I respectfully dissent from the view that the textual variant at the end of Mark's Gospel is simple--it is a challenging question.
Kelhoffer's book on the subject is more than 500 pages. My own published work on the subject is on YouTube here.
In this post, I will argue that the statements in the last 12 verses of Mark are true, not necessarily original. If these verses are true, the following argument can be applied:
- P1: True statements made by Jesus are inspired
- P2: True eyewitness testimony of the risen Jesus is inspired
- P3: An inspired text is still an inspired text when it is repeated (in context) in another work
- P4: Everything in the last 12 verses of Mark (with some possibility of ambiguity in verse 20) is either a statement by Jesus, eyewitness testimony of the risen Jesus, or a repetition (in context) of material found in Matthew, Luke, John, or Acts
- P5: Matthew, Luke, John, and Acts are inspired
- C: The last 12 verses of Mark (with some possibility of ambiguity in verse 20) are inspired
In another post I reviewed 6 arguments for the inspiration of the Bible--I will apply those arguments to the last 12 verses of Mark (aka Mark 16:9-20 aka the "L12VOM"). Those taking issue with premises 1, 2, or 5 above should consult this prior post.
1. Archeology - to my knowledge, there is no archeological evidence that is specific to the last 12 verses of Mark; however, there is ample archeological evidence for the historical accuracy of Luke-Acts (one example of many here); to the extent that the L12VOM parallel the Lukan narrative, they are not only corroborated by an early source, but by an early source that itself is well corroborated.
- Very nearly everything in verses 9-14 is found in Luke
- The essential content of verses 15 & 19, and portions of 17 & 18, are found in Acts
2. Eyewitness authorship - there is no significant effort in any scholarly
circles to argue that the Gospel of Mark was written by an eyewitness. Those who disregard the value of anything published before 1750 generally claim that the author is unknown. Those who consider Papias & Clement of Alexandria to be reliable, well-informed sources generally acknowledge that the author was John Mark, who served in missionary labors with Peter (and Paul).
There is precious little evidence that Mark was an eyewitness of much/any of the material in his Gospel. Rather, the early historians indicate that it is Peter's testimony that was preserved by Mark (see esp. Eusebius quoting Papias in HE 3.39).
- If Mark wrote the L12VOM, the L12VOM were not written by an eyewitness
- If we do not know who wrote the L12VOM, eyewitness authorship remains uncertain
The eyewitness argument probably won't help us much with the L12VOM (as an interesting side-note, there is one ancient Armenian manuscript which appears to attribute these verses to Aristion. Papias indicated that there was an early, influential eyewitness of Jesus named Aristion. Interesting possibility).
The Book of Acts affirms most of the prophecies found in verses 17 & 18. The global presence of Christianity in the world today supports the claim that the commission in verse 15 is succeeding.
4. The Historical Argument for the Resurrection
This argument works best for the L12VOM if we acknowledge that the Gospel of Mark was written during the lifetime of key eyewitnesses of the resurrection.
If the resurrection of Jesus is considered a true, historical event (I very much believe it is), and the Gospel of Mark was written within a few decades of Easter (my work-in-process video series showing this can be found here), misquoting Mary Magdalene & the 11 apostles at a time when they were around to correct misstatements is unlikely to be successful. However, if the L12VOM are a later addition to the Gospel of Mark, even if the rest of the book was written within a few decades of Easter, it doesn't mean the L12VOM were.
This is argument is very potent for supporting some of the most important claims in the Gospels, but is not particularly helpful for the L12VOM.
5. Private inspiration
If God speaks through the Holy Spirit and manifests the truth of what someone has read, this is an epistemologically significant endorsement. I must admit that I do not know many people who report that they have asked God and received an answer specifically as it relates to these verses from Mark.
6. Public revelation
If God speaks through an authorized representative and indicates that a text is inspired, the claim is solid as long as the spokesperson is reliable.
The presence of nearly everything in the L12VOM in Matthew, Luke, John, and Acts is a good indicator that, at the very least, the events related are true.
As noted in other posts, Irenaeus of Lyons (writing circa 180) not only quotes from the L12VOM, as several other early writers do, but he specifically tells us this material is from Mark! Irenaeus provides a very strong affirmation that these words were accepted as authoritative by 3rd-generation Christianity. This may not count as public revelation, but it is a significant public endorsement.
But what of the specific words attributed to Jesus in verses 15-18??
Those of my faith have a direct answer to this one. The Book of Mormon endorses these words without ambiguity: see Mormon 9:22-24.
(Nerd alert--incidentally, the following verse in Mormon chapter 9 says I confirm all my words, even unto the ends of the earth. I find it quite interesting that the prior verses do just that in defending the truth of one of the most debated passages of the Bible. In fact, between the Book of Mormon and the Joseph Smith Translation, 5 of the most petulant Biblical attacks from the discipline of textual criticism are rebutted. Modern revelation supports the last 12 verses of Mark, the reality of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus' agony in Gethsemane, His statement of forgiveness on the cross, and that the story of the woman taken in adultery really happened. 5 significant Biblical passages the skeptics would love to throw out are confirmed as real--regardless of who wrote them--by modern revelation)
Even if we do not know who wrote them, there is good reason to believe the last 12 verses of Mark are true. According to the deductive argument at the beginning of this post, it is, therefore, reasonable to conclude that these verses are inspired.
Appendix--engaging with other arguments
- Is Irenaeus' statement really all that significant?
The heavyweight Alexandrian texts used to extricate the L12VOM from many modern Bibles were written in the 4th century. That's very, very early, as major Biblical manuscripts go. But Irenaeus was reading from one or more copies of the Gospel of Mark written ~2 centuries earlier. (even arguing for the early-nature of the material in Codex Vaticanus by comparing it with P75 doesn't overcome this argument--Irenaeus almost certainly had access to information earlier than the common ancestor of P75 & Codex Vaticanus)
What does it mean, though, that Irenaeus considered material from the L12VOM to be authoritative? I readily acknowledge that does not guarantee that Mark wrote it. It could mean:
- We know something Irenaeus didn't know. Irenaeus was wrong, and the L12VOM are just a very, very early textual variant OR
- Irenaeus knew essentially what we know about the textual oddity here, but considered the material true and therefore worth quoting OR
- The one we moderns don't like to think about: Irenaeus knew something we don't know! No! Could it be!? One of the best informed 3rd-generation Christians, who learned at the feet of Polycarp himself, and wrote one of the most influential pieces of literature of the 2nd-century, might have known something about the origin of this text that we do not know. Irenaeus may well have known who wrote it.
- Should we conclude that Mark wrote the L12VOM?
I don't think there is sufficient grounds to hold confidently to this conclusion. My video addresses this in detail, but the narrative break, the narrative style, and the vocabulary all hint at a different mind at work. Furthermore, what Codices Sinaiticus & Vaticanus do show, is that as early as the 4th century there were Christian scholars who doubted the originality of these verses. I discuss in the video (and a little bit above) why inspiration & lack-of-originality are not mutually exclusive properties.
I am of the view that the most likely explanation is that the original ending of the Gospel of Mark was lost around the time Mark left Rome for Alexandria (~AD 55), and Roman Christians rewrote it from memory before Mark returned to Rome (~AD 62). Mark found their rewrite acceptable and didn't challenge it--it got the message right even if it wasn't in his own words.
- Responses to the Buice article:
If the oldest (earliest) manuscripts don’t have the longer ending, it points to a later addition by some scribe who might have considered the Mark 16:8 a strange way to end John Mark’s work - could be, but:
- Absence of a text in one family of manuscripts could also be evidence that someone didn't like the text and removed it (this is very likely why some copies of Luke exclude Father forgive them for they know not what they do)
- We have no 2nd or 3rd century copies of any significant portion of the Gospel of Mark...our best clue to what they said is how they were quoted by the Christians of the time (e.g. Irenaeus), not what manuscripts 200 years later said
- It is a strange way to end the Gospel if we stop with Mark 16:8--Mark has specifically told us what will happen after the resurrection and hasn't yet completed the narrative ark of his story. It's inconsistent with the style of the author, who has painstakingly shown the fulfillment of Jesus' prophecies, to prophesy of a reunion between Jesus & the disciples (resolving the tension he has built up in the story!) and then not show the fulfillment of the prophecy.
We must not lose confidence in the validity and authenticity of God’s inerrant Word - this is a question of theology; we need not equate the terms "inspired" and "inerrant" in order to make an argument about these verses.
For instance, Clement of Alexandria and Origen both show no evidence in their writing that they embraced a longer ending of Mark. Everything in their writing points to the ending of Mark at 16:8 - that's quite a stretch.
Eusebius, the church historian born approximately AD 260, claims that the most accurate copies and “almost all copies” of Mark’s Gospel ended at Mark 16:8 - the authorship of this particular "Eusebian" text is disputed. We don't know that Eusebius wrote it. At the very least, though, somebody around this time wrote it, and acknowledged there were already doubts about these verses.
Jerome likewise points out that Mark 16:9-20 was absent from the majority of the manuscripts available during his lifetime. - yet Jerome determined it was appropriate to include these verses in his Vulgate translation.
When reading the Ante-Nicene Fathers (the ancient writings leading up to A.D. 325), it’s apparent that they viewed the ending of the Gospel of Mark to be 16:8 rather than 16:20 - it is not so apparent. Some quote the L12VOM (a), some do not (b). Some believed these verses were accurate (c), some did not (d). But we cannot say with certainty that an author in group "b" is necessarily also in group "d".
Buice suggests several doctrinal topics in the L12VOM are problematic--I disagree.
Baptismal Regeneration - taught at least as clearly in John 3 as it is in Mark 16
Snake Handling - he doesn't say people should try it out. It's a promise of protection, not an invitation to perform circus stunts (and Paul was protected from a venomous snake on Malta).
Drinking of Poison - same as the snake handling (and there is an early Christian tradition that Justus was given something poisonous to drink and survived)
Healing by Laying Hands on the Sick - also found in James 5, and similar accounts are found in many places in both OT & NT.
- Responses to the GotQuestions article:
the oldest manuscripts are known to be the most accurate because there were fewer generations of copies from the original autographs - this vastly oversimplifies textual criticism. With only a little bit of prestidigitation, the same argument could be made that the KJV is therefore a more reliable English translation than modern translations that use the Critical Text, because the KJV is older (and the KJV includes the L12VOM =) )
In reality, ending his Gospel in verse 8 with the description of the amazement of the women at the tomb is entirely consistent with the rest of the narrative - my aforementioned video extensively rebuts this claim.