The Inspiration and Authority of the Last Twelve Verses of Mark

Introduction

One of the strangenesses of the modern critical text is the omission of the last twelve verses of Mark. In modern “conservative” translations like the ESV, these verses are usually included, but bracketed off and prefaced by a note such as this (from the ESV): “[Some Of The Earliest Manuscripts Do Not Include 16:9–20.]” The reason I call this strange is because the modern critical text is supposedly founded on scientific reasoning; yet all the data weighs against the decision made by the editors of the modern critical text. The purpose of this article is to provide a very brief overview of the data, and to demonstrate that a proper (i.e., confessional) analysis of that data leads to the indisputable fact that the last twelve verses of Mark are in fact inspired and authoritative.

Internal Evidence

1. The most striking piece of internal evidence is that without the last twelve verses of Mark, we are left with a gospel without a resurrection. Not only that, but verse eight would end the gospel with fear and silence. Every other gospel account includes the resurrection of Christ. Indeed, it is impossible to imagine that any telling of the gospel would not include the resurrection. After all, if there is no resurrection, we are above all men most to be pitied. The modern critic will argue that is the very reason why these verses were added. That, however, is an example of circular reasoning. The modern critic assumes that these verses are “inauthentic,” then conjectures why they were “added,” then uses that same conjecture to “demonstrate” that these verses are “inauthentic.” It is equally valid to assume that a man who traveled with Christ, and who journeyed with apostles on their missionary trips would be sure to include the most vital point of the very gospel which he recorded: the resurrection.

2. There are arguments against the inclusion of these verses based on stylistic points. The authorship of these verses is called into question by claims that there is vocabulary not used by Mark in the rest of the gospel. There is not space enough to go through every example, but let us consider the underlying principles of this particular argument. First, this argument assumes that a single document is enough of a sample size to make definitive declarations concerning an author’s style. The plain fact of the matter is that any argument regarding style must necessarily be prefaced by a remark on its uncertainty. Second, this argument assumes its conclusion as a premise (that is, it is circular). It assumes that these verses are inauthentic, and then makes arguments from vocabulary and diction to prove that they are inauthentic, all while using only a single document. Consider for a moment if I were to print off copies of C.S. Lewis’ Perelandra and The Problem of Pain without the cover pages or any reference to their author. Then suppose I gave these copies to someone utterly unfamiliar with Lewis’ work. The inevitable conclusion they would come to is that these works were written by two different authors. In other words, variations in style do not necessarily point to a difference in authorship. Third, stylistic arguments are simply subjective speculations. It is common for skilled authors to vary their style within even a single work. This variation adds to the majesty and artistry of a work, and prevents blandness for the reader. To assume that variations in style warrant dispute over authorship is simply unwarranted.

External Evidence

Here, the modern critical advocate believes his case is rock-solid. Unfortunately, the foundations are not as solid as the critic would like to believe.

1. First, let us look at the Greek manuscripts which omit the verses in question. These are codices Aleph and B, more commonly known as Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus respectively. These codices date to the fourth century A.D. (the 300’s). The only other Greek manuscript cited by the Nestle-Aland 27th Edition is mss 304, which dates to the 12th century. In other words, only two early manuscripts omit these verses.

2. Second, let us look at the Greek manuscripts which include the verses in question. These are codices A, C, D, W, Theta, mss 33, mss 2427, and the Majority Text (that is, the vast majority of texts). In other words, the overwhelming majority of Greek manuscripts include verses 9 through 20. Codices A, C, and D date from the fifth century. Codex W dates from the fourth/fifth century. Theta and mss 33 date from the ninth century, while mss 2427 dates to approximately the 14th century.

3. Third, let us briefly consider early witnesses. Two of the early witnesses are cited in opposition to one another in the apparatus of the NA27: Eusmss and Hiermss. In support of the inclusion of these verses is Irenaeus. His book, Against Heresies, was written around 177 A.D., and cites Mark 16.19: “Also, towards the conclusion of his Gospel, Mark says: ‘So then, after the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God;’” (Against Heresies, 3.10.5, available here).

Conclusion

When we analyze the external evidence available, it is plain to see that the modern critical decision to omit the last twelve verses of Mark is based on the preference for the readings of Sinaiticus and Vaticanus. The critical text advocate here is guilty of circular reasoning. Sinaiticus and Vaticanus must be reliable. These codices omit the last twelve verses of Mark. Therefore the last twelve verses of Mark are not authentic, and codices Sinaiticus and Vaticanus are reliable. The premise assumes the conclusion. It is clear that the long history of this passage demonstrates its recognition by the church of God as authoritative and inspired. The modern position is founded on only two early Greek manuscripts. Rather than drawing the conclusion that these codices may be in error, they follow Westcott and Hort in assuming that all other manuscripts must be in error.

The internal evidence supporting these verses is equally conclusive. It is inconceivable that a gospel account would be written without the inclusion of the resurrection of Christ. Here, the modern critic may be inclined to levy a charge of circular reasoning. “Aha,” he says, “you are assuming your conclusion in your premise!” In a sense, that is true. However, the very definition of the gospel, the very facts necessary for the gospel to be good news, necessitates the inclusion of the resurrection. Without the resurrection, there is no gospel. In other words, in order for a gospel account to actually be an account of the gospel, it must necessarily include the resurrection. So, this argument is not actually circular.

The inevitable conclusion that we must draw is that the last twelve verses of Mark are in fact inspired and authoritative. The overwhelming majority of extant physical evidence points to their inclusion. The narrative of Mark is incomplete without them. Most importantly, the testimony of the Holy Spirit confirms their authority as evidenced by the long history of their recognition by the church. Within these verses, the doctrines of the Lord’s Day is established; the doctrine of believer’s baptism is established; the gospel commission is given; and the promise that Christ would work through the apostles in the preaching of the gospel is given. Here, the Christian may find comfort and succor, knowing that however dark the world may be, the gospel of Jesus Christ will spread abroad throughout the world, and the Lord Himself will be working with us until all his work is accomplished.

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