the weblog of Alan Knox

The Long Ending of Mark…

Posted by on Apr 6, 2007 in scripture | 14 comments

Next week, April 13-14, I plan to attend the New Testament Conference hosted by Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. The topic for this conference is “The Last Twelve Verses of Mark: Original or Not?

During the conference various New Testament scholars will discuss whether or not Mark 16:9-20 were part of Mark’s original manuscript. For the most part, the conference will focus on the discipline of textual criticism. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, depending on your viewpoint), textual criticism is both science and art. There are both objective and subjective aspects of textual criticism, so it will be interesting to see how these various scholars reach their conclusion regarding this passage.

This is the passage under consideration:

Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept. But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it. After these things he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them. Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole 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 cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any
deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs. (Mark 16:9-20 ESV)

Some of the early manuscripts do not include this passage. Other manuscripts include a shorter version – “the shorter ending of Mark”. I tend to think that the longer ending is original. I believe it is a prologue that Mark added to Peter’s speeches. This seems to balance well with the prologue that we find in Mark 1:1-8.

Interestingly, this passage also includes some important information about the early church. First, notice that in Mark 16:15, Jesus commands his followers to “Go… and proclaim”. Then, in Mark 16:20, Mark records that they “went out and proclaimed”. In other words, the early disciples obeyed Jesus’ commands. This may seem trivial, but it is very important in Mark, because Mark often shows Jesus’ followers as having little faith.

Second, the list of “signs” in Mark 16:17 is interesting. Of those signs, all but one (drinking deadly poison) is recorded in the book of Acts. Similary, Mark 16:20 not only tells us that these “signs” did happen, but Mark also tells us how God used these “signs” in the lives of the early disciples. In particular, God used the signs “to confirm the message” that the early disciples proclaimed. This may help us understand what Paul means in 1 Corinthians 14:22 when he says, “Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers…”

I’m looking forward to this conference. If the text of Scripture is important, and I believe it is, then we need to know what is Scripture and what is not Scripture. This demonstrates the importance of disciplines such as textual criticism.

I know that some of my readers may be attending this conference. If you are going to attend, and if you haven’t mentioned it before, please let me know. I would love to meet you at the conference.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 4-6-2007

    Hey Brother.I think I am gonna atend the conference so long as it doesn’t end up conflicting with classes.

  2. 4-6-2007

    Alan, I’d like to attend the conference, but have a little too much going on right now. I appreciate your thoughts about this passage. In particular, I like what you have to say about the signs confirming the message. I agree that the longer ending seems to be original. One other piece of evidence in support of the longer ending is that verse 8 seems to be a strange place for a gospel writer to end his account. Verse 8 says, “And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” That appears to be an odd ending in comparison to the other gospels. Also, if Matthew was written first (which I think it was), then the longer ending of Mark is more consistent with Matthew’s conclusion in 28:18-20.

  3. 4-6-2007

    I worry about the science of bible study, personally, if done in the human scientific way. Personally, I think we often err on the side of walking in the flesh rather than walking in the spirit because of the fear of abuse. And, I think we shouldn’t let fear drive us, for that too is of the flesh.

    Sounds like a very interesting conference.

  4. 4-6-2007


    I’m glad to see that you have a blog now. I’m looking forward to reading your posts. Also, I’m glad that you will be at the conference.


    I wish you could be there as well. I know that we’ll see you soon.


    Your warning is well given and appreciated, at least by me.


  5. 4-6-2007

    Alan, Sounds like a good conference. I especially appreciate your thought that Biblical textual criticism is both science and art. It certainly involves some judment calls and interpretation (we note the degree of certainty expressed in textual variants in our Greek New Testament). The fourth revised edition from the United Bible Societies relegates this text (vv 9-20) as certainly outside the original text.

    I think it’s at least informative of early Christian belief and practice. I don’t know, and I don’t know if we can know entirely. I have to acknowledge I do depend on Bible scholars, and lean towards the judgment of those who are well read (in their own reading of sources) and are evangelical. Based on that, I lean towards excluding it.

    Good though to study and think through reasons on both sides of this debate.

  6. 4-6-2007


    Thanks for taking part. I have many friends who do not think the long ending of Mark is original. I certainly understand that conclusion. The good thing is that there are no doctrines that rest on the end of Mark.


  7. 4-6-2007

    Be sure and let us know the conclusions from the conference. This topic has always intrigued me, and would be quite interested in getting a follow-up report on the results shared at the upcoming meeting.

  8. 4-6-2007

    Doesn’t this particular discussion have some impact on one’s approach to the canon in general? How many times have I answered someone who asks why I accept the canon that part of my answer is because I have faith that God has protected His word??? (not that the average “conservative” Christian even wants to approach this subject…)

  9. 4-6-2007

    Unfortunately we are not going to be able to make it 🙁 — we were really looking forward to fellowshipping with guys! But between 2 birthdays and a family wedding that weekend, it just isn’t going to happen – bummer! Enjoy and tell Dr. Black that I would love to meet him, hopefully sometime in the near future!



  10. 4-6-2007

    I’m LOL … that should say “fellowshipping with YOU guys” … LOL


  11. 4-6-2007


    I don’t think this conference will solve the problem of the ending of Mark. I am looking forward to hearing the various arguments though.


    I’m sorry that we will not get to meet you and Brandon. This would be a great opportunity for you, because there will be GUYS as the conference.


  12. 4-7-2007

    Alan, LOL … I should have just said “fellowshipping with y’all” since that’s how I really talk 😉 …


  13. 4-9-2007

    It should be an interesting conference. You may want to brush up on the text-critical evidence involving Mark 16:9-20 by reading my multi-part essay-summary beginning at .

    Also, the “textual criticism is an art as well as a science” sounds like a paraphrase of something Bruce Metzger wrote in “Textual Commentary on the Greek NT,” Introduction, p. xxxi. I would suggest, though, that textual criticism is *not* an art, inasmuch as its goal — the restoration of the original text –does not involve any artistry on the part of the researcher.

    James Snapp, Jr.

  14. 4-9-2007


    Thank you for your comment, and welcome to my blog. I started reading your essay, and realized that I had read it before. If I remember correctly, I agree with you.

    I have studied the text critical questions related to Mark 16:9-20. I did not mention them in this post because that is not the purpose of my blog. However, I am very serious about textual criticism.

    I still believe the textual criticism is both “art and science”… or perhaps a better phrase would be “subjective and objective”. I think that the best text critics will remove as much of the subjectivity as possible, but I do not think it is possible to remove all subjectivity. Thus, there will always be a certain amount of “art” in textual criticism.