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Jan 26, 2022

I have prepared this Every Word podcast to discuss the ending of Mark 16, verses 9-20. Those are the verses that are bracketed in most translations made in the last century. The brackets indicate that the compilers of the Greek text used by the translators did not think those verses are part of the authentic inspired text. I am going to try to convince you today that the verses shouldn’t have brackets around them, and that they are authentic Scripture inspired by God.

The NLT, has this:

Mark 16:8 NLT

8 The women fled from the tomb, trembling and bewildered, and they said nothing to anyone because they were too frightened.[c]

c The most reliable early manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark end at verse 8. Other manuscripts include various endings to the Gospel. A few include both the “shorter ending” and the “longer ending.” The majority of manuscripts include the “longer ending” immediately after verse 8.

[The most ancient manuscripts of Mark conclude with verse 16:8. Later manuscripts add one or both of the following endings.]

[Shorter Ending of Mark]

Then they briefly reported all this to Peter and his companions. Afterward Jesus himself sent them out from east to west with the sacred and unfailing message of salvation that gives eternal life. Amen.

[Longer Ending of Mark]

verses 9-20

I did not read the shorter ending for the podcast. That ending has extremely thin support in ancient manuscripts, and where the words occur, the manuscripts often also have the longer ending, verses 9-20.

In my preparation to be a Bible translator, I was given virtually zero preparation about different Greek texts of the NT or the manuscript evidence supporting them. We were expected to simply follow the lead of the main English translations as we translated into the Orya language (an ethnic language of Papua Province) and later in our translation into Indonesia’s national language. So the Orya translation and the first editions of our Indonesian translation include the brackets and a footnote. But our 3rd edition Plain Indonesian Translation (TSI) has no brackets for verses 9-20. I want to tell you why I changed my mind, and why the decision is important.

Some experts today think that Mark intended to end his Gospel with the words, “they said nothing to anyone because they were too frightened.” But this defies imagination. I don’t think authors started using the type of endings where you leave-the-audience-hanging until centuries later, like perhaps just two centuries ago. Remember that Mark starts with the words, “This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.” Mark shows a pattern of telling the outcome for every miracle. He is not about to leave his main thesis of his story without its fulfillment. The fulfillment of the starting thesis is found in the next to last verse (16:19), which says, “19 When the Lord Jesus had finished talking with them, he was taken up into heaven and sat down in the place of honor at God’s right hand.” Verse 19 also is an important doctrinal statement, since no other Gospel includes those words as part of the story after Jesus’ resurrection. And the same verse also very appropriately links the book of Mark with Peter’s teaching in 1Pet. 3:22.

Please check yourself. Do you believe what Moses and Jesus said?: “Man shall not live on bread alone, but by every word of God.” (Deut. 8:3; Luk. 4:4) If we are to live by ‘every word’, do you believe that God would preserve every word for us?

I hope you respond, “Why yes, of course.”

I believe that God has preserved His Word for us. Therefore it is unacceptable for me to say that the Holy Spirit would leave a whole book of the NT without a clear ending. We have two choices for the ending: One says the ladies didn’t tell anyone because they were afraid. The other ends with Jesus at the right hand of God. Which one seems to be the proper ending to you?!

The NLT has words in bold italics before Mark 16 verses 9-20 which say, “[The most ancient manuscripts of Mark conclude with verse 16:8. Later manuscripts add one or both of the following endings.]”

How many manuscripts are we talking about with the words ‘most ancient manuscripts’? Then the footnote says ‘later manuscripts add’ the last 12 verses. What are the real numbers? Two of the very oldest manuscripts plus one other do not have the last 12 verses of Mark. But the manuscripts that include the last 12 verses number more than 1,650! 99.99% of ancient manuscripts contain the longer ending of Mark.

The NLT also has a footnote that starts with “The most reliable early manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark end at verse 8.” But this statement is actually false. The two manuscripts they are talking about (Codex Sinaiticus and Vaticanus) cannot be said to be ‘reliable’. They are, however, recognized as the very earliest, dated at 325 and around 345. For Codex Sinaiticus and Vaticanus to be considered reliable, one would hope they would be reasonably consistent with one another. Instead they differ from one another in 3,036 places. I believe that early scribes recognized that they were defective, and this offers a plausible explanation for why there are no extant copies made from them.

I do not agree with the practice of writing vague footnotes in our Bibles as seen above. Many of the footnotes in your Bible will talk about what ‘some manuscripts’ say. It has actually been recommended to translators to keep such footnotes vague. I do not have the time to adequately explain why this has been done. It is time to give people better information. I will explain more about this in another podcast.

Many old-school ‘experts’ (by that I mean seminary teachers from the mid-20th century) will say that the two oldest manuscripts outweigh all of the 1,650 other ancient manuscripts. But many of today’s informed experts will not agree with the people I just called the ‘old-school experts’. Here are some points to consider:

  • Both of the two oldest manuscripts (Sinaiticus and Vaticanus) have an odd blank space at the end of Mark, showing that the scribe realized the manuscript he was copying had something left out. This is called a ‘memorial space’. Such memorial spaces are found in various places in other ancient manuscripts. So even though the two manuscripts do not have the last 12 verses of Mark, the scribes telegraphed to us that they knew such an ending existed.
  • Remember that Codex Sinaiticus and Vaticanus are from the early 4th century. There are quotes of verses from Mark 16:9-20 by church fathers that predate Codex Sinaiticus and Vaticanus. Earlier support for the longer ending of Mark include “four second-century witnesses, and 99.9% of the [other ancient] Greek manuscripts, and 99.99% of the [ancient] Latin manuscripts, and 99.5% of the [ancient] Syriac manuscripts, and 40 Roman-era patristic writers.” (Quote from Dr. James Snapp:
  • Codex Sinaiticus was discovered in 1844. This touched off a lot of excitement, and a revolutionary new text of the NT was published by Westscott and Hort in 1881. Please consider that there are multiple examples in history where excitement over new discoveries resulted in mistaken theories. For example, Darwin’s theory of evolution from the same time period is now discredited. Just like you have university teachers still bone-headedly holding on to the theory of evolution, so the theories of Westscott and Hort are no longer upheld by many of today’s experts but are still being repeated by seminary teachers. Westscott and Hort’s faulty decisions about what verses are not authentic are still seen in today’s Bibles.
  • I’m sure that you will hear someone claim that the last 12 verses of Mark use non-Markan vocabulary, but that assertion has been repeatedly disproved.

In my January 4 news and information podcast, I mentioned that the GotQuestions web site often included very good answers to questions Bible readers bring up. Generally I believe that is true. But evidently it is NOT true when it comes to textual issues like the long ending of Mark. The GotQuestions article I refer to is entitled Should Mark 16:9-20 be in the Bible? But please don’t read that one unless you also read Dr. James Snapp’s refutation of it linked here: I would be very happy for you to read both articles, as this would show you how untruths are passed on by people who should know better.

Please consider supporting the work of James Snapp by buying and reading his 400-page book entitled Authentic: The Case for Mark 16:9-20: 2016 Edition. The Kindle book is only 99 cents.

Some of you might be interested in listening to my 2020 podcast entitled EveryWord005 Mark 16. Please follow that last link to find the supplemental PDF for that episode containing an essay on the ending of Mark by Dr. Wilbur Pickering.

What I have said about the ending of Mark is important. Let me illustrate:

About six years ago, the pastor at our church in Siloam Springs preached an expository series of sermons on the Gospel of Mark. Our pastor does an excellent job of preaching straight through books of Scripture, even through some of the hardest material in the Bible. So I was shocked that on the Sunday when we were all expecting to hear a message about Mark 16, the pastor began by telling us he would not be preaching about that chapter. Before he launched into the totally new topic he had chosen for that Sunday, he rather quietly said this, “I decided that I would not preach on the ending of Mark, because, after all, we don’t know whether it is part of inspired Scripture or not.”

Our pastor said, “after all, we don’t know whether it is part of inspired Scripture or not.” He didn’t say “I don’t know.” He said ‘we’ don’t know if it is inspired. What a terrible thing for a pastor to say from the pulpit! If 12 whole verses could disappear and marr the conclusion of a book of Scripture, how many other corruptions might there be in the New Testament?

This semester my wife (Gale) is teaching a morning and evening Bible study for women based on the Gospel of Mark. The same pastor (whom I highly respect) very nicely supplied four commentaries to help her. Three of the four do not discuss the last 12 verses of chapter 16. But none of them have a good explanation as to why they do not discuss it. Two of them hold to the idea that Mark intentionally left readers hanging with the words ‘because they were too frightened’. One of the books gushes, “What a perfect ending!”

The footnotes and the brackets in our Bibles don’t just confuse believers in Christ, but they confuse people who are wondering if the Bible is true. And opponents of Christianity seize on such things to say that the Bible text is not reliable. The answer to this problem is to base our Bible translations on the Majority Text of the New Testament, also called the Byzantine Textform. I will give more information about that later.

Until then, the bottom line is that 1650 ancient manuscripts found all over the ancient world, all made by an army scribes each copying the text of an earlier manuscript, could not have the last 12 verses of Mark if the verses had not come from the first papyrus copy written by Mark.

Until next time, may the Lord bless you ‘real good’.