Book Review - Perspectives on the Ending of Mark: 4 Views

Image of Perspectives on the Ending of Mark: Four Views
by Maurice Robinson, Darrell L. Bock, Keith Elliott, Daniel Wallace
B&H Academic 2008
Paperback 160

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.

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[node:bio/greg-wilson body]

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There are 7 Comments

juitdeflesch's picture

I guess it would be tough to preach on verses that you aren't sure are actually verses.  The problem is that English translations still include verses that they don't think are verses (end of Mark, I John 5:7, etc.).  I find it quite dishonest that they will change their translations greatly based on different texts, but then insert verses that those same texts deem to be spurious. 

 

My pastor began his textual journey when he went to preach a sermon in Korean, and realized the verse he was going to preach on wasn't in the (C.T.) Korean translation!  Talk about a problem. 

 

He and I both have concluded that Critical Texts are corrupted, rather than the other way around.  No longer do we wonder...Hey! is this verse that I'm reading in my Bible really supposed to be in my Bible?  That is no way to preach with authority!

John Uit de Flesch

Joel Tetreau's picture

John,

Hey - if you are close-minded on the topic, God bless you as you plow in your corner of the vineyard. If you are open-minded and can handle it - I would encourage you to interact with James White and Dr. Price (who taught at Ten. Temple Seminary for years and was on the OT committee for the NKJV) - both of them demonstrate the view that the CT must be far more reliable then the MT or TR view.  For me it's a matter of antiquity, a variety of witness in different locations that point to the superiority of the CT (technically I prefer an ecclectic text) vs. a Roman held dominant TR/MT whose variants often smack of a vulgate leaning text-type. I understand and have heard the MT/TR side and if you are convinced and the book is shut in your mind, than God bless you. I would also encourage you and any others here at SI who view this the way you do to read Dr. Combs article entitle, "Errors in the King James" - I think it was published around 1999 in the Detroit Baptist Theological Journal. He does a solid job dealing with these issues.

Straight Ahead!

jt

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Bible Church (sevbc.org); Regional Coordinator for IBL West (iblministry.com), Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

SamH's picture

the sweet smell of conspiracy. Well, since the OP is a clear post about whether we should use the Critical Text or not, [someone whispers in my ear]...Oh, this is not really a MT versus CT post? You mean it is about the <i>difficulty</i> of dealing honestly with <i>difficult</i> textual issues? Oh, well never mind then... I was hoping for a good "MT vs. CT" row. I know, I know: Perhaps those who decide for<i>either</i> reading for the ending of Mark are "dishonest?" There, that settles it--I now no longer have to "wonder." Next problem please.

SamH

Mike Harding's picture

Greg,

 

Thanks for the helpful review.  I lean toward Wallace's explanation. 

Pastor Mike Harding

James K's picture

I enjoyed this book.  I leaned toward the shorter ending going into it, but found Maurice Robinson's explanation much more reasonable and sound.  I have since changed to agree with him.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

J Ng's picture

juitdeflesch wrote:

I guess it would be tough to preach on verses that you aren't sure are actually verses.  The problem is that English translations still include verses that they don't think are verses (end of Mark, I John 5:7, etc.).  I find it quite dishonest that they will change their translations greatly based on different texts, but then insert verses that those same texts deem to be spurious. 

>> Not that it would change anyone's mind or anything, but the original KJB translators are know to have inserted textual notes, which may cause consternation to their modern-day Onlyist advocates.

 http://www.bible.ca/kjv-1611-version-margin-notes-luke-17-36.jpg

My pastor began his textual journey when he went to preach a sermon in Korean, and realized the verse he was going to preach on wasn't in the (C.T.) Korean translation!  Talk about a problem. 

>> Imagine him trying to preach from Jude 25 and dealing with the KJB's omission of Jesus' messiahship, mediatorship, eternality, and Lordship.

He and I both have concluded that Critical Texts are corrupted, rather than the other way around.  No longer do we wonder...Hey! is this verse that I'm reading in my Bible really supposed to be in my Bible?  That is no way to preach with authority!

>> Seems certitude is always better, even a false certitude.

Wayne Wilson's picture

I happened to be visiting Grace Community Church last year to support a missionary candidate being ordained in a Sunday Evening service.  It turned out to be the night John MacArthur was preaching his final sermon completing the entire New Testament.  It was on the ending of Mark's gospel, and I found it a very compelling defense of Mark 16:8 as the correct ending of Mark.   It was interesting, however, to see John conclude his lifetime work on a passage that he didn't consider authentic!  Still, he did a great job and certainly demonstrated how to handle a difficult textual situation that left the listener with full confidence in the Bible.    

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