By Shari Abbott, Reasons for Hope* Jesus
Question: A friend recently asked me why different Bible versions have different endings for the last part of Mark 16. Should the chapter end at verse 8? Or should verses 9-20 be included? I couldn’t give an answer that satisfied either myself or my friend. Can you help?
This is an interesting topic of great debate. In varying translations, there are a number of different endings for the book of Mark. They include:
1) Mark 16:9-20 is included
2) Mark 16:9-20 is omitted
3) Mark 16:9-20 is included with a statement after verse 8 and preceding verse 9 that reads: “But they reported briefly to Peter and those with him all that they had been told. And after this Jesus himself sent out by means of them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation”
4) Mark 16:9-20 is included with the verses placed in brackets to indicate it was not in the original, or, in some translations, with a type of disclaimer between verses 14 and 15. Some of the disclaimers include:
– Only found in one Greek manuscript-Codex Washingtonianus
– Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9-20
– Longer ending of Mark
– Mark 16:9 Later mss [manuscripts] add verses 9-20
Scholars have debated this issue for centuries. Before doing any research into the origins and trustworthiness of the Bible, always begin by remembering that God promised to preserve His Word and He is faithful to do so:
Matthew 24:35 Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.
Understanding Manuscript Evidence
It’s important to note that the variations are seen in relation to the differences in manuscript evidence. There are two lines of Bible manuscripts. One originated in Antioch, Syria and is commonly referred to as the Antioch line. The other is referred to as the Alexandrian line, because it originated in Alexandria, Egypt. All modern translations derive from one of these two lines of manuscripts.
All translations from the Alexandrian line will have some form of exception to the Mark 16:9-20 passage (an omission of the passage, an insertion of additional information, or a disclaimer).
The only Bibles that include Mark 16:9-20 with no exceptions are the King James Bible (KJV) and the New King James Version (NKJV), both of which come from the Antioch line of manuscripts.
The oldest manuscripts, the Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, are from the Alexandrian line of manuscripts. Those manuscripts do not include Mark 16:9-20, which explains why modern translations from the Alexandrian line will always include exceptions.
Remember, since Mark 16:9-20 is included in the manuscripts that originated in Antioch, the KJV and the NKJV do not have any exceptions.
Message of the text of Mark 16
Those who hold to the inclusion of Mark 16:9-20, without any exception, will claim that the omission of the passage leaves the book of Mark ending in fear. Without those last 12 verses, the book ends with Mark 16:8, which reads:
Mark 16:8 And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid.
If Mark 16:9-20 is omitted, there is no account of the resurrection recorded in Mark’s gospel. This would make it inconsistent with the other gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, death, burial…and resurrection.
Questions to Consider
Is this an issue about the oldest manuscript of God’s Word being the most accurate? Or, is it more important that there be an extensive number of manuscripts that confirm the accuracy of the Word? In the Antioch line there are more than 5,200 manuscripts. While the Alexandrian line has the oldest manuscript, there remains only 45 manuscripts in that line. So which carries more authority? Both lines have preserved documents. Does the oldest document take precedence? Or does the significantly larger number of manuscripts (that are in agreement with each other) outweigh the oldest?
Could this issue be settled based on the content of the gospel account? Would the account in Mark more likely parallel the other three gospels? That means it would have included the verses about the resurrection as the Antioch text does. Or, could there have been a reason why it ended without the account of the resurrection?
I repeat, scholars have debated this issue for centuries. Therefore, I will not give a definitive answer, but I will share my opinion.
I believe that the Gospel of Mark would have included the entire passage of Mark 16:9-20. It seems far more plausible that rather than ending the account with the disciples in fear, Mark would have ended his gospel account with the resurrection and with the disciples encouraged and empowered to serve the Lord. This is clearly recorded in verses 19 and 20.
Mark 16:19-20 So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.
What a glorious ending to a gospel account and a beautiful beginning to the disciples’ lives of service to Jesus.
I also do not believe that older manuscripts hold more authority. Perhaps they are older and still remain because they were not well accepted, or were not often read. A Bible that is read often will show signs of wear and it might even fall apart from constant use. A Bible that is seldom used will remain intact and it can last for centuries. Perhaps the most reliable manuscripts are those which were more frequently read and therefore need be more frequently copied. As old manuscripts deteriorated, newer copies would take their place. This raises the question of the accuracy of these copies. That is another subject, but suffice it to say, throughout the centuries the Bible has been meticulously and accurately copied. No surprise. God promised He would preserve His Word:
Matthew 24:35 Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.
Psalm 12:6-7 The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.
The sheer number of Antioch line manuscripts seems to provide ample support that Mark 16:9-20 does belong in Mark’s gospel. So also does the reasoning of the closing message being consistent with the other gospels.
There is much more to consider on this topic. I encourage you to do further study and to come to your own conclusions. Whatever you decide, regarding which manuscript line you prefer, remember that it is the Holy Spirit who teaches us. If God can speak through a donkey (and He did: Numbers 22), then the Holy Spirit can certainly speak through any translation of God’s Word.
Since no one can go back in time and evaluate the original documents, perhaps this is one of those cases in which we should simply echo the words of the prophets Jeremiah (15:15) and Ezekiel (37:3) who said:
Oh Lord, thou knowest.
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