57. How did Mark end his Gospel? (Mk.16:9-20)
Many years ago an acquaintance bought a very old photographic business and acquired with it a collection of old sepia negatives on glass. One of these attracted his attention. Not only was the composition and background completely different from all the other negatives, but a strange, slightly out of focus line ran from top right to bottom left over the entire photograph. From old documents that accompanied his acquisition he learned that a photographer from Europe visited this business in the old days. This man apparently had a camera with a cracked lens. Our friend could not identify this visitor, nor could he ascertain whether this man had to stand in for this photo session. What was clear, is that this negative had been part of the collection from the beginning. Our friend decided to keep this negative as part of the collection though it was clearly not the work of the original photographer. This reminded me of the interesting problem we have concerning the end of Mark.
We are used to the end of Mark as it is printed in our Bibles. But the last twelve verses of Chapter 16 were most certainly not written by Mark himself. How he really ended his gospel, no one can tell for certain. In the available manuscripts three endings (with variations) are found.
1) Ending after verse 8
2) The short ending with variations: “But they reported to Peter and those with him about what they had been told. And thereafter Jesus himself sent them out, from the East to the West to declare the gospel of the indestructible message of the everlasting salvation. Amen” (My candid translation)
3) The long ending, also with variations. Verses 9-20, as it is in our Bibles. In at least seven manuscripts as well as family one, (with more than five manuscripts) the long ending is accompanied with some indication that its authenticity is in doubt. Several Church Fathers who know this ending, also indicate that they doubt it whether Mark himself had written these words.
The three endings are given in the table below.
|Possibilities:||Ending with verse 8:||Short ending:||Verses.9-20:|
|Witness:||Greek:||Translations:||Church Fathers:||Greek:||Translations:||Greek:||Translations:||Church Fathers:|
|201-300||Sahidic||Clement, Origen, Ammonius||Sahidic||Sahidic||Irenaeus, Tertullian|
|301-400||, B||Syriac||Eusebius||Bohairic||W||Vulgate, Syriac, Bohairic, Fayyumic, Gothic||Apostolic Constitutions Aphraates, Didymus|
|401-500||Armenian||Jerome, Victor-Antioch||Old Latin Ethiopic||A, C, D||3 Old Latin 2 Syriac, Armenian, Ethiopic|
|601-700||1 Uncial manuscript||Syriac||4 Old Latin Syriac|
|801-900||Georgian||K, X, Δ, Θ, Π|
|1001-1600||1 Minuscule 6 Byzantine Lectionaries||Euthymius||1 Minuscule Byzantine Lectionary||f13 20 Minuscules||Old Latin|
Let us consider the facts:
1.) Ending with verse 8:
According to the two most important witnesses of the New Testament, the Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, supported by a Sahidic (Egypt), Syrian and Armenian (Russia) translations, as well as six Church Fathers Mark ended his gospel here, all before the year 500 A.D. There are also later manuscripts in accordance. Surely very strong grounds. This is the most obvious ending of Mark himself.
2.) The short ending:
One Old Latin manuscript (±400 A.D.) has only the short ending. Four uncial Greek manuscripts (±500-800 A.D.) as well as a later minuscule and a Byzantian lectionary do have the short ending, but it is followed by the verses 9-20. In five translations (±200-700 A.D.) the short ending was added at a later stage in the margin. These indications are not strong enough to let us consider this ending authentic to Mark.
3.) The long ending, verses 9-20.
With nine Greek Uncial manuscripts, (±350-900 A.D.) and most of the minuscule manuscripts (±900-1550 A.D.) as well as at least 19 manuscripts of translations, this ending gives strong indication that it had been part of the Gospel from a very early date. Yet many of these witnesses have an indication that the authenticity of this part is in doubt.
Tatian who compiled a single narrative from all four Gospels, the Diatessaron (±170 A.D.) included this long ending. Also Justin who was martyred in 165 A.D. new this ending.
A cautious reader should clearly note that the vocabulary, syntax as well as style of writing in verses 9-20 drastically differ from the rest of Mark. It is obviously not the work of Mark himself. But what should one do with something that had most probably been part of the Gospel, though clearly not been written by Mark himself?
Codex Washington, (W*) dated ± 350 A.D. is a manuscript that had probably been compiled from portions of many different manuscripts is the oldest Greek witness of the long ending.
What we accept as canon and what not, is strongly in the forefront with this scripture.
Nowhere did God Himself declare that certain documents should be deemed canon (directive for our spiritual life) and others not. The only indication of God’s direct involvement in the writing of the New Testament is the commissioning of John to write down the Revelation, including the warning at the end should anybody tamper with the content of that document.
During the first centuries, the believers were confronted by masses of documents containing some spiritual content, some even written in the name of an apostle! As a result they had to decide, after serious studying of the documents and prayer which documents should be deemed canon and which not. To them the author being an apostle or Paul was of utmost importance. At the Synod of Hippo (393 A.D.) the first official resolution concerning the books to be deemed canon had been taken. Whether the long ending had been part of Mark at that time, no one can say.
In fact, the long ending does not add any new knowledge or understanding to our faith. Rather it is a compilation of facts known in other Gospels, or even taken from the Acts.
It is obvious that some important manuscripts did not include this ending, and many that did include it, give clear indication that its authenticity is in doubt. According to intrinsic criteria, it is most definitely not the work of Mark. Should we include it in the Gospel of Mark, like the old sepia negative, with an explanatory note, or should we rather discard it as not authentic?
Please take part in the interesting riddle of determining the authentic Word of God for our children and generations to come by giving your opinion. I will gladly forward it to the Bible Societies.