Going Viral #16 — Mark 16:9-20

Covid19 has us stuck at home preparing for Easter… but we can mark each day with devotion. Click here if you missed a past day’s reading.

Today is Maundy Thursday. (Today’s reading is below.) I hope you will take time to remember the disciples gathering with Jesus to celebrate the first passover. I filmed a couple minute video on my thoughts, click here to watch.

(I skipped ahead to the alternate ending, so our study would end with the conclusion Mark wrote.)

Mark 16:9-20

[The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have verses 9–20.]

The additional ending of Mark has some interesting details and at least one part that proves problematic. Namely “they will pick up snakes with their hands”, which has driven theology of snake handling churches…

I will dive into why Mark ended with verse 8 tomorrow. But the explanation for why the ending was expanded is fairly obvious: the original ending does not include an encounter with our risen Savior.

If you never noticed that this ending was added, here is an explanation: Our scripture was not handed down from heaven. What came down from heaven was God incarnate! The Word made Flesh. Jesus is the full revelation of God.

The scripture we have was inspired by the Holy Spirit. But written by humans. Each book shows their individual author’s mark. And the books tell salvation story, the story of Jesus and the church.

Each book was written in a certain time, to a certain place. This is apparent with Pauls letters (Galatians was written to Galatia). But it is also true of the gospels. For instance, most scholars believe Mark was written for Roman Christians.

As the writings proved beneficial to their church they were copied and shared with other churches. Coping by hand was arduous. And paper was expensive, so the copies were made without punctuation or spaces! As you can imagine, this process produced many small differences. We do not have any originals (the oldest is a fragment of John from 125AD). And every ancient manuscript is slightly different (of which there are 1000s).

Now, let me emphasize, the amount of manuscript evidence for the New Testament is overwhelming. It is better sourced than any other ancient document by far (better than even Shakespeare). And most of the differences are very minor. Still it is not perfect and so we have an additional ending to Mark.*

What is most important is to remember God is inerrant and infallible. The Spirit inspired the writers and continues to inspire the Bible. God guided the process to us. Just as God guides us when we read. In Christ the Bible becomes truth for our life. It can and should be trusted. (Of course apart from God… well, that is how the Bible has been used to create so much harm!)

*Why is the additional ending of Mark even included in our Bible translation? — Mainly because it is a part of King James Version. Though the KJV was written in 1611, it is LESS accurate than modern translations, because of the discovery of so many manuscripts — for example, the Dead Sea Scrolls. 

How did scholars determine 16:9-20 were added later? — When determining the text for an English translation, scholars must make decisions. They will consider External evidence: priority given to earlier manuscripts. They also consider Internal evidence, one of the guiding principles is “the more difficult reading is to be preferred”.

External: Two of the oldest manuscripts (Codex Vaticanus, 300-25, and Codex Sinaiticus, 330-360) do not include the longer ending. Also Eusebius, writing in the 4th Century reports that “accurate” copies of Mark end with verse 8. 

Internal: Ending at verse 8 is the more difficult reading. And, as stated above, the addition has an obvious reason (to add a written encounter with the risen Christ).

Formation of our New Testament Canon — The individual books were passed separately and slowly compiled into the New Testament we know today. The complete 27 book canon was first listed by Athanasius in AD367. This list was confirmed by multiple councils (Council of Rome, 383, Synod of Hippo, 393, Council of Carthage, 397). Though well before then the majority of books were accepted (AD200). Debates continued around Hebrews, James, 2Peter, 2/3John, Jude, and Revelation. 

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