The Last Twelve Verses of Mark: Are They Spurious?

1. Critical Theories Concerning the Ending of Mark

And they went out quickly and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed; neither said they anything to any man; for they were afraid. With this verse (Mark 16:8), according to the critics, the genuine portion of the Gospel of Mark ends. But how came this Gospel to end here without any mention of the post-resurrection appearances of Christ? At this point the critics begin to fight among themselves. Each one considers the other man’s answer to this question unsatisfactory. Is not this failure of modern scholars to explain how the Gospel of Mark, came to end at 16:8 a strong indication that it does not terminate there but has always included these same last twelve verses which are so generally rejected today? Let us therefore consider the various theories which have been devised to explain this strange conclusion which has been alleged for the Gospel of Mark.

(a) Did Mark Intentionally End his Gospel at 16:3?

According to some critics, Mark intentionally ended his Gospel with the words for they were afraid. J.M. Creed (1930) argued that all other attempts to explain why the Gospel of Mark ends here had failed, and that therefore we must believe that Mark purposely concluded his Gospel at this point. But docs this necessarily follow? Perhaps we ought rather to argue that the fact that all these other explanations have failed proves that the Gospel does not end at 16:8 at all but goes on to include the last twelve verses. And there have not been wanting critics who regard Dr. Creed’s hypothesis as a failure also. Thus W.L. Knox (1942) considered it in the last degree unlikely that Mark should have ended his Gospel intentionally at 16:8, for at that point he “has only just reached what is after all the main point of his Gospel, and the real ‘happy ending’ on which the whole faith of the Church depended.”

The more we think this problem over the more we…must endorse this judgment of Knox. If Mark purposely ended his Gospel without saying anything about the post-resurrection appearances of Christ, then he surely did something incredibly odd, something which we should never expect of a first century Christian. For the primitive Church regarded these post-resurrection appearances as an essential part of the Gospel story. The apostle Paul makes this fact abundantly clear in his word to the Corinthians concerning the resurrection (I Cor. 15:1–11). Here he reminds them that both he and the original apostles preached the same Gospel, and that the message of this Gospel was three-fold, first. that Christ died for our sins. second. that he was raised the third day, and third, that he appeared to his disciples after his resurrection. And on this last point Paul laid great emphasis. recounting in detail how Christ had appeared to Cephas, to the twelve, to five hundred, to James, and last of all to him. Thus we see that an account of the appearances of the risen Christ formed the climax of the Gospel story and that a Gospel which made no mention of these appearances would hardly be regarded as a Gospel at all. It is for this reason, therefore, that Matthew, Luke, and John stressed these post-resurrection appearances so much. Can anyone believe that it would ever have occurred to Mark to do otherwise? Would Mark deliberately have left out of his Gospel that feature which Paul and the other apostles regarded as so important, namely, an account of the risen Christ’s last meetings with his disciples?

Various arguments have been submitted to prove that it would not have been odd or Mark to end his Gospel at 16:8, but none of them seem at all convincing. For example, a well known conservative scholar has contended (1944) that because Mark begins his first chapter quite abruptly without any direct mention or the incarnation of Christ he might very well have ended his last chapter abruptly without any direct mention of Christ’s post·resurrection appearances. But this contention is weak in that it does not recognize the distinctive place of the resurrection in the doctrine of the first century Christian church. The resurrection was the very core and center or the Christian message. It was the proof that Jesus was what he said he was, the divine Savior and the Son of God (Rom. 1:4). The story of the birth of Christ. on the other hand, occupied no such place but was regarded as a corollary of his resurrection. In interest of brevity Mark omitted the story of the birth of Christ. This we can easily believe. But we cannot believe that this same desire for brevity would lead Mark to conclude his Gospel without any account of the appearances of the risen Christ to his disciples. This would be leaving the heart out of the Gospel; this would be telling a story and omitting the point, the divine climax.

Other hypotheses have been advanced in the effort to make this supposed action on the part of Mark more plausible. Thus R.H. Lightfoot (1945) has suggested that Mark may have regarded the post-resurrection appearances of Christ “as belonging to the story of the Church rather than of the Lord’s ministry and passion.” T.C. Skeat (1949) argues that Mark could have Ie(t out an account of these post-resurrection appearances because he calls his Gospel merely the beginning of the Gospel (Mark 1:1). Mark, Skeat suggests, gives us only the beginning, the essentials, of the Gospel. He left out the appearances of the risen Christ because they were not essential. But the testimony of Paul (I Cor. 15:1–11) surely outweighs the speculations of these modern scholars. And surely Paul regarded the accounts of the appearances of Christ to his disciples after his resurrection as an essential part of the story of his ministry and passion.



But if Mark could not have ended his Gospel intentionally at 16:8, then, according to Dr. Creed, there is no way of explaining how it came to end there, for all other explanations are inadequate. However, the holders of other theories will not agree with Creed’s estimate of their success, and therefore we must examine these other explanations also.

(b) Did Mark Leave his Gospel Unfinished?

Many of those who hold that the Gospel of Mark ends at 16:8 endeavor to account for this alleged fact by supposing that Mark was interrupted when he reached this point in his narrative and then, for some reason or other, failed to return to his work and finish it. The most common form of this hypothesis is that Mark died (or was put to death) before he could complete his Gospel. Streeter (1924) regarded this as quite possible, observing that “at Rome in Nero’s reign this might easily happen.” But to suppose that A’lark died thus prematurely is to contradict the express statements of Papias, Irenaem, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen that Mark lived to publish his Gospel. And even if all these ancient writers were wrong and Mark did die before he had finished his Gospel, would his associates have published it in this incomplete state? Would they not have added something from their recollection of Mark’s teaching to fill in the manifest gap in the narrative? Only by doing this could they show their regard for their deceased friend.

Zahn (1900) believed that it was not premature death but another reason which caused Mark to leave his Gospel unfinished. He supposed that it had been Mark’s purpose to add a lengthy section to his Gospel. After Mark had written 16:8, however, he became involved in ecclesiastical business which prevented him from carrying out his purpose. But while he was waiting for leisure to complete his Gospel, he gave it out, in its incomplete state, to his friends to read, and they made copies of it. But all this is surely very far fetched, Why would it have taken such a time for Mark to finish his Gospel? As Lenski (1934) remarks, even if Mark had desired to add as much as two more chapters, he would not have required more than a few hours to do so. For Mark presumably wrote from memory and not after months and years of preliminary research. Thus Zahn also fails to provide any reasonable explanation as to why Mark should have left his Gospel incomplete.

(c) Has the Original Ending of Mark’s Gospel Been Removed?

Juelicher (1894) believed that the original ending of Mark had been intentionally removed. “The true ending was intentionally removed some time in the second century before the book had gained Canonical recognition. This was probably done because it was felt to be intolerable that one Evangelist—i.e.—Mark should make the first appearance of the risen Lord occur in Galilee, and before Peter alone, while the others assigned it to Jerusalem, before the women, or the eleven, or the two disciples going to Emmaus.” This hypothesis of intentional removal was popular on the continent of Europe sixty years ago but later fell into disfavor. For, as Zahn (1900) pointed out, this theory involves the inconceivable notion that these mutilated copies of Mark completely displaced the older copies which contained the original ending. But how could such a uniform rejection of the original ending ever have been achieved. Surely there would have been many Christians who would have cherished this original conclusion of Mark and would in no wise have consented to its removal.

C.S.C. Williams (1951) has recently advanced a new hypothesis of intentional removal. According to him, the original ending of Mark’s Gospel was removed from the autograph before any copies were made. Some unsympathetic person got hold of the autograph of Mark’s Gospel immediately after it was written and removed the conclusion because he did not like it. The autograph copy of Mark “was mutilated not of course by a Council but by an individual who believed with St. Luke that the Apostles waited in Jerusalem for the Lord’s Alter Ego or Spirit and who rashly assumed that if the Risen Lord appeared in Jerusalem, then he could not have appeared also to some disciples in Galilee and who perhaps was offended by the phrase ‘after three days.’” But how could such an unsympathetic person ever get hold of the autograph? When Mark finished his Gospel, he must either have tended to the copying of it himself or given it to a faithful disciple, who would take care of this matter for him. And such a disciple surely would not take it upon himself to remove the conclusion of his master’s work, which had been delivered to his hands as a sacred trust.

(d) Has the Original Ending of Mark’s Gospel Been Lost Accidentally.

There is but one possibility left for those who insist that the genuine portion of Mark’s Gospel ends at 16:8, and this is that the original ending was lost accidentally. Burkitt (1901) believed that Mark’s Gospel lost its original conclusion during the first quarter of the first century, after it had been used by Matthew and Luke as one of the sources of their Gospels. He supposed that, after the longer Gospels of Matthew and Luke were written the early Christians felt that the Gospel of Mark was superfluous and thus began to neglect it. And so total was this neglect that finally only one copy of Mark survived, “lying neglected and forgotten in the tiny library of some early Christian, perhaps at Rome, perhaps at Alexandria.” Then later (Burkitt confessed he did not know exactly why) interest in the Gospel of Mark revived. This renewed interest, however, came too late to preserve the entire Gospel of Mark, for in the sole surviving copy the ending had accidentally been torn off. And thus it was that the original ending of Mark disappeared.

Burkitt’s theory, however, was effectually refuted by Streeter (1924), who pointed out that the Gospel of Mark was known to Hennas (140) and Justin (155) at Rome and also to Papias (130) in Asia Minor, who speaks of it as if it were “a standard work about whose origin Christians in general were interested.” These facts disprove Burkitt’s theory that Mark’s Gospel became almost totally extinct in the early second century.

Streeter, therefore, submitted an alternative hypothesis, namely, that the Gospel of Mark accidentally lost its ending soon after it had been written. But how could such an accident have resulted in the complete disappearance of the original ending of Mark’s Gospel? For as soon as the Gospel left Mark’s hands copies would be made of it, since this was the way in which ancient books were published. If, then, one of these early copies should lose its ending would not the other undamaged copies still be circulated and re-copied and the conclusion of the Gospel he preserved in them? And if such an accident had happened to the original manuscript before Mark gave it out to be copied, would he not himself have repaired the damage? Thus the theory of an accidental mutilation of the Gospel of Mark fails to show itself a reasonable explanation of the facts.

2. Critical Objections to the Last Twelve Verses of Mark

Thus it is an easy thing to say that the genuine portion of the Gospel of Mark ends at 16:8. but it is a difficult task to support this statement with a satisfactory explanation as to how the Gospel came to end there—a task so difficult that it has not yet been adequately accomplished. But the last twelve verses of Mark cannot be disowned on the strength of an unsupported statement, even when it is made by the most eminent of modern scholars, For these verses have an enormous weight of testimony in their favor, which cannot be lightly set aside. They are found in all the Greek manuscripts except Aleph and B and all the Latin manuscripts except k. And, even more important, they were quoted as Scripture by early Church Fathers. who Jived one hundred and fifty years before Aleph and B were written, namely. Justin Martyr (150), Tatian (175), lrenaeus (185), and Hippolytus (c. 200). Thus the earliest extant testimony is on the side of these last twelve verses. Surely the critical objections against then”l must be exceedingly strong to overcome this evidence for their genuineness. It is necessary, therefore, to hear the most important of these objections against Mark 16:9–20 and to judge of their validity.

(a) The Discrepancy Between Mark 16:9–20 and 16:1–8.

For the last one hundred years it has been said that there is a discrepancy, a fatal difference, between the last twelve verses of Mark and the preceding eight verses. Mark 16:9–20, we are told, disagrees so radically with Mark 16:1–8 that it could not have been written by the Evangelist himself but must have been added by a later hand. But this argument cuts two ways and may be used to lop off the limb on which the critics are sitting, For if the last twelve verses of Mark are in such obvious disagreement with what immediately precedes, how could they ever have been added by a later hand? Why did !’lot the person who added them remove such glaring contradictions? Thus the argument against the last twelve verses of Mark becomes, at the very outset, involved in a serious inconsistency.

But the difficulty disappears if we remember that Mark was not (as so many critics seem to think) a literary man, whose main concern was to produce a well tailored narrative. but an evangelist, whose central purpose was to report accurately those things which he believed had actually been said and done, especially those things which he deemed of greatest consequence. When this is borne in mind apparent discrepancies are readily explained. Thus Mark reported the words of the angel foretelling a meeting of Christ with his disciples in Galilee not because he wished to use them in the further development of his narrative, but merely because he believed that the angel had really said this. The meeting itself he passes over in silence because he desired to emphasize another appearance or Christ which he considered more important. And the same desire to stress the most important events led him to refrain from telling what happened to the three women who came to the tomb. This seemed to him relatively inconsequential.

(b) Alleged Difference in Literary Style.

Alford (1868), Tischendorf (1869), and other nineteenth century scholars laid much stress on an alleged difference in literary style, which, they claimed, distinguished the last twelve verses of Mark from the rest of Mark’s Gospel. Tregelles (1854) and Hart (1881), on the other hand, regarded this argument from literary style as confirmatory o( the other evidence against the laSt twelve verses of Mark and not as of much value taken by itself. Since, therefore, two of the greatest critics have thus pronounced this argument from style inconclusive, perhaps not much time need be taken in the effort to refute it. The main criticism of Mark 16:9–20 from the standpoint of style is that the word and (hoi), common in the rest of Mark’s Gospel, is not found so frequently there. But we must remember that in this concluding section Mark is recounting rapidly the experiences of many different persons. This led him to express himself in a series of short clauses, each with a different subject. This made the use of the copulative and rather awkward, and so it is not surprising that Mark employed it here less frequently than elsewhere.

(c) Documents That Omit Mark 16:9–20.

No doubt the strongest argument that can be brought against the last twelve verses of Mark is that there are extant documents that omit them. In Legg’s apparatus (1935) these are listed as follows: the Greek manuscripts Aleph and B, the Old Latin manuscript k (which has the so-called “short ending” in place of ‘Mark 16:9–20), the Sinaitic Syriac manuscript, the Adysh and Opiza manuscripts of the Old Georgian version, and eight manuscripts of the Armenian version. Colwell (1937), however, has enlarged this list of Armenian manuscripts to sixty-two.

The omission of Mark 16:9–20 in these documents is generally regarded as the primitive testimony of the universal Church against their genuineness. k is held to represent the Church in Africa, Aleph and B the Church in Alexandria, the Sinaitic Syriac the Ch urch in Antioch, and the Armenian and Georgian versions the Church in Caesarea. And Caesarea is further represented by Eusebius (275–339), bishop of that city, who wrote that the last twelve verses of Mark were “met with seldom in some copies”—a statement which was repeated by a number of later writers. This adverse evidence is considered to prove that the earliest texts of these widely separated regions did not contain these last twelve verses of Mark and that therefore the original autograph could not have contained them either. But this argument overlooks the fact that all these documents which omit Mark 16:9–20 have a connection of some sort with Origen (182–251), the great textual critic of antiquity. What if they reflect not the united testimony or the primitive Church but merely an unfortunate error on the part of this ancient scholar?

All these documents are connected with either Alexandria or Caesarea, the two localities in which Origen Eved and labored. Nat only are A feph and B the chief members of the Alexandrian family of manuscripts, and the Armenian and Georgian versions leading representatives of the Caesarean text, but k and the Sinaitic Syriac also have associations with Alexandria and Caesarea respectively. It is usually regarded as possessing a Western text, but, as Lake (1935) has shown, it sometimes contains readings which are peculiar to the texts of Egypt. And, according to Lake, one of the most notorious of these Egyptian readings in h is the “short ending” found after Mark 16:8. Thus k in its conclusion to Mark’s Gospel very likely does not give us the text of the Western Church but only the text of Egypt. Likewise, the Sinaitic Syriac probably docs not here reflect the primitive text of Antioch but only that of Caesarea, for, as Burkitt (1904) was the first to point out, the Sinaitic Syriac contains a goodly number of Caesarean readings.

Thus all the adverse evidence of the manuscripts and versions can be traced back to Origen. We may suppose that, for reasons about to be mentioned, there grew up in Egypt a tendency, to omit the last twelve verses of Mark. This tendency spread to North Africa, where it appeared in the Old Latin manuscript h. Origen fell in line with this tendency, and when he moved from Alexandria to Caesarea in 231, he brought with him a text of Mark in which the last twelve verses were missing. From this text copies were made, and from these in turn were ultimately produced the Sinaitic Syriac and the Armenian and Georgian versions. This then is the reason why these versions omit Mark 16:9–20.

But how did the tendency to omit Mark 16:9–20 ever get started in Egypt? In answering this question we must bear in mind two facts. In the first place, Eusebius tells us that in the early Church there were some who had difficulty reconciling Mark 16:9 with Matthew 28:1. These are the only two passages in the Bible which mention (or seem to mention) the precise time at which Christ rose from the dead, and yet they appear to contradict each other. For Mark says that Christ rose “early the fine day of the week,” that is, Sunday morning; while Matthew seems to say that Christ rose “in the end of the Sabbath,” which, strictly interpreted, means Saturday evening. It is true that Matthew’s expression can be more loosely construed to mean the end of Saturday night, and thus conflict with Mark can be avoided, but many early Christians did not seem to realize this and were seriously troubled over the apparent disagreement.

In the second place, we must remember that in many manuscripts of the Four Gospels the Western order was followed. Matthew was placed first, then John, then Luke, and finally Mark. Thus Mark 16:9–20 was often, no doubt, written on the very last page of the manuscript and could easily be torn off. Suppose some early Christian, who was already wrestling with the problem of harmonizing Mark 16:9 with Matthew 28:1 should find a manuscript which had thus lost its last page containing Mark 16:9–20. Would not such a person see in this omission an easy solution of his difficulty? Would he not accept this manuscript as containing the true reading and reject Mark 16: 9·20 as a later addition to the original text? And would he not influence others to adopt his view and persuade them to remove these last twelve verses from their copies of Mark, or at least not to include them in any new copies which they might make?

This unfortunate revision of the sacred text took place, very likely, in Alexandria, or at least was enthusiastically received there, because in this center of learning a type of textual criticism flourished which concentrated on the problem of removing spurious additions from literary texts. The whole training and outlook of the Christian scholars of Alexandria would lead them to favor the abbreviated text of Mark and to regard the last twelve verses of this Gospel as spurious. Thus it was that a tendency arose in Egypt to reject Mark 16:9–20. If Origen was not the initiator of this tendency, at least he cooperated in it heartily, and it was due especially to his influence that manuscripts and versions were produced which omitted these last twelve verses of Mark’s Gospel. And of these some survive to the present day to be wrongly used as evidence against the genuineness of Mark 16: 9·20. But the false testimony of these mutilated manuscripts and versions can be accounted for by some such hypothesis as that which has just now been related.

3. Conclusion The modern critical attack upon the last twelve verses of Mark (Mark 16:9–20) must be judged a failure for three reasons: (a) No satisfactory theory has been advanced to explain how Mark’s Gospel could have ended at 16:8. (b) No objection has been raised against Mark 16:9–20 which cannot be readily answered. (c) Thus there is no counter-consideration which will avail to set aside the tremendously weighty evidence in favor of this concluding section of Mark, the evidence of almost all the Greek manuscripts and of four Church Fathers of the second century.