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Should Mark 16:9-20 be in the Bible?

Mark 16:9-20 audio

The very last part of the Gospel of Mark has been a controversial passage for almost as long as the church has been in existence. The question is whether that portion of the Gospel, specifically, Mark 16:9–20, should be included as part of Mark, or if the Gospel should end with verse 8. Many scholars, from all theological persuasions, consider Mark 16:9–20 to be a spurious addition to Mark’s Gospel.

If the number of later Greek manuscripts containing Mark 16:9–20 were the only factor, then the passage would be confirmed as genuine. But there are other factors. One that cannot be ignored is the evidence from other manuscripts. Two of the oldest and most respected manuscripts, the Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, do not contain the longer ending to the Gospel of Mark. Both of those ancient Greek manuscripts end at Mark 16:8. They are given credence because, the older the manuscript, the closer it is to the original autographs. The fewer generations of copies, the fewer opportunities for deviation, and thus an older manuscript can be assumed to be more accurate than a newer one. Since the oldest manuscripts do not contain Mark 16:9–20, many scholars doubt that these verses were in the original Gospel of Mark.

In addition to the commonly accepted wording of Mark 16:9–20, there exist two other endings to the book of Mark found among ancient manuscripts This one is translated as an optional ending and included (in brackets) in the New American Standard Bible:

And they promptly reported all these instructions to Peter and his companions. And after that, Jesus Himself also sent out through them from east to west the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.

And this passage is found in various other manuscripts:

This age of lawlessness and unbelief is under Satan, who does not allow the truth and power of God to prevail over the unclean things of the spirits. “Therefore reveal your righteousness now”—thus they spoke to Christ. And Christ replied to them, “The term of years of Satan’s power has been fulfilled, but other terrible things draw near. And for those who have sinned I was handed over to death, that they may return to the truth and sin no more, in order that they may inherit the spiritual and incorruptible glory of righteousness that is in heaven.”

We should also consider the testimony of the ancient church leaders. Some early church fathers were aware of the long ending of the Gospel of Mark and even quoted from it. However, in the fourth century, two scholars who were aware of the long ending, Eusebius and Jerome, reported that nearly all the known Greek manuscripts ended with Mark 16:8.

Then there is internal evidence against the genuineness of Mark 16:9–20. Consider the transition between verses 8 and 9:

8 So they [the women] went out quickly and fled from the tomb, for they trembled and were amazed. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

9 Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons. (NKJV)

We can make four points here:

1) The transition is abrupt, and the two sections are disjointed. The subject of the narrative was the discovery of the empty tomb by the women, told from the women’s perspective. Suddenly, the focus shifts to Jesus and one woman, Mary Magdalene.

2) The word now at the beginning of verse 9 is a conjunction in the Greek. It is akin to saying, “but,” “and,” “therefore,” or “on the other hand.” The point is that now should link what comes next with what came before. It doesn’t, but only serves as a clumsy transition between verses 8 and 9.

3) The Greek participle translated “having risen” in verse 9 is masculine and should be referring to Jesus, but Jesus is not mentioned in the previous verse. (Some translations add the word Jesus to verse 9 for clarity, but the name is not in the original.) If Mark wrote verse 9 and placed it after verse 8, he was guilty of sloppy grammar and illogical sentence construction.

4) Verse 9 seems to introduce Mary Magdalene as if for the first time. But Mark had already mentioned her three times previously in his Gospel (Mark 15:40, 47; 16:1).

Beyond what has been shared already is the consideration of the unique vocabulary of Mark 16:9–20. These last verses certainly don’t read like Mark’s. There are eighteen words in this section that are never used anywhere else by Mark. For example, the title “Lord Jesus,” used in verse 19, is not found anywhere else in Mark. Other words unique to this section of Mark include apisteó (“disbelieve”), blaptó (“hurt”), theaomai (“behold, look”), and husteron (“afterwards, later”). Another word, thanasimon (“deadly”) is found nowhere else in the entire New Testament. The same can be said of the expression in verse 10, toís met’ aftoú genoménois (“those having been with Him”), referring to the disciples: nowhere else in the Bible is this wording applied to the disciples.

Also, the reference to signs in Mark 16:17–18 is unique. This is the only post-resurrection account in the Gospels of a discussion of picking up serpents, speaking in tongues, casting out demons, drinking poison, or laying hands on the sick. Of course, these signs were demonstrated during the apostolic age, so verses 17 and 18 don’t contradict any biblical doctrine, per se. But questions persist about whether Jesus actually said this. Because of the difficulties surrounding Mark 16:9–20, it is unwise to base a doctrine solely on what is found in this section of Mark.

Most likely, the long ending to the book of Mark represents an attempt by an ancient, anonymous someone to provide a more “satisfactory” ending. In reality, ending the book with verse 8 is entirely consistent with the rest of Mark’s narrative. Amazement at the Lord Jesus is a theme in Mark:

• “They were amazed at his teaching” (Mark 1:22)
• “They were all amazed, so that they debated among themselves” (Mark 1:27)
• “He healed the paralytic, and they were all amazed and were glorifying God saying, ‘We’ve never seen anything like this’” (Mark 2:12)

See also Mark 4:41; 5:15, 33, 42; 6:51; 9:6, 15, 32; 10:24, 32; 11:18; 12:17; 16:5. Astonishment at Jesus’ work is found throughout Mark’s narrative. With that in mind, consider Mark 16:8: “So they went out quickly and fled from the tomb, for they trembled and were amazed. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (NKJV). Mark ends his Gospel on yet another note of amazement, a fitting conclusion to a book full of amazement.

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Should Mark 16:9-20 be in the Bible?
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This page last updated: April 10, 2024