snake02In writing my messages on the book of Mark, I have assumed that every word of it was written by God, and that as such it is deserving of the respect and heed that such a book would deserve.  However, there are many attacks by modern scholarship upon such an idea.  As a rule, I tend to just ignore such attacks, assuming that my readers believe in the validity of the Word.  However, there is a charge which even some who hold the Bible in respect as God-breathed may consider, and I want to examine this charge in my conclusion to Mark.  That is the charge that the last twelve verses of Mark, Mark 16:9-20, did not exist in the original manuscripts and thus do not belong in the Bible, or that a different “shorter ending of Mark” may be more appropriate.  Is this charge correct?

The NIV reads regarding this passage, “The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20.”  Thus, the NIV translators suggest that these verses may not belong, a claim that many have supported to the consternation of some believers.  In my ancient Greek class I was told that these verses “clearly” do not belong in the Scripture, and that the book should end with verse 8 and the women running from the tomb in unbelief.  But is the evidence really so clear?

When we are confronted with a charge against some passage of the Bible, it is imperative that we collect the evidence in the matter before we attempt to make a judgment on its validity.  What are these “ancient Greek manuscripts” that do not contain these verses?  How old are they, how many are there, and how authoritative are they?  For the answer to this argument, I would like to quote in part a passage by E.W. Bullinger in his Appendices to the Companion Bible.  He examines this question in detail and reveals to us what the evidence for and against this passage actually is.  (Note: Bullinger uses “MSS.” as an abbreviation for “manuscripts.”)

“As to MANUSCRIPTS, there are none older than the fourth century, and the oldest two uncial MSS. are without those twelve verses.  Of all the others (consisting of some eighteen uncials and some six hundred cursive MSS. which contain the gospel of Mark) there is not one which leaves out these twelve verses.”

So the score is against: 2, for: 618!!!  That would seem rather overwhelming in the passage’s favor, would it not?  But the evidence does not stop there.  Let us continue with Bullinger.

“As to the Versions:–
1.  The SYRIAC.  The oldest is the Syriac in its various forms…  Both are older than any Greek MS. in existence, and both contain these twelve verses…
2.  The LATIN Versions.  JEROME (A.D. 382), who had access to Greek MSS. older than any now extant, includes these twelve verses…
3.  The GOTHIC Version (A.D. 350) contains them.
4.  The EGYPTIAN Versions…
5.  The ARMENIAN (cent. 5), the ETHIOPIC (cent. 4-7), and the GEORGIAN (cent. 6) also bear witness to the genuineness of these verses.”

There were translations of the Bible into other languages that are far older than our most ancient Greek manuscripts.  One of particular note is the Syriac Bullinger mentioned above, which is a version translating the Bible into Aramaic, the common language of Israel at the time, and which dates from the second century, when it was first translated. Thus the Syriac is two hundred years older than the two oldest Greek manuscripts that do not contain these verses.  This should raise some serious questions about those two oldest Greek manuscripts, and those who use them to “prove” that these verses did not originally exist in Mark but were added later.  How could these verses have been added after the fourth century into our Greek Bibles if they already existed two hundred years BEFORE they were supposedly added in?  I would like to hear about anything that existed two hundred years before it was created.  That would be an interesting thing indeed.  But the evidence does not even stop there.  Let us go on with Bullinger.

“The FATHERS.  Whatever may be their value (or otherwise) as to doctrine and interpretation yet, in determining actual words, or their form, or sequence, their evidence, even by an allusion, as to whether a verse or verses existed or not in their day, is more valuable than even manuscripts or Versions.
PAPIAS (about A.D. 100) refers to v. 18…
JUSTIN MARTYR (A.D. 151) quotes v.20…
IRENAEUS (A.D. 180) quotes and remarks on v. 19…
HIPPOLYTUS (A.D. 190-227)…
VINCENTIUS…
The ACTA PILATI…
The APOSTOLICAL CONSTITUTIONS…
EUSEBIUS…
APHRAARTES…
AMBROSE…
CHRYSOSTOM…
JEROME…
AUGUSTINE…
NESTORIUS…
CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA…
VICTOR OF ANTIOCH…”

-E.W. Bullinger, The Companion Bible, Appendix 168 (excerpts)

I have only listed the dates on the very earliest ones, but you can see that these raise the bar even further, pushing these verses in Mark back to 100 A.D., the end of the first century.  If Papias quoted these verses at that time, then they could not have been added almost three hundred years later to the Bible.  They MUST have already existed.  That these verses were added into the Greek manuscripts years after they were known to exist seems unlikely.

But what then of those two oldest Greek manuscripts so revered by the NIV and others as proving that these verses do not belong?  What evidence do they give us if we should examine them?  To answer this question, allow me to refer to the writings of Otis Q. Sellers, who studied this topic.

“We have spent some time in making a careful study of the photographic reproductions of the Sinaiticus and Vaticanus manuscripts.  Our study concerned the physical characteristics or what a printer would call ‘format.’  This study proved more than fascinating as we considered the last chapter of Mark.  It is true that the last twelve verses are not in either manuscript, but that is not all the truth.

“A close examination will reveal a fact generally known that the last four pages of Mark were written by a different scribe than the one who wrote the original manuscript.  These four pages are conjugate leaves and these conjugate leaves are ‘cancel leaves.’  That is, they were written after the manuscript had been completed, in order to take the place of others, written by the original scribe, which for some reason were considered imperfect or spoiled.  It is held by many that the original conclusion of Mark was torn out, and a shorter one substituted for it.  The text here is spaced out on the last two pages to fill up the space.  This is an admission that the book of Mark originally had a longer conclusion.

“In the Vaticanus manuscript, one book follows another and not one inch of space is wasted.  However, at the end of Mark 16:8 there is a blank column, the only one in the whole manuscript.  The significance of this is obvious.

“The Alexandrinus manuscript has the entire text from verse nine to the end.”

Otis Q. Sellers, The Word of Truth,’ Volume X Number 3 pages 69-70

So it would seem that if these earliest Greek manuscripts are examined, they show clear evidence that something has been taken OUT.  This is in direct contrast to modern scholars who try to suggest that something else was added IN to the later manuscripts.  If these manuscripts indeed show signs of tampering at the end of Mark, then we can hardly take them as acceptable evidence against the authenticity of the passage.  They are themselves called into question, not the verses they omit.

But why are these ancient Greek manuscripts then given such reverence by modern scholars?  There may be several reasons.  One obvious one is that they are the oldest Greek manuscripts that we have.  Those ignorant of the quotations of these verses by the church fathers and their inclusion in other versions of the Bible much earlier than these manuscripts may be swayed by the argument that these are the oldest manuscripts that we have, and thus should be the most authoritative.  But is this necessarily true?  These oldest Greek manuscripts are far from the most reliable we have.  They are filled with obvious errors, and disagree with each other on many points.  Why did these two manuscripts survive whereas their contemporaries did not?  There is no way to know for certain, but could it be because the scholars of the day knew they were full of errors and thus did not use them?  Which manuscript would you rather use, one that was perfect or one that was known to be sloppy and full of errors?  So the perfect manuscripts were used and eventually wore out, whereas these manuscripts were kept as waste and thus survived down through the years.  Age is not necessarily the best indication of accuracy.

But what other reasons might some have for rejecting these verses on such slim evidence?  One reason is the content of the verses.  Some people see the signs and wonders of verses 17 and 18, and then look around at our world today and do not see such things in evidence on the part of believers.  Not understanding the truth of dispensationalism and why these things have changed, they see a problem in these verses and thus hope to solve it by discrediting them as not belonging in the Bible.  To such I can only say that misunderstanding a passage is no excuse for attacking it as not being God’s Word, and it would be better if you studied the matter and found the real explanation for these verses “not working” anymore.  I have provided my explanation for this in my comments on these verses.

By the third reason we start getting into what is known as “higher criticism,” or treating the Bible like one would treat any other work of literature.  Some scholars who are higher critics look at the book of Mark and note that Jesus Christ seems to be rejected, misunderstood, or distrusted throughout.  Then they look at certain facts, like the fact that the narrator does not use the word “Lord” to describe Jesus Christ in the book until those last twelve verses.  We would suggest that the fact that others are quoted as calling Him “Lord” long before this makes this argument rather moot, yet this is one argument they bring forth. Then they take this as evidence that those last, victorious verses were not written by the same author as the previous verses, and thus do not belong, using the use of the word “Lord” and the victorious tone of the verses as their evidence. 

But what these scholars fail to recognize is that the purpose of the book of Mark is to set forth Jesus Christ as the suffering Servant.  This goal makes the use of stories and words illustrating One Who was rejected and scorned of men as a primary inspiration for the writer.  The use of the word “Lord” would be entirely out of place in a book setting Him forth not as the Master but as the Servant.  When He had risen from the dead, however, the One Who had served proved Himself Lord of all, and now the ultimate conclusion for the suffering Servant is victory.  As such, the use of the word “Lord” in these last verses is entirely expected, for now the work of the Servant is over and He has been positioned as the One having all authority in heaven and on earth.  To continue with the Servant motif when His service had been completed would have been a difficulty, not the use of the word “Lord” once the Servant had achieved the victory.  No, this is not a proof against the passage, but rather an observation of the completion of the Servant’s work in a most glorious victory.

So to sum up, the evidence against the passage is based entirely on either a lack of consideration of the evidence or the philosophical and theological leanings of the one weighing the evidence, and not upon any real proof.  The argument against these verses is found to be only a house of cards when it is weighed against the truth.

There is still another argument that the “higher critics” level against, not any one set of verses, but rather the entire book of Mark, and the other two synoptic gospels as well.  This is that these books were not actually written in the first century by the disciples and followers of the Lord Jesus that they were supposedly written by, but that they were actually written by some of the church fathers in the second century or thereafter.  Scholars who hold this view tend to argue that Mark was the earliest written of the gospels, and that Matthew and Luke were written based on the writings of Mark.  One can only assume that they teach this because Mark is the shortest and most compact of the books.  But they go even further than this.  They claim that even Mark itself was not the original, but that it was based on an even more ancient manuscript, which they have called the “Q” manuscript.

Now this to me is a most amazing viewpoint.  As was pointed out in the quotations I gave earlier, there are over six hundred ancient Greek manuscripts containing the book of Mark, as well as translations of the book going back to the second century.  Moreover, the church fathers quoted the book as early as Papias in circa 100 A.D.  And weighed against this evidence is the “Q” manuscript, a book that no one has ever seen, nor has anyone ever read about it in any ancient text, nor does it exist anywhere but in the imaginations of the scholars who hold this view.  And yet this manuscript holds more weight and, for these scholars, would be worthy of more of their faith, than the hundreds of manuscripts that have been preserved, are well-known, and have been held as being legitimate for over 1,500 years!  It seems almost ludicrous that such an idea could even be set forth.  How in the world could the book of Mark have been written from some imaginary “Q” manuscript in the second century when the book already existed, was believed to be authentic, and was quoted by Papias as early as 100 A.D.?  How could anyone give more weight to a book that doesn’t exist than to the very Word of God?  And yet those who hold this view are supposed to be the ones shaping intellectual thought concerning the Bible!

No, this book was written by the man Mark, and most likely in the 60s (with no abbreviation in front!) at around the same time that Paul wrote Colossians and noted that the gospel “was preached to every creature under heaven,” which aligns closely with Mark 16:20 and “they went and preached everywhere.”  This book is based on no other, nor are the other synoptic gospels.  Rather they are based on the very words of God, which were placed into the minds of the men who wrote them.  Let us ever keep this in mind as we read them, and increase in faith as we believe and try to live according to every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.

Advertisements