Mark 16 is one of the most awesome chapters in the entire New Testament. It tells us how Jesus rose from the dead (v.1-8), and how he appeared to Mary Magdalene and a couple other disciples (9-13). It tells us how he commissioned his apostles to preach the gospel and baptize (14-16), and how the charismatic spiritual gifts like casting out devils and speaking in tongues would follow true believers (17-18). It tells how Jesus ascended into heaven (19), and how the disciples carried out his commission with those promised spiritual gifts accompanying their ministry (20). So much is packed into these last twelve verses of Mark! But unfortunately, not everyone is content with the Scripture as the Lord has given it to us. In fact, some scholars outright deny that Mark 16:9-20 even belongs in the Bible at all.
If you happen to use the English Standard Version (or pretty much any modern version) of the Bible, you will see a footnote at Mark 16:9 that says, “Some manuscripts end the book with 16:8; others include verses 9-20 immediately after verse 8” or something similar. The Westminster Study Edition of the Holy Bible says, “This section is a later addition; the original ending of Mark appears to have been lost. The best and oldest manuscripts of Mark end with ch. 16:8”. The renowned textual scholar Bruce Metzger, in his work A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, also casts doubt on the long ending in our Bibles, saying that “the section was added by someone who knew a form of Mark that ended abruptly with ver. 8 and who wished to supply a more appropriate conclusion”.*
The scholarly consensus is that 16:9-20 is not part of Mark’s original gospel. After all, not just some manuscripts—but the “best and oldest manuscripts”—leave these verses out. It must have been added later by someone who didn’t like the ending at verse 8. But what do the facts say? Is this scholarly consensus really the case?
Sometimes I question the scholarship of scholars. I really do. Far from being against Mark 16:9-20, the manuscript evidence is incredibly in their favor! Lets look at the textual witnesses for Mark 16:9-20 and the witnesses against it.
Against Mark 16:9-20
- א Sinaiticus (4th century)
- B Vaticanus (4th)
- miniscule 304 (12th)
- Latin manuscript k Bobiensis (4th-5th)
- Sahidic manuscript P. Palau-Ribes Inv. Nr. 182 (early 5th)**
- Sinaitic Syriac version (3rd-4th)
- Harklean Syriac version in the margin (7th)
- Armenian version (5th)
- Georgian version (9th-10th)
- Early Fathers: Eusebius (4th), Epiphanius (early 5th), Hesychus (5th), Severus (6th), Jerome (5th).
For Mark 16:9-20
- Every other Greek manuscript of Mark 16 in known existence except א, B, and 304.
This includes A, C, D, W (all 5th century), L (8th), Δ , Θ (both 9th), Σ (6th), Ψ (10th), 33 (9th), and the lectionary manuscripts used in public worship services.
- Latin manuscripts aur (7th), ff2 (5th), l (8th), n (5th), 0 (7th), q (7th)
- Vulgate Latin version (4th)
- Curetonian (3rd-4th), Peshitta (5th), Philoxeniana (early 6th), Harklean (6th), and Palestinian (6th-7th) Syriac versions
- Sahidic (3rd-4th), Bohairic (9th), and Fayyumic (6th) Coptic versions
- Ethiopic version (6th)
- Armenian version (5th)
- Georgian version (10th)
- Early Fathers: Irenaeus and Justin Martyr (both 2nd!!), Eusebius, Apostolic Constitutions (both 4th), Epiphanius, Marcus of Eremita, Severian, Nestorius (all 5th), Rebaptism (3rd), Ambrose (4th), Jerome, and Augustine (both 5th).
Let’s interpret the evidence that we are looking at.
Only three Greek manuscripts ( א, B, and 304) leave out the long ending of Mark. Only one Latin manuscript (k) leaves it out. Only one Syriac manuscript (Sinaitic) leaves the verses out entirely; the other Syriac version just has a marginal note. Only one Sahidic manuscript omits the verses; other Sahidic manuscripts include them. The Armenian and Georgian versions are both divided—some manuscripts leave the verses out and some keep them in; so their witness against Mark 16:9-20 is not very strong. Eusebius, Epiphanius, and Jerome mention that these verses were left out of quite a few copies of Mark during their times (300s-400s AD); but all three of these men also quote verses from the long ending as if they were inspired scripture. Furthermore, Epiphanius and Jerome are actually just repeating what Eusebius said.
When we look at the material this way, we see that the witnesses against the long ending are incredibly few and the textual foundation for rejecting verses 9-20 is incredibly shaky: three Greek manuscripts, one Latin manuscript, one Syriac manuscript, one Coptic manuscript, and two versions that are divided on their testimony about the passage, and essentially one early church father.
By contrast, the reasons for accepting the long ending are many and well founded. First of all, it should carry some weight that every single other Greek manuscript of the ending of Mark (except for א, B, and 304) has these verses. Do these scholars really think that every single other Greek manuscript got it wrong? If ending Mark at 16:8 was so common in the 4th and 5th centuries like Eusebius says, why have only three Greek manuscripts without verses 9-20 survived?
The long ending shows up just as early (around the 4th century) as the short ending in the Latin version, but the long ending has much more support here: one manuscript against versus six manuscripts and the Vulgate for. The long ending shows up just as early (3rd century) as the short ending in the Syriac version, but the long ending again has much more support: one manuscript against versus five manuscripts/local texts for. The longer ending has broader support in the Coptic tradition. And the Armenian and Ethiopic versions are witnesses divided against themselves.
What is perhaps the most astounding is the broad use of Mark 16:9-20 in Christian literature. Early Christian writers were quoting from these verses as early as the second century (!!), and they continued to do so throughout the history of the church. As early as we have Christians quoting scripture, that is how early we have quotes from the long ending of Mark. The lectionary manuscripts, the ones that were used for public worship services, unanimously support the long ending as it is found in our Bibles to this day.
Do the scholars who reject verses 9-20 really expect us to believe that the entire ancient church, in every corner of the ancient world, got their Bibles so wrong? Do they really expect us to believe that these verses were a later addition even though the church has always accepted them? That hardly makes sense. These verses are, and always have been, part of Mark’s gospel.
As I have said a couple times now, only three Greek manuscripts leave out Mark 16:9-20. These are א, B, and 304. But the Vaticanus manuscript (B) has a very unusual feature at Mark 16:9-20. When the scribe who wrote Vaticanus finished a book of the New Testament, he normally started the next book in the next column.
But that isn’t what the scribe did when he finished Mark. Instead of starting Luke the next column over like usual, the scribe left an entire column blank and started Luke on a fresh page.
This is the only time in the NT section of Vaticanus that an entire column is left blank. So what is this to mean? It means that the scribe of Vaticanus was aware that more verses came after verse 8 and he purposely left them out; but he thought the verses were important enough to show that they had been left out.
If the shaky foundation against Mark 16:9-20 were still standing, this should make it fall. One of the three, and only three, Greek manuscripts that leave out the long ending actually admits that more material followed. And it admits that the material was so noteworthy that it was recognized with an entirely blank column; the only blank column in the entire NT section of the manuscript. Of the three Greek manuscripts that are against the long ending of Mark, one of them is half a witness in the long ending’s favor.
So, it can be safely said that Mark 16:9-20 belongs in our Bibles. The textual evidence in their favor is overwhelming; and when the evidence against them is examined with thoughtfulness, it doesn’t hold up. Next time someone tries to tell you that Mark 16:9-20 was added to your Bible, laugh. Because that idea is actually kind of funny.
The overwhelming textual evidence in favor of the long ending has lead scholars like Metzger to reject verses 9-20 for non-textual reasons (writing style, vocabulary, and so on). But we will have to cover that in another post!