QUESTIONS ABOUT THE ENDING OF MARK 16
Today concludes our reading of the Gospel of Mark in our Bible Reading Plan at Redeemer Bible Church, and the ending of Mark may have sparked a few questions:
1. WHY DO VERSES 9-20 APPEAR IN BRACKETS?
My NASB has a footnote next to v. 9 that says “Later mss [= manuscripts] add vv 9-20.” My ESV has a heading above v. 9 that says “Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9-20” and the following footnote: “Some manuscripts end the book with 16:8; others include verses 9-20 immediately after verse 8. A few manuscripts insert additional material after verse 14; one Latin manuscript adds after verse 20 the following: 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 east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation. Other manuscripts include this same wording after verse 8, then continue with verses 9-20.”
2. WHAT TO THE BRACKETS MEAN?
Our New Testament is an English translation of the Greek New Testament. Scholars compiled the Greek NT after comparing almost 5,700 Greek manuscripts (a manuscript can be a copy as small as a piece of one verse to an entire copy of the Greek NT). In about 13% of the NT, there are differences between various manuscripts with reference to words, word order, line additions or subtractions, spelling and other trivialities. I call these trivial because the manuscript differences are easy for scholars to spot and do not alter a single doctrine taught in the Bible. When all the differences are examined, scholars are convinced they have what was originally written for all but less than 1% of the NT, and Mark 16:9-20 is part of that less than 1%.
3. WHAT HAPPENED TO MARK’S ENDING?
Scholars have been perplexed for 1900+ years that Mark would end his gospel with the tone of fear (“for they were afraid”) and in a way that might suggest the continuation of the sentence. Because of this, it’s been speculated that Mark either didn’t finish his gospel (he may have been martyred, for instance) or his original ending has been lost (a very minority position is that vv. 9-20 is Mark’s original ending). Some early Christians tried to fix this problem by adding endings they thought were “better” or “more appropriate” for Mark’s incredible piece of literature.
4. WHAT SHOULD WE THINK ABOUT MARK 16:9-20?
Most manuscripts of Mark (especially those written farther removed from the original) have the longer ending that’s bracketed in our Bibles, but scholars are convinced this is not what Mark originally wrote. For the following reasons, I tend to agree with their conclusion: (1) Verses 9-20 do not appear in the oldest and most respected manuscripts (i.e., those copied closer to the time Mark wrote his gospel), (2) the style of writing does not match the previous 15 chapters, (3) there are 17 words in the longer endings that are not found anywhere else in Mark 1:1-16:8 and (4) v. 8 to v. 9 is an abrupt transition that retells information that’s already appeared in vv. 1-7.
5. WHAT SHOULD WE DO WITH MARK 16:9-20?
First, don’t miss what Mark did originally write in vv. 1-8: an affirmation of Jesus’ bodily resurrection (v. 6) and multiple female eyewitnesses to the empty tomb (vv. 1-5), which is an extremely unlikely detail to put in if the disciples stole the body and made up Jesus’ Resurrection (see my Easter message on this controversial subject). Christians for 19 centuries have not been convinced that anything after v. 8 is authentic (what Mark actually wrote) and inspired (2 Peter 1:21) and our Bible’s are honest about that. Since scholars cannot be certain how Mark ended his gospel, the translators put vv. 9-20 in brackets to make us aware of this addition. They’re saying two things: “Read these verses with caution” but “We’re leaving these verses here because of the long history there is in the manuscripts for doing so.” Therefore, anything written in vv. 9-20 should always be compared to the rest of the Bible and no teaching should ever be based solely on any of these verses for support (like the practice of snake handling and poison drinking in worship services based on v. 18).
6. COULD SCHOLARS BE WRONG ABOUT MARK 16:9-20?
I don’t think it’s likely, but it is certainly possible. Good, godly Christian scholars disagree on the right answer to this question. For that reason, I’m glad we still have vv. 9-20 in our Bibles to study and learn from. If you want to go a lot more in depth on this question, check out this book, Perspectives on the Ending of Mark: Four Views.
7. DOES THIS MEAN YOU CANNOT TRUST YOUR BIBLE?
Not at all! Issues like this affect less than 1% of the New Testament and they’re not hidden. Bible translators put footnotes and brackets to show everyone where these issues are. If anything, you should trust your Bible more now that you know there have been scholars working for centuries to make sure what you have in your New Testament is what was originally written. For more on the trustworthiness of Scripture based on this passage, listen to this very helpful sermon and if you have any questions, let me know and I’ll try to answer them ASAP.