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LESSON 20: Mark 16:9-20

by Dr. D ~

(Revised 7/12/08)

**Note: All of the modern English versions of the Bible have noted that Mark 16:9-20 is not contained in some of the earliest and most reliable NT manuscripts and verses 9-20 have come to be known as the ‘Longer Ending’ of Mark. But what exactly does that mean for us–for those who believe, read, study, and teach the Bible? Let’s take a look at this issue:

All of the textual critics in the last 50 yrs., who have spent a lifetime looking at the ancient texts in the original languages, have cited problems with the manuscript record of 9-20.  Nearly every major Bible scholar from every major seminary, including all of the Evangelical and conservative schools I am aware of, also observe that there are some problems, though they may disagree on what those problems really are.

Every Bible translation committee of every new English version made in the last 50+ yrs., some with 100’s of respected scholars, have supported some kind of notation about the difficulties in the textual history of verses 9-20.

The earliest mention of 9-20 in early Christian literature comes from Irenaeus (184)  and Tatian’s Diatessaron in 172.  Justin Martyr (160) may have earlier alluded to the passage but that is far from certain. Jerome did include the verses in his Latin Vulgate translation in 383 AD and that was probably one of the primary reasons it was ultimately included in the canon. However, later in life he did observe that many of the Greek manuscripts did not have the verses in question.

The lack of reference to 9-20 before 160 AD is cited as a reason to suspect that the verses were a rather late addition. Those who support the verses, rightly point out that this is only evidence ‘from silence’ and not entirely conclusive.

Many scholars believe that a final page of the original manuscript may have been lost since the Gospel does not seem to end very well at verse 8, while some do hold that the original could well have ended at that verse. Other scholars have observed that the words, style, and content of verses 9-20 seem to have been written by a different author and view the verses as an early attempt to ‘finish’ the Gospel.  They note that Verse 9 seems rather abrupt in its continuation of the story.

To complicate the issue, there is also an alternate ending (called the ‘Shorter Ending’) that appears in some manuscripts. The textual evidence for this ending is even later and weaker–which seems to accentuate and prove that there is some sort of problem with the original text–here’s the entire reading:

“But they reported briefly to Peter and those with him all that they had been told. And after this Jesus himself sent out by means of them, from the east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.”

This does not mean that all these scholars are necessarily correct. In fact, it is all rather subjective and there is little agreement between all of them, except that 9-20 was probably not part of the original.  Also, there are some who champion the verses–here is a link to one Pastor who presents substantial evidence in support of 9-20.

 

Conclusions: Most scholars believe that the original ending may have been lost, if it didn’t end at verse 8, and that these verses  (9-20) could have been a later attempt by someone else to ‘finish’ the Gospel. Presently, we don’t know for sure when these verses became part of the text, and probably never will know this side of Heaven and barring any providential textual discovery.

What does this mean for Christians who believe that the Bible is the Word of God, including the Gospel of Mark?  Should verses 9-20 be taken out of the Holy writ? For all practical purposes, the opinions of all the ‘scholars’ seems to border on that and leave us hanging with what we should do with the verses. Plus, there is no ultimate Christian forum today that can address a canonical issue like this.

 

What I believe and how I believe we should respond to the text:

1.  The verses were part of Mark when it was canonized by the church.

2.  I have preached and ‘teached’ (taught) using this text in the past and will continue to do so– It continues to be part of the canon as far as I am concerned, though the difficulties should always be noted. 

3.  I personally believe that verses 9-20 were probably written in the first century and reflect authentic early Christian apostolic tradition and should continue to be recognized as part of Mark, even if they were probably written by a different author.

4.  I would caution however, that these verses should never be a major ‘stand alone’ text for creating theology and practice. For example, the sects who use snakes in their worship and cite verse 18 are beyond the pale.

 

16:9-20 : The Appearances and Ascension of Jesus

Verses 9-20: Verses 1-8 record the Resurrection Sunday events through the eyes of the women ( Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome)  who came early to tomb to prepare the body of Jesus. While the major emphasis and focus of Verses 9-16 are the appearances and the ascension of the resurrected Lord.

Vs. 9  The verse seems to bring a rather abrupt change of direction. While verses 1-8 record the experiences of three women with the angel at the tomb. Verse 9 singles out Mary Magdalene as having a direct encounter with the resurrected Lord.  Other Gospel Records:  Matt. 28:1-10 has the same order of events as Mark but records that “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary” went to the tomb and encountered the angel and then both later met Jesus. Luke 24:1-11 mentions that the women came to the tomb and saw two angels but doesn’t record the appearance of Jesus to the them. John records for us a more complete account of the events of the day in John 20. In Gospel of John, Mary Magdalene encountered the Lord during a second trip to the tomb while she lingered and wept outside. 

Mary Magdalene- “from whom he had cast out seven demons.” Interestingly, the mention of the ’seven demons’ in connection with Mary Magdalene is information that was never given earlier in Mark. This is cited by many as one of the examples in 9-20 that may indicate that ‘the longer ending’ probably had a different author, than the rest of the Gospel, that depended on other sources.  It is mentioned Luke 8:2.

Vs. 10-11  Though earlier in verse 8, the women didn’t tell anyone because they were afraid, here Mary Magdalene boldly tells the disciples that she has seen Jesus but they do not believe her.

It is interesting, given the prevailing culture, that Jesus appeared to a woman first. In first century Judea, the testimony of a woman was not respected or considered to be equal to the word of a man. It still is that way in the Muslim Middle East.

Vs. 12-13  Here the appearance to two traveling on the road is mentioned. The whole story is recorded in Luke: 24:13-35. The disciples don’t believe them either.

Vs. 14  Jesus finally appears to the eleven and rebukes them for their unbelief.

Vs. 15-16  Here a shorter version of The Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20) is given: “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation”.

Whoever ‘believes’ and “does not believe” is the major issue in verse 16. Those who don’t believe cannot be saved but are condemned.

Secondarily, I believe that the verse supports the importance of following the command to be baptized. Baptism should naturally follow belief and commitment to Jesus. The Great Commission in Matt. 28:18-20 records that his servants are called to:

1. Make disciples of all nations

2. Baptize

3. Teach them to observe the commandments

Notice that Baptism, in the Matthew ‘Commission’, has a prominent part to play in the discipleship process according to Jesus.

So many seem to de-emphasize the importance of baptism. It has become an after thought and a once-a-year practice in many churches today. It is probably a reaction to some of the sects and cults (like the Mormons) who teach that baptism is necessary for salvation.

Unfortunately, some try to use verse 16 as a text for proving their view of Baptism– as necessary for salvation.  Again, the verse should not be twisted in that way, the central subject is “believes” and “does not believe”. It doesn’t say that those who are not baptized are condemned, but those who do not ‘believe’.  

Vs. 17-18  The promise of ‘signs’ is distinctive to the longer ending and is not found in any other Gospel. It is reflective of the experience of the early church in Apostolic times as recorded in the book of Acts and in church history. Many of us today believe that the church should continue to reflect apostolic practices and teachings.  

Casting out demons and the gift of Tongues (Acts 2) were a major feature of the early apostolic church. Paul was bitten by a poisonous snake and survived (Acts 28:4-5). He healed the sick through laying on of hands (Acts 28:8-9) along with others, and James says to call for the elders (James 5:14-15).

While drinking deadly poison is never mentioned in scripture, there are stories and traditions about early Christians being forced to drink poison and surviving which are alluded to early Christian literature.

Vs. 19  Here the ascension of Jesus is recorded. It also mentioned in Luke 24:51 and Acts 1:9-11.  Jesus  ‘at the right hand of God’ was also observed by Stephen as he was being martyred in Acts 7:56 (though Jesus was standing in that case).

“At the right hand of God” -symbolizes and demonstrates the divine authority that Jesus shares with God the Father.

Vs. 20  Mark 16:9-20 ends with a clear response by the disciples. They went out and followed through by preaching the Gospel everywhere. Also, miraculous signs supported their message and ministry.

Many in Charismatic and Pentecostal circles today observe that Jesus continues to personally work with his church. Also, that he continues bless us with signs, wonders, and healings which accompany and confirm the preaching of the Gospel today in all the World. Therefore, for many Christians, the message of Mark 16:15-20 continues to be confirmed in the life of the church.

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2 Responses to LESSON 20: Mark 16:9-20

  1. Ken Francis

    Dr. D.,
    Recently I looked up Mark 16: 9-20 for a little more study. I found that I was reading the Schofield Study Bible, and on passages 17 & 18 it said that the aorist rendering of the Greek word for ” believe ” indicates that these ” signs ” were only valid up to that time and before ( this may not be the exact wording, but as I do not own a Schofield Study Bible it is from memory ). I have my own thoughts on this, but would welcome a response.

  2. James Snapp, Jr.

    Just noting that the URL for my online defense of Mark 16:9-20 has changed slightly; it now begins at
    http://www.curtisvillechristianchurch.org/MarkOne.htm .
    Additional resources about Mark 16:9-20 and about New Testament textual criticism in general are also at the website.

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