In Defense of Mark 16:9-20
Nearly 2,000 years ago, the apostle Paul told Timothy, his son in the faith, that “all scripture is given by the inspiration of God…” (2 Timothy 3:16, KJV). Paul, through the Holy Spirit, made it known that every scripture in the Bible is divine. Whoever reads God’s word from cover to cover can be assured that they have the absolute truth in the palm of their hands. As it reads in Psalm 119:160, “The entirety of your word is truth…” Even though the Bible claims to be the inerrant and infallible word of God, there are thousands of skeptics who have wasted a vast amount of ink to prove otherwise. Take Mark 16:9-20 for example. An overwhelming majority of scholars have conceded that this portion of scripture is not genuine because it does not appear in the two earliest Greek manuscripts--the Vaticanus and Sinaitic. On the other hand, there is an even larger majority who have contradicted this notion based on the internal and external evidence that has been revealed to us. Liberal theologians also argue that the last 12 verses of Mark differ from his original writing style. We are going to examine the case against the last 12 verses of Mark’s gospel account, while also examining the case for it, by delving into the internal and external evidence. In so doing, we should arrive at the conclusion that Mark 16:9-20 is indeed genuine, just like the rest of the Holy Scriptures. The proof is instrumental because the validity of the Bible is being attacked daily from every corner of the world.
SINAITIC AND VATICANUS MANUSCRIPTS
What is the big fuss over the Sinaitic and Vatican manuscripts when there are approximately 5,748 different Greek manuscripts in existence today? Before we get any deeper, it’s best to point out how these two manuscripts in particular rose to prominence. The Vatican manuscript is from the fourth century and has resided in the Vatican Library in Rome since 1481. It contains almost all of the Old and New Testament. It is believed to be one of the earliest manuscripts to have been developed. But there’s something peculiar about it: it does not include Mark 16:9-20. For some strange reason, a scribe left more than a column of space blank in his manuscript (Lightfoot, How We Got The Bible). Could it be that the scribe somehow knew about these verses but didn’t see the need to include them in his manuscript? One will never know, but one of the reasons why the Vatican Codex is so widely respected is because the printed texts of the Greek New Testament rely on it heavily.
The Codex Sinaiticus is so-called because it was discovered at St. Catherine’s Monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai (Encyclopedia Britannica). A renowned German biblical scholar named Konstantin von Tischendorf (1815-1874) found several hundred additional leaves at the monastery in 1859. Tischendorf persuaded monks to present the manuscript to the Russian Czar at the time in exchange for the needed protection of their abbey. The Codex had been in the Russian National Library until 1933. That’s when the Soviet Government sold it to the British Museum for £100,000, and it has been there ever since.
Pertaining to the contents inside the Codex Sinaiticus, it has most of the text of the Septuagint--the Greek-language Bible. It also has the complete fourth century New Testament along with two apocryphal letters. It’s believed that there were four scribes who contributed to the codex’s original text (Encyclopedia Brittanica). It dates back to the second half of the fourth century and has been highly valuable among Bible scholars in their efforts to reconstruct the original text (Got Questions). Although this is one of the earliest manuscripts developed--just like the Sinaitic--it also does not have the last 12 verses of Mark. The omission has been noted in many of our English translations of the Bible. For example, the American Standard Version footnote reads: “the two oldest manuscripts and some other authorities omit verse 9 to the end…” What’s more, the New International Version footnote reads something like this: “The two most reliable early manuscripts do not have Mark 16:9-20” (Miller, Apologetics Press). Since the last 12 verses of Mark are not in the two earliest Greek manuscripts, could it be the case that the text is not genuine? As we go further, we are going to see how one should not come to that conclusion based on the evidence provided elsewhere.
What has drawn many scholars away from Mark 16:9-20 is the internal evidence along with its disappearance from the two earliest Greek manuscripts. Critics have discounted the scripture as genuine because they say it doesn’t fit with John Mark’s vocabulary and style (Miller, Apologetics Press). In his book on “New Testament Introduction,” conservative scholar Donald Guthrie wrote, “... containing the longer ending must have been due to the acceptance of this ending as the most preferable. But internal evidence combines with textual evidence to raise suspicions regarding this ending” (Guthrie, New Testament Introduction). Henry Alford, a 19th century British scholar, took the same position as Guthrie. He said, “The internal evidence… will be found to preponderate vastly against the authorship of Mark” (Alford, Alford’s Greek New Testament). Here we have two scholars who dispute the genuineness of the text in question (there are actually many more, but these should suffice).
First, let us deal with the supposed “non-markan style” of Mark 16:9-20. In his commentary on Matthew and Mark, renowned scholar J.W. McGarvey made this observation on the ending of Mark:
“Our final conclusion, is that the passage in question is authentic in all its details, and that there is no reason to doubt that it was written by the same hand which indited [sic] the proceeding [sic] parts of this narrative. The objections which have been raised against it are better calculated to shake our confidence in Biblical Criticism than in the genuineness of this inestimable portion of the word of God” (McGarvey, The New Testament Commentary).
What is it that led McGarvey and so many others to this compelling conclusion? One reason is a study of the words employed by John Mark in the last 12 verses of the gospel which bears his name. Textual scholars allege that there are 17 non-markan words that exist in the verses. Henry Alford made this statement: “No less than seventeen words and phrases occur in it (and some of them several times) which are never elsewhere used by Mark--whose adherence to his own peculiar phrases is remarkable” (Alford, Alford’s Greek New Testament). Are we to count the last 12 verses of Mark as spurious because of the appearance of 17 “unoriginal” words by the inspired writer? Certainly not! In 1869, a man by the name of John A. Broadus put this argument to bed when he completed an evaluation of the 12 verses that precede Mark 16:9-20 (Miller, Apologetics Press). Using the Greek text that was available at the time, he found in the 12 verses preceding 16:9-20 the same number of words and phrases that are not used previously by Mark--17! Here are the words along with their citations: tethneiken (15:44), gnous apo, edoreisato, ptoma (15:45), eneileisen, lelatomeimenon, petpas, prosekulisen (15:46), diagenomenou, aromata (16:1), tei mia ton sabbaton (16:2), apokulisei (16:3), anakekulistai, sphodra (16:4), en tois dexiois (16:5), eichen (in a peculiar sense), and tromos (16:8) (Miller, Apologetics Press). The evidence is astounding. McGarvey employed this same technique a few years later for the last 12 verses of Luke’s gospel account. He found nine words that are not used by Luke elsewhere in his book (McGarvey, The New Testament Commentary). That’s quite astonishing since no one has ever called into question the last 12 verses of Luke. EXTERNAL EVIDENCE
The external evidence for Mark 16:9-20 must be considered here. There are plenty of sources that confirm the validity of the last 12 verses in question. 99 percent of Greek manuscripts, including the Alexandrian Manuscript, possess Mark 16:9-20. The Codex Alexandrinus was known to have been in Alexandria for several centuries (Lightfoot, How We Got the Bible). It rivals Vaticanus and Sinaiticus in both accuracy and age--removed probably no more than 50 years (Miller, Apologetics Press). Plus, there were many early church writers who referenced the last 12 verses of Mark in their respective publications. A brief mention of some of them will be mentioned here. Iraneus, who died in 202 A.D., wrote these words in “Against Heresies”: “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” (Roberts, Alexander and James Donaldson). Other witnesses who authenticated the verses include Jerome (420 A.D.), Leo (461 A.D.), Severian (408 A.D.), and Tertullian (220 A.D.). It should be noted that some of these writers counted Mark 16:9-20 as genuine before the existence of the two earliest Greek manuscripts! Although there have been many critics who have spoken against the scripture in question, a host of witnesses have confirmed its validity. The evidence speaks for itself.
What is the conclusion to the matter? The last 12 verses of Mark absolutely belong in the Bible, and the evidence has been established to prove it. Even though the two earliest Greek manuscripts do not include the last part of the gospel account, that is not enough to mark the verses as non-genuine. There are a host of witnesses who confirm the last portion of John Mark’s gospel account as genuine. The Bible student should feel confident in the fact that the entirety of God’s word is truth (Psalm 119:160).
Alford, Henry (1844), Alford’s Greek Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker), 1980 reprint.
Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Codex Sinaiticus.” Encyclopædia Britannica,
Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 15 Mar. 2017, www.britannica.com/topic/Codex-Sinaiticus.
GotQuestions.org. “What Are Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus?” GotQuestions.org, 28 Feb. 2011, www.gotquestions.org/Codex-Sinaiticus-Vaticanus.html.
Guthrie, Donald (1970), New Testament Introduction (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, third edition).
McGarvey, J.W. (1875), The New Testament Commentary: Matthew and Mark (Delight, AR:
Miller, Dave. “Is Mark 16:9-20 Inspired?” ApologeticsPress.org, apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?article=704.
Roberts, Alexander and James Donaldson, eds. (1973 reprint), The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans); Volume 1: The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus.