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.