looking forward to the church’s mission.
I guess I’ll just briefly lay out how I see Mark’s opening prologue. I see 1:1-13 as a 5 part chiasmus:
B. Masses baptized in the Jordan
C. John the Baptist’s teaching
B’. Jesus baptized in the Jordan
In a chiasmus, the centre is often the most important part. In addition, the end of the centre is often the most important part of the centre. It’s here that we find the Baptist’s prophecy that Jesus would, at some time in the future, baptize with the Spirit.
I’m also intrigued by the use of wilderness in the first pairing, and the Jordan river in the second pairing. It makes me think of the Israelites entering the promised land following their exile in Egypt. Kinda makes me wonder about a helical read for the prologue (A to A’ to B to B’ to C): From wilderness (make paths level; opposition from Satan/wild animals), through the Jordan river (repentance; arrival of the Messiah/Son of God), to the promised land (a baptism of the Holy Spirit). … Hmmm, maybe too radical there, lol.
That is a good point on Mark 1:8 and unfulfilled prophecy. I was trusting Stein’s research in my post. I guess he might quibble that this is a prophecy of John the Baptist rather than Jesus, but I think your overall point still stands. In fact, your point coincides with N.T. Wright’s provisional reconstruction of Mark’s original ending using the Gospel of Matthew (the citation is somewhere in my post). It is reasonable to think that Mark’s original ending would have ended with the Church’s commissioning (cf. Matthew 28:18-20).
I am intrigued by a helical reading of Mark. If your centre of Mark 8:34-38 holds, then you end the Gospel roughly with the transfiguration (a kind of ascension), a confession that Jesus is Christ, and a commission to follow. That is a pretty standard ending for a gospel!
You mention that no scholar you know considers a chiastic structure to Mark. That does not surprise to me. Most of my New Testament experience has been under conservative US scholars. My impression is that they generally express skepticism about literary devices like chiasmi being intended by the author (my experience with OT scholars is different). They seem to largely feel that these structures are invented by the reader (which is a problem for many conservatives in the US). Although, many do see a chiastic structure to the Gospel of Matthew.
For my part, I have no problem with the reader finding a structural outline that helps them, whether it was intended by the human author or not. I do think that the outcome of the reader’s framework needs to cohere with the author’s original intentions. For example, if you argued that your chiastic structure for Mark shows that Jesus was simply a human teacher, then I would say that you have gone too far. You have invented something that is not there. If your structure reinforces that Jesus is indeed the Christ, then great! We can all profit from that reading. To me, reading is a dance between author and reader. Neither should step on the other’s toes!
An illustration of the above point is your post on Psalm 150. I have no clue whether the original composer intended a helical reading. (I translated it out of the Hebrew and Greek LXX a few years ago; I will have to go back and look to see if there are cues in the original language.) However, I greatly profited from reading it helically. The idea of the Psalm as a dance that begins in a fury and slowly descends from trumpets to stringed instruments moves me. I am quite confident that the helical reading invokes the same feelings that the original author intended. Thanks for showing it to me.
As always, I enjoy the conversation.
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Yes, I’m very much enjoying the conversation.
I would just draw a distinction between commissioning (eg., the ‘great commission’) and Pentecost. In my mind a commissioning would be ‘a sending out into the whole world’, and a Pentecost scene would be something like Acts 2, where, eg., empowerment occurs.
A helical read would end at 8:34-38. It would finally end with v. 38, which looks forward to Jesus’ return. A fitting end, I think.
Yes, it’s too bad that some balk at chiasmi. I’m not sure why some would think that they don’t occur in the NT. Some of my favourite NT chiasmi are: Mark 13:4-23 (the little apocalypse), Titus, 1 Thessalonians 1-2, and Ephesians 2:11-22. All can be found on my blog, Biblical Chiasmus. The first pinned post can be used as a table of contents.
I can’t remember where I read it, but one writer pointed out that the Greeks? used to teach their students to memorize the alphabet from beginning to end, end to beginning, outside in and inside out. I’ve read speculation that they may have done this early on to train students to read chiasmi, eg., from the outside in. The inside out part is interesting to me. Reading Psalm 150 from the inside out also produces a pretty cool read. Things start quiet, and build to the outside, ending with ‘Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!’. For me, it’s a little speculative, but there you go.
“The verses are missing from the two oldest Greek Manuscripts that we have (Codices Sinaiticus and Vaticanus). These two manuscripts date from the 4th century. No earlier fragments contain the verses.”
That is, no earlier fragments contain Mark 16 at all. And the copyists of both Vaticanus and Sinaiticus convey, via anomalous features in the manuscripts themselves, their awareness of the absent verses at the end of Mark.
“Furthermore, the early Church witnesses largely agree that the verses are not original.”
Not so, Daniel. There is an abundance of patristic support for Mark 16:9-20 from the era of the Roman Empire.
“Both Eusebius (4th century) and Jerome (4th – 5th century) note that the verses are missing from almost all of the Greek copies they had available to them.”
Again, /Not so!/ Eusebius says that this is something that one could say — see the full text, in context, in “Eusebius of Caesarea – Gospel Problems and Solutions,” which you can find online, for free — and Jerome (who included Mark 16:9-20 in the Vulgate) merely paraphrased and condensed part of Eusebius’ “Ad Marinum” in the course of writing Ad Hedibiam, making the same recommendation: that the passage should be kept, with a separation of clauses in Mark 16:9 to resolve the discrepancy between Mark 16:9 and Matthew 28:1-2 regarding the timing of the resurrection.
“Scribes copying the manuscript marked 16:9-20 with asterisks and other signs to indicate their skepticism concerning the passage.”
Again, /Not so!/ Everybody making this claim about asterisks or obeli in non-annotated manuscripts of Mark is just parroting Metzger’s claim (in his Textual Commentary). Close scrutiny of the manuscripts themselves shows that there are no such asterisks in non-annotated manuscripts.
“The general principle at work here is scribes copying these manuscripts would be extremely unlikely to subtract anything from them.”
Unless they thought there was some sort of justification to do so.
“It is much more likely that a scribe would be disturbed by the lack of resurrection appearances in Mark and feel compelled to supplement the Gospel.”
In which case a copyist would finish out the scene left dangling at the end of 16:8. But that is not what we have in Mark 16:9-20. The day, the time, and the persons in view are all restated.
“Scribes are much more likely to add, whether intentionally or unintentionally, material to manuscripts.”
/Not so!/ However often that axiom gets repeated, it is not true. James Royse’s data shows that early scribes tended to make 3 omissions for every 2 additions; that is, they left out material more often than they added material.
“Therefore, the addition that only shows up in later manuscripts is not likely to be original.”
But of course in real life, Mark 16:9-20 does not only show up in “later manuscripts” — it is supported by over 1,600 manuscripts of Mark, including Codices D, C, W, A, etc., etc.
“Irenaeus (writing in the 2nd century) appears to be aware of the verses.”
I think that is certainly safe to say, since Irenaeus specifically quotes Mark 16:19 and specifically says that he is quoting from near the end of the Gospel of Mark!
“Also, the Diatessaron, a 2nd century harmony of the Gospels by Tatian, also includes the verses.”
And so, even if one were to set aside the testimony of Justin Martyr (in First Apology 45) and the Epistula Apostolorum (which Stein regarded as evidence of its author’s awareness of Mark 16:9-20), that’s two supportive witnesses, from over 100 years before Vaticanus and Sinaiticus.
“However, these two witnesses are not actual manuscripts of Mark.”
What difference should that make, Daniel? Do you think Irenaeus would attribute to Mark something that was not in his copies of Mark, or that Tatian would put a large segment into a Blended Gospels narrative that nobody found in their copies of the Gospels??
“Metzger mentions a number of non-Markan words and expressions . . . . ”
But Bruce Terry has shown that there are even more “non-Markan” words — that is, once-used words — in Mark 15:40-16:4, another 12-verse segment of Mark.
Regarding “consensus” you will find, as your research so far indicates, that there are about as many explanations for the abrupt ending at 16:8 as there are commentators.
“What should the 21st century reader do with the ending of the Gospel of Mark?”
First, get a firm, accurate grip on the evidence, and go from there. Even Stein was misinformed about several things.
“Personally, I have no problems reading John 7:53-8:11 as Christian Scripture.”
Me neither, but it seems to me that inasmuch as Mark 16:9-20 is supported by all Greek manuscripts but three (one of which is medieval), and by all extant Latin manuscripts but one, and by all Syriac manuscripts but one, and by over 40 Roman-Empire era sources, does it not seem as if your appeal to “internal testimony” is essentially an appeal to subjective impressions, as if you are making canonicity rise or fall depending on how well you like a passage?? How is it that, if you and your internal impression are right, the copyists of 99.9% of our manuscripts of Mark, and the people who used them and accepted them as Scripture, have been so wrong for so long?
I encourage you to start over on this passage, and conduct fresh research, instead of just accepting Metzger’s claims about the external and internal evidence.
Hello James. Thank you for your comments.
You make a number of claims that I do not want to respond to without taking the time to look at the research you mention. We are fast approaching a busy holiday season, but I will make you a deal. I will take some time to examine your claims and then respond back here. I have found a post on your website regarding Mark 16:9-20. Is it safe to assume that this would be a good primer to access the contours of your research? I am an open-minded person. If convinced that I am wrong (or have just been blindly following other research), then I will update the post accordingly. For what it is worth, my interest is most piqued by your claim about asterisks and obeli being missing from non-annotated manuscripts. If true, that would damage Metzger’s credibility.
Since this is our first interaction, I want to offer a disclaimer. You seem very invested and passionate about this topic. I care deeply about open-minded and cordial discussion, debate, and even disagreement among Christians. That being said, I have little interest or time for contentious conversations that generate more heat than light. I want to interact with other Christians. I am even willing to change my mind if I find your claims persuasive. I am not willing to get into arguments that lead nowhere.
You did make one comment that I will address right now. Near the end you ask, “How is it that, if you and your internal impression are right, the copyists of 99.9% of our manuscripts of Mark, and the people who used them and accepted them as Scripture, have been so wrong for so long?” It is a fair question. However, being in the minority does not necessarily make one wrong. Without doing the math, my position is probably in the historical minority but in the modern majority. Your position has the inverse problem of being in the historical majority but the modern minority. Anyone with a minority position should first consider that they are wrong. I imagine that you have put much thought and prayer into your position that is in the modern minority. I get the sense that you are still confident of your minority position after that thought and prayer. If after much thought and prayer I am still convinced of my minority position, I am fine being in that minority. I will box my corner.
You also ask, “does it not seem as if your appeal to “internal testimony” is essentially an appeal to subjective impressions, as if you are making canonicity rise or fall depending on how well you like a passage?” First, the question insinuates a claim that I was not making. There are passages in Scripture that make me uncomfortable, but I do not question their canonicity. I do my level best to sit under their authority. There are a select few passages for which authenticity is questioned by many. In these few cases, the appeal to the “inner testimony of the Spirit” can help sort out the hermeneutical issues brought about by them. This is what F.F. Bruce was doing with Mark 16:9-20. He did not think they were original to the Gospel, but he felt that the passage had the “inner testimony of the Spirit.” His primary criteria for that judgment was coherence with other unquestioned passages. Any appeal to the Spirit is going to be ultimately subjective. However, we can talk about coherence and I disagreed with Bruce because I do think that there is a theological dissonance between Mark 16:9-20 and the general thrust of the New Testament regarding signs.
As I said above, let me take some time to consider your claims and research. After that, I would be happy to discuss the issue of Mark 16:9-20 further with you.
Thanks again for pointing me toward some new research.