Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Student's Toolkit: When Your Professor Rejects Mark 16:9-20

          How should preachers handle Mark 16:9-20?  Since I regard this passage as sacred Scripture, I encourage them to preach from it.  I also recommend that they point out to their congregations that most English versions have headings or footnotes which state that some manuscripts (or, the two earliest manuscripts) of Mark do not contain these 12 verses.  Then, point out that footnotes have to be concise, and cannot be expected to always adequately describe the evidence.  Sometimes they even contain mistakes, like the notes about Mark 16:9-20 in the NET, the CSB, the ESV (until 2010), and the hyper-paraphrase known as The Message.
Hey NavPress:  are you ever going to
this false footnote?
          The impression given by vague footnotes changes drastically when the evidence is described in precise terms:  two Greek manuscripts from the 300’s, and one medieval commentary-manuscript, conclude the text of chapter 16 at the end of verse 8; meanwhile over 99% of the Greek manuscripts (over 1,600, including ancient ones, contrary to the footnote in The Message) support these verses.  In addition, patristic writers used these verses as Scripture in the 100’s, including Justin Martyr, Tatian, and Irenaeus, the last of whom specifically quoted Mark 16:19 in Book Three of his composition Against Heresies (c. 180).  
          In a way, the answer to the question, “Is Mark 16:9-20 part of the canon of Scripture?” – Yes, or No – will also answer the question, “Did the early Christian church hand down the Greek text of the New Testament in a form which accurately conveyed the message of the original text?”.  For clearly the presence or absence of these 12 verses changes the narrative quite a bit.  Most folks will grant that since we trust the early leaders of the church where the canon is concerned, we should trust them where the text is concerned as well – not necessarily in fine details (where their own quotations vary), but at least where readings that heavily impact the meaning are concerned.  
          The patristic writers (and anonymous compositions) who show, in one way or another, that they used manuscripts of Mark that included 16:9-20 include Ambrose and Aphrahat and Apostolic Constitutions and Augustine and “Acts of Pilate” and “De rebaptismate” and Doctrine of Addai and “Enthronement of Michael” and Epiphanius and “Epistula Apostolorum” and Eusebius and Eznik of Golb and Fortunatianus and Fulgentius and Hierocles (a pagan writer) and Hippolytus and Irenaeus and Jerome and John Cassian and Justin Martyr and Leo and Macarius Magnes and  Marcus Eremita and Marinus and Martyrium Arethae and Nestorius and Patrick and Pelagius and Peter Chrysologus and Philosturgius and Prosper of Aquitaine and Pseudo-Didymus and Severus of Antioch and Tatian and Tertullian and Vincent of Antioch and Vincentius of Thibaris and Wulfilas  plus several forms of the Old Latin chapter-summaries of Mark, and Syriac section-divisions.  Most people conclude that all this makes it obvious that the people who recognized the New Testament canon also recognized Mark 16:9-20 as Scripture.   
          Some seminary professors, however, are not like most people.  What should a seminary student do when a professor denies that Mark 16:9-20 belongs in the Bible – implicitly tipping his hand on the question of whether or not he believes that the Greek-speaking churches handed down the text of the Gospels with sufficient accuracy to preserve the original message without drastic adulteration or loss?  Here are four suggestions.

1.  In the classroom, ask your professor for details about the evidence pertaining to this passage.  If he says things like, “Clement and Origen do not use it,” or, “Eusebius and Jerome say that it was absent from the best copies,” and if his description of the manuscript-evidence is vague, it is safe to deduce that your professor has only a marginal and shallow grasp of the evidence, and that his statements are mere mirrors of Bruce Metzger’s obsolete Textual Commentary which was designed to defend the readings adopted in the UBS Greek New Testament.      

2.  Meet with your professor privately and inquire about how much attention he has given to this textual variant.  It is quite possible that he has never read a single commentary written by an author who defends the passage.  Introduce him to resources that may be new to him, such as Roger Pearse’s Eusebius of Caesarea – Gospel Problems & Solutions (which shows what Eusebius really wrote, instead of just misleading snippets and summaries), and Carl Cosaert’s The Text of the Gospels in Clement of Alexandria (which shows how exceedingly rarely Clement quoted from Mark), and the 2016 edition of my book, Authentic:  The Case for Mark 16:9-20 (which covers external evidence and internal evidence in minute detail).  Nicholas Lunn and David W. Hester, too, have both recently written in favor of this passage.

3.  Treat your professor like he has a brain and is not obligated to conform to groupthink or “conventional wisdom.”  Scholars and teachers should be especially happy when they learn that a position to which they once subscribed is not really sustained by the available evidence – even when abandoning that position means admitting not only that they were wrong, but that the “scholarly consensus” is also wrong.  Your professor probably already has some opinions that are shared by only a small minority of his peers; encourage him to investigate the ending of Mark with the same curiosity that led him to those minority opinions.   

4.  Keep the lines of communication open.  It may seem natural to want to ignore a teacher who advocates the view that practically the entire Christian church outside the borders of Egypt failed to hand down a form of the Greek text of the Gospels that conveyed the meaning of the original text.  However, your professor might gradually realize, if he is encouraged to continue to investigate the subject, that a lack of meaningful peer review has allowed research on the ending of Mark to stagnate (as one can see by observing the many commentaries that simply rephrase Metzger’s words). 
           Your professor may then perceive that the scholarly consensus on this subject has grown unjustifiably entrenched, even though more evidence than ever before has come to light supporting the genuineness of these 12 verses.  With prayerful and gentle but persistent interaction, attempt to guide your professor to a new appreciation for the longstanding ecclesiastical acceptance of a form of the text that includes Mark 16:9-20.  This might even provoke similar journeys regarding other textual variants.        

[This post is intended as a response to a recent post by Danny Akin at the Gospel Coalition blog, and echoes it in some respects for rhetorical effect.]

1 comment:

Ken Ganskie said...

Thanks James for that blog on Mark 16:9-20. I think you should go into the colleges and seminaries and see if you can "educate" them on this matter. They need to hear informed voices like yours. Unfortunately, I fear that the arrogance of most professors will not allow them to entertain what they would perceive as "unscholarly" approaches to this subject. They (professors) seemed to be tied, nay, bound, to the positions taken by the leading text-critical scholars and have very little time or appetite for the ecclesiastical text promulgated by the church fathers and the non-alexandrian textual history.

Keep up the good fight. Blessings

Ken Ganskie