I am preaching through the Gospel of Mark. From the outset, I knew I had to decide how I was going to approach the last 12 verses. In the past, the question of when does Mark’s Gospel end would not have been a problem. Preaching from the King James to people reading the King James doesn’t necessitate an explanation. Other than that part about handling snakes I mean. And drinking poison (Mark 16:18). Besides, I could just camp on Mark 16:15 and be done with it. That was then. This is now. For a number of reasons I preach from the NASB. My folks carry a variety of translations. The NIV makes a clear distinction separating vs. 8 from vss. 9-20. Most of the others simply use brackets with a footnote. In preparation I read this book edited by David Alan Black, who also served as one of the contributors.
Let’s start with the issue at hand. “Since the two most reliable early manuscripts do not have Mark 16:9-20” (as per the NIV) are the last 12 verses of the Gospel of Mark authentic? Does Mark end his Gospel at verse 8, as all the modern translations seem to suggest or did he end at verse 20, the so-called long ending (LE), as the majority of manuscripts do? I assumed it was an either or question, who knew there were four possible views! This book did a very good job of differentiating between them.
2 views that say Yes, the long ending is the right ending
Maurice Robinson is Senior Professor of New Testament at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of The New Testament in the Original Greek. He is an advocate of the Majority Text view. He argues that Mark 16:9-20 is original. His is the traditional view that there is not enough evidence to the contrary to doubt the authenticity of the LE. You would think that his presentation would be the most easy to defend, given that his is the position with the most history behind it. Yet, he muddies the water by weaving his points around some century old poem. His defense made some very strong points, but ultimately left me unconvinced. (I’m not saying I am unconvinced the LE is authentic, just that he didn’t convince me.)
David Alan Black is Professor of New Testament and Greek at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Learn to Read New Testament Greek and New Testament Textual Criticism. By the way, all these chapters were originally from a conference held at the aforementioned seminary. Black takes the view that the LE was written by Mark, but at a later date. “I am absolutely convinced that the Longer Ending is original based on the external evidence, and that it deserves the canonical status it has enjoyed throughout church history” (p. 103). He believes that the reason for the omissions in some of the manuscripts is because Mark’s original writing was composed as a record of Peter’s teachings (which validated the existing Gospels of Matthew and Luke). After Peter’s martyrdom “as an act of piety to the memory of Peter, Mark then decided to publish an edition of the text that would include the necessary sequel to the passion and death of the Master” (p. 120). Black argues a very interesting, but highly speculative theory to arrive at this conclusion.
2 views that say No, the long ending is not the right ending
Daniel B. Wallace argues for Mark 16:8 as being the conclusion to the second Gospel. Wallace is Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary and the author of Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. The question “which is more likely- that scribes would intentionally omit vv. 9-20 or that they would add these verses?” (p. 10) forms the basis for his examination of the external evidence. As do the others, he also deals with the witness of the church fathers. “The patristic testimony thus reveals a very interesting trend: from the earliest discussion on the authenticity of this passage, the fathers indicate that most of the copies of Mark ended at 16:8” (p. 24). As far as internal evidence, Wallace argues that Mark may have intentionally ended with the women being afraid because of the place fear (or amazement) played in the second Gospel.
For me, J. Keith Elliott’s position was the most problematic (or should I say disturbing?).
Elliott is Professor of New Testament Textual Criticism at the University of Leeds. He is the author of Manuscripts and the Text of the New Testament. He believes that the original ending was lost. Mark didn’t mean to end at verse 8, but we don’t have the ending. That idea doesn’t cause him any consternation, but inerrancy certainly does. “The textual problems at the end of Mark and indeed the fluid text in much of the New Testament as a whole make talk of inerrancy, as narrowly defined by some, indefensible” (p. 99). “The sooner that the language of inerrancy is dropped in the context of textual criticism the better it will be for scholarship” (p. 101).
Another Dallas Seminary professor, Darrell L. Bock provides a concluding response to the four essays. He is upfront that he believes that Mark ended his Gospel at verse 8. “Mark’s ending matches the circumstances of his readers: the Resurrection is proclaimed and the only remaining issue is what will the one who hears about the Resurrection do with a risen Jesus. Mark’s ending assumes that the women did emerge from their silence and fear to believe and proclaim” (p. 140). He acknowledges all of the authors look at the external and internal evidence and come to vastly different conclusions. “The problem of Mark’s ending is complex. All the elements of textual criticism are in play: external evidence, internal evidence, the views of the versions and fathers, and what Mark himself was trying to do” (p. 140).
Since it is fairly technical, I wouldn’t recommend this book to my average church member. But as a pastor (and not a scholar), I did find it helpful as I prepare my final sermon on Mark’s Gospel. This book demonstrates the difficulty of being completely objective. The contributors examine the same evidences (both external and internal) and arrive at vastly different conclusions. As I prepare my final sermon on Mark, I will proceed cautiously. I hope to demonstrate that the mention of the manuscript evidence is a positive element in that it honestly addresses the issue in such a way as to reinforce our confidence in the translation process.
Greg Wilson was raised in a Christian home and led to the Lord at a young age by his father. He has been in full-time Christian ministry since graduating from Midwestern Baptist College (Pontiac, MI) in 1981. He has been married to Sharon for 29 years and they have two married daughters, a nineteen-year-old son and two grandsons. He has been the pastor of the Community Bible Church (Palmyra, PA) since 1998. His website is fromthebook.org.