Hope Fellowship

Shorter Ending of Mark

What do we do when we encounter brackets in our Bible?
When we come to the end of Mark 16, in most English translations of the Bible there are brackets that include something like, “some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9-20” which presents a problem to those who are reading their Bibles and who hold it to be inerrant (without error in the original manuscript) clear and trustworthy. Perhaps you might think something like, “if scholars don’t know for sure if this was in the original writing of the gospel of Mark, how can I be sure that other sections are accurate?” It would seem that this calls the very bible into question, so it is an essential question to ask and answer.

The answer is somewhat complex, so I am going to first take a stab at stating the reason as simply as I can then if you want to read more about the reasons I’m quoting at length James Edwards who wrote a leading commentary on the Gospel of Mark.

The New Testament was written originally in greek in the first century when Jesus lived and died and rose from the dead. None of the original writings still exist, everything we have is a copy that was hand copied from one of the original documents. You can’t go to a museum and look at the Gospel of Mark that Mark wrote. But although you can’t see the original document, there are thousands of fragments of the New Testament ranging from a small scrap with a piece of the text to whole books available for scholars to compare that agree in substance. In addition to the manuscripts, the early church leaders who wrote about the Bible. Taking into consideration the manuscripts (sorted by age) and the early church leaders use of the Bible texts scholars are fairly certain that verses 9-20 of Mark 16 were added early, but still later to the original gospel of Mark. The oldest manuscripts don’t include these verses and the leaders don’t seem to be aware of their existence. The reason for this addition is unknown, though many speculate it was added because the gospel ends so abruptly on a note of failure and silence on the part of the disciples. Although there is good reason to believe these last verses are not original, it is important to remember that no major doctrine is in dispute if you leave these off the end of the Gospel.

It is essential that we test and trust God’s Word. It is clear, trustworthy, authoritative and without error. In the case of these last 11 verses of Mark, there is great suspicion whether they should be considered scripture, and thus why we didn’t preach them when we finished the book of Mark.

Below is a section from James Edwards commentary on Mark that you might find helpful.

James Edwards, Pillar Commentary on the Gospel of Mark

“It is virtually certain that 16:9–20 is a later addition and not the original ending of the Gospel of Mark. The evidence for this judgment is complex, and it is necessary to discuss the problems in some detail before taking up the secondary ending itself.
Since none of the autograph copies of documents of the NT[1] survives, the Greek text of the NT[2] is constructed from later copies of manuscripts dating from a.d. 135 at the earliest to about a.d. 1200 at the latest. These copies, of which more than five thousand exist, range in size from scraps little larger than postage stamps to complete manuscripts of the Bible. In general, these copies show remarkable agreement among themselves. The most notorious exception to this otherwise happy rule, however, is the ending of Mark, which presents the gravest textual problem in the NT.[3] The two oldest and most important manuscripts of the Bible, codex Vaticanus (B) and codex Sinaiticus (א), omit 16:9–20, as do several early translations or versions, including the Old Latin, the Sinaitic Syriac manuscript, about one hundred Armenian manuscripts, and the two oldest Georgian manuscripts. Neither Clement of Alexandria nor Origen shows any awareness of the existence of the longer ending, and Eusebius and Jerome attest that vv. 9–20 were absent from the majority of Greek copies of Mark known to them. An ingenious system of cross-referencing parallel passages in the Gospels that was devised by Ammonius in the second century and adopted by Eusebius in the fourth century (hence the name Eusebian Canons) does not include Mark 16:9–20. The apocryphal Gospel of Peter does not contain the longer ending, and concludes, as does Mark 16:8, with the fear of the women. Although a majority of ancient witnesses, including Greek uncial and minuscule manuscripts, church fathers, and versions in other languages do include vv. 9–20, this does not compensate for the textual evidence against them. The inclusion of vv. 9–20 in many manuscripts is accounted for rather by the fact that the longer ending, which must have been added quite early, was naturally included in subsequent copies of the Gospel. Many of the ancient manuscripts that do contain the longer ending, however, indicate by scribal notes or various markings that the ending is regarded as a spurious addition to the Gospel. External evidence (manuscript witnesses) thus argues strongly against the originality of the longer ending.1[4]
The secondary nature of the longer ending is further corroborated by the application of the techniques of literary criticism to 16:9–20. This is apparent beginning in the first verse of the longer ending, which is a conspicuous non sequitur: whereas the subject of v. 8 is the frightened and fleeing women, v. 9 begins by presupposing the resurrected Jesus, who appears to Mary Magdalene. The latter, moreover, is introduced as a newcomer (“out of whom [Jesus] had driven seven demons,” v. 9), although Mark has mentioned her three times immediately before (15:40, 47; 16:1).2[5] In vv. 9–20 Jesus is for the first time in Mark referred to as the “Lord Jesus” (v. 19), or simply “the Lord” (v. 20), rather than Mark’s custom of calling Jesus by his given name. Such reverential nomenclature likely derives from later Christian worship. Particularly noticeable is the number of new words that appear nowhere else in Mark. In the so-called shorter ending of Mark nine of the thirty-four words are new,3[6] and in the longer ending there are an additional eighteen words that otherwise do not appear in Mark,4[7] plus several unique word forms and syntactical constructions.5[8]


[1] NT New Testament
[2] NT New Testament
[3] NT New Testament
[4] 1 The evidence against the longer ending of vv. 9–20 also includes the so-called shorter ending of Mark, a thirty-four-word epilogue to the Gospel that is attested by four late uncial manuscripts and several versions of dubious authority (Old Latin, Harclean Syriac, Sahidic, Bohairic, and Ethiopic). The shorter ending usually occurs in the above witnesses between v. 8 and vv. 9–20, and reads as follows: “They announced briefly to those around Peter all the things they had been commanded. And after these things also Jesus himself sent through them from east to west the holy and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation. Amen.” See B. Metzger, TCGNT, 122–26.
[5] 2 H. B. Swete, The Gospel According to St Mark, 399.
[6] 3 Syntomōs, exangellō, anatolē, achri, dysis, exapostellō, aphtartos, kērygma, sōtēria.
[7] 4 Phainō, pentheō, kakeinos, theaomai, apisteō, heteros, morphē, poreuomai, hysteros, hendeka, parakoloutheō, ophis, thanasimos, blaptō, analambanō, synergeō, bebaioō, ekoloutheō.
[8] 5 For example, the form of parēngelmena, Hieron as an adjective, and the following syntactical constructions: meta tauta, Kyrios Iēsous, meta to lalēsai, tois met’ autou genomenois.

Edwards, J. R. (2002). The Gospel according to Mark. The Pillar New Testament commentary (497–498). Grand Rapids, Mich; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos.

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