Monday, December 10, 2018

Mark 16:9-20, Inerrancy, and Liberal Propaganda


            Have you ever been told that textual variants have no impact on Christian doctrine? Of course you have, if you have read text-critical handbooks by evangelical authors. However, some textual variants exist which are capable of having a strong doctrinal impact. For example, consider the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy. This doctrine is so cherished by some Christians that Dallas Theological Seminary lists it among seven “essentials” for students
            The adoption of some Alexandrian readings, however, would render the doctrine of inerrancy unsustainable. In Codex Sinaiticus (popularized as “The World’s Oldest Bible”), Matthew 13:35 attributes to Isaiah a passage from Psalm 78 – which was composed by Asaph, not Isaiah. And in Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, the text of Matthew 27:49 includes a report that Jesus was pierced with a spear before He died – in direct contradiction to the account in John 19:30-35, which says clearly that Jesus was pierced with a spear after He died. If inerrancy is an important doctrine, then at least two textual variants found in manuscripts that some Bible-footnote writers consider “the most reliable manuscripts” are capable of having an impact on at least one important doctrine.
            Perhaps, in addition to Sinaiticus’ textual variant in Matthew 13:35, and in addition to the variant found in Vaticanus and Sinaiticus in Matthew 27:49, the abrupt ending of Mark (a reading unique to Vaticanus and Sinaiticus among all our early Greek manuscripts) should be added to the list of textual variants that can have a doctrinal impact, because some liberal theologians who prefer the abrupt ending – rejecting verses 9-20 as a scribal accretion – tend to use it as a platform for the notion that the accounts about Jesus’ bodily resurrection in the other three Gospels are embellishments that originated with later sources, rather than with eyewitnesses.

            For example, a recent article by Dr. Candida Moss, published at The Daily Beast, describes a book by Dallas Theological Seminary graduate Matthew Larsen, Gospels before the Book, in which the author proposes that the Gospel of Mark “might never have been intended for publication and was more like a rough draft or collection of notes than a book.” The textual contest about the ending of the Gospel of Mark comes into play in Larsen’s theory. Moss writes: “The conclusion to Mark bears the hallmarks of a draft. Historians will tell you that the oldest manuscripts (and, we thus say, the earliest “original” version) of Mark finish at Mark 16:8, with the women who had come to the tomb running away in fear. But there are at least four other endings to the Gospel in the ancient manuscripts, which serve as evidence of early Christian readers’ efforts to revise, polish, and improve the text.”
            This is used as a platform for the idea that accounts about Jesus’ bodily resurrection were later additions to the story of Jesus. Moss continues: “Later texts, including the Gospel of Matthew, added additional resurrection stories and prologues to the text and constantly repurposed this collection of notes.”
            Now, I have no intention of investing time today to review Larsen’s interesting book, or to address the proposal that the Gospel of Mark is a mere collection of notes. I just want to zoom in on what was not said by Moss: she did not mention any of the evidence that is earlier than Vaticanus and Sinaiticus. Due to this omission, readers who believe Moss are likely to draw two conclusions:
            (A) The earliest evidence supports ending the Gospel of Mark at 16:8,
            (B) There are at least four other endings of Mark in the ancient manuscripts.
Both statements are false. Moss has put two manuscripts from the 300s in the spotlight, while keeping evidence from the 100s in the shadows. As I explain in my book Authentic: The Case for Mark 16:9-20, four patristic writers in the 100s (and more in the 200s, 300s, and 400s) utilized Mark 16:9-20 in one way or another:

Epistula Apostolorum (written c. 150, and reissued c. 180) owes some of its narrative framework and verbiage to Mark 16:9-20. For example, nowhere in the Gospels except in Mark 16:10-11 is there a report of a woman seeing Jesus after His resurrection, and then telling the disciples that Jesus is alive, and not being believed by them. This sequence of events is related, however, in Epistula Apostolorum; the disciples are depicted stating, “We believed her not that the Savior was risen from the dead. Then she returned to the Lord and said to him, ‘None of them has believed me, that you live.’” (For more examples, see my book.)  Specialist Julian Hills (Th.D., Harvard) has stated, “I would vote for a high degree of probability that the author knew the Longer Ending.”

Justin Martyr’s First Apology (written in 160) features the following excerpt in its 45th chapter, as Justin interprets part of Psalm 110 as a prophetic description of Jesus’ ascension to heaven:
            His statement, “He shall send to Thee the rod of power out of Jerusalem,” [i.e., David’s statement in Psalm 110:2] is predictive of the mighty word, which His apostles, going forth from Jerusalem, preached everywhere.”
            (Only rarely in any of his writings did Justin make specific quotations; most of his utilizations of the Gospels are loose and imprecise; it is not unusual to see Justin combine phrases from more than one Gospel when relating episodes in Jesus’ ministry, and this phenomenon has led some researchers to deduce that Justin often relied not upon a copy of the Gospel of Matthew, and a copy of the Gospel of Mark, and a copy of the Gospel of Luke, but upon a Gospels-harmony in which the contents of Matthew, Mark, and Luke were blended together.)
In his statement about Psalm 110:2, Justin utilizes Mark 16:19, using three words which appear together nowhere else in Scripture except in Mark 16:19:
            Justin’s phrase in Greek: εξελθόντες πανταχου εκήρυξαν
            Justin’s phrase in English: went forth everywhere preaching
            Mark 16:20’s phrase in Greek: εξελθόντες εκήρυξαν πανταχου
            Mark 16:20’s phrase in English: went forth preaching everywhere.

Justin may also utilize the contents of Mark 16:9-20 in chapter 50 of his First Apology, where he states, after a lengthy quotation from Isaiah 53, that after Jesus’ crucifixion, “Even those who were acquainted with him all denied and forsook him. But afterward, when he had risen from the dead, and was seen by them, and they were taught to understand the prophecies in which all of this was foretold as about to happen, and when they had seen him depart into heaven, and had believed . . . they went forth to the whole race of mankind.”
            The phrase in bold print is reminiscent of the text of Mark 16:14 as preserved in the early Greek manuscript Codex Alexandrinus, which adds “from the dead” to the words “after He was risen.”

Tatian, in his Diatessaron (produced in the 170s), blended together the contents of the four Gospels. (Tatian was, for a while, a student of Justin, and it is possible that Tatian got the idea to present the contents of all four Gospels into one continuous narrative from Justin’s Gospels-harmony that blended together Matthew, Mark, and Luke.)  The Diatessaron has only survived in versional and fragmentary evidence, but by comparing the different branches of evidence for its contents, the Diatessaron’s treatment of Mark 16:9-20 can be reconstructed: by comparing the arrangement of the contents of Mark 16:9-20 in the Arabic Diatessaron (a translation of an earlier Syriac copy) to the arrangement of the contents of Mark 16:9-20 in Codex Fuldensis (made in 546), we can see that the arrangement in both of these witnesses – one from the Western transmission-branch, and one from the Eastern transmission-branch – is almost exactly the same, implying that both echo the earlier arrangement by Tatian.
            Further evidence of Tatian’s use of Mark 16:9-20 comes from Ephrem Syrus’ commentary on the Diatessaron, upon which some fresh light has been provided by the discovery of Chester Beatty Syriac MS 709, from c. 500: In the eighth segment of his commentary, Ephrem Syrus wrote that Jesus had told His disciples, “Go into all the world and baptize in the name of the Father, and Son, and Spirit.” This is a combination of Mark 16:15a and Matthew 28:19. In the Armenian text of Ephrem’s commentary, Ephrem utilizes Mark 16:15 again later in his commentary, as he describes Jesus saying, “Go out into all the world and preach My gospel to all creation” (Mk. 16:15).

Irenaeus, in Book 3, chapter 10 of Against Heresies (c. 180), specifically quoted Mark 16:19:  “Toward the conclusion of his Gospel, Mark says: ‘So then, after the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God.’”
            Irenaeus’ testimony is not only clear and specific, but it also reflects the view of someonw who was familiar with the Gospels-text used in three locales:   Irenaeus grew up in Asia Minor; he visited Rome, and he served as bishop in what is now southern France.  Irenaeus was not hesitant to point out the existence of textual variants in his discussion of Revelation 13:18 (he refers to copies which read “616” instead of “666,” but rejects them, appealing to the oldest manuscripts, and to those with a known provenance); yet here he mentions no rival variants, as if the only form of the Gospel of Mark that he encountered anywhere was the text with 16:19 present.
            Irenaeus may also allude to Mark 16:15-19 in Book 2, chapter 32 of Against Heresies; although his comments there lack striking verbal parallels, he writes there like a person with that passage on his mind; after mentioning that the risen Lord “manifested himself to his disciples, and was in their sight received up into heaven,” he proceeds to point out that true disciples perform miracles in Jesus’ name, and drive out demons, and foresee future events, and that some “heal the sick by laying their hands upon them, and they are made whole” (see Mark 16:18).

            Yet these four pieces of evidence from the 100s, supportive of the inclusion of Mark 16:9-20 in the text of the Gospel of Mark, seem unworthy of mention in the world of liberal theologians who are intent on obscuring or simply ignoring whatever affirms the bodily resurrection of Christ. So let the reader beware: researchers who mention that Vaticanus and Sinaiticus end the text of Mark at 16:8, without mentioning that second-century patristic testimony supports the inclusion of Mark 16:9-20, are misleading their readers. And the same can be said for vague Bible-footnotes that mention “the oldest manuscripts” while leaving readers in the dark about patristic evidence that is much older than those two fourth-century manuscripts,

(In the interest of brevity, I skip over the testimony of other patristic witnesses as old or older than Codex Sinaiticus such as Hippolytus, Vincent of Thibaris, Hierocles, Acts of Pilate/Gospel of Nicodemus, the pagan writer Hierocles, and the Latin written Fortunatianus.)

            Now about the claim by Moss that “There are at least four other endings of Mark in the ancient manuscripts.”  One can truthfully say that there are two endings that follow Mark 16:8 in the ancient manuscripts, but only writers who want their readers to get a false impression would leave it at that.  More than 99.5% of the Greek manuscripts of Mark include 16:9-20. Besides Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, there is only one other Greek manuscript in which the text stops abruptly at the end of 16:8 – the medieval commentary-manuscript 304, which does not include a subscription to the Gospel of Mark, and which has undergone some damage, and which may be just the first volume of a two-volume set (the second volume of which, per this theory, began with the final comments on Mark before moving on to Luke and John).
            The “Shorter Ending” appears in six Greek manuscripts, all of which also include at least part of 16:9-20 – and various small but cumulatively decisive features in these manuscripts’ presentation of the Shorter Ending show that they all echo the text that circulated in a particular region in Egypt. In other words, while verses 9-20 are attested by early witnesses from Ireland, France, Rome, North Africa, Asia Minor, Constantinople, Cyprus, Israel, Syria, Egypt, Armenia, etc., the Shorter Ending’s early support is traceable to one locale. Nobody imagines that the Shorter Ending is original, and readers may reasonably suspect, as George Salmon did in 1890, that the primary reason why the Shorter Ending is given any prominence is to distract from the wide support given to the usual twelve verses. (For similar reasons, some commentators mention that Clement does not show an awareness of Mark 16:9-20, as if this is some suggestive thing – neglecting to tell their readers that Clement also does not show an awareness of twelve of Mark’s sixteen chapters.)          
More data is in my e-book,
available at Amazon.
          The way to justify claiming that there are “four other endings of Mark” is to call 16:9-20 an ending, and call the Shorter Ending an ending (and so far, all is well) – and to call the inclusion of both the Shorter Ending and 16:9-20 an ending, and to call 16:9-20 with the Freer Logion (an interpolation preserved in Codex W between verses 14 and 15) an ending. But that is a nonsensical way to describe the evidence; to illustrate:
            Suppose I have two dogs – let’s name them Magnus and Parvus – and I have 1,600 pictures of Magnus, and six pictures of Magnus and Parvus together, one blurry picture of Parvus, and a picture of Magnus wearing a hat. If I were to tell you that this means that I have four dogs, or a multitude of dogs, you might tell me that I am misrepresenting the evidence, and that I need to sober up. And when any writer claims that there are “at least four other endings of Mark,” (or, as Larsen says in his book, that there were “a multitude of options” regarding how to conclude the Gospel of Mark), that should be the gist of readers’ responses. Whenever such misleading language is used, you may confidently conclude that you are reading propaganda, and not honest research.


Readers are invited to explore the embedded links for addition resources.

2 comments:

maurice a. robinson said...

Add to the Sinaiticus catalog of errors: Lk 1.26, where the first hand reads "Judea" instead of "Galilee" as the location of Nazareth.

Victor Leonardo Barbosa said...

It is so sad to see the Dallas Seminary producing such case of student.