Contact Us

We like to hear from our readers. Email us with your news, congregational comments, questions, and suggestions.  Letters to the editor and general correspondence can be sent to or ...

Read more

You Asked For It

Two issues ago we began answering a question regarding the genuineness of Mark 16:9-20.  Many English translations have a footnote that indicates there is a lack of support for this text in the oldest manuscripts (MSS). Should we then reject this section? I began by noting that there are six different endings of Mark 16 found in various ancient manuscripts. Last month we eliminated four of the six options, leaving only (1) The “abrupt ending,” which has the book end after verse eight, and (2) The “long ending” which has the book ending in verse twenty. Last month I dealt with the strengths of the “abrupt ending.”  I will now continue this discussion:

Evidences for the Long Ending

It should be obvious that there would not be such a strong debate if there were no legitimate arguments in support of the long ending. Yet it is clear that relatively few scholars have championed the long ending. Two of the most noteworthy proponents are William Farmer, The Last Twelve Verses of Mark (London: Cambridge University Press, 1974) and John Burgon, The Last Twelve Verses of Mark (Grand Rapids: Associated Publishers & Authors, 1871).

Arguments in favor of the long ending are as follows:

First, despite the absence of the text in the Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, it does have good MSS support. It has witness in each of the major four MS “families.” Some of the Alexandrian texts have it. C (5th Century) and minuscule 892 (9th Century) contain it, along with some Coptic texts that date in the 3rd and 4th centuries. The Byzantine witnesses include Α (5th Century) Ε (6th Century) H (6th Century) K (9th Century) S Π (9th Century). The Caesarean witnesses include W (4th or 5th Century) f13 28 565 700 arm (4th to the 11th Centuries). The Western witnesses include D (5th or 6th Century) and Tatian's Diatessaron (which dates around A.D. 170). “Such weight is quite impressive and should—by mere bulk, variety and date—be cause for further consideration” (Thomas 409).

Second, it has strong support from early church writers. Burgon spent considerable time identifying the fact that there are relatively few truly ancient MSS (only five, by his count), whereas the witness of the “church fathers” brings us considerably closer to the time the Gospel of Mark was written. Papias (c. A.D. 125) seems to have Mark 16:18 in view when he refers to a Christian who “after drinking noxious poison, through the Lord’s grace experienced no evil consequence” (Fragments of Papias 3.6). However, Burgon has his critics, who question his use of this quote from Papias.

It is incredible that Burgon cites such a vague patristic reference as proof for the early existence of the “traditional” text. Papias (in Eusebius) quotes no words at all from the Majority Text of Mark 16:18. Even the word for “deadly thing” is different (pharmakon in Eusebius, as opposed to thanasimon in the Byzantine text). There is nothing whatever in the account of Papias to prove that he had Mark 16 in mind at all. It is just as likely that Papias recalls the account of Paul’s miraculous deliverance from a deadly snake bite in Acts 28:3–6 or that he alludes to no NT passage at all. Patristic evidence such as this is not evidence but merely speculation (Heuer 526).

Yet Papias is certainly not the only witness from the church fathers. Justin Martyr (c. 100-165) includes five words that occur, in a different sequence, in verse 20 (τοῦ λόγου τοῦ ἰσχυροῦ ὃν ἀπὸ Ἰερουσαλὴμ οἱ ἀπόστολοι αὐτοῦ ἐξελθόντες πανταχοῦ ἐκήρυξαν) (Apology 1.45). Despite attempts to minimize this, the similarities (even in verb and noun forms) are quite striking. Tatian had the long ending to Mark in his harmony of the four Gospels, the Diatessaron (c. A.D. 170). Irenaeus (c. 130-202) clearly quotes verse 19: “Also, towards the conclusion of his Gospel, Mark says: ‘So then, after the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God…’” (Against Heresies 3.10.5). Regarding this quote, Burgon has the following observation:


Who sees not that this single piece of evidence is in itself sufficient to outweigh the testimony of any codex extant?  It is in fact a mere trifling with words to distinguish between ‘Manuscript’ and ‘Patristic’ testimony in a cast like this: for (as I have already explained) the passage quoted from S. Mark’s Gospel by Irenaeus is to all intents and purposes a fragment from a dated manuscript; and that MS., demonstrably older by at least one hundred and fifty years than the oldest copy of the Gospels which have come down to our times (102).


Additional evidence from the church fathers is found with Hippolytus (c. 170-235), an elder in Portus, near Rome. He quotes verses 17 and 18 (Burgon 102-3). Burgon also spends considerable time dealing with the actual statements of Eusebius and Jerome, arguing that they are not being properly represented today (119-35). He spends considerable time demonstrating that the statements Jerome made regarding the long ending (that is, that the long ending “is absent from almost all the Greek codices” and that it is “scarcely in any copies of the Gospel”) is nothing more than quotes from Eusebius, and is, in fact a misrepresentation of Eusebius. As far as Jerome is concerned, Burgon has this to say:

If he had been indeed persuaded of their absence from “almost all the Greek codices,” does anyone imagine that he would have suffered them to stand in the Vulgate? If he had met with them in “scarcely any copies of the Gospel,” – do men really suppose that he would yet have retained them?...It is an additional proof that Jerome accepted the conclusion of S. Mark’s Gospel that he actually quotes it, and on more than one occasion: but to prove this, is to prove more than is here required…I pass on, claiming to have shewn that the name of Jerome as an adverse witness must never again appear in this discussion (134-5).

No doubt Burgon would be disappointed to find that the name of Jerome is still used as an “adverse witness” to the long ending (as found in Metzger and others). Nevertheless, the examples of church fathers using or quoting the long ending deserve consideration in this discussion. Swete disagrees. He says:

“…those who maintain the genuineness of the last twelve verses have to account for the early circulation of the alternative ending, and for the ominous silence of the Ante-Nicene fathers between Irenaeus and Eusebius in reference to a passage which was of so much importance both on historical and theological grounds” (cxiii).


Apparently the references from Papias, Justin Martyr, Tatian, Irenaeus, Hippolytus and Jerome are not enough for Swete, although Farmer (57) and Burgon (97-147) and others consider them more than sufficient. But there are other significant names that also bear witness to the long ending: Tertullian (c. 160-220); Aphraates (c. 367); Apostolic Constitutions (c. 380) and Didymus (c. 398) just to cite a few. Scrivener sums it up best:

It is cited, possibly by Papias, unquestionably by Irenaeus (both in Greek and Latin), by Tertullian, and by Justin Martyr as early as the second century; by Hippolytus (see Tregelles, An Account of the Printed Text, p. 252), by Vincentius at the seventh Council of Carthage, by the Acta Pilati, the Apostolic Constitutions, and apparently by Celsus in the third; by Aphraates (in a Syriac Homily dated A.D. 337), the Syriac Table of Canons, Eusebius, Macarius Magnes, Didymus, the Syraic Acts of the Apostles, Leontius, Ps.-Ephraem. Jerome, Cyril of Jerusalem, Epiphanius, Ambrose, Augustine, Chrysostom, in the fourth; by Leo, Nestorius, Cyril of Alexandria, Victor of Antioch, Patricius, Marius Mercator, in the fifth; by Hesychius, Gregentius, Prosper, John, abp. of Thessalonica, and Modestus, in the fifth and sixth. Add to this, what has been so forcibly stated by Burgon (ubi supra, p. 205), that in the Calendar of Greek Church lessons, which existed certainly in the fourth century, very probably much earlier, the disputed verses were honoured by being read as a special matins service for Ascension Day (see p. 81), and as the Gospel for St. Mary Magdalene's Day, July 22 (p. 89); as well as by forming the third of the eleven ευαγγελια αναστασιμα εωθινα, the preceding part of the chapter forming the second (p. 85): so little were they suspected as of even doubtful authenticity (337).


For those interested in reading the actual statements made by the church fathers, I have an Appendix, written by Dan R. Owen, that I will be happy to send you. Just make a request at the email address at the end. It is abundantly clear that the long ending has a formidable host of ancient witnesses, many of which pre-date the Vaticanus and Sinaiticus. Thomas (409, fn 10) concludes by saying: “This much is clear: The longer ending is quite old, dating at least to the middle of the second century.”

Third, it should be noted that one of the primary witnesses to the abrupt ending, the Vaticanus, ended the Gospel of Mark with a most conspicuous blank space. It has been frequently observed that scribes never left blank spaces. Therefore, there had to be considerable doubt that the Gospel had ended with verse 8. What could be the possible reason for the scribe leaving this large area blank? Here are some suggested explanations: (a) He was leaving room for the eventual owner of the MS to “make any modification deemed necessary” (Thomas 409); (b) He intended to return later to finish the Gospel, but for unknown reasons never did so; (c) He personally felt the ending insufficient and was intending to consult other manuscript witnesses.

While Schrivener says that “no such peculiarity attaches to” codex a (Sinaiticus), this is not entirely true. Even the Sinaiticus ends with a space exactly large enough to include the long ending (Snapp 1-15).

Fourth, it is highly unlikely that Mark would have ended his Gospel with the Greek word γάρ, “for.” While various scholars have found sentences that end with γάρ, and even a few books (although this is disputed) have ended with γάρ, this type of construction is very unusual. In an extensive study N. Clayton Croy made the following observation:

The relevant question is no longer, can gar end a sentence? but rather what kinds of sentences end with gar? Obviously, such sentences must be short, usually two or three words long. Less obvious is the fact that such sentences occur most often in certain kinds of literature. Short sentences ending in gar reflect an informal oral or conversational style. They often have the parenthetical quality of an aside. The text almost always continues. Sentences ending in gar are much less common in narrative (48).


Croy’s far-reaching research led him to make the following analysis: “The limited use of 'final gar' sentences in narrative prose and their extreme scarcity at the end of narrative works ... argues against the likelihood that Mark concluded his entire Gospel with such a clause” (48). Others, (i.e. Iverson 94) do not believe the final gar proves a case either way.

Fifth, it is highly unlikely that Mark would have ended his Gospel with such a depressing, negative note. The text in verse 8 reads: “So they went out quickly and fled from the tomb, for they trembled and were amazed. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (NKJV). How is this a “good news” ending?

Sixth, the rules of textual criticism argue in favor of a longer, more difficult reading. Farmer argues that the unusual reference to picking up serpents and drinking deadly poisons is such that no scribe would have ventured to include such (57). It had to be genuine and original with the Gospel. Thomas says “This is an argument that has not been answered sufficiently” (410).

Seventh, examinations of the long ending, through textual criticism, has led some to believe that the ending is consistent with the overall language and syntax of the Gospel. It was stated earlier (as proof against the long ending) that textual critics have dismissed the long section based upon their evaluation of the section.  However, Thomas notes that

Various scholars have appealed to the internal evidence as proof of the non-Markan origin of 16:9-20, yet relatively few have done an exhaustive study. On the other hand, a handful of scholars have argued, on the basis of internal evidence, that part or all of 16:9-20 is Markan (410).


A few of these scholars are the aforementioned William Farmer (83-4) and Eta Linnemann ("Der wiedergefundene Markusschluss," Zeitschrift fur Theologie und Kirche 66 (1969):255-287). While it is beyond the scope of this study to consider all of their points, their arguments are powerful in offering internal support for the long ending.

With regard to the argument against these twelve verses arising from their alleged difference in style from the rest of the Gospel, I must say that the same process might be applied—and has been applied—to prove that St. Paul was not the writer of the Pastoral Epistles (to say nothing of that to the Hebrews), St. John of the Apocalypse, Isaiah and Zechariah of portions of those prophecies that bear their names. Every one used to literary composition may detect, if he will, such minute variations as have been made so much of in this case, either in his own writings, or in those of the authors he is most familiar with (Scrivener 337).


One of the most thorough examinations of the last twelve verses with the entire Gospel of Mark was done by Bruce Terry.  His conclusion was:

Textual critics usually object to Mark's authorship of these verses on the basis of supposed differences of style between them and the rest of the Gospel of Mark. However, an in-depth study of the stylistic features in question reveals that almost all of them can be found elsewhere in Mark. For convenience of discussion, these features may be categorized under four headings: juncture, vocabulary, phraseology, and miscellaneous.


As Terry demonstrated, the supposed objections to the Gospel being authored by Mark are invalid (therefore his conclusion agrees with those of Farmer, Linnemann and Scrivener).

Note: We will conclude our study in the next issue.