I was greatly encouraged through our time of worship together yesterday.  I agree with Robin.  The glory of God as seen in His body, the church, is magnificent.   I was also deeply challenged from the end of Romans 8 that we recited together, and that seemed to come up repeatedly throughout the service.  What an awesome text.  I encourage you to go back and meditate on it throughout the week when you are struggling with anxiety or a lack of joy.  Thank you for your encouragement to me yesterday through our time of worshiping our Savior together!  I am praying for the body at Providence that we may stand firm in the Lord, rejoice in the Lord, and pray about everything this week.

I am posting my summary on the end of Mark 16.  Please take time to respond with questions if you have any after reading through this.

  • Why are we ending our study of Mark at 16:8?

You have probably noticed in your Bible a parenthetical note, or a footnote of some sort preceding verse 9.  For instance, the version we teach from at Providence, the ESV, says, “some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9-20.”  If you go on to read the footnote provided, you will see that not only do some of the earliest manuscripts not include 9-20, but some include it with additional material after verse 14, while others have an entirely different ending that concludes the book at verse 9.  In other words, some manuscripts have a long ending (20 verses in chapter 16), some have a shorter ending, (9 verses in chapter 16), and some end Mark’s Gospel at 16:8.

Thus, as we come to this portion of the text, we face the challenge of making the decision of whether or not to preach this variant ending to Mark’s Gospel or to end where it is consistently agreed upon that Mark undoubtedly wrote.  We seek to make this decision through a careful study in textual criticism, which is the science of determining the original text of the New Testament books based on sound manuscript evidence.  The goal is to try to understand what would have been included in the original text of Mark’s Gospel as given under divine inspiration.  To this point in Mark, as in the vast majority of the New Testament, there has been no reason to question the validity of what we have recorded as being part of Mark’s written words.  All the manuscripts that we have that were copies of Mark’s Gospel, copied by hand in order to spread the original manuscripts around, agree in their content.  But, the more these manuscripts were copied, the more likely for copyist errors to creep in, thus creating an occasional inconsistency known as a textual variant.  This is when we ask God for wisdom as we apply the rules of textual criticism to try and discern what was really in the original text.  The following is a summary of how we came to our decision.

  • Why do we prefer the short ending to Mark, thus saying we believe the original text of Mark’s written Gospel ended at 16:8?

In textual criticism, two primary criteria that are examined: external evidence and internal evidence.  External evidence is compiled through the examination of biblical manuscripts in an effort to identify the earliest and best manuscripts that will give us the original wording of Mark’s gospel.  Internal evidence is compiled by comparing the variant reading with the rest of what Mark has written to see if the language and content match up.

External Evidence:  While the longer ending of Mark first appears at some point in the fourth century, Mark’s Gospel ends at verse 8 in the best and oldest New Testament manuscripts.  A number of early church fathers, such as Clement and Origen, never mention the longer ending and wrote as though verse 8 was unmistakably the end of the gospel.  Even when the longer ending began to appear more frequently, many biblical scholars of the early church still held to the shorter ending since it was in the best and earliest manuscripts while the longer ending was not.  Thus, examination of the external evidence points to the conclusion that the longer-ending was most likely a scribal addition excerpted from another document and not part of the original text of Mark.

Internal Evidence: The vocabulary and style of verses of 16:9-20 are largely inconsistent with the rest of Mark’s Gospel.  There are no fewer than ten Greek words in this short section that are not found anywhere else in Mark.  It seems inconsistent that Mark, who has been speaking of Mary Magdalene with Mary the mother of James since 15:40 would feel the need to re-introduce Mary Magdalene and leave out Mary the mother of James. It is also odd that Mark has just stated that these women were so afraid and astonished that they failed to follow the angel’s command to go and tell the disciples that Jesus was risen, then in verse 10 to state that Mary Magdalene proceeded to go and tell the disciples of Jesus’ resurrection. While the ending of verse 8 does seem sudden, it fits Mark’s style of writing seen in his fast-paced, often abrupt manner of moving from narrative to narrative.  Mark starts abruptly (no genealogy or childhood of Jesus) and it ends abruptly (no post-resurrection account).  It also fits the consistent theme of Mark found in Jesus’ authority and faithfulness contrasted with His disciples’ fear and disobedience.  Thus, ending at verse 8 avoids authorial inconsistencies and fits into the style and themes of Mark’s Gospel.

  • Why is the longer ending included in our Bibles?  Does this “problem” undercut the authority of Scripture?

The longer ending is included in many English translations of the Bible out of deference to the evident antiquity of the longer ending and its importance in the textual tradition of Mark’s Gospel.  However, it is deliberately set apart from the rest of the text by being enclosed in double square brackets to indicate that this section of the text is quite possibly the work of an author other than Mark (see a similar instance in John 7:53-8:11).

While all of this may sound like it would undercut the authority of the New Testament, it really does just the opposite.  The early church placed great emphasis on the preaching of the biblical text, so that literally hundreds of manuscripts were prepared and circulated everywhere Christianity spread.  The problem is not a lack of manuscripts, but sometimes too many manuscripts.  As manuscripts increased, copy errors would increase and over time these diversions from the original text would often become part of the original writing. As was stated earlier, textual criticism serves the needed purpose of identifying the earliest and best manuscripts that will get us back to the original wording of the intended text.  In no case is any doctrine affected by these variants.  Instead, we are given a greater confidence that the words of Scripture we have in our English translations are indeed the God-intended, God-inspired word of God to us.