What is the Meaning of Mark 16.9-20

“The Long Ending of Mark” Is Mark 16:9-20 Inspired by God?

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INTRODUCTION What is the Meaning of Mark 16.9-20

The Bible was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek and we no longer possess the original writings of the Bible authors, but we do have ancient copies. In the ancient world, to produce copies, they did not use a computer or a printing press, but they had to handwrite them.

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Let’s say you’re in Rome in AD 100 and your friend has a copy the New Testament and you would like a copy. You would sit down (or pay someone else to) and copy it by hand. And there, that’s your Bible. We call that a manuscript.

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That kind of thing was happening constantly. Now, let’s pretend we’re all together here, and I have Mark and you all want it. I would read it to all of you and you copy it. You’d make mistakes.

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Then we sit here and rejoice in and preach the contents and we eventually die in Christ. Then, 2000 years later, scientists come along and look at each of our copies of Mark. By analyzing the copies, they can determine what was the original source and what were the copies. They can explain the mistakes and determine that indeed mine was the original and you made your copies from mine.

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Assuming I copied it directly from Mark, which is most likely closest to the original reading of Mark. Mine or yours? So, clearly you’d prefer the earlier reading.

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Coming to Mark, or any other book of the New Testament, we have several ancient, handwritten copies (manuscripts, somebody’s Bible) in the original language dating from the 2nd century to the 11th century.

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Facts: “Long Ending” of Mark

Nearly every ancient copy of the New Testament has it, so why do nearly all modern translations treat it with brackets or footnotes? Here are arguments to exclude it.

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Arguments from Ancient Bibles

  • Original Greek:
    • The two oldest manuscripts do not have it. But remember, we trust older copies more!
    • Other manuscripts put “asterisks” next to it that seem to indicate that the copier thought it might be questionable.
    • Plus, the manuscripts differ greatly on what the long ending should be. Some contain parts of vv.9-20, some reorder the verses, and still another includes even more text between verses 14 and 15.[1]

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Summary Point:

  • There are people’s ancient Bibles (manuscripts) that do not contain the longer readings of Mark 16:9-20. If original, why would the copyist reject it?
  • When the endings do occur, some of the readings are marked off with asterisks (or the like). If original, why would the copyist do this?
  • When the endings do occur, they also vary too greatly among themselves, significantly more than at other points (e.g., Mark 15:28). If original, why would there be so much disagreement?
  • Therefore, it’s best to reject that the reading is original.

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If one argues that vv.9-20 are original, he must explain why the oldest manuscripts don’t have the verses, and why the use of asterisks in multiple manuscripts, and why the greatly varied readings. There would be no need for all the different endings if an original existed.

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The argument above from the ancient Greek language (the original language) is compounded by the following facts:

  • Ancient Versions (i.e., translations): Old Latin, Syriac (late 4th century), Sahadic Coptic, 100 Armenian manuscripts, Georgian do not contain the longer ending.
  • Early Church Writers: Neither Clement of Alexandria (150-215 AD) nor his student Origen (184-253 AD) mention the long ending. Other ancient writers testify that the majority of manuscripts did not contain the long ending (Jerome, Eusebius).

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Arguments from Content

  • Word choices and grammar: If I speak like a 4 year old, I use 4 year old word choices and grammar. If I’m 15, then I speak like a 15 year old. If I’m Greg, I speak like Greg, using Greg-like words and sentence structure. I don’t talk like Bob or Larry and I don’t use the same words that Bob or Larry do. If I’m Mark, I use Mark’s word choices and sentence structure.
    • Fact: In Mark 16:9-20, there are 18 words not found in the rest of Mark. We have come to expect certain words from Mark as well, which are absent.[2]
    • Fact: Different style. Facts, not narrative detail.

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  • Content: If I write something, what I write at the end should flow from what I write at the beginning.
    • Verse 9 does not naturally follow verse 8.
      • 16:8: frightened and fleeing women… you would expect continuation. Instead verse 9 reads like a backtrack
      • 16:9: “Now after He had [such and such], He first [such and such]”
    • Mary Magdalene in v. 9 has a new description (cast out 7 demons) although she has been mentioned 3 times before (15:40, 47; 16:1). If original, why would Mark have waited to mention it here, which is after the resurrection. It seems out of order and, reflecting too much in the past. We would have expected Mark to proceed.
    • Compare Mark 16:14 with John 20:24. Likely the same story because of the chastisement for unbelief. How could there be 11 disciples in Mark 16:14 and 10 in John 20:24?

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We have God’s Word: Less than 2% of the readings of the New Testament are disputed. Most of these are a matter of spelling, grammar or word order.

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Appendix to Mark: What’s the Point of the Young Man in Mark?

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From Linen Sheet (sin) to White Robe (salvation): Mark 14:51-52; 15:46; 16:5

The linen cloth represents the disciples in the shame of their sin. They are disgraceful and shameful in their unfaithfulness (contrast Mark 10:50). But Jesus dies for them, “burying” their sin with a linen cloth (Mark 15:46). The resurrection will transform the disciples (young men) into someone they had not been before (Mark 16:5).

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Argument 1: “Young man” only occurs in Mark 14:51 and in Mark 16:5. Gospel literature would lead us to tie the two together. Mark could have called him an angel, as the other accounts do.

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Argument 2: “Linen cloth” only occurs in Mark 14:51,52 and Mark 15:46. Gospel literature would lead us to tie the two together.

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The explanation for the new word (“white robe”) is the transformation of the disciples.

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Go to Mark Main Page

Go To New Testament Books

Go To BibleTrove Home Page

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  1. “And they excused themselves, saying, ‘This age of lawlessness and unbelief is under Satan, who does not allow the truth and power of God to prevail over the unclean things of the spirits [or, does not allow what lies under the unclean spirits to understand the truth and power of God]. Therefore reveal your righteousness now’ – thus they spoke to Christ. And Christ replied to them, ‘The term of years of Satan’s power has been fulfilled, but other terrible things draw near. And for those who have sinned I was handed over to death, that they may return to the truth and sin no more, in order that they may inherit the spiritual and incorruptible glory of righteousness that is in heaven.’”

  2. Immediately, the historic present (this “is happening” instead of this “happened”), and beginning a new sentence with the Greek kai.

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