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The “Original” Ending of Mark?

July 2, 2016

Last year I was given copy of a recent book that presents an argument for Mark 16:9-20 being the authentic ending of the Gospel of Mark:  Nicholas P. Lunn, The Original Ending of Mark:  A New Case for the Authenticity of Mark 16:9-20 (Eugene, OR:  Pickwick Publications, 2014).  It’s a substantial book, and the author has clearly invested a good deal of effort in it.  Moreover, it’s generally free of the sniping sort of comments about those with whom he disagrees that one sees in some (here un-named) advocates of a similar position.  But I have to say that it’s a noble failure to make the case.

To be sure, Lunn is able to score a point here and there in correcting the occasional statement of evidence by some commentators on Mark, especially when discussing the “external evidence” (i.e., evidence of manuscripts and the witness of ancient Christian writers).

But there are failures of his own, among them a failure to distinguish between evidence that material in Mark 16:9-20 was known to this or that ancient Christian writer, and evidence that the writer knew the material as part of Mark.  Other reviewers have noted other flaws in Lunn’s handling of the evidence:  see, e.g., Peter Head’s blog-postings (here, here, and here, with further postings to come I think), and a review by Stephen Carlson here.

This isn’t the place for a full and detailed engagement with the book, in which Lunn also proffers literary reasons that Mark 16:9-20 is original, and tries to rebut analyses about the “non-Markan” language in the passage.  Instead, I’ll simply offer a couple of observations that are telling for me.

Yes, there is reason to think that 16:9-20 was part of some copies of Mark at an early point, perhaps as early as sometime in the early/mid second century.  That’s both true but not as telling as Lunn wants it to be.  Those of us who doubt the authenticity of 16:9-20 think that early on the endings of the other Gospels made people want a more “satisfactory” ending to Mark.

To my mind, the key weaknesses in Lunn’s case are his handling of the resurrection topic, and his attempt to account for the supposed removal of 16:9-20 from Mark.  Lunn makes the Markan witness to Jesus’ resurrection pretty much stand or fall on 16:9-20.  But the Markan witness to the belief is both assured and clear at various other points.  Jesus’ three-fold passion/resurrection predictions (8:31; 9:30-31; 10:32-34), Jesus’ reiteration of this prediction in 9:9), and in 14:28, which the figure in the empty tomb cites in 16:7, and, of course, the figure’s declaration in 16:6 as well, all make it clear that Mark’s Gospel presents the familiar early Christian belief that God raised Jesus from death.  Lunn’s Preface shows his apologetic anxiety about the matter, but he is misguided in thinking that the belief in Jesus’ resurrection stands on Mark 16:9-20 (and the ignorant critics of Christian faith that he cites in the Preface err in the matter also).

Second (and related to the preceding point), Lunn’s proposal for why 16:9-20 was supposedly removed (suppressed?) from some manuscripts is utterly unconvincing.  He proposes that heretical Christians in Alexandria were to blame, because they were uncomfortable with a bodily resurrection notion.  But Lunn doesn’t explain why they didn’t remove all these other references to Jesus’ resurrection in Mark, or why they left the much more extended and explicit appearance-narratives in the other Gospels intact.   And Lunn doesn’t engage the indications that neither Codex Sinaiticus nor Codex Vaticanus (the two early witnesses to Mark ending at 16:8) were copied in Alexandria anyway.  So, how would Alexandrian heretics have affected these two witnesses?

It’s entirely appropriate for scholars from time to time to reconsider positions that are long treated as secure, and seek to test and problematize them, and Lunn’s book is an attempt at this.  But in the end, I don’t think that he answers the key question:  If 16:9-20 was the original ending of Mark, why would Christians have removed it?  For we know that from the 5th century onward it became overwhelmingly accepted.

But  go to Peter Head’s blog postings cited above to see oodles of comments by various others, including some vigorous responses by Lunn.

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9 Comments
  1. You state in your commentary on Mark that “The testimony of the earliest “fathers” of the church (in the first four centuries) indicates that these verses were known only in a few copies of Mark and were not regarded as original with the book.” In light of the evidence from Justin, Tatian, Irenaeus, /Epistula Apostolorum/, Hippolytus, /De Rebaptismate/, Hierocles, /Acts of Pilate/, etc., do you still affirm that statement?

    LH: >> . . . a failure to distinguish between evidence that material in Mark 16:9-20 was known to this or that ancient Christian writer, and evidence that the writer knew the material as part of Mark. <<

    So the early authors have to *explicitly* affirm that they are quoting from Mark, Do you see why, especially when allied with treatments of the silence of Clement and Origen as if their silence constitutes testimony for the abrupt ending, this might appear to be evidence-molding, or goalpost-moving?

    • James: The “evidence” of these writers varies in clarity. Irenaeus: rather clearly using GMark with 16:9-20. Some of the others? It’s a matter of weighing what might be allusions. I’m not moving goalposts or using a double-standard, James. You press a maximal case, and it’s obviously part of a larger programme of defence of the “received text”. OK. But some of the rest of us aren’t engaged in such a programme, so we don’t go along quietly with your preferred view of things.

      • Larry,
        If you think that I have a “programme of defence of the “received text”” then you clearly have not taken the time to obtain an accurate view of my position. I invite you to slow down and look at “Equitable Eclecticism: The Future of New Testament Textual Criticism” at http://www.curtisvillechristianchurch.org/EclecticOne.htm for an introduction (in two parts).

        As for the second-century and early third-century patristic evidence:
        Robert Stein cited Epistula Apostolorum as testimony for Mk. 16:9-20.
        Michael Holmes stated that Hippolytus used the passage.
        Kelhoffer stated that Justin used the passage (and I think you will find that this conclusion is hard to resist when considering not only First Apology 45 but also chapter 50.)
        And I have shown that the correspondence in the arrangement of the contents of Mk. 16:9-20 in Codex Fuldensis and in the Arabic Diatessaron, combined with Ephrem Syrus’ use of the passage, leaves no room to resist the conclusion that Tatian’s DIatessaron contained Mk. 16:9-20.

        And how about this statement from H.A.G. Houghton! — “Cyprian seems to be familiar with the ‘longer ending’ of Mark 16:9 onwards.” [with a note: “The phrase cum dominus dixerit . . . in baptismo praeterita peccata dimitti in CY ep 27.3 may allude to Mark 16:16.”]

        Regarding Lunn’s overplay of First Clement and Barnabas, I believe that if you consult the early comments at the ETC blog you will see that I made almost exactly the same observation that you did. The thing to see, however, is that it is grossly unbalanced to present 304, Origen, and Clement of Alexandria (and phantom witnesses such as Ammonius and Ethiopic copies) as if they are clear witnesses against vv. 9-20 while treating Clement of Rome as if he clearly cannot be utilizing vv. 9-20.

        I didn’t mean to say that you personally are guilty of moving the goalposts or applying a double standard. (You just haven’t stepped in while others did so. I get it; we are all busy.) But there can surely be no doubt that this has been done, and done frequently, in the apparatuses of NA and UBS and in a mountain of commentaries: extremely tenuous witnesses for non-inclusion have been misrepresented as if they are secure testimony, while plausibly relevant witnesses for inclusion have been persistently ignored.

      • Dear James,
        First, I appreciate the more amicable tone of your more recent comments. Second, the list of witnesses that you cite don’t add anything to the basic point granted that the material known now as Mark 16:9-20 was known, circulating, and drawn upon in the 2nd century. That’s not the issue.
        Also, having read your online statement of your approach, which is basically a version of the “majority text” approach, it does still wind up with you defending key variants in the “textus receptus” as opposed to most modern critical editions.

  2. In my own book defending Mark 16:9-20’s genuineness, I offer a different reason why a copyist in the early Alexandrian text-stream removed vv. 9-20.

    But here I’d like to focus on something you said: “Yes, there is reason to think that 16:9-20 was part of some copies of Mark at an early point, perhaps as early as sometime in the early/mid second century.”

    Such copies would be at least 175 years earlier than the earliest Greek copy of Mark 16 (B). So this seems like a very significant concession. But why the vagueness? Irenaeus quotes Mark 16:19 in Against Heresies Book 3, stating expressly that he is quoting from near the end of Mark’s Gospel. Reckoning that Irenaeus wrote Book 3 when Eleutherius was bishop of Rome, his copy of Mark reflects a text in use in the 170’s — and (contrary to what John MacArthur and others have claimed) Irenaeus shows no awareness of any alternative reading. Why frame this as anything else but positive proof??

    Also, regarding the question about how Alexandrian heretics (or, as I suspect, professionally meticulous copyists) could have affected the text of Vaticanus and Sinaiticus: this is easy; it’s a simple matter of ancestry. The text in B and Aleph agrees strongly with the earliest layer of the Sahidic version, and with the Greek-Sahidic T. And, Severus mentions specifically that the Alexandrian copies do not have Luke 22:43-44; we see this confirmed in B. Copies of the Gospels containing essentially Alexandrian texts were taken out of Egypt, and in their new home (probably Caesarea) they served as exemplars for B and Aleph.

    • James: Irenaeus does appear to have read/used the material in 16:9-20 as part of the GMark. But, e.g., 1 Clement doesn’t make any such statement, nor is his alleged “allusion” really all that clear. I’ve worked through Lunn’s detailed discussion of all these early Christian writers, Lunn attempting to press the case positively as much as he can, and finding that often the matter is actually much less clear than he tries to make it. But, as Kelhoffer & Heckel have each argued (though along different lines), there is good reason to think that 16:9-20 was a part of copies of Mark by the mid-2nd century or earlier. But it’s also clear that not all copies of GMark had the material.
      So, was it added or deleted? And here the main matter to address is whether it is more plausible for ancient Christians to have deleted the material or added it. I’ve indicated my own disposition on the matter. You view that it all stems from Alexandria still requires a persuasive motive and rationale.

  3. Allan Brindle permalink

    Larry, good essay. But I’m having trouble following your logic at the end of your seventh paragraph: “And Lunn doesn’t engage the indications that neither Codex Sinaiticus nor Codex Vaticanus (the two early witnesses to Mark ending at 16:8) were copied in Alexandria anyway. So, how would Alexandrian heretics have affected these two witnesses?” Could you please expand on that? Thanks.

    • Allan, I allude to Skeat’s argument that Vaticanus and Sinaiticus were copied in Caesarea: Skeat, T. C. “The Codex Sinaiticus, the Codex Vaticanus and Constantine.” Journal of Theological Studies NS 50 (1999): 583-623.

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