November 21, 2017

Does Mark 16:9-20 Belong In Our Bibles?

By Terry Partain

The mountain of manuscripts in existence (copies of the New Testament) which date from the earliest centuries up to the invention of the printing press, argues strongly against the possibility that any conspiracy could purposely alter them. The manuscripts (MSS) consist mainly of (1) "uncials," capital letter Greek MSS 4th century to 10th century, (2) "minuscules," lower case script Greek MSS 10th century to 17 century, (3) early translations into the Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Gothic, Armenian, and others from the 2nd century to the 6th century, (4) quotations of early writers which can date as early as the 2nd century, and (5) "lectionaries" which are documents that were designed to be read in the churches that also date as early as the 5th century.

Our problem is that beginning with the American Standard Version some English Bibles place Mark 16:9-20 in the footnotes or in brackets suggesting that some of the best and oldest MSS do not contain these verses. Should we accept their conclusion and shy away from using this text which contains the very clear Mark 16:16, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned."? Is it possible that someone named Aristion (discovered by Conybeare in an old Armenian manuscript) took it on himself to add these verses to Mark in order to help the Holy Spirit along since if Mark ends with verse 8 the narrative does not end well? As we consider the arguments for and against, let me suggest that we be confident that God is competent not only to reveal but also to preserve all of his words, "for all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever."

What is the External Evidence?

The King James Version is translated from what is called "the Received Text" which was based on a text prepared in 1550 by the Estienne family of printers who used the 5th edition of Erasmus text of 1535 which compared the avail-able manuscripts of their time and place. The science of "textual criticism" was still in its infancy but the boastful claim of being "the text generally received" apparently slowed progress for two centuries. In the 1800s two 4th century manuscripts began to be published by the especially diligent efforts of Tischendorf: Vaticanus and Sinaiticus. These were kept for centuries out of view until someone understood their value. They are the oldest nearly complete MSS of the New Testament and they both leave out Mark 16:9-20. Their "discovery" coincided with the work of Westcott and Hort who prepared the Greek text used by the translators of the ASV.

The science of "textual criticism" became highly developed from their time until ours but like any other discipline or science often the scientists have to make very subjective judgments as well as assumptions in order to draw conclusions and assign values. In one very interesting work from the turn of the century, Gregory says, "It has often been said that the critic of the text would in certain cases have settled upon other readings than those chosen by them if they had been exegetes" (The Canon and Text of the New Testament, Caspar Rene Gregory, 464). That is to say that the scientist does not always use common sense when making his assumptions because of the narrowness of his study. His enthusiasm for a particular document that he person-ally has found can overshadow his judgment and his conclusions.

Let us consider the actual hard facts that support each side.

On the side of accepting Mark 16:9-20:

1. It is contained in all of the oldest and best MSS except two; as well as in all of the ancient translations or versions.

a. A  Alexandrinus (5th C.); C  Ephraemi Rescriptus (5th C.); D  Bezae Cantabrigiensis (6th C.); K (9th C.); X (10th C.)

b. Versions: Vulgate (4th C.); Syriac (2nd or 3rd C.);

Coptic (3rd C.); Aramaic (4th C.); and others.

2. Irenaus quoted v. 19 (170 or 202 A.D.), "Mark says, at the end of the Gospel." The early writers freely cited these verses and treated them as Scripture. (Tertullian, 220; Aphraates, 367; Didymus, 398; and others.)

3. The lectionaries some of which dated back at least to the 4th century also quoted them (although they mostly date back to the 11th Century).

On the side of rejecting Mark 16:9-20:

1. B  Vaticanus (4th C.), which has an interesting blank space at the end of Mark,  and Aleph  Sinaiticus

(4th C.); 2386 from the 12th century.

2. Early writers: Clement (215); Origen (254); Jerome (420); Ammonius (3rd C.); Eusebius wrote that it was lacking in many MSS.

3. There are a few texts that have alternate endings both short and long. Some include verses 9-20 and others do not.

4. Alford, who was a contemporary of Westcott and Hort, argued that these verses contain many word and phrases that do not occur in the rest of Mark. (Often a change of subject matter can require a new set of words to express the new ideas as the resurrection of Christ might do.)


Now let's try to think this through. Why is the manuscript evidence such as it is? Westcott and Hort concluded that the absence of this passage is evidence that Sinaiticus and Vaticanus are older and better and that someone very early tried to improve on Mark by adding these verses. I find it very hard to believe that one copy thus altered could be so successful in entering the Bibles of so many different locations and languages. Although nothing in this passage is new, unique, or different from what is contained in the other gospels, it is still hard to imagine the Holy Spirit al-lowing such a corruption of the basic text of the Bible.

What are the other possibilities?

1. Is it not reasonable to assume that the manuscripts of the 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, and perhaps even to the 10th centuries might have been copied from much older manuscripts which we in the 20th century no longer have access to? The fact that a manuscript of the 5th century is not as old as one of the 4th century may indicate less value to a textual scientist but does not prove that it was copied from an inferior MSS. A 4th century manuscript may have been copied from a flawed very old manuscript.

2. Tischendorf and others were of the opinion that their two favorite 4th century MSS were both copied at the same time and place because of similarities between them and because of the historical mention of a group of copies ordered by Constantine of that era. If both Vaticanus and Sinaiticus were copies of the same MSS, it might explain why they agree on omitting Mark 16:9-20 as well as lessen perhaps the antiquity of the source.

3. When we try to explain variant readings we often must allow for the quirks or mistakes or even the opinions of certain scribes. It might not be necessary in this case to blame a scribe if in a very early copy of Mark the last columns were torn off inadvertently or worn off with age. A later scribe seeking the oldest copy available for his source might use the deficient copy but there would be numerous others in other parts of the world that would contain the complete version.

4. The Bible student who reads Mark 16 will find it difficult to believe that contextually the narrative could end at verse 8. No one has seen the risen Christ! Three women have seen an empty tomb and an angel who announces the resurrection but no one is an actual witness of the resurrection of Jesus. How can the gospel which is based on this fact end without a clear declaration concerning the eye-witnesses of the resurrection?


All considered, it is my confident belief that Mark 16:9-20 belongs to the text and was never added but rather was lost from a few very old MSS.


1. The Greek New Testament, Ed. by Kurt Aland, Matthew Black, Bruce M. Metzger, Allen Wikgren.

2. Canon and Text of the New Testament, Caspar Rene Gregory.

3. Word Pictures in the New Testament, A.T.Robertson.

4. The Greek Testament, Henry Alford.

5. The Gospel of Mark, B.W Johnson and Don Dewelt.

6. The Expositor's Greek Testament, Ed. By W. Robertson Nicoll, I. The Synoptic Gospels, Alexander Balmain Bruce.

Guardian of Truth XL: 3 p. 12-13
February1, 1996