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Cold Case Christianity

Biblical Reliability

How Should We View the Missing Ending to the Gospel of Mark?

How Should We View the Missing Ending to the Gospel of Mark
Image Credit: Madeleine Ragsdale from Unsplash.com

Many Bible translations highlight Mark 16:9-20, the last 11 verses of the Gospel, for closer inspection. The New American Standard Bible (NASB) translation, for example, places verses 9 through 20 in brackets and includes a footnote reading “later [manuscripts] add [verses] 9 – 20” to indicate that the earliest versions of Mark end with chapter 16, verse 8. In fact, the majority of scholars today, Christian and skeptic alike, do not believe verses 9 through 20 originally appeared in chapter 16 of Mark. As Christians, how should we respond to this claim? Is it appropriate to include verses in the Bible when there is widespread uncertainty about their authenticity?

The questions surrounding Mark 16:9-20 are not new. In a letter to a fellow Christian, ancient historian Eusebius (who lived from A.D. 265 – 339) suggested these verses were not authentic to Mark and could be disregarded, stating:

“…accurate ones of the copies define the end of the history according to Mark [at 16:8]… in this way the ending of the Gospel according to Mark is defined in nearly all the copies.”[1]

Living the following century, Christian theologian and historian Jerome also believed verses 9 – 20 were not authentic; in the 400s, Severus of Antioch agreed with the skepticism surrounding these verses.[2] In fact, scholars throughout history (and even to the present time) have discussed whether these verses are original to Mark.

Considering these verses contain all the post-resurrection activity in the Gospel of Mark, it’s easy to understand why these verses would be added to the Gospel rather than removed. If the Gospel of Mark originally ended prior to Jesus’ reappearance, later Christians would want to include this information for the reader. It is more difficult to understand the reverse, wherein the verses were in the original gospel and a later Christian removed the passage. As a result, most scholars throughout the ages have considered this passage to likely be evidence of an addition to the text than a redaction.

If these verses were rejected as genuine by scholars historically, why do they continue to appear in modern Bibles (even with footnotes and warnings)?

Although the earliest and most reliable copies of Mark exclude the passage, these verses appear early in history. Ireneus, an influential church leader who lived from A.D. 130 to 202, quoted Mark 16:9 in his work Against Heresies (written circa 180 A.D.) Justin Martyr (who lived circa A.D. 100 to 165) and Tatian (circa A.D. 120 – 180) also demonstrated familiarity with verses 9 – 20 in their writings.[3]As a result, it is clear the verses were added to Mark quickly after the Gospel’s original writing. There appear to be two competing versions of Mark in the early days of the faith, with Christians making copies of version to which they had access.

The early appearance of the passage makes a case for inclusion in the Bible. First, the possibility exists (however small) that the original text included the passage and later versions removed it. More importantly, the early inclusion of the text leaves the possibility that someone close to Mark, such as a student, included the information they received from him, meaning that the passage could still be considered to have apostolic authority (such a practice would mirror some Old Testament texts, wherein the original work was completed by an editor or scribe of the original author). English theologian Henry Alford (living in the 1800s) made just such an argument, stating:

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“The inference therefore seems to me to be, that it is an authentic fragment, placed as a completion of the Gospel in very early times: by whom written, must of course remain wholly uncertain; but coming to us with very weighty sanction, and having strong claims on our reception and reverence.”[4]

Alford accepted that verses 9 – 20 were not part of the original Gospel of Mark but still believed the passage could be accurate and authoritative.

Due to the early appearance of this passage, it cannot be quickly or easily dismissed. It makes sense, then, that modern translations of the Bible continue to include it even after centuries of skepticism. It is acceptable to include disputed passages so long as the translation does not overstate the importance of the passage or gloss over textual problems. Questioned passages like Mark 16:9-20 are rare, but it’s important for Christian case makers to understand the issues. Skeptics use uncertainty about the authenticity of the text to dismiss the Bible out of hand as corrupted and untrustworthy. Christians have been discussing the issue for centuries, and the passages are noted with footnotes and warnings. Readers can be confident the Christian scriptures are not corrupted but are instead an honest manuscript reflection of history, including the scars and wrinkles inherent to the texts. Readers can be confident the Christian scriptures are not corrupted but are instead an honest manuscript reflection of history, including the scars and wrinkles inherent to the texts. Click To Tweet

For more information about the reliability of the New Testament gospels and the case for Christianity, please read Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. This book teaches readers ten principles of cold-case investigations and applies these strategies to investigate the claims of the gospel authors. The book is accompanied by an eight-session Cold-Case Christianity DVD Set (and Participant’s Guide) to help individuals or small groups examine the evidence and make the case.

Additional Bibliography

Hixson, Elijah. 2020. “Was Mark 16:9–20 Originally Part of Mark’s Gospel?” TGC, last modified February 13, 2020. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/was-mark-16-9-20-originally-mark-gospel/

Miller, Dave. 2005. “Is Mark 16:9-20 Inspired?” Apologetics Press, accessed April 17, 2021. https://apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?article=704

[1] Eusebius, quoted by Hixson, Elijah. 2020. “Was Mark 16:9–20 Originally Part of Mark’s Gospel?” TGC, last modified February 13, 2020.

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

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[4] Henry Alford, quoted by Miller, Dave. 2005. “Is Mark 16:9-20 Inspired?” Apologetics Press, accessed April 17, 2021. https://apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?article=704

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Written By

Jimmy Wallace (J. Warner's son) holds a BA in Psychology (from UCLA) and is currently completing his MA in Theology - Applied Apologetics (from Colorado Christian University).

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Wade Nelson

    June 19, 2021 at 6:16 am

    An excellent and even/handed overview of an issue that is unknown or irrelevant to many Christians.
    It’s certainly another matter that can be classified as an in-house debate.

    The controversy have relevance however because so many people use verses 17-18 to promote the charismatic gifts and sadly, snake- handling and other distortions of the Scripture.

  2. John William

    July 10, 2021 at 4:12 pm

    Mark, or rather whoever wrote Mark, did not add the virgin birth of Jesus (Yahshua) either or his genealogy. So the gospel doesn’t have a ending according to some. No ending? Well, yes it did have an ending, just not one that is liked by some. Does that mean it needs to be adulterated by another? Not one of the Gospels have a known author, so take them as they are, simply “hearsay opinions” of unknowns, written by an other unknown non of it provable as accurate. All written many years after the things recorded might or might not have happened. Just stick with the Bible Yahshua used and you will have a more accurate theology.

  3. mcallen pest control

    August 5, 2021 at 11:05 am

    Really good article. It is always good to question if what was put in was meant to be put in or actual written record of what happened, as having zero errors is utterly important. However, I don’t think it should be difficult to accept these verses as many of the early church fathers were familiar with them and they line up with all other writings we have. Good discussion piece.

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