Bible: The Authentic Source Texts

A Defense of the Long Ending of the Gospel of Mark

By Stephen M. Cope
Critics claim that Mark 16:9-20 isn't part of the authentic text of the Bible and "contains no vital doctrine." But they are wrong!

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Stephen M. CopeAbout the Author: Stephen Cope, M.A., is a church historian, a member of TeachingTheWord's Advisory Board, and author of the forthcoming book, The Path To Holiness: God's Word of Truth (Ophelimos Media).

Critics claim that Mark 16:9-20 is not part of the authentic text of the Bible. Many self-described Evangelicals agree, and say that it really doesn't matter because those verses "contain no essential doctrines." But they are wrong!

Recently I was speaking with a fellow believer regarding the question of whether or not the New Testament clearly states that Christ rose on the first day of the week. Neither of us doubted either the historical record of the resurrection or the clear witness of the Scriptures that Christ rose from the dead on the third day. But we both agreed that our doctrine must be founded upon Scripture alone and not upon church tradition. My friend asked this question: Does Scripture directly state that the Lord Jesus Christ rose on the first day of the week, the day the New Testament refers to as "the Lord's Day" and we commonly call Sunday?

Searching the Scriptures

I soon realized that I had never seriously considered this very specific point, although I did not doubt that the New Testament indeed teaches that Christ rose from the dead on the first day of the week. My immediate response was that even if the New Testament did not clearly state that Christ rose from the dead on the first day, this truth was at least clearly implied in the accounts recorded in the four Gospels, and elsewhere in the New Testament.

Nevertheless, after our conversation I decided I needed to satisfy myself on the question. At my next opportunity I performed a quick search on a Bible software program for the phrase "the first day of the week" in the New Testament. What I discovered not only affirmed the Biblical doctrine that Christ did indeed rise from the dead on the first day, but I also noted how God has used this particular doctrine to vindicate a portion of Scripture often maligned by both unbelieving critics and supposed "Evangelical scholars" who have embraced the Critical Text of the New Testament as superior to either the Majority Text or the Received Text. The portion of Scripture to which I refer is the last eleven verses of the Gospel of Mark.

The Critics' Claims

Since the advent of the Critical Text in the late nineteenth century, some New Testament critics have called the veracity of Mark 16:9-20 into the question, arguing that those verses should be excluded from our Bibles because they are not truly the Word of God, inspired, infallible and inerrant. These scholars offer two arguments: 1). They claim that the earliest manuscripts of the New Testament do not include those particular verses, and 2). they claim that some stylistic differences are found in those verses that do not occur in the rest of the Gospel of Mark.

Both arguments have led some critics as well as some self-described "Evangelical" pastors and teachers to claim that the Gospel of Mark ends at verse 8 while verses 9-20 were added either by a later redactor (scribe) or "accidentally" found their way into the text of the Scripture from another supposed "lost gospel" which we no longer possess.

The obvious implication of such claims is that those verses are not the inspired and inerrant Word of God, but rather the words of men that have been added to the Biblical text. Not only do these claims raise significant concerns about the reliability of our English Bibles, they also raise an even more troubling question: Did God indeed preserve His Word? Or has He permitted men to add lengthy sections of their own words within the text of the Scripture itself?

For the record, I do not personally embrace what is commonly referred to as the Received Text or Textus Receptus, which includes Mark 16:9-20, as the exclusive text of the New Testament. While I have no objections to using only the Received Text, I hold to the Majority Text position, i.e., that the best witness as to which texts are the most accurate reflection of the original New Testament manuscripts is the majority of Greek texts currently in existence, which takes into account both the TR and other manuscripts.

"No Essential Doctrine"?

During my time in seminary, I used the Critical Text extensively and became quite familiar with the arguments for excluding certain portions of the New Testament, including the longer ending of Mark. During one particular class dealing with the issue of the "questionable" passages, I recall one professor stating that while it was possible that the longer ending of Mark could be the Word of God, it was not really important to know with certainty whether or not those verses were Scripture because the passage contained "no essentials doctrines" in defining or codifying the Christian faith.

In those student days I did not think much about that statement, although for other reasons I had difficulty believing the critics' claim that such a large section of human words that were not the inspired, inerrant Word of God had somehow become part of the canon of Scripture. My position was rooted in an understanding of the clear witness of Scripture that God sovereignly and specifically governs every detail of His creation and of history. The Holy Spirit directly governed the men who wrote the Scriptures (e.g., 2 Timothy 3:16-17, 2 Peter 1:19-21), and God places supreme emphasis upon His written Word as the sole authority of the Church in doctrine and life. For all these reasons I found it extremely difficult to believe that the so-called longer ending of Mark is not the Word of God.

In my years after seminary I continued to encounter pastors who rejected those eleven verses as part of the Gospel of Mark. In 2012, I recall reading the Facebook page of a prominent pastor who had preached through the Gospel of Mark, but chose to stop his sermon series at verse 8. His reason was that he did not believe verses 9-20 were the inspired and inerrant Word of God, and therefore these verses held no profit to the church of Jesus Christ.

The All-Wise God Vindicates His Word

As I sat looking at the search results on my computer, and all these past interactions with the question of the longer ending of the Gospel of Mark passed through my mind, I made a rather profound observation concerning the New Testament's witness regarding the exact day Christ rose from the dead. While Matthew, Luke and John, as well as the opening verses of Mark 16, all clearly implied that Christ rose on the first day of the week, the only explicit statement that Christ rose on the first day of the week occurs in the so-called "questionable" half of Mark 16. In verse 9, we read the following:

Now when He [Christ] rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons.

Immediately the statement I had heard in seminary came to mind. Mark 16:9-20 supposedly did not contain any "essential doctrines" of the Christian faith. And so, I had been told, it was a moot point whether or not we treated those verses as the Word of God. That argument suddenly crumbled under the weight of the words of verse 9.

But then this thought also struck me: Such thinking regarding the alleged unimportance of Mark 16:9-20 is another example of the naturalistic view of the Bible derived from the German Epistemological Matrix that had created the Higher Critical movement of the late 19th century. This school of philosophy disregards the clear teaching of II Timothy 3:16: "All Scripture is. . . . profitable for doctrine." I realized that the longer ending of the Gospel of Mark does contain a very important, nay, an essential doctrine regarding the resurrection of Christ.

Oh, the wisdom of the Providence of God, I thought to myself. He knew men would try to say that this passage was not part of the Bible, and yet right there, in that section, He explicitly states that Christ rose on the first day of the week. In doing so, the Holy Spirit not only vindicated the witness of all of Scripture regarding the true account of the resurrection of Christ, but He also decisively vindicated these eleven verses as part of the received canon of the Word of God.

By placing the testimony of Christ's resurrection on the first day of the week in verse 9, the Holy Spirit not only met the inferior and unbiblical standards of most higher critics in establishing the veracity of the succeeding verses as Scripture, He also clearly demonstrated that the doctrine contained in verse 9 is completely in harmony with the rest of the Gospels as well as the rest of the New Testament.

At that point, I realized, I had a strong argument against the critics who reject the longer ending of Mark. Not that I had ever doubted the longer ending was truly Scripture on the other grounds I have mentioned, but the clear and precise declaration of verse 9 hit me with added force. Mark 16:9 is vitally important to our Bibles, and to sound doctrine. We have, therefore, all the more reason to preach and teach from those verses, for they are indeed "profitable for doctrine."

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