(Mk. 16:9-20) What happened to the end of Mark? Is this section Scripture or a scribal addition?

Textual critics argue over the ending of Mark. Some argue for the longer ending (LE) and others for the shorter ending (SE). The LE extends the gospel to 16:20, while the SE stops at 16:8. Is Mark 16:9-20 a later scribal insertion, or was it written by Mark? Mark 16:9-20 was a later scribal addition. We hold this view for several reasons:

1. The manuscript evidence favors the SE—not the LE

Codex Sinaiticus & Vaticanus: The SE (Mk. 16:8) is attested in Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus. Wallace notes, “These two codices are the oldest Greek MSS for Mark 16. They also are the only ‘primary’ Alexandrian witnesses to Mark 16 in Greek.”[1] Vaticanus contains a full paragraph and column blank at the end of Mark 16:8. Those who argue for the longer ending of Mark claim that this is evidence of the scribe knowing that Mark contained a longer ending. However, Wallace adds, “Although it is certainly Vaticanus’ normal custom to begin a new book at the top of the column following the conclusion of the previous book, this MS breaks that rule on four occasions.”[2]

Codex 304: This manuscript (a 12th century Byzantine manuscript) stops with Mark 16:8.

Sinaitic Syriac: This manuscript ends with Mark 16:8. Wallace writes, “This MS dates from the fourth century, but it represents a text from the late second or early third century, for the most part following the Western texttype.”[3]

Armenian manuscripts: One hundred of the Armenian manuscripts end at Mark 16:8.

Georgian manuscripts: The “two oldest Georgian MSS end” at Mark 16:8.[4]

2. The early church fathers questioned the LE

Clemen & Origen: Clement of Alexandria (AD 250) and Origen (AD 25) are silent on the LE—even though they had reason to mention it.

Eusebius: Regarding Mark 16:9-20, Eusebius wrote, “The person not wishing to accept [these verses] will say that it is not contained in all copies of the Gospel according to Mark. Indeed the accurate copies conclude the story according to Mark in the words … they were afraid. For the end is here in nearly all the copies of Mark.” (Eusebius, Ad Marinus, NPB 4.255ff)

Jerome: In the fifth century, Jerome stated that the longer ending of Mark is found in “scarcely any copies of the Gospel—almost all the Greek codices being without this passage.” (In Jerome’s letter to Hedibia, in Epistola 120, PL 22.980–1006).

3. The grammar, style, syntax, and vocabulary favor the SE—not the LE

While arguments from vocabulary and style only go so far, they can surely help to support the already cumulative case against Mark 16:9-20. Wallace writes, “There is not a single passage in Mark 1:1–16:8 comparable to the stylistic, grammatical, and lexical anomalies that we find clustered in vv. 9–20.”[5]

4. The LE contains strange doctrines

Jesus is said to have a different form (v.12). He rebukes his disciples for their unbelief, which is unique to this post-resurrection account (v.14). He emphasizes baptism for salvation (v.16). He mentions speaking in tongues, which is never mentioned by Jesus (v.17). He states that believers will handle snakes and drink poison without being harmed (v.18). These concepts are unique to this section of Scripture, as well as being incredibly bizarre.

5. The LE breaks a key canon of textual criticism

Textual critics argue that it is far more likely that scribes would alter or smooth out difficult portions of Mark 16:9-20, rather than cut it out completely. Wallace emphatically writes, “When scribes find small segments of text that are problematic, they do some plastic surgery. But they don’t amputate the leg because of athlete’s foot!”[6]

Advocates of the LE claim that scribes may have excised this chunk of Scripture because they were embarrassed by the statements of snake handling and poison drinking. However, Wallace notes, “The early patristic writers allude to the second half of this pericope (vv. 15–20) far more often than they do the first half (vv. 9–14).” But by contrast, Wallace writes, “No fathers mention the first half of the pericope until the fourth century!”[7]

Why does Mark end on a cliffhanger?

Advocates of the LE argue that Mark’s ending is abrupt if it ends with 16:8. And it certainly is! How do we account for sure a literary cliffhanger? Why doesn’t Mark explain more about the resurrection appearances?

Other authors from the time period (including biblical authors) ended with cliffhangers. Wallace writes, “J. Lee Magness, in Marking the End: Sense and Absence in the Gospel of Mark, demonstrates that suspended endings—that is, endings that leave the reader hanging—can be found in Graeco-Roman literature, in the Old Testament, and in the New Testament.”[8] For instance, Luke ends the book of Acts with Paul preaching in Rome! What happened next? Did the emperor convert? Would Paul be killed?

This ending connects readers with Jesus’ earlier prediction of his resurrection. When Jesus announces his death and resurrection, Mark records, “they did not understand this statement, and they were afraid to ask Him” (Mk. 9:32). The Greek is in the imperfect tense, so it should be rendered “they were continually afraid.” This is the same verb tense used of the women in Mark 16:8 (“they were continually afraid”). This could be a literary convention used by Mark: namely, Mark wanted his readers to question what they will do now. Will they be afraid or will they embrace the risen Messiah?

Mark’s gospel contains the theme of immediacy throughout. He was writing to persecuted Christians in Rome (see “Introduction to Mark”), and he was trying to demonstrate the immediacy and necessity of faith. Thus this shorter ending would only reinforce Mark’s theme throughout his gospel.

[1] Black, David Alan, and Daniel Wallace. Perspectives on the Ending of Mark: 4 Views. Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2008. 14.

[2] Wallace gives the examples of Tobit, 2 Esdras (Nehemiah), and Daniel. Black, David Alan, and Daniel Wallace. Perspectives on the Ending of Mark: 4 Views. Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2008. 17.

[3] Black, David Alan, and Daniel Wallace. Perspectives on the Ending of Mark: 4 Views. Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2008. 19.

[4] Black, David Alan, and Daniel Wallace. Perspectives on the Ending of Mark: 4 Views. Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2008. 20.

[5] Black, David Alan, and Daniel Wallace. Perspectives on the Ending of Mark: 4 Views. Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2008. 30.

[6] Black, David Alan, and Daniel Wallace. Perspectives on the Ending of Mark: 4 Views. Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2008. 28.

[7] Black, David Alan, and Daniel Wallace. Perspectives on the Ending of Mark: 4 Views. Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2008. 12-13.

[8] Black, David Alan, and Daniel Wallace. Perspectives on the Ending of Mark: 4 Views. Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2008. 34.