Friday and Saturday (April 13-14, 2007), I attended “The Last Twelve Verses of Mark: Original or Not?” Conference at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. I discussed some of the fellowship surrounding the conference in a post called “Friday and Saturday with Mark and other friends…” In this post, I plan to reflect on the content of the conference itself.
Several people have already posted their reviews and reactions to this conference:
- Theron at “Sharing in the Life” in a post called “Last Twelve Verses of Mark Conference“
- Josh at “A New Testament Student” in a post called “Last Twelve Verses in Mark Conference: The Fat Lady Sang“
- Matthew at “Splanknois tou Christou” in a post called “For they were afraid“
- Steve at “Theological Musings Blog” in a post called “The Last Twelve Verses of Mark: Original or Not?“
The conference was primarily a discussion of textual criticism. If you are not familiar with textual criticism, or with the terms and manuscripts associated with textual criticism, you might find this website helpful. I will provide links to this site when I first mention terms; however, I may miss a few here and there.
Textual critics examine both internal evidence and external evidence. For the most part, each presenter discussed both internal and external evidence. Dr. Black suggested that internal evidence is not probative, but is only corroborative. One of the things that was clear from the conference is that the longer ending of Mark can be identified as both Markan and non-Markan depending upon how the evidence is presented. Because of this, it seems that Dr. Black is correct. Determining authorship by studying the style, vocabulary, syntax, and grammar of a passage like Mark 16:9-20 is extremely subjective. I was not convinced by any of the arguments from internal evidence.
Vaticanus and Sinaiticus
Two of the presenters (Robinson and Elliott) suggested that we would not question the originality of Mark 16:9-20 (“the long ending of Mark”) if that passage was included in either Vaticanus or Sinaiticus. Dr. Bock, on the other hand, suggested that if the long ending of Mark was included in both Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, we would still be questioning its originality. Admittedly, Mark 16:9-20 is a text critical anomaly. However, I wonder if Dr. Bock is correct, and if this can be demonstrated with other textual variants. Are there other textual variants that are included in both Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, as well as the Byzantine manuscripts, ancient versions, and patristic fathers, which are not considered original, or which are highly questioned as to originality. I’ve asked around, and so far, no one knows of anything comparable. At this point, I have to believe that the only reason that we are having this discussion is because Mark 16:9-20 is not included in either Vaticanus or Sinaiticus. This demonstrates the importance that textual critics place on these two Greek manuscripts.
I found the evidence from the pastristic fathers the least explained by the presenters. The patristic evidence for the ending of Mark is complex and confusing. However, I found that many of the presenters simply chose to present (or to emphasize) that part of the patristic evidence that favored their particular solution to the problem. From piecing together what was presented, it seems that early fathers (Justin Martyr and Irenaeus) recognized the long ending of Mark as original. Later fathers (i.e., Eusebius) recognized there were manuscripts of Mark that ended at 16:8 and other manuscripts that contained the longer ending in 16:9-20. These fathers seemed to prefer the shorter ending. Even later, the Byzantine authors also knew of manuscripts with both endings, but they preferred the longer ending of Mark. None of the presenters gave an adequate explanation for this evidence, in my opinion.
Similarly, Dr. Black recommended that text critics (and other scholars) should translate and interpret the patristic fathers for themselves. He gave a great example of how many scholars misquote Origen concerning the authorship of Hebrews. During the panel discussion, when Dr. Bock was asked about one of his quotations of Eusebius, he admitted that he had not translated the quotation himself.
Originality, Canonicity, and Preservation
Dr. Elliott presented an interesting solution to this problem. He suggested that the gospel of Mark did not originally end at Mark 16:8, but that the original ending was lost. Mark 16:9-20 was then added by a later (though very early) scribe in order to complete the gospel and to replace the missing piece. As several in attendance recognized, this brings up the question of how originality and canonicity are related. Does a passage have to be written by the original author in order to be canonical?
Also, this raises a question about preservation. Several presenters mentioned the doctrine of preservation. Did God promise to preserve his written word? Did God promise that he would protect the “Bible”?
Deliberate Removal of the Long Ending
Dr. Robinson suggested several reasons why scribes may have deliberately removed the longer ending of Mark. Specifically, he said that some scribes may have removed the long ending because of liturgical purposes, and others may have removed the long ending because of excesses by groups such as the Montanists. I do not find either of these reasons persuasive. There are other troublesome passages that remain in the liturgical readings. And, there are certainly passages more easily abused (i.e., certain parts of Acts and 1 Corinthians). Perhaps there are other possible reasons that a scribe may have removed the long ending of Mark, but I did not find the reasons that were presented to be convincing.
The Synoptic Problem
Several presenters mentioned the synoptic problem. Dr. Black suggested that the ending of Mark is as much (if not more) of a synoptic problem issue as it is a textual criticism issue. Other presenters disagreed. However, it was interesting that during the panel discussion Dr. Bock admitted that he did not know any (except Dr. Robinson) scholars who hold to Markan priority and yet also hold to the long ending of Mark. Apparently, these two issues are more interrelated than some think they are.
When I came to the conference, I knew most of the evidence related to the ending of Mark. I have studied textual criticism (with Dr. Robinson) and the gospel of Mark (with Dr. Black). I have heard their solutions before, and I have read and heard of the other solutions as well. When I came to the conference, I leaned toward accepting the long ending of Mark as original, mainly because of my presuppositions – and I recognize that. Honestly, the conference did not persuade me one way or the other.
Please, do not take this to mean that the conference was worthless. It certainly was not! It was a great conference. I especially enjoyed hearing biblical scholars present their opinions regarding this text. Fortunately, I do not feel the need to come to a conclusion at this point. Similarly, I do not feel that my faith is in jeopardy if I do not answer a question that has been asked for over 1800 years.