Monday, October 19, 2015

N. T. Wright and the Ending of Mark

           How bad is the present situation regarding the spread of misinformation about Mark 16:9-20?  It’s dismal.  (Sorry to chime in about this passage yet again, folks, but one must fix the fence where it is broken.)  One might expect misinformation to be spread by enemies of Christianity such as Bart Ehrman and James Tabor.  Ehrman has taught that Mark 16:9-20 was added by “early medieval scribes” (time-traveling scribes, apparently, inasmuch as Irenaeus quoted Mark 16:19 in the 100’s).  Tabor has also fed ridiculous statements to his readers about the ending of Mark. 
          Ridiculous claims are not expected, however, from teachers within the church.  Yet some very inaccurate statements about Mark 16:9-20 continue to emanate from commentaries written by Christians.  This is having an impact on the contents of preaching and teaching.  For example, Bob McCartney, a preacher with two seminary degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, told his congregation in 2011 that no manuscripts contain Mark 16:9-20 until the 800s, and he made several other false statements.  Of course he did not intend to misinform anyone; he himself was misled by the commentators he had trusted.  
          So many commentaries contain mistakes and inaccuracies about Mark 16:9-20 that it would require several blog-posts to review and correct them all.  (Norman Geisler and John MacArthur have been spreading so much misinformation on this subject for so long that they should be near the top of the list.)   Today, just as a way of illustrating the problem, let’s look at what has been said about Mark 16:9-20 by a man who is, perhaps, the most influential commentator alive:  N. T. Wright.  Let’s consider his statements about the ending of Mark in his 2003 book, The Resurrection of the Son of God, a little at a time: 

That is true.  But in addition, both of these two manuscripts contain anomalous features that indicate that their copyists were aware of copies that included verses 9-20.  Are those anomalies and their implications not worth mentioning?

Manuscripts such as . . . ?  Such as the damaged manuscript 2386?  The damaged commentary-manuscript 304?  What??  Over 1,640 Greek manuscripts of Mark have been identified.  Which ones, specifically, are the “several” others in which the text clearly stops at the end of 16:8?   

Does anyone else think that Wright sounds like Metzgers Textual Commentary here?  Metzger mentioned that Clement of Alexandria and Origen “show no knowledge” of verses 9-20.  Unfortunately Metzger did not also mention that Clement shows no knowledge of 12 chapters of the Gospel of Mark, and Metzger did not mention that Origen similarly shows no knowledge of much larger segments of Mark.  Plus, if one is going to mention the silence of Clement and Origen, does it not seem a tad one-sided when a writer fails to mention the testimony from early patristic writers such as Justin, Tatian, and Irenaeus (in the 100s) and the pagan writer Hierocles (in the very early 300’)?  Is their testimony not worth mentioning?   

Who is he talking about?  Probably Eusebius and Jerome, but this is an extremely unfocused way to describe their testimony. 

True, but if one is going to bring up the papyri, it may be worth mentioning that Papyrus 45’s affinities in Mark are significantly closer to Codex W (which includes Mark 16:9-20) than to the text in any other manuscript.

The word “most” can be anything over 50%.  So are we looking at 51%?  60%?  80%?  No; that’s not what we’re looking at.  This “most” is more like 99.9%.  One can understand why Bible footnotes, which must be concise, use terms such as “Some” and “Most” and “Other” when referring to manuscript-evidence.  But such terminology in a commentary is a sign of either sloppy research or a desire to allow readers to see only what the commentator wants them to see.

Readers should be advised about how Wright does math:  four + “some” = eight.  [Update:  in 2015 there were six such MSS; as of 2022 there are eight.]  Eight Greek manuscripts contain the Shorter Ending.  And Wright is wrong about something here.  All six contain at least part of the usual 12 verses.  The manuscript that contains only the Shorter Ending after (most of) verse 8 is Codex Bobbiensis, which is (badly) written in Latin, not in Greek, and which is assigned to the early 400’s, not to the centuries listed by Wright. 

Let’s put the evidence in focus.  Out of 1,643 Greek manuscripts that include verses 9-20, fifteen have special notes about those verses.  If 15 manuscripts make “a good many,” what do the other 99% make?!  The notes in these 15 manuscripts are similar; that is, these are not 15 unrelated witnesses; they are members of groups, like twigs on a branch.
          In one manuscript (MS 138), an asterisk draws the reader’s attention to a note (very difficult to read, but which probably says “some copies end here”); the same manuscript also has the note about Mark 16:9-20 which one typically finds in copies in which the Catena Marcum (a collection of comments compiled by, and augmented, by Victor of Antioch) accompanies the text; the note defends the inclusion of the passage.  The asterisk in 138 serves the same purpose that asterisks typically serve today:  to draw the reader’s attention to the marginalia – not “to indicate that the passage is regarded as of doubtful authenticity.”  
          In MS 199, a short note says, “In some of the copies, this [i.e., verses 9-20] does not appear, but the text stops here” [i.e., at the end of 16:8]. 
          A note in MSS 20, 215, and 300 states at, or near the beginning of 16:9, “From here to the end forms no part of the text in some of the copies.  But in the ancient ones, it all appears intact.” 
          A note in MSS 1, 205, 205abs, 209, and 1582 says, “In some of the copies, the evangelist’s work is finished here [i.e., at the end of 16:8] and so does Eusebius Pamphili’s Canon-list.  But in many, this [i.e., verses 9-20] also appears.” 
          MSS 15, 22, 1110, 1192, and 1210 share the same note that appears in 1 and 1582, minus the part about the Eusebian Canons:  “In some of the copies, the Gospel is completed here, but in many, this also appears.”  (The note in 199 is a shortened version of this note.) 
          If Wright or anyone else knows of any other examples in which an asterisk appears between Mark 16:8 and 16:9, but it is not to draw the reader’s attention to an ordinary lection-break or to marginalia, let’s have it!  Otherwise, Christian commentators not just Wright, but also Wallace, MacArthur, Witherington, Edwards, etc., etc. need to stop describing the evidence in unfocused, vague, imprecise, one-sided, sloppy and erroneous ways.
          If Wright can be this wrong, just about any commentator can be wrong.  On this subject, do not trust any commentator who does not present the evidence in focused detail.  (And if it looks like the commentator was just rephrasing Metzgers Textual Commentary, if you do not want to become a source of misinformation yourself, stop reading!)


barry said...

Let's say an atheist thinks the resurrection of Jesus is mere legend, by way of the argument that the Christian scholarly consensus is that Mark is the earliest gospel, and that what Mark had to say, ended at 16:8...and while not infallible, the consensus of Christian scholars is reasonable to adopt.

How much more study into the controversy do you say the atheist is intellectually obligated to bother herself with, before she can be reasonable to believe that Mark likely never mentioned any resurrection appearances?

Must the atheist get her ph.d in NT studies? Must she cobble together everything the scholars of the last 100 years have said about it, then publish her own book refuting what the advocates for the originality of the long ending had to say?

Can we be "reasonable" to hold a position even if we cannot refute all forms of opposition against it...sort of the way you think Christians can be "reasonable" to believe in Jesus, while nevertheless being incapable of refuting certain skeptical arguments?

John Podgorney said...

Isn't it intellectually dishonest not to consult all the evidence even if it requires going through all the available resources? THat's not scholarship. It's just sloppiness.

Andrew said...
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Greg said...

Isn't it intellectually dishonest not to consult all the evidence even if it requires going through all the available resources? THat's not scholarship. It's just sloppiness."
-------------Is it intelletually dishonest when a Christian takes a certain position on biblical theology before examining "all the available resources"?

How do you determine the point at which an unbeliever has consulted enough sources to be intellectually justified to take the position they do? What if an atheist who accepts the short ending of Mark as original, has a busy life? Must she objectively refuse to take a position merely because she hasn't consulted all possible sources of rebuttal? If so, doesn't fairness dictate that Christians be put under the same constraint, and be required to objectively refrain from "accepting Jesus" until they have consulted "all the available resources"?

Gee, how many Christian scholars have made arguments in support of Christianity?
How many Christian and non-Christian scholars have disagreed with those arguments?

Consulting "all the available resources" would be absurdly impossible, and you don't really know under what conditions the short-ending advocates can justify concluding that they have done "enough". So you forfeit the right to balk if they decide that question for themselves in a way you don't think is optimal.