A Study in Manuscripts:
A Mystery St. Mark Left for Linguists, Scholars, and Theologians
What is a manuscript by definition? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, it is “a written or typewritten composition or document as distinguished from a printed copy” or “writing as opposed to print.” The word itself is rooted in the Latin manu scriptus - “written by hand.” Overtime, copies, editions, and versions can develop stark differences. A good example of these changes is within the Bible. The Bible itself has undergone transcription, translation and reprinting since it was officially canonized in 397 A.D. Certain branches of the Church have left out some books originally canonized; developed their own canon; or chosen to use different manuscripts of the Bible in the place of others. For example, during the Reformation, books, now considered Apocryphal to the Western Church, were taken out of the original Majority texts of the Bible (i.e. Judith, Tobit, the Maccabees, etc.). Many believe the removal was based on either lack of scriptural inspiration or monetary practicality in publication. The Bible underwent even more changes in the 19th century when the traditional Majority Text manuscripts were moved aside for seemingly older manuscripts of the Bible, commonly identified as the Minority Text. Most modern English translations of the Bible (such as the NIV or NASB) follow the Minority Text manuscripts, whereas older English translations (primarily the KJV) follow the Majority Text manuscripts.
Differences in Transcription and Translation
Outside of simple Apocryphal and Canonical differences in Church Traditions, other difficulties have arisen about the consistency of Scripture. For example, certain Hebrew or Greek terms found in the Bible have meanings “untranslatable” into other languages. This has resulted in similar rather than exact translations made to communicate ideas. However, this can lead to exegetical confusion if the reader does not understand the original language of the document. Paraphrasing is also an active difference in versions of the Bible. The Message Bible, for instance, is a modern translation of the Bible which has paraphrased/rephrased the Greek to fit cultural idioms.
Yet, beyond all of these, the unmistakable differences in Minority and Majority texts of the Bible and how people have chosen to address those differences must be discussed. From stark omission of a passage to a single word, the Minority and Majority Texts of the Bible contradict each other 3,000 times just in the Gospels! One of the more serious contradictions is the inclusion or exclusion of Mark 16:9-20.
Mark’s Rhetorical Style
To give context, Mark has been characterized by some theologians as a “comic book” style writer - everything took place quickly and concisely, continuing on to the next event. Using ευθυς - the Greek word for “immediately” - fifty-one times in his Gospel, his vocabulary choices are evidence of his speedy and practical rhetorical style. He spends most of his time on the last week of Jesus’ life - compactly and chronologically summarizing His last few days. Lastly, he uses the historical present tense over 150 times to demonstrate urgency. His purpose was to highlight Christ’s non-stop work; how He truly came to “to seek and to save that which was lost;” and how He “seeked” diligently and with necessary urgency. He portrayed the substantial requirements of the Christian life – then, effectively ending his Gospel with a specific highlight of Christ’s death and resurrection in Chapters 14-15.
Discrepancy and Causes of Controversy
The end of these chapters is where the controversy starts - Chapter 16. Mark’s “τελος” (ending) has been analyzed with academic scrutiny and yet multiple elements of it still cause contention among leading scholars, linguists and theologians. The first problem which arises is the two known endings to Mark - the Long Ending and the Short Ending. The Short Ending (shown below) is a less familiar replacement of Mark 16:9-20. It is found in only six Greek manuscripts and one Latin manuscript (Codex Bohiensis) from around 400 A.D. Although it can be found in italics or in the footnotes of some Bibles (i.e. NASB), it is not a popular ending and is, in majority, rejected by all Traditions of the church.
“All that had been told to them, they told to Peter and his companions. And after that Jesus Himself [appeared to them and] sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation. Amen.”
The Long Ending, however, is much more prominent in the church and has been accepted as canonical until recent speculation. The Long Ending is commonly known as Mark 16:9-20 in almost every modern Bible available.
“9 Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils. 10 And she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept. 11 And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not. 12 After that he appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country. 13 And they went and told it unto the residue: neither believed they them. 14 Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen. 15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. 17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; 18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. 19 So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. 20 And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.”
(Mark 16:9-20, KJV)
The recent speculation on the endings results from some inconsistencies between certain manuscripts of the Bible - some including the Long Ending and some removing it completely. Those ancient manuscripts which do not contain the Long Ending - the Alexandrian texts, Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus - are the bases for what is now known as the Minority Text. The Majority Text has its foundation in mainly Byzantine manuscripts (along with Western and Caesarean manuscripts) most of which are considered “late” manuscripts - produced after 600 A.D. Out of the 5,000 Greek manuscripts of the Bible, the Majority Text inhabits a vast 95% of them - all of them containing the Long Ending. This is where the controversy started - which one is right? The older one, with no ending? Or, the countless “later” manuscripts with an ending?
Five Major Views and Implications
In this case, scholars, pastors, linguists, and laymen take one of five major views concerning Mark 16:9-20:
1. Those who include the verses, because they believe Mark wrote them.
1. Those who include the verses, because they believe Mark wrote them.
- Those who wish to include the verses, regardless of Mark’s authorship.
- Those who exclude the verses, even if Mark did write them.
- Those who exclude the verses because they believe Mark did not write them.
- Those who include or exclude the verses based solely on historical evidence and not personal belief.
These five opinions can be found throughout the Church; however, the stance a person takes on Mark 16:9-20 will greatly “affect and reflect” his view on what defines Biblical canon. Thus, the implications of inclusion or exclusion are huge. First, most mainstream Protestants, Roman Catholics, and the Western Church as a whole are concerned with the placement and historical standing of Mark 16:9-20 because it directly affects the infallible inspiration of scripture. Historical inaccuracy or unknown authorship is not acceptable or trustworthy. The Eastern Church (Oriental and Eastern Orthodox) is concerned with the content of Mark 16:9-20 - is it heretical or edifying to the Christian faith? Does it follow the criteria for canonization?
When it comes to determining a side to a controversy, a scholar must look toward the most natural proof in existence: evidence. Some interpret evidence differently, depending on their worldview – absolute objectivity, in this situation, is impossible. However, a brief summary and explanation of the current evidence for/against the Long Ending is very possible.
External Evidence For and Against Including the Long Ending:
External in Support:
The external evidence for the Long Ending is most convincing. The words of the Early Church Fathers, textual resources, and dates have been supplied to support the Long Ending.
To begin, the claim that Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus are the oldest (and thus considered the “most reliable”) manuscripts containing Mark is an erroneous statement. Older and contemporary manuscripts to those two Codices exist as well. Those include the Curetonian Syriac, the Coptic Sahidic, Bohairicn and Fayyumic versions, the Vulgate, Codex Ephraimi Rescriptus, Codex Washingtonensis, and most importantly, Codex Alexandrinus. Codex Alexandrinus is regarded as equal, if not more consistent than Sinaiticus and Vaticanus - both holding their own noticeable discrepancies with other manuscripts. All of these Codices, not including the two Alexandrian ones, contain the Long Ending and stand as external evidences for its inclusion.
Secondly, the Long Ending has received much reference from Patristic writings and other writings from and on the Early Church. Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Tatian, Tertullian, Cyprian, the Gospel of Nicodemus, De Rebaptismate, Aphraates, Ambrose, Didymus, the Apostolic Constitutions, Jerome, Chrysostom, Leo, Severian, and Augustine all mention or contain some direct or indirect reference to Mark 16:9-20 (Long Ending). These ancient witnesses were also spread across a large geographical area ranging from Gaul to Egypt to Syria. Irenaeus, a Church Father who lived in the 2nd century - before Sinaiticus and Vaticanus were completed - explicitly quoted verse 19 from the Long Ending:
"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."
Irenaeus, Against Heresies, (roughly A.D. 185), Book III, 10:5-6
Lastly, the question should be raised as to why the early Alexandrian texts, Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, do not contain any ending, in comparison to the rest. How did this happen? And, how does the Long Ending’s exclusion in these documents possibly support its inclusion? Since Sinaiticus and Vaticanus are both Alexandrian texts, they were copied and scribed in similar locations and cultures. If an inclusion or exclusion is found in one text - to be legitimately considered - that same variant must be found consistently throughout other texts from different regions or cultures. However, this is not the case with Sinaiticus and Vaticanus. They are the only Alexandrian texts of their kind which contain this exclusion of the Long Ending, whereas all other “branches” of texts and codices do not exclude it.
External evidence against the inclusion of the Long Ending is sparse. Besides the weight which the Codices Sinaiticus and Vaticanus carry in modern translation, most external evidence supports the inclusion of the Long Ending in the canon. Some Early Christian writers, such as the Church Historian Eusebius claim to have no knowledge of the Long Ending and are only familiar with the short ending or no ending at all. However, these ancient witnesses are few.
Internal Evidence For and Against Including the Long Ending:
Before delving into the internal evidences, it must be noted that those who support the inclusion or exclusion of the Long Ending based on the internal evidence simultaneously take a stance on Mark’s authentic authorship of the passage.
Internal Against Inclusion:
Scholars and linguists say that the juncture between verses 8 and 9 is sudden and awkward, both in concept and language. Conceptually, the immediate reference to Mary Magdalene in verse 9 is unusual to Mark’s typical style in regards to names and repetition of characters. In addition, the women mentioned in verses 1-8 do not appear in the remainder of the chapter, whereas Mary does. With regard to language, the Greek word “γαρ” (gar), a conjunction which simply means “for,” appears oddly placed at the very end of verse 8. Grammatically, “γαρ” is not supposed to appear at the beginning of a Greek sentence. There is no rule, however, that it is incorrect to be placed at the end. Mark uses “γαρ” roughly four times in his Gospel, but never at the end of the sentence. This inconsistency and abrupt ending causes some linguists or scholars to believe that the Long Ending is not original and was added on later to make up for a possible missing ending to Mark.
In addition, scholars have examined the vocabulary used in the Long Ending in comparison with the rest of Mark and have found some inconsistencies. Sixteen different vocabulary words, three of which are repeated more than once, are used in the passage, but nowhere else. For example,“μορφή” (morphe) appears nowhere else in the Gospels, except for the Long Ending. And, “απιστεω” (apisteo) does not appear anywhere in Mark but the Long Ending. Also, Mark’s “favorite” word “ευθυς”(immediately) appears nowhere in the passage.
The different phraseology of the Long Ending is the last major argument for the internal evidence against it. Eight different phrases are used in that particular passage, but nowhere else in Mark. “μεν ουν” (men oun "on the one hand therefore," v. 19) is one example of a phrase appearing only in Mark. “Oi met' autou genomenoi ("those having been with him" vs. 10) is another obscure phrase - used only in this passage, when referencing the disciples.
Internal For Inclusion:
Little internal evidence exists for the inclusion of Mark 16:9-20 and any evidence which does exist is in refutation to the internal evidence against the Long Ending’s inclusion. In this case, the refuting arguments for the three internal reasons for exclusion are below:
1) In regards to the conceptual and language differences within the Long Ending, it was not uncommon for Mark to refer to people in the brief, repetitive way he referred to Mary Magdalene. Three other instances in Mark (Mark 3:16, Mark 3:17 and Mark 7:26) reveal that Mark had sparingly used this instant flashback of character identification.
2) The vocabulary differences and inconsistencies in the Long Ending are not as inconsistent as they appear. Although sixteen new words appear in the passage, eight of the sixteen are just constructions based off of root words which are found continuously throughout the rest of Mark and the New Testament. Others appear elsewhere in the Bible to describe the same events portrayed in the Long Ending.
3) Lastly, the phraseology is truly different from any other found in Mark. However, it can be argued that other Gospels and books of the Bible contain similar inconsistent phraseologies throughout them. And, it must also be noted that another portion of Mark (chap. 15) includes phraseologies found nowhere else in the book.
Based off of the evidences for inclusion, the general purposes for including the Long Ending in Mark 16 are either because 1) a person is convinced by the external evidence that Mark 16:9-20 is authentic (in authorship and/or canonical accuracy) or 2) a person requires these evidences to prove the historical infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture.
The purposes for excluding the passage encompass a broad plain. In summary, it can be said that either 1) a person is convinced by the internal evidence against the passage or 2) a person is uncomfortable with the possibility of error or apocryphal inclusion.
Plausible Conclusion of Internal and External Evidence:
It is possible that Mark’s authorship of the Long Ending is authentic for several reasons. First, Mark’s rhetorical style is erratic, fast paced and resembling an ancient “comic book” nature. So, with regard to the internal evidence, it is very possible that the abrupt junctions, new vocabulary, and different phraseology were purposeful. Did Mark actually write the Long Ending? We will likely never know. Scholars, linguists and theologians have become almost evenly divided on the issue after surveying the evidence. God tells Job in Job 38:4, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding.” In the same way, we were not present for the writing, compiling, or transcription of the manuscripts of Mark and because of this we lack the most convincing and effective evidence: physical presence. In the same way, C.S. Lewis says,
“When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of 'No answer.' It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal but waiving the question.
Like, 'Peace, child; you don't understand.”
However, the more significant question is whether the Long Ending should be included in the Bible as canonical. The answer, given the evidence, is “yes.” For centuries, the Long Ending has been regarded as not only canonical, but edifying to the church and used within it. Regardless of the manuscript differences or vocabulary skirmishes, the passage itself contains the very “heart and soul” of countless mission statements, when it begins to say, “Go ye into all the world.” And so, the question for inclusion or exclusion of the passage does not rest in historical accuracy or full assurance of Mark’s authorship, but on the edifying nature of the passage. Is it used universally throughout the church? How has the church used it throughout the centuries?
The small inconsistencies in Mark and the troublesome history of the manuscripts emerged after the Minority Text began to take more precedence. Consequently, the authenticity of the two separate endings (Long and Short) began to be (and still are being) hotly debated. However, the primary debate is the inclusion or exclusion of Mark 16:9-20. From the external evidence of manuscript statistics and Patristic writings to the internal evidence of nuances in the Long Ending’s language, the passage of Mark has made scholars, linguists, and theologians almost equally embattled. These “sides” are taken based on the expert’s or layman’s priorities on the issue - be that accuracy, authorship, consistency, or edification. However, the church has used the Long Ending of Mark for centuries - experiencing little controversy about it until recently. Voltaire once said, “Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.” In addressing Mark, it is necessary to ask the right questions - questions about the true purpose and reason for the Long Ending.
A valuable lesson from this controversy is that understanding the universals of purpose will set up a strong foundation for analyzing the particulars.
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