Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Got Questions Website and Mark 16:9-20

It is wearying to focus once again on Mark 16:9-20.  But recall the old saying:  "One must fix the fence where it is broken."  And regarding Mark 16:9-20, many writers have broken the fence of facts, like lost cows, leaving behind a mess.  Today let's consider the inaccuracies, half-truths, and falsehoods about Mark 16:9-20 that are currently spread by the Got Questions website.  We'll look mainly at the claims about external evidence, but some claims about internal evidence will also be addressed.


The Got Questions writer said, “The vast majority of later Greek manuscripts contain Mark 16:9-20.”  That statement is technically true.  But it is an understatement.  A “vast majority” might be 66% or 75%.  But in this case, we’re looking at over 99% of the later Greek manuscripts of Mark 16 that have not undergone damage.  (Only one later Greek manuscript ends without Mark 16:9-20, minuscule 304, which contains a commentary based in part on the commentary by the writer Theophylact, whose commentary includes comments about verses 9-20.  304 may simply be a copy of a damaged manuscript.)  That's over 1,500 manuscripts.  Now, elsewhere at the Got Questions website, one finds the statement, "The sheer volume of biblical manuscripts makes it simple to recognize any attempts to distort God’s Word."  Obviously the author considers the ending of Mark an exception.

The Got Questions writer said, “Mark ends at verse 8 in two of the oldest and most respected manuscripts, the Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus.”  Again, that’s true, but it is not the whole truth.  The copyist of Codex Vaticanus left adistinct blank space after Mark 16:8, as if he was familiar with the passage and attempted to reserve space for the absent verses in the event that the future owner of the manuscript might want them to be included.  And in Codex Sinaiticus, the page containing Mark 16 is part of a four-page replacement-sheet containing Mark 14:54-Luke 1:56.  These four pages were not written by the same copyist who wrote the text on the surrounding pages.  A careful study of the shift in the rate of letters-per-column on these four pages, and of the emphatic decorative lines which follow Mark 16:8 in Codex Sinaiticus, shows that the copyist who made these four replacement-pages was aware of the existence of Mark 16:9-20.

The Got Questions writer said, “The oldest manuscripts are known to be the most accurate because they were copied from the original autographs (i.e., they are copies of the originals).”  What an error!  The Got Questions writer makes it seem as if Sinaiticus and Vaticanus (the “oldest manuscripts” under discussion) were copied directly from the autographs!  In the real world, Vaticanus and Sinaiticus were made in the 300’s.  Also, the assumption that the oldest manuscripts “are known to be the most accurate” is false.  In the Gospels, Vaticanus and Sinaiticus disagree with each other 3,036 times; one or the other (or both) must be inaccurate at those points.  A copyist does not become skillful just by living in the 300’s, and the text of a manuscript does not become more accurate merely by virtue of the manuscript's survival.  Codex Bezae, for example, is almost as old as Vaticanus and Sinaiticus; yet its text of the Gospels is less accurate than the text in a typical medieval Gospels-manuscript.  Or consider Papyrus 46:  it is older than Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, but the editors of the Nestle-Aland text rejected its readings hundreds of times.

In addition, as the Got Questions writer puts Vaticanus and Sinaiticus in the spotlight, he leaves earlier evidence in the shadows!  After describing two manuscripts from the 300’s as if they were copied from the original documents themselves, he did not weigh that evidence against the evidence from Epistula Apostolorum (c. 150), Justin Martyr’s First Apology, (c. 160), Tatian’s Diatessaron, (c. 170), and Irenaeus’ Against Heresies (c. 184).  In Book Three of Against Heresies, Irenaeus specifically quoted Mark 16:19 from the Gospel of Mark.  If the writer really considered the age of the evidence to be decisive, then he ought to have concluded that Mark 16:9-20 is unquestioningly genuine.  In terms of age, manuscripts used by Irenaeus in the 180’s were much closer to the original documents than manuscripts made in the 300’s.  

The Got Questions writer stated, “The King James Version of the Bible, as well as the New King James, contains vv. 9-20 because the King James used medieval manuscripts.”  This is a cheap shot that writers sometimes take at the KJV when they are advertising some other version.  The writer has tried to belittle the KJV's New Testament base-text, as if the fact that a manuscript’s parchment is medieval implies that the text that it transmits is also medieval.  But in real life, one of the manuscripts used by Erasmus was Codex 1, which echoes an ancient text-form from the 400’s.  In real life, Stephanus (the compiler of the 1551 Greek New Testament which is extremely similar to the base-text of the KJV New Testament) cited ancient manuscripts such as Codex Bezae and Codex Regius.  In real life, during the period between 1516 and 1611, textual scholars considered ancient versions such as the Syriac Peshitta and the Vulgate, and a wide variety of ancient patristic quotations.  The text of the Gospels in the Textus Receptus (the base-text of the KJV) is a fairly good representative of the Byzantine Text, which is attested in the 300’s (by the Gothic Version, the Peshitta, and patristic citations) and the 400’s (by Codex Alexandrinus and parts of Codex W).  Only a propagandist, or a victim of propaganda, would ever describe this text as if it is essentially medieval.

The Got Questions writer wrote, “Since 1611, however, older and more accurate manuscripts have been discovered and they affirm that vv. 9-20 were not in the original Gospel of Mark.”  In real life, since 1611, the only two Greek manuscripts of Mark 16 that clearly end the text at verse 8 are the same two mentioned earlier:  Vaticanus and Sinaiticus.  All the other recently-discovered Greek manuscripts of Mark 16, unless they are damaged, include the passage! 

The Got Questions writer claimed, The fourth-century church fathers Eusebius and Jerome noted that almost all Greek manuscripts available to them lacked vv. 9–20.”  That is another misrepresentation of the evidence.  The statement from Jerome that is being cited here, from his composition Ad Hedibiam, is embedded in a summarization, by Jerome, of part of Eusebius’ composition Ad Marinum To put it another way:  Jerome was not describing manuscripts available to him; Jerome was passing along part of Eusebius’ composition Jerome included Mark 16:9-20 in the Vulgate, in 383. 

As for Eusebius:   he was aware that copies existed in which Mark's text ended at 16:8, but if you read Ad Marinum you will see that he specifically framed his descriptions of manuscripts that lack the passage as something that someone might say to resolve a harmonization-difficulty.  And instead of instructing Marinus to reject the passage, Eusebius explained how to solve the harmonization-difficulty without rejecting the passage.

The Got Questions writer said that Eusebius and Jerome “doubtless knew those other endings existed.”  However, in real life, while it is plain that Eusebius and Jerome both knew of the existence of Mark 16:9-20, there is no indication whatsoever that Eusebius or Jerome knew of the existence of the Shorter Ending.

The Got Questions writer said, “In the second century, Justin Martyr and Tatian knew about other endings.”  That is a misrepresentation of the evidence.  There is no indication that Justin Martyr and Tatian knew of any way to end the Gospel of Mark except with 16:9-20.  There is no evidence that they knew of copies with the abrupt ending at 16:8.  There is no evidence that they knew of copies with the Shorter Ending. 

The Got Questions writer said, “Irenaeus, also, in A.D. 150 to 200, must have known about this long ending because he quotes verse 19 from it.”  That is correct, but the Got Questions writer left out an important detail:  Irenaeus specifically says that he was quoting Mark 16:19 from the Gospel of Mark!  With that detail in place, it becomes clear that as the Got Questions writer claims that “these verses were added later by scribes,” because they are not in two manuscripts from the 300’s, he also acknowledges that these verses were present in the text of Mark used by Irenaeus in the 100’s.        

The Got Questions writer says, “So, the early church fathers knew of the added verses, but even by the fourth century, Eusebius said the Greek manuscripts did not include these endings in the originals.”

This is problematic for two reasons.  First, the writer has not adequately considered how abundantly the early church fathers show us that Mark 16:9-20 was in their manuscripts:  when we read patristic utilizations of Mark 16:9-20 by writers such as Tatian, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Hierocles, Ambrose, and Augustine, we are reading echoes of the manuscripts that these writers used.  Second, the Got Questions writer treated Eusebius’ statement as if Eusebius was making a direct observation about all manuscripts in all manuscript-collections throughout the Roman Empire In real life, Eusebius’ statement is not even a direct statement, and even if it had been a direct observation, it would only describe manuscripts known to Eusebius, not all manuscripts throughout the Christian church.         


The Got Questions writer stated, “The internal evidence from this passage also casts doubt on Mark as the author.”  But this is a secondary question.  Internal evidence cast doubt on the idea that the main author of Proverbs was the author of chapters 30 and 31, and on the idea that Jeremiah added Jeremiah chapter 52, but we do not therefore erase or ignore those chapters.  The vital question is not, “Did Mark add these verses?”.  It is, “Were these verses in the autograph, or were they absent from the autograph, when the text’s production-stage ended and the transmission-stage began (that is, when copies began to be distributed for church-use)?”.  If the Got Questions author consistently used single-authorship of a book as the standard for canonicity, he would trim away large segments of text from several books of the Bible.

The Got Questions writer stated, “The Greek word translated “now” that begins v. 9 should link it to what follows, as the use of the word “now” does in the other synoptic Gospels.”  But this claim is simply nonsense.  The word in question is the ordinary Greek word “de,” which is routinely used to make transitions of all sorts, including introductions of entirely new episodes.

The Got Questions author wrote, “What follows doesn’t continue the story of the women referred to in v. 8, describing instead Jesus’ appearing to Mary Magdalene.  There’s no transition there, but rather an abrupt and bizarre change, lacking the continuity typical of Mark’s narrative. The author should be continuing the story of the women based on the word “now,” not jumping to the appearance to Mary Magdalene.”  This is a perfectly valid point, but it applies to the author's imaginary ending-creating scribes as much as it applies to Mark:  why would anyone in the 100’s or later, attempting to create an ending for the Gospel of Mark, begin so abruptly, instead of continuing the scene that is depicted in 16:8?   

The Got Questions author wrote, “For Mark to introduce Mary Magdalene here as though for the very first time (v. 9) is odd.”  But the mere repetition of Mary Magdalene’s name is not objectionable:  Mark mentioned her in 15:40, and again in 15:47, and again, just one verse later, in 16:1.  The core of this objection is that Mark 16:9 adds the detail that Jesus had cast out seven demons from Mary Magdalene, instead of mentioning this when she was first mentioned.  But in 15:40, 15:47, and 16:1, she was not alone; this is the first time the narrative spotlight is on her alone.  It is not all that shocking that additional information about her is included at this point.         

The Got Questions writer stated, “There are eighteen words here that are never used anywhere by Mark.”  He failed to mention, however, that there are 20 words in Mark 15:40-16:4 that are never used anywhere else by Mark.  Does he intend to challenge the genuineness of Mark 15:40-16:4 because of this?  If not, then the ground is gone from under what he is trying to suggest by mentioning the statistic about how many once-used words are in Mark 16:9-20.    

The Got Questions writer stated, “The title “Lord Jesus,” used in verse 19, is never used anywhere else by Mark.”  Nor is it used by Luke except in Luke 24:3.  So what?  Does the Got Questions writer think that any unique feature of a 12-verse passage of Scripture implies that the passage is not genuine?  If so, then hardly any 12-verse passage in the New Testament is safe from his objections of this sort.

The writer stated, “Both the external and internal evidence make it quite certain that Mark did not write it.”  Here’s what he means regarding the external evidence:  although 99.9% of the Greek manuscripts, and 99.99% of the Latin manuscripts, include Mark 16:9-20, and although we have, in patristic compositions, echoes of four manuscripts of Mark in the 100’s that contained 16:9-20, and more than 30 other Roman-Empire-Era utilizations of Mark 16:9-20, all that is certainly outweighed by Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, Eusebius, the Sinaitic Syriac manuscript, one Sahidic manuscript, and part of the Armenian version.   

The Got Questions writer stated, “Ending his Gospel in verse 8 with the description of the amazement of the women at the tomb is entirely consistent with the rest of the narrative.”  That is how John MacArthur tried to spin the abrupt ending, in a 2011 sermon that was filled with false and inaccurate claims (claims which, by the way, are still being spread by Grace To You).  But there are problems with MacArthur’s theory; for instance, why would Mark would say that the women said nothing to anyone, knowing very well that they proceeded to report to the disciples?  Why would Mark deliberately leave his readers’ last impression of the apostles as running away in Gethsemane

The Got Questions writer stated, “Amazement at the Lord Jesus seems to be a theme with Mark.”  Again, this resembles Dr. MacArthur’s spin.  Of course people reacted to Jesus’ miracles with amazement and sometimes with fear.  Jesus was performing miracles, after all!  But that does not mean that Mark, after foreshadowing a meeting between Jesus and His disciples in 14:28 and 16:7, intended that the scene in 16:8 would be the end of his narrative.  Nor does it mean that Mark intended for his readers to perceive the women’s fear as something to be emulated, rather than as a natural reaction.  

In 16:8, Mark states that the women at the tomb were trembling with fright The only parallel to such a state of mind in Mark (in which TREMOS and EFOBOUNTO describe the subject) is in 5:33, in the middle of the episode about the women who touched Jesus’ robe.  If Mark had not written 5:33b-34, and had let the reader wonder what happened next, then we would have a true parallel to 16:8, in which Mark would let the reader wonder what happened next.  But he did write 5:33b-34.  The inconclusive scene in 16:8 is unique in Mark’s Gospel. 

Furthermore, some of the passages in the Got Questions writer’s list of examples of Mark’s depiction of fear as a reaction to Jesus are not really parallels!  The term used to describe the women’s fear in 16:8 is EFOBOUNTO.  This word, or a word with the same root, is used only in 4:41, 5:15, 5:33, 9:6, 9:32, 10:32, and 11:18 These seven passages are the only ones that involve the same vocabulary that is used at the end of Mark 16:8.  One of them (11:18) describes the feelings of the chief priests and scribes -- obviously not virtuous awe.  Granting that on six occasions, Mark mentions that people were fearful, this does not mean that Mark equated fear with virtuous awe.  Nor does it explain why Mark, knowing about Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances, would intentionally decline to record any of them, instead of preserving Peter's remembrances about Jesus, which is what the early church understood Mark's Gospel to be.  

So:  let the readers of Got Questions beware.  The Got Questions website's answer about Mark 16:9-20 is extremely misleading, and presents only part of the relevant evidence, and the evidence that it presents is in a heavily molded form.  Watch out, too, for inaccuracies in other pages at the Got Questions website which pertain to New Testament textual criticism:  I have seen essays at Got Questions that claimed that the early New Testament papyri are "the remains of the most ancient scrolls," and that Tischendorf found portions of Codex Sinaiticus "in the monastery dump," and other made-up statements.  I suspect that the claims about Mark 16:9-20 at Got Questions are essentially distorted echoes of Metzger and MacArthur, and are not based on first-hand research.