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The Spurious Endings of Mark

The first account of Jesus appearances we will look at is the account in the last twelve verses of Mark:

Mark 16:9-20
When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven out seven demons. She went out and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. When they had heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it. Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either. Later Jesus appeared to the eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen. He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well." After the Lord had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.

The diligent reader will note that these twelve verses sounds very much like a summary of all of Jesus resurrection appearances given in the gospels of Matthew, Luke, John and the book of Acts. This will seem surprising since we have shown elsewhere that Mark was written earlier than all of these. But there is really no perplexity here, for it is in fact proven that these last twelve verses were never part of the original gospel of Mark and were added in much later. The proofs are as follows:

  • The style, content and whole character of the last twelve verses are clearly non-Markan. In fact the style, vocabulary and verses are completely different from the rest of Mark. [1] As the theologian Nineham pointed out:

    Even a cursory reading will make clear that the passage is not composed of traditional pericopaes such as we have encountered in the gospel proper but of brief resumes of stories and sayings already reported more fully in other written gospels particularly Luke and Acts. [2]

  • The early Church Fathers such as Clement of Alexandria (c150-c215), Origen (c185-254) and Tertullian (c160-c225) never quoted any verses from Mark after the eighth verse of chapter sixteen. The omission by Tertullian is especially important when we realised that, in his writings about baptism, verse 16 would have been especially useful for him. In fact down to the year 325 the passage from Mark 6:9-20 was quoted only once, by Ireneaus(c130-c200) in 180 CE, in the whole of Christian literature. [3]

  • In the fourth century the Christian historian, Eusebius (c264-340), in his work Ad Marinum 1 that "in the accurate manuscripts Mark ended with the words 'for they were afraid'[Mark 16:8].'" These opinion is also shared by the famous fourth century theologian St. Jerome (c340-420). [4]

  • In all the important and earliest extant manuscripts of the Bible, The Codex Vaticanus, the Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Syriacus, the last twelve verses of Mark is conspicuously missing. All these manuscripts end at Mark 16:8. [5]

  • Some later manuscripts to do have this ending add asterisks to these last twelve verses, probably to show they need deleting. Some even have notes stating that these verses do not appear in older copies.[6]

  • Both Matthew and Luke used the Markan gospel extensively (see chapter six for proof of this), both sticking to the basic narrative in that gospel. Yet both Matthew and Luke have completely different accounts of the appearances of Jesus. This also strongly suggests that the copies of Mark used by these evangelists ended at verse eight of chapter sixteen. [7]
All the above considerations present a compelling case for the spuriousness of Mark 16:9-20. There is no longer any respectable scholar that holds the opinion that these verses may be part of the original Mark.[a] The quotation by Ireneaus in 180 CE mentioned above and the fact that it presupposes a knowledge of the other gospels suggest a second century origin for these verses. [8]

There is, in fact, from the fourth century onwards another spurious ending to Mark which takes the place of Mark 16:9-20. This ending can be found in some late manuscripts (after the fourth century CE). Given below is that variant ending (placed immediately after Mark 16:8 "for they were afraid"):

But they [the three women] briefly reported to those in the company of Peter all they had been told. And after this Jesus himself appeared to them, and sent out by means of them, from the east to the west, the holy and imperishable message of eternal salvation. [9]

Needless to say, Markan authorship is also completely ruled out here as well, both on the lateness of its appearance (after the fourth century) and on linguistic grounds. [10]

These texts (Mark 16:9-20 and the other ending) are as spurious as the Johanine Comma discussed earlier. But because of its early appearance and its acceptance into the Christian canon, which as we saw was not finalized until much later, these verses has been, rather paradoxically, described by the Catholic theologian M.J. Lagrange as "canonically authentic" though not literally authentic (i.e. it was not written by Mark). [11] In other words, the earlier the fraud, the more likely it was divinely inspired!

The fact that most lay Christians are unaware of the fact that the last twelves verses of Mark is bogus bids poorly for the moral integrity of the church leaders who are aware of this fact. Perhaps, like Lagrange, they, modern day elders of the churches, believe that since the passage is "canonically authentic" there is no reason to destroy the faith of their flock by pointing out that in very literal sense, this passage is a fraudulent fabrication of early Christian piety!

It is certainly no consolation to Christians that the earliest gospel contain no account of the resurrection appearance of Jesus.

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a.The key word here is respectable scholars. There are still pockets of extreme fundamentalists who would read no English Bible except the King James Version-which contain the spurious Markan text above and some others. Basically most of these trace their heritage to John W. Burgon (1813-1888), Dean of Chichester. Burgon's book The Last Twelve Verses of the Gospel according to St. Mark Vindicated, first published in 1871, is still considered a "scholarly" work in these circles.

Burgon's arguments consist of vituperative statements (such as calling the Vaticanus, Sinaiticus and Bezae codices "scandulously corrupt", "shamefully multilated", "fabricated readings" and "intentional perversions of the truth") and his unwillingness to accept that words of scripture could be seriously corrupted by the transmission process. Furthermore, according to the reknowned textual scholar, Bruce M. Metzger:

Burgon was apparently unable to comprehend...the force of the genealogical method, by which later, conflated text is demonstrated to be secondary and corrupt. Instead of following the text of a few earlier manuscripts, Burgon preferred the readings supported by the majority of later witnesses.[12]

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1.Nineham, Saint Mark: p439,449
2.Ibid: p450
3.Bentley, Secrets of Mount Sinai: p178
Nineham, Saint Mark: p449-450
Guignebert, Jesus: p509-510
4.Ibid: p509-510
Nineham, Saint Mark: p450
5.Bentley, Secrets of Mount Sinai: p178
Guignebert, Jesus: p509-510
6.Bentley, Secrets of Mount Sinai: p179
Martin, New Testament Foundations I: p219
7.Nineham, Saint Mark: p439
8.Ibid: p450
9.Bentley, Secrets of Mount Sinai: p145
10.Nineham, Saint Mark: p453
11.Ibid: p449
12.Metzger, The Text of the New Testament: p136

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