Why I Won't Preach Mark 16:9-20

Textual criticism is a highly technical discipline. Ordinary pastors can’t hope to know everything about the subject. But, they can pay attention in Seminary and read enough to be familiar with the basic issues. The congregation has notes in their margins or footnotes, telling them all about Acts 8:37, John 7:53 - 8:11, John 5:7-8 and Mark 16:9-20. A pastor needs to know enough to answer the more obvious questions these footnotes will generate.

In my opinion, these are some very useful tools to help:

Making it real for ordinary Christians

Even if you do manage to grasp the basics of textual criticism, how does a pastor explain this to a congregation? Below, I provide one example of how I tried to do just that. I recently finished a 39-part series through the Gospel of Mark. I don’t believe Mark 16:9-20 is authentic. The notes in the congregation’s Bibles suggest the same. What to do!?

I decided to do a bulletin insert, and not mention textual critical issues it at all during the sermon - I just said I was ending at Mark 16:8 and I did just that. I promised to do a special class (either on a Sunday evening or during adult bible study) explaining text and transmission principles within a month or so.

This bulletin insert has no footnotes, and tries to compress some very complicated issues in a fair way. If you’re looking for a learned treatise, look elsewhere. If you’re disappointed because I didn’t present the “other side,” see my previous caveat. This is simply a bulletin insert for people who have never heard any of this before (I minister in this congregation, so I know this to be true!). Briefly, I believe internal and external evidence suggests Mark 16:9-20 is not authentic. If this approach (below) is helpful, then perhaps you can adapt something similar for use in your own ministry.

Here is the bulletin insert …

Why I won’t preach Mark 16:9-20

Mark ended his Gospel at 16:8. The rest of Ch. 16 was written later by believing Christians, but it isn’t what Mark wrote. That’s why your Bible probably has brackets around Mk 16:9-20, and a note in the margins or at the bottom of the page that says the section isn’t original. This is why I’m ending the series on Mark’s Gospel here, at Mark 16:8, rather than going on.

How did this happen?

People love the Bible. Before the printing press was invented in the 16th century, they had to copy it by hand. That means they made mistakes when they copied it. It also means there were lots of copies of different parts of the Bible floating around that had lots of little mistakes.

Since the church began, people have been copying different books of the bible to send to friends, relatives or interested people. In the first few centuries of the church, the “language of the world” was Greek. So, people copied it in Greek. These copies went everywhere, and more copies kept being made everywhere it went. This was God’s plan. Because so many people had so many copies, and so many copies kept being made around the Mediterranean, it wasn’t possible for a sinister group to “control” the Bible. It exploded over the world like a virus (but, a good virus!); uncontrollable and spreading like wildfire.

When scholars translate the New Testament, they need copies of the New Testament books in Greek from which to translate. They find these in printed compilations of the entire Greek New Testament. Scholars compile these Greek New Testaments from the various manuscripts of different books they find. Using their network of like-minded friends and colleagues, they look for all the manuscripts they can buy or borrow, and use them to compile a complete Greek New Testament. By comparing all the manuscript copies, they can usually tell if a word (or passage) is wrong here or there.

But, the problem is that this was a lot harder 500 years ago than it is now. So, they had a lot less to work with back then, when the first complete Greek New Testament compilations came out. If you have less material with which to compile a Greek New Testament, you won’t have the full picture. This is why Mark 16:9-20 was in the Tyndale, Geneva and King James translations, but it isn’t in your modern one, today.

The limited material scholars found 500 years ago showed that Mark 16:9-20 was real. So, it was in the earliest English bible translations. But, as the centuries went by and more and more manuscripts were discovered, and more material was available for comparison, scholars realized how limited their information had been. The fuller evidence showed some passages (don’t worry, just a few!) weren’t real. Look at Acts 8:37 and John 7:53 – 8:11; you’ll see the same kind of note that’s in your bible at Mark 16:9-20. Verse numberings were only invented by a helpful Bible publisher in 1551. After scholars realized some passages (already assigned verse numbers!) weren’t original, they couldn’t very well remove them and re-number everything, could they!?

Why is Mark 16:9-20 not what Mark wrote?

There are a bunch of reasons. When dealing with questions like this, scholars usually consider two main questions:

  1. what kind of manuscripts is the passage found in (how many, how old are they, are there different variations, etc.)?
  2. does the passage fit the immediate context and the rest of the book?

On the first point, when scholars look at all the manuscripts they’ve found over the past 500+ years, there are actually four different endings for Mark’s Gospel:

  1. It ends at Mark 16:8. This is probably the original ending, and it’s found in the earliest manuscripts and in the earliest Christian writings.
  2. It only has a few verses after Mark 16:8. None of these are in your bibles because they’re obviously not real.
  3. It has Mark 16:9-20. None of the earliest manuscripts have this, nor do the earliest Christians writings (including Gospel compilations!) ever mention it.
  4. It has Mark 16:9-20 with some additional verses inserted between v.14 and v.15.

The fact that there are so many different “endings” shows you a lot of people tried to write endings to Mark’s Gospel over the centuries. Good people probably wrote these “alternative endings” because, well … Mark 16:8 sort of leaves you hanging! It just … ends.

On the second point, one other important reason why Mark 16:9-20 isn’t real is that, honestly … it’s just weird and doesn’t make sense! It says a lot of strange things, and some of them are heretical:

  • 16:9 begins with Jesus rising from the dead, but Mark already talked about that (Mk 16:6)
  • 16:10-13 are hurried summaries of accounts from Luke and Matthew, but Mark probably wrote His Gospel first
  • Mk 16:16 says baptism is required for salvation
  • Mk 16:17 says all believers will have the power to cast out demons, but Jesus only gave this power to the apostles and some disciples
  • Mk 16:18 says believers can handle deadly snakes, which is … weird
  • Mk 16:18 says believers are immune from deadly poisons, which … is not true! Did you get your flu shot, ye of little faith!?
  • The whole section is rushed, hurried, and written in a totally different style. The real Mark takes his time and gives details. This section (16:9-20) is like a CliffsNotes version of the real thing.

So, this is the very short answer to why Mark 16:9-20 isn’t real, and how it could have happened. If you want to know more, you should read A Christian’s Pocket Guide to How We Got the Bible, by Gregory Lanier. It’s a little book that’s only 128 pages. You can buy it from Amazon.com for $7.99. Or, you can go to netbible.org, find Mark 16:9, and read the study note you’ll find there. Whatever you do, don’t go to YouTube for answers on this. You may not survive …

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There are 21 Comments

JNoël's picture

TylerR wrote:

None of the earliest manuscripts have this

I have never understood this reasoning. Time-based arguments are tricky, and the way we determine textual authenticity revolves much around the issue of timing. The earliest manuscripts that matter the most are the originals. Anything but the original involves human reasoning to determine authenticity. What matters more than earliest, non-autograph extant is quantity of extant and how many of them are in agreement. Time does matter, but if the church was using manuscripts for hundreds of years that contained information, then that carries a lot of weight with it when compared to the discovery of a few manuscripts that do not. Why do the older manuscripts still exist? Perhaps because they were not used because the church deemed them inferior? Yes, this is just another form of textual criticism (I'm not anti-textual criticism), but it is more logical than simply assuming the oldest extant is the best.

TylerR wrote:

Mk 16:16 says baptism is required for salvation

And so do Acts 2:38, Acts 8:35-38, and 1 Peter 3:21, yet we have all agreed that these passages must not be teaching that baptism is required for salvation or that they are teaching some baptism other than the human act to submit to water immersion, because we interpret the unclear in light of the clear.

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

TylerR's picture


David: NKJV is based on TR. I have heard Dan Wallace say Art Farstad was adament on this approach to the NKJV. So I'm not surprised it has that note.

JNoel: Earliest aren't always better; this is why reasoned eclectism considers internal and external evidence. If we wanted to just count manuscripts, Farstad/Hodges and Robinson/Pierpoint have already done that for us. Regarding Acts 2:38, there are exegetical issues there that have been well-trod by Greek nerds for some time.

The point is that this is one way (a bulletin insert) to deal with textual issues as a busy pastor.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

Bert Perry's picture

As others have hinted, it would have come as news to the thief on the cross near Jesus, no?  (my actual response to a Lutheran friend arguing this point)  Definitely the context of the full scripture comes to bear, but you've also got the reality that in Mark 16:16, it is he who "does not believe" who will not be saved (baptism not mentioned in second phrasing), 1 Peter 3:21 makes very clear that the immersion being written about is no ordinary bath, and Acts 2:35-8 states it more as a command than a requirement.  

Perhaps some of the confusion was that in that day, the Church needed a real sign that someone was serious about the matter and wouldn't go bouncing off to the Sanhedrin or Roman authorities at the drop of a hat?  Not sure.

Regarding Mark 16:9-20, I may have heard teaching on this, but suffice it to say that even the KJVO "pastors" I've known generally avoid the passage because it simply raises too many charismatic questions.  The textual issues probably come into play as well for those not convinced of KJVO.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture


Hopefully this article doesn't degenerate into minutae of textual critical theories. This is one reason why I initially wasn't going to post it. My basic point is this:

  • every printed text is the result of textual decisions,
  • your congregation has footnotes that tell them all about these variants,
  • so what are you going to do about it?

Will you pretend there's nothing to see here? Will you give them a false sense of security by telling them to "just trust" a particular translation? Do you have the courage to engage these issues as best you can when you come across them?

  • If you're a MT guy, then take that position! 
  • If you're a critical text guy, then have at it
  • If you're a TR guy, then advocate for it - just please be fair and don't use Sam Gipp's resources!

Whatever you do, just do something and do it fairly. Your congregation needs to know what to make of those pesky footnotes!

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

JNoël's picture

TylerR wrote:

Hopefully this article doesn't degenerate into minutae of textual critical theories. This is one reason why I initially wasn't going to post it. My basic point is this:

  • every printed text is the result of textual decisions,
  • your congregation has footnotes that tell them all about these variants,
  • so what are you going to do about it?

Will you pretend there's nothing to see here? Will you give them a false sense of security by telling them to "just trust" a particular translation? Do you have the courage to engage these issues as best you can when you come across them?

  • If you're a MT guy, then take that position! 
  • If you're a critical text guy, then have at it
  • If you're a TR guy, then advocate for it - just please be fair and don't use Sam Gipp's resources!

Whatever you do, just do something and do it fairly. Your congregation needs to know what to make of those pesky footnotes!

I totally agree, Tyler - I definitely don't want it to digress in that direction, either. The only reason I posted is that no one has ever explained to me why "older is better" actually makes any sense (because it doesn't), even though it is so often references as a reason to choose one over another.

I completely agree with your approach on difficult passages like this; there are plenty of others (eschatological ones, especially).

Another option I have enjoyed is not often employed in a Sunday Morning worship service, but, rather, in more of a PM or Wednesday study-type service, where the pastor dares to actually fairly represent varying scholarly opinions on a topic that is reasonably open to debate (1 Timothy 2:15, for example). I think a wise pastor better educates his congregation by humbly explaining varying opinions, even though he himself (wisely) chooses one of them because of his own conclusions based on reasoned study. It is unwise to be dogmatic about every single verse.


Thanks again, Tyler. I very much enjoyed the article.

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

TylerR's picture


Dan Wallace's lay-level lectures on textual criticism from Credo House are very helpful. They helped me understand a lot about this approach. Porter and Pitt's book is also the best book I've read on this. Of course, it's very introductory. But, I find that's about all I need. The absolute best education, I believe, is to know Koine Greek and struggle with translating passages. Weighing internal evidence becomes very real when you have variant readings while translating. It makes things "real" in a way that nothing else can.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

Darrell Post's picture

Each variant reading needs to be studied on its own, as there is no overall principle that one can apply against every variant that insures one has the right reading. Often older is better, but it depends on the nature of the variant and a host of principles that may be summed up in the phrase, "Which reading best explains the rise of the other?" But sometimes even this question can go either way. Similarly, 1000 hand-written copies of an error gives you 1000 errors, not the correct reading due to majority status. Each variant must be weighed. Then there are examples where both the older witnesses and the later (MT) witnesses are split in half.

I have worked on enough manuscripts to know that every manuscript of reasonable length will have at least one nonsense reading. For instance, the scribe completed a page writing lo- intending to start logos and finish it on the next page. He turns the page and writes logos, resulting in the nonsense reading "lologos." If this happens in the most ancient witness to a verse, then its obviously wrong and should be disregarded in favor of later manuscripts. Another example. The most ancient witnesses read IC (the shortened version of "Jesus"), and then later witnesses begin to read KC (kurios) instead, and still later witnesses conflate the two and read KC IC. In this instance, the latest ones are most certainly wrong, and the greater probability is the earliest ones that read IC are correct.

There are many examples out there of later witnesses that add words that would naturally and logically follow, but were not included in the earliest witnesses. Just in John 11 there are 13 examples of this, not even including the additions of definite articles (addition shown in parenthesis):

11:2 - several manuscripts add "the hairs (of her head)"

11:6 - a few manuscripts add "when (Jesus) heard" to give an expressed subject.

11:7 - a number of manuscripts add "the disciples (of him)" 

11:8 - a few manuscripts add "the disciples (of him)" 

11:10 - at least one manuscript adds "the light (of the world)"

11:16 - a few manuscripts add "to the disciples (of him)"

11:17 - several manuscripts add "then Jesus came (unto Bethany)"

11:27 - a few manuscripts add "you are the Christ, the Son of (the living) God"

11:33 - a few manuscripts add "(Jesus) groaned in his spirit" providing an expressed subject.

11:44 - a few manuscripts add "and believed on him (on account of Lazarus).

11:47 - several manuscripts add "therefore the chief priests and the Pharisees assembled a council (against Jesus).

11:49 - several manuscripts add "therefore one of them (named) Caiphas..."

11:55 - several manuscripts add "and it was near the Passover (feast) of the Jews"

This shows how manuscripts tend to grow. None of the above examples are the reading of the Majority Text. But they illustrate how manuscripts do grow. However, there are a few examples in John 11 that go the other way, where the majority is shorter, and fewer, earlier ones are longer:

11:44 - a few early manuscripts include an extra pronoun: "loose him, and let (him) go." The vast majority of manuscripts are shorter, and do not include the second auton

NT Textual Criticism is a very technical field, and there are no shortcuts. I encourage everyone to spend some time working on an actual manuscript as it is a very eye-opening and enriching experience. Years ago you would have to travel to do this. Now you can sit in your lazy-boy chair with your laptop and internet connection and look at most of the 5000+ witnesses to the Greek NT.


TylerR's picture


You're right about the need to not travel. I was looking at Codex Alexandrinus last night, thinking I'd use a photo of it to accompany the article. CSNTM has a wonderful archive. Anyone who wants to can be educmacated.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

Darrell Post's picture


In addition to the CSNTM, one can now access the Virual Manuscript Room of the INTF:


Here one can access thousands of microfilm images of manuscripts. If I had to render a guess, I would say about 90% of the majuscules and minuscules known to exist have photos available here, while about 50% of Lectionaries known to exist have photos available. 

The wikipedia pages are also helpful to know where to find manuscript images:








Ron Bean's picture

I certainly not a KJVO but but the seemingly erased portion in Sinaiticus always troubled me considering it's the only one like it in the text.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Ed Vasicek's picture

I agree that the longer ending of Mark was probably not original with Mark.

Luke 1:1 suggests that there were many written Gospels. By saying that he (Luke) was undertaking his Gospel to present an accurate account so that Theophilus could be certain about what he believed has some implications. It suggests that these other "many" accounts (obviously excepting Mark and Matthew -- and John was yet future) contained some inaccuracies (in contrast to Luke's carefully documented approach).

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

It is quite possible that Mark's longer ending -- and the account of the woman taken in adultery which appears sometimes in one of the synoptics (can't remember which) and sometimes in John -- might be either accurate or inaccurate accounts spliced in from these other Gospels.

The woman taken in adultery and the longer ending of Mark both present their textual challenges.  And we cannot escape the judgment call.  I too, am skeptical about Mark's ending, but, because the woman taken in adultery seemed to be highly valued among the early believers (and had to be spliced in somewhere), I tend to think it is legit.

Back to Mark, it seems likely that his original ending was lost (cutting it off with vs. 9 is abrupt), so that could have served as a motivation for the splice.

I mention it as POSSIBLE, but don't really address it much when I get to that part of the text.

Some manuscripts have an extra verse at the end which could have been the original ending or another splice or someone's notes: [NASB]:

[And they promptly reported all these instructions to Peter and his companions. And after that, Jesus Himself sent out through them from east to west the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.]


"The Midrash Detective"

Darrell Post's picture

I agree with Ed about Mark's ending that its a judgment call, but not likely the original ending of Mark. One of the challenges with the ending of Mark is the fact that the last pages of any manuscript are the most likely to be lost due to wear. If an early witness to Mark lost its last page, it would explain why other endings might have arisen as scribes copied from the damaged manuscript. Even so, the evidence for the longer endings of Mark, as a whole, are a bit stronger than the pericope adulterae. The first time this appears anywhere extant is Codex Bezae, an erratic manuscript known for extra long additions. And the PA was very slow to gain ground. It appears in several manuscripts of Luke's gospel, and so it seems like this ancient account was looking for a permanent home. By my count, even by the tenth century, it is found in only half of the manuscripts dated to that century. I tend to think that it may well be a true ancient account that was preserved from a non-Scriptural source and then found its way into John's gospel eventually. I would not preach it as authoritative Scripture because it does not appear to have been in the Text penned by the Apostle John. 

JNoël's picture

All this talk has resurrected memories of another conversation that is related to Tyler's article - inerrancy, and what it really means to us.

We rightfully proclaim inerrancy in the autographs, of course. But what use is the doctrine of inerrancy if we do not have the autographs? The various points of conversation in this very thread validate this reality: inerrancy is irrelevant.

Besides, we were never told to convince unbelievers that the Bible is God's word - we were commanded to proclaim the Gospel. God does the rest. Once the Spirit opens the eyes of an unbeliever and he turns from his sin and turns to Christ and God transforms him, his eternity is sealed. He, like all of us, have God's Word to teach us all we need for life and all we need for godly living. It doesn't really matter if we have a Bible that may, seemingly, contradict itself at times (it never does in areas that matter), and it doesn't really matter if we don't have the autographs, either. God will complete his sanctifying work in his timing, even if we don't have those autographs. Our lives must always be characterized by faith, and trusting that the Bibles we have in our hands are exactly what we need, from Genesis to Revelation, is part of that.

Those of you who are pastors have the awesome privilege of helping us lay-people understand the sense of scripture. You do so through your professional, occupational-level, Spirit-filled study, and we are grateful to have men who are skilled in the Word. I am thankful for my pastors, and I am thankful for those of you who are doing the same - faithfully and humbly proclaiming the Word.

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

Ed Vasicek's picture

JNoel wrote:

We rightfully proclaim inerrancy in the autographs, of course. But what use is the doctrine of inerrancy if we do not have the autographs?

Textual variants are a tiny percent of Scripture. What we do have is as good as the originals, IMO, with the exception of those few variants (the two biggest passages are the two we have discussed, Mark's longer ending and the woman taken in adultery).  Almost all the others are spelling errors, the addition or ommission of an article (like "the") etc. Quoting Norman Geisler: 

Greek expert Ezra Abbott said about 19/20 (95 percent) of the readings are “various” rather than “rival” readings, and about 19/20 (95 percent) of the rest make no appreciable difference in the sense of the passage. Thus the text is 99.75 percent accurate.

[source: https://normangeisler.com/a-note-on-the-percent-of-accuracy-of-the-new-t...

"The Midrash Detective"

Darrell Post's picture

The point of NT textual criticism is to recover as nearly as possible the wording of the original autographs. For the most part, this has been achieved. Much of the NT is not even in dispute, and most variants are not even of substance, or would even translate into English. For instance, the inclusion or omission of the definite article in a place where it wouldn't even be translated ("...answered and said to [the] Jesus...") Many variations are that of word order, where the actual words are not in dispute, just the order in which they appear in Greek. Yes, there are some places in the NT where there is serious doubt as to the original reading. But the vast majority of verses are stable and not in dispute. 

Years ago I sat through a seminar led by Dan Wallace where two separate groups of ordinary lay people who didn't know a bit of Greek were given scraps of paper with readings of an ancient (non-biblical) text. Each of the two groups were divided into sub-groups to study the fragments, using canons of textual criticism they were shown to evaluate and draw conclusions. Each group was competing to win--get as close as they could to restoring the correct text--and so what a shock it was when each group presented their restored texts to Wallace and found them to be identical, and then a great cheer went up when Wallace announced that the restored texts were perfectly correct.

I am not saying that Textual Critics have perfectly restored the NT, but I am saying it is a lot closer to restored than many may think. I am of the opinion that at least in the NT, we do not have to resort to conjectural emendation in any variant reading. The true original readings are either in the text or the apparatus below it. There are still readings that are essentially coin-tosses with the information currently available. But the principles used to evaluate the data are sound principles, and so in my opinion the inerrancy of Scripture is not compromised. 





TylerR's picture


I have heard Wallace give this anecdote a few times, and on those occasions he said he gave them the Gettysburg Address to reconstruct!

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

Darrell Post's picture

The text we had was from the Gospel of Thomas if I recall correctly, and it was by no means easy to reconstruct. From what I recall, both teams had moments when those around the table voted which way to go, and sometimes it was like 6-3. Neither team expected at all to perfectly get the original. But both did. 

T Howard's picture

This coming Sunday, I'm preaching Jude 22-25.  Jude 22-23 contains several noteworthy textual variants. Here is what I'm planning on saying about this passage:


Brief discussion on textual variants affecting verses 22–23.

The Bible we hold in our hands is translated from numerous Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. For the New Testament alone, we have over 5,800 Greek manuscripts in addition to tens of thousands of early translations into other languages. Each of these manuscripts contains differences or variants. At least 75% of these variants are just differences in spelling. Other variants involve differences in word order or the use of synonyms.

The smallest category of variants include meaningful and viable variants. These comprise less than 1% of all textual variants. Yet, even here, no cardinal belief is at stake. These variants do affect what a particular passage teaches, and thus what the Bible says in that place, but they do not jeopardize essential beliefs.

In Jude 22–23, we find one of these meaningful and viable variants. In our case, there are more than 10 different textual variants contained in these two verses. However, most commentators lump these variants into two groups.

The Greek manuscripts used by the King James and New King James translations divide verses 22–23 into two clauses:

Jude 22–23 (NKJV) “And on some have compassion, making a distinction; 23 but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.”

The Greek manuscripts used by the majority of modern English translations divide verses 22–23 into three clauses:

Jude 22–23 (ESV) “And have mercy on those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.”

Because of the numerous textual variants involved, it is difficult to be absolutely certain about which reading is to be preferred. Most of the commentaries I consulted preferred the longer reading, and that is the reading reflected in the ESV.

Regardless of which reading one prefers, Jude’s exhortation is basically the same: we must be responsive to those caught in the grips of false teaching.

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