17 Jun A Fitting End to Mark’s Gospel
Written by Logan Catoe, Generation LINK Pastoral Assistant
We’ve arrived at the end of our 34 week journey through the book of Mark: Who Do You Say That I Am?. With “Scripture Reveals Truth” as one of Crosspoint’s core values, our pastors often preach through entire books of the Bible, seeking to expose the main point of each passage as the main point of the sermons. Our Who Do You Say that I Am? series concludes this Sunday with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, covering 15:21-16:8.
You may notice we are not covering 16:9-20. This begs the question, “Why aren’t we finishing the book?” This is a fair and legitimate question, especially if we are to be fully committed to the whole counsel of God’s word. There are several issues surrounding the final 12 verses of Mark 16 that lead us to conclude it was not in Mark’s original manuscript. Let’s look at those issues and work toward a better understanding of why we have decided to end our study of Mark at 16:8.
If you’re reading from the ESV, NIV, NASB, HCSB, or NLT, verses 9-20 of Mark 16 are bracketed and accompanied by a note stating the earliest manuscripts do not include this final portion of the book. These English versions are all translated from Greek manuscripts dating back to the 4th century. If you’re reading the KJV or NKJV, you will notice there are no brackets or note. Why? The KJV and NKJV are translated from a set of Greek manuscripts dated after the 12th century. The KJV was originally translated from Latin by John Wycliffe and published in 1611. In 1525-1526 William Tyndale revised the KJV using Greek manuscripts, providing the first English translation from the Greek text. The only Greek manuscripts available to him at that time were 12th century or newer. These particular manuscripts included Mark 16:9-20.
Greek manuscripts dating back to the 4th century were not discovered until the 19th century. These manuscripts are considered to be more reliable because they were transcribed much closer to the time of the biblical authors. Neither of the two most important and complete 4th century manuscripts have Mark 16:9-20; they simply end the book of Mark at 16:8. Additionally, neither Clement of Alexandria nor Origen—early church fathers in the 2nd and 3rd centuries—indicate any knowledge of text beyond verse 8. The evidence reveals the older manuscripts (4th century) did not have verses 9-20 but the newer manuscripts (12th century) did. We must, therefore, conclude from the external evidence that verses 9-20 of Mark 16 were added sometime throughout history, thereby invalidating them as being penned by Mark and inspired by the Holy Spirit.
A quick glance of the internal evidence produces similar conclusions. Verses 9-20 do not logically follow the prior information in chapter 16. The transition between verses 8 and 9 is awkward and incongruent with the flow of the text. “Now” implies continuity with the previous subject matter, but the subject has changed from the women in verse 8 to Jesus in verse 9. The use of “He” in verse 9 requires an antecedent, meaning Jesus would need to be formally addressed in the previous section to maintain proper grammatical structure; however, Jesus is only mentioned by the angel, leaving the women as the subject of the text.
Another issue lies within the mention and specific identification of Mary Magdalene. She has already been introduced in Mark’s gospel (15:40), mentioned in 15:47, and mentioned again in 16:1. It would be highly inconsistent and illogical with the flow of the text for Mark to introduce her a second time within the same narrative. There are also verbal and structural issues to address. There are 18 distinct Greek words used in verses 9-20 that are found nowhere else in Mark’s gospel. In verse 19 the term “Lord Jesus” is used, although nowhere else in the book does Mark use this term to refer to Jesus. Moreover, the narrative of 9-20 is loosely constructed and disconnected from the flow of Mark’s gospel.
A Fitting End
Many scribes and scholars throughout history have doubted and debated the end of Mark’s gospel. Most skeptics have argued ending the gospel at verse 8 is incomplete. Closing the book with the two women standing in fear does not provide ample information about the actions and words of Jesus post-resurrection. The most compelling argument to the authenticity of verses 9-20 state that the ending of Mark’s book was lost or Mark was unable to complete the book due to persecution. This is why verses 9-20 are present in the late manuscripts. Scribes, wishing to complete the book, pulled information from the other gospels or outside sources and made their own edits. Verses 9-20 are the results.
Matthew, Luke, and John each record some form of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. Compared to these other gospel narratives, one might conclude that Mark seems incomplete because he excludes any post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. However, just because the other gospel writers recorded those particular instances does not mean Mark was obligated to do so. Remember, each author wrote to a particular audience in a particular context and for a particular purpose. Both Mark and John omit the birth of Jesus in their gospels, while Matthew and Luke include detailed accounts. It wasn’t that Mark and John didn’t care about the birth of Jesus or thought it was unimportant; they simply did not need to include that information to assert their point.
Mark’s stated point is quite clear: Jesus Christ is the Son of God (1:1,11). His entire gospel serves as evidence toward this point. Once we arrive to 16:8, is there any doubt Jesus truly is the Son of God? The Roman centurion confesses this very thing in 15:39. And in chapter 16, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James find an empty tomb and an angel declaring Jesus has risen from the dead (v.1-6). Mark has achieved his goal.
The final verse says the women were “afraid.” This word is translated from the Greek and is where we get our English word “phobia.” The connotation of this word carries with it the idea of an irrational fear or awe-struck wonder. This is the same word used in Mark 4:41 to describe the disciples after they saw Jesus calm the wind and sea. It’s used in 5:15 to describe the crowd after Jesus cast many demons out of a man. In 5:33 the woman who had a hemorrhage for 12 years felt fear after Jesus healed her. Peter, James, and John felt fear in 9:6 at the transfiguration of Jesus. The disciples were afraid after Jesus foretold of his death and resurrection in 9:32. And after the death and resurrection of Jesus, the women were afraid.
What an appropriate response to the amazing scene before them. What an appropriate way for Mark to end his fast-paced gospel. The awestruck fear that gripped so many during Jesus’ ministry is the same fear that overwhelmed the women, realizing that the crucified and risen Jesus is truly the Son of God.
2 Timothy 3:16 states, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness…” Crosspoint wholeheartedly affirms the truthfulness and trustworthiness of Scripture (inerrancy and infallibility). However, for the words to be true God must inspire them. The external evidence, internal evidence, and vast majority of scholarship indicates Mark 16:9-20 is not the inspired word of God as written by Mark; rather, it is a scribal addition. Therefore, our elders see it best fit to forgo the teaching of Mark 16:9-20.
Just because this is an issue doesn’t mean you should worry about the truthfulness or veracity of your Bible. This textual evidence is only another reason why Christians can have confidence in the reliability of the Bible as the Word of God. With the thousands of manuscripts modern archaeology has recovered, it is clear the majority of differences between manuscripts are spelling errors and scribal edits, leaving us with the same message (some manuscripts may have “Christ Jesus” while others may have “Jesus Christ”).
Scholars and theologians throughout history have worked incredibly hard to provide the best and most accurate English translations of the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. Consider the resources listed below in your study on the trustworthiness of the Bible. Our elders and staff would love to talk with you about any questions you may have about these topics. May we, just as the women staring at the empty tomb, stand in awestruck fear at the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Truly he is the Son of God. We shall, as children of a king, stand in awe of him forever.
And what a fitting end that will be.
- How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth – Gordon D. Fee & Douglas Stuart
- Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine – Gregg Allison
- Making Sense of the Bible – Wayne Grudem
- Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine – Wayne Grudem
- Christ and the Bible – John Wenham
- The Origin of the Bible – F.F. Bruce, J.I. Packer, Philip Comfort, & Carl F. H. Henry
- Why Trust the Bible? – Greg Gilbert
Articles and Sermons:
- Why We Believe the Bible, Part 1-5 – John Piper
- The Fitting End to Mark’s Gospel – John MacArthur
- France, R.T. The Gospel of Mark. NIGTC. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002. 685.
- John MacArthur. “The Fitting End to Mark’s Gospel,” Grace to You, last modified June 5, 2011, accessed June 16, 2016, https://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/41-85/the-fitting-end-to-marks-gospel.