The Last Verses of Mark (Mark 16:9-20)

Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16).

Do these verses belong in the Bible?  Are they genuine?  Many do not believe that they are.  Three major arguments are set forth against these verses: (1) Two ancient manuscripts, the Vaticanus and the Sinaiticus, do not contain these verses.  (2) The vocabulary is different from the rest of the book of Mark.  These verses contain 17 words not found elsewhere in this book.  (3) It is alleged that Eusebius denied the canonicity of these verses.

Here is a response to these arguments: (1) While it is true that the fourth century manuscripts – Vaticanus and Sinaiticus – do not contain these verses, “the vast majority of Greek mms. do contain Mk. 16:9-20” (ed. Terry Hightower, A Handbook of bible Translation, p. 690).  The fifth century manuscript, Alexandrius contains these verses.  Second century translations contain these verses.  “The Peshito Syriac (which dates to the second century) contains it.  That is a full 200 years before Sinaiticus and Vaticanus” (ibid).  Moreover, the Vaticanus leaves unfilled space sufficient for Mark 16:9-20.  “It is the only vacant column in the whole manuscript” (John Burgon, The Last Twelve Verses of Mark, p. 165).  Spaces were never left in manuscripts (Hightower, p, 690).  This seems to indicate that the copyist had knowledge of these verses.  “The earliest Christian writings which show acquaintance with Mark assume their (Mark 16:9-20, B.H.) genuineness” (Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, pp. 89-90).  Papias (c 70-163 A.D.) and Justin Martyr (100-165 A.D.) seem to allude to these verses (  Irenaeus (130-202A.D.) quotes Mark 16:19 (ibid).  Tatian (120-180 A.D.) includes these verses in his Diatessaron (c. 175 A.D.), which is a harmony of the four accounts of Jesus’ life (ibid).  Tertullian (166-220 A.D.) refers to Mark 16:19 (ibid).

(2) The vocabulary argument is misleading.  While it is true that there are 17 words which appear in the last twelve verses of Mark (Mark 16:9-20) which do not appear in the rest of the book, there are also 17 words which appear in the previous twelve verses (Mark 15:44-16:8) which do not appear elsewhere in the book (Robert Taylor, Jr., Challenging Dangers of Modern Versions, p. 51).  There are nine unique words which appear in the last twelve verses of Luke (Hightower, p. 701).  There are 175 words which appear in 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus which do not appear elsewhere in Paul’s writings.  The context determines the words.  Here are some of the words which are unique (in the original language) to Mark’s last twelve verses: went (Mark 16:10, 12); believe not (Mark 16:11, 16); had seen (Mark 16:11, 14); afterward (Mark 16:14); eleven (Mark 16:14); confirming (Mark 16:20); following (Mark 16:20).  What does this prove?

(3) Eusebius (263-314 A.D.) reported that most of the manuscripts with which he was familiar lacked these verses.  “It should be noted that the statement made by Eusebius occurs in a context in which he offered two possible solutions to an alleged contradiction (between Matthew 28:1 and Mark 16:9) posed by Marius one solution was to dismiss Mark’s words on the grounds it is not contained in all texts.  But Eusebius did not share this solution…” (Dave Miller, Is Mark 16:9-20 Inspired?, Apologetics Press).

It is my belief that these verses are genuine; but not all are convinced.  If the one you are studying with objects to this passage, remember that there are other passages that can be used.  Other passages teach the necessity of baptism (John 3:5; Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16; Galatians 3:26-28 cf. Ephesians 1:3, 7 cf. 2 Timothy 2:10; 1 Peter 3:20-21).  Other passages teach the purpose of miracles (Hebrews 2:3-4; Romans 15:18-19; 1 Corinthians 2:4-5; 1 Thessalonians 1:5, etc).

Significant textual variations exist in the following passages: Mark 16:9-20; Luke 23:34a; John 5:3-4; John 7:53-8:11; Acts 8:37; and 1 John 5:7-8.  It is important to keep in mind that no doctrine is affected.  F.F. Bruce remarked, “The variant readings… affect no material question of historic fact or of Christian faith and practice” (F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?” pp. 19-20).

About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
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