Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Mark 16:9-20 and Early Patristic Evidence

            New Testament scholars continue to spread misinformation about Mark 16:9-20.  The latest perpetrator is Dr. Zachary Cole, a professor at Union Theological College.  Dr. Cole received his master’s degree from Dallas Theological Seminary and his Ph.D. is from the University of Edinburgh.  Nevertheless – or perhaps one should say “Consequently” – he has not been well-informed about the last 12 verses of Mark.  
            Today, instead of sifting through Dr. Cole’s essay The Ending of Mark’s Gospel in a systematic way to clarify all of its inaccuracies, I wish to address one particular point, as the means of introducing some important evidence:  Cole stated  the following:   

“Only two copies of Mark seem to suggest that 16:9-20 were not originally written by Mark himself, but these are both early and reliable witnesses. And we might say that the copies that do contain 16:9–20, while large in number, are really secondary in importance because they stand farther away from the event itself.  That is why I, along with most New Testament scholars, are convinced that Mark did not write verses 9-20.”

Codex Alexandrinus, fol. 18r.
It should be noted that some of the manuscripts that include Mark 16:9-20 do not stand very far away from Vaticanus and Sinaiticus in chronological terms:  Codex Alexandrinus has the passage; so does Codex Bezae (though partly damaged) and so does Codex Washingtoniensis.  But there is a larger problem:  Dr. Cole has unfortunately completely ignored the patristic evidence.  Although Codex Vaticanus, produced around 325, is the earliest known Greek manuscript of Mark 16, and Codex Sinaiticus is indeed the second-oldest, there is evidence from patristic writings that belongs in the equation, and this patristic evidence is older that these two fourth-century manuscripts.  Consider:

(1) Justin Martyr.  Here is an excerpt, slightly paraphrased, from chapter 45 of Justin’s work First Apology (composed c. 160 for the Roman Emperor Pius as a defense of Christianity, which was at the time considered an illegal religion by the Roman government):  
Hear the prophecy that was spoken by David that God the Father of all would bring Christ to heaven after He had raised Him from the dead, and would keep Him there until He has subdued His enemies the devils, and until the number of those who are foreknown by Him as good and virtuous is complete, on whose account He continues to delay the end of the world.  These are his words:
“The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at My right hand, until I make Your enemies Your footstool. The Lord shall send to You the rod of power out of Jerusalem; and You rule in the midst of Your enemies. With You is the government in the day of Your power, in the beautiful fellowship of Your saints.  From the womb of morning I have begotten You.”
Justin, in this part of his book, is interpreting Psalm 110 as a prophecy about Christ.  He continues:  Where he says, “He shall send to You the rod of power out of Jerusalem,” this is a prediction about the mighty word which His apostles, going forth from Jerusalem, preached everywhere.  And though death is decreed against those who teach or even confess the name of Christ, we everywhere both embrace and teach it.  And if you read these words in a hostile spirit, all you can do, as I said before, is kill us; which indeed does no harm to us, but to you and all who unjustly hate us and do not repent, brings eternal punishment by fire.”
Notice the thematic and verbal parallels with Mark 16:17-20.  First, five thematic parallels:
● Justin refers to the ascension of Christ (cf. Mark 16:19)
● Justin, via Psalm 110:1, refers to Christ being seated at the right hand of God (cf. Mark 16:19)
● Justin refers to victory over devils (cf. Mark 16:9 and 16:17)
● Justin refers to the name of Christ (cf. Mark 16:17)
● Justin refers to the inability of enemies of Christians to do them real harm (cf. Mark 16:18).
And a verbal parallel:  when Justin refers to “the mighty word which His apostles, going forth from Jerusalem, preached everywhere,” he uses the Greek phrase εξελθόντες πανταχου εκήρυξαν – “went forth everywhere preaching.”  The same words, transposed, occur in Mark 16:20:  εξελθόντες εκήρυξαν πανταχου – “went forth preaching everywhere.” 

            Chapter 45 of Justin’s First Apology is the most well-known and strongest example of Justin’s familiarity with Mark 16:9-20; it is not, however, the only example.  In chapter 50, following a quotation from Isaiah 53, Justin writes:  “After His crucifixion, even those who were acquainted with Him all denied and forsook Him.  But later, 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, and they received power from there, which was sent to them from Him, they went forth to the whole race of mankind, and taught these things, and became known as apostles.”
This summary of the activities of the apostles after the resurrection does not contain any precise and direct quotation of the Gospels; however, when Justin writes “And afterwards, when he had risen from the dead and appeared to them” – in Greek, ‛Υστερων δε, εκ νεκρων ανασταντος και οφθεντος αυτοις – this bear a close resemblance to the text of Mark 16:14 as preserved in Codex Alexandrinus:  ‛Υστερων δε ανακειμένοις αυτοις τοις ενδεκα εφανερώθη, και ωνείδισεν την απιστείαν αυτων και σκληροκαρδίαν ότι τοις θεασμένοις αυτον εγηγερμενον εκ νεκρων ουκ επίστευσαν.
Also, as Charles Taylor pointed out in 1893 in an article in the journal The Expositor, some of Justin’s verbiage in First Apology chapter 67, and in his Dialogue with Trypho, chapter 138, corresponds to the wording of Mark 16:9 in an interesting way: 
Mark 16:9:  αναστάς (raised) / πρώτη (first) / εφάνη (appeared)
First Apology chapter 67:  ανέστη / πρώτη / φανείς
Dialogue with Trypho chapter 138:  αναστάς / πρώτης / εφάνη
The significance of this correspondence increases when it is noticed that Matthew, Luke, and John tend to use other terms to describe Jesus’ appearance on the first day of the week. 

(2)  Tatian.  In the 170s, Tatian, a student of Justin, made a composition called the Diatessaron.  It consisted of the contents of the four Gospels rearranged as one continuous narrative, in more or less chronological order.  In later generations, Tatian was widely regarded as a heretic (although a case might be made that he was merely very ascetic), and his writings were either destroyed or allowed to rot away; as a result we do not have any copies of the Diatessaron in Greek or Syriac today, even though hundreds of copies once existed.  Two of the most important witnesses to the arrangement of the text in Tatian’s Diatessaron are the Gospels-text of Codex Fuldensis (an important Latin manuscript made in 546) and the Arabic Diatessaron (produced in 1043 by a copyist who stated in a note that he was translating from a manuscript of the Syriac text of the Diatessaron which had been made in 873).
            The Latin Gospels-text in Codex Fuldensis represents, in terms of its verbiage, the Vulgate.  Similarly, the Syriac Gospels-text in the Arabic Diatessaron has been conformed to the Peshitta.  (The reason for this, presumably, is that the scribes were suspicious of Tatian’s wording, but were willing to perpetuate his harmonization-work.)  For this reason, neither of these two sources, standing on its own, is a safe guide on which to base a reconstruction of the wording of the Diatessaron as made by Tatian.  When they stand in agreement, however, as flagship representatives of a geographically Western transmission-branch and of a geographically Eastern transmission-branch, their combined testimony strongly indicates the arrangement in which Tatian  blended together the text of the Gospels.        
            As I showed in 2012 in an article in the journal The Heroic Age (available to read online), the arrangement of the contents of Mark 16:9-20 in Codex Fuldensis and in the Arabic Diatessaron match up rather well.  For example: 
● Both use Mark 16:10 after Luke 24:9,
● Both use Mark 16:12 between Luke 24:11 and 24:13.
● Both use Mark 16:13b between Luke 24:13-35 and part of 24:36.
● Both use Mark 16:14 between Matthew 28:17 and 28:18.
● Both use Mark 16:15 between Matthew 28:18 and 28:19. 
● Both use “and sat down at the right hand of God” (from Mark 16:19) between Luke 24:51 and 24:52.

   There are some differences, too (see for details the article in The Heroic Age), but inasmuch as (a) Mark 16:9-20 was blended with the other Gospels in the transmission-branch that led to Codex Fuldensis, and (b) Mark 16:9-20 was blended with the other Gospels in essentially the same way in the transmission-branch that led to the Arabic Diatessaron, the conclusion that Mark 16:9-20 was in the source of both branches seems irresistible. 
In addition, Ephrem Syrus, who wrote a commentary on the Diatessaron in Syriac in the 360s, mentioned in the opening sentence of the eighth part of the commentary that Jesus 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.  (It should be understood that analyses of Ephrem’s testimony prior to 1957 were made without awareness of the contents of Chester Beatty Syriac Manuscript 709, a Syriac manuscript produced in about A. D. 500 which includes most of Ephrem’s commentary.) 

(3)  Irenaeus.  In the course of his writings, Irenaeus – a prolific and prominent bishop in the second century – mentions that as a youth growing up in Asia Minor, he had heard the voice of Polycarp, who had heard John.  As an adult, Irenaeus moved to the city of Lugdunum (Lyons), where he served as bishop.  He also visited Rome in 177. 
In Book Three of Against Heresies, chapter 10, (written around the year 180) Irenaeus says:  “Also, towards 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.’”  This plainly shows that in the manuscripts of Mark that Irenaeus read, around 150 years before Codex Vaticanus was produced, Mark 16:9-20 was part of the text of the Gospel of Mark.

(4)  Epistula Apostolorum.  This second-century composition by an unknown author is little-known now, and was completely unknown before its discovery in 1895.  Epistula Apostolorum does not explicitly quote from Mark 16:9-20, but its parallels with Mark 16:9-20 indicate that the author used part of Mark 16:9-20 as the basis for his plotline (as Robert Stein has granted):
            ● In Epistula Apostolorum, the apostles are depicted rejecting a woman’s claim that she had seen the risen Jesus, something that occurs in the Gospels only in Mark 16:10-11.       
            ● In Epistula Apostolorum, Jesus is pictured saying to the apostles, “Go ye and preach to the twelve tribes, and preach also to the heathen, and to all the land of Israel from the east to the west and from the south unto the north, and many shall believe on <me> the Son of God.”  “Go ye and preach” is reminiscent of Mark 16:15.  
● In Epistula Apostolorum, chapter 1, Jesus is depicted appearing to the women at the tomb “as they mourned and wept,” which is quite similar to the description of those to whom the women reported the good news in Mark 16:10, “as they mourned and wept.”  
● In Epistula Apostolorum, Jesus rebukes the disciples by saying, “You are yet slow of heart,” which resembles the rebuke of their hard-heartedness described in Mark 16:14.   
● In Epistula Apostolorum, Jesus says to the disciples, “Whoever shall hear you and believe on Me shall receive from you the light of the seal through Me, and baptism through Me,” and, “They shall receive the baptism of life and the remission of their sins at My hand through you,” which conveys the sentiment of Mark 16:16, mentioning belief and baptism together.
While these are small points, their cumulative impact confirms that the author of Epistula Apostolorum recollected the contents of Mark 16:9-20. 

(5)  Hierocles.  Hierocles was a pagan writer (and a prominent office-holder in the Roman government in Bithynia) who wrote a short work called Truth-loving Words (or, Words for the Truth-lover) around the year 305, in which he recycled some material that had been composed by his teacher, Porphyry, in a longer composition around the year 270.  Later, c. 405, a writer named Macarius Magnes (that is, Macarius from the city of Magnesia) wrote Apocriticus, a response to Hierocles’ book, unaware that Hierocles was the author.  Macarius Magnes quoted one of the jibes made in the book:    
“Consider in detail that other passage, where he [Jesus] says, ‘Such signs shall follow those who believe: they shall lay hands upon sick folk, and they shall recover, and if they drink any deadly drug, it shall by no means hurt them.’  So it would be proper for those selected for the priesthood, and particularly those who lay claim to the bishop’s or president’s office, to make use of this form of test.  The deadly drug should be set before them in order that the man who received no harm from the drinking of it might be given preference over the rest.  And if they are not bold enough to accept this sort of test, they ought to confess that they do not believe in the things Jesus said.”
This is the same kind of challenge that some Muslim propagandists make in our own times, inviting Christians to drink poison as a demonstration that they believe the Bible, ignoring the prohibition against putting God to the test.  (Macarius Magnes, rather than argue that the passage is not genuine, first pointed out that accepting such a challenge would not really prove anything, inasmuch as unbelievers as well as believers sometimes may recover from poisoning, and then argued that the passage should be understood as an analogy – the poison being representative of the deadly effects of sin, which are remedied by the administration of baptism upon a believer, so that the person’s rebellious nature dies, but the person himself is unharmed.)
Although Hierocles’ quotation is inexact, it shows that his manuscripts of the Gospels, extant in 305, contained Mark 16:18 – unless this part of Hierocles’ work is just an extract from the work of Porphyry, in which case the quotation echoes manuscripts from the 270s or earlier. 

(6)  Aphrahat the Persian Sage.  This Syriac writer, before the end of the year 336, used Mark 16:16-18 in the 17th paragraph of his composition Demonstration One:  Of Faith:  
“When our Lord gave the sacrament of baptism to His apostles, He said to them, “Whosoever believes and is baptized shall live, and whoever does not believe shall be condemned.”  At the end of the same paragraph, Aphrahat (also known as Aphraates) writes: “He also said thus:  ‘This shall be the sign for those who believe:  they shall speak with new tongues, and shall cast out demons, and they shall place their hands on the sick, and they shall be made whole.”  

My e-book on Mark 16:9-20.
In the interest of brevity I shall not go into detail about the evidence from Tertullian, Hippolytus, De Rebaptismate, Vincentius of Thibaris, Acts of Pilate, and other sources; the data can be found in Authentic:  The Case for Mark 16:9-20.  The testimony of Justin, Tatian, Epistula Apostolum, Irenaeus, Hierocles, and Aphraates (representing different locales) is sufficient to demonstrate that Mark 16:9-20 was widely used as Scripture in the early church. 
Now then:  Aphrahat was a contemporary of the copyists who made Vaticanus and Sinaiticus.  The other six patristic witnesses pre-date Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, and in the case of Justin, Tatian, Epistula Apostolorum, and Irenaeus, the contest is not close; their testimony is over a century earlier.  Inasmuch as Dr. Cole says that manuscripts such as Alexandrinus, Bezae, Codex W, and hundreds of medieval manuscripts of Mark “are really secondary in importance because they stand farther away from the event itself,” what happens when that line of reasoning is applied to Vaticanus and Sinaiticus when they are compared to the testimony of Justin, Tatian, Epistula Apostolorum, and Irenaeus?  Logic would seem to compel the conclusion that Vaticanus and Sinaiticus are roughly equal in weight with the combined testimony of Hierocles and Aphrahat, and really secondary in importance when compared to Justin, Tatian, Epistula Apostolorum, and Irenaeus. 

Let’s revisit the last two sentences in that quotation from Dr. Cole:

Cole:  “We might say that the copies that do contain 16:9–20, while large in number, are really secondary in importance because they stand farther away from the event itself.  That is why I, along with most New Testament scholars, are convinced that Mark did not write verses 9-20.”

            He is referring to the greater age of Vaticanus and Sinaiticus compared to the manuscripts that include the passage.  But Hierocles and Aphrahat are just as close to the event itself as Vaticanus and Sinaiticus.  (A little closer, actually.)  Will Dr. Cole admit therefore that Hierocles and Aphrahat are just as close to the event as Vaticanus and Sinaiticus?  Will he concede now that Vaticanus and Sinaiticus are really secondary in importance, when compared to Justin, Tatian, Epistula Apostolorum, and Irenaeus, because those two manuscripts stand farther away from the event itself?  Your move, professor. 
            There are other problematic claims in Dr. Cole’s recent essay but I will stop here for now – almost.  Just two more things.  First, it should never be overlooked (although practically all commentators do, and certainly all Bible footnote-writers do) that while Vaticanus and Sinaiticus attest to the non-inclusion of Mark 16:9-20, they both have unusual features that reveal their copyists’ awareness of the absent verses.  I have explained this in two previous posts:  Codex Vaticanus and the Ending of Mark and Codex Sinaiticus and the Ending of Mark.
            Second, Dr. Cole describes Vaticanus and Sinaiticus are “our earliest and best copies of Mark’s Gospel” but this must be qualified and clarified.  Vaticanus and Sinaiticus are indeed our earliest manuscripts, but it is obvious that Irenaeus and other early patristic writers possessed earlier manuscripts which included Mark 16:9-20.  Their manuscripts were not kept in Egypt, (where the climate was more favorable to papyrus-preservation), but that is not a valid reason to ignore them as Dr. Cole has done (for in his essay he completely avoided the patristic evidence). 
            As for Vaticanus and Sinaiticus being the “best copies”:  suppose someone said, “My two ships are the best of all ships,” but you noticed that although their hulls were far above average quality at many points, each had two gaping holes in the stern.  Would you still call those the best ships?  Arguing for a reading because it is found in “the most reliable manuscripts” or “the best manuscripts” is like arguing that the New England Patriots must have won a specific football game because the New England Patriots win more football games than other teams.             

[Readers are invited to explore the links for additional resources.]


Daniel Buck said...

Sorry, fb won't let me comment there. A typo:
"This second-century composition by an unknown author is little-know now"

Unknown said...

Do you think Dr. Cole is too influenced by Dr. Wallace's view, and therefore would not read the evidence in the same manner as you?

James Snapp Jr said...

Daniel Buck,
Thanks; typo repaired.

James Snapp Jr said...

Ben Murray,
I have no way to gauge the effects of DTM text-critical training on Dr. Cole's views, but it is possible that Dr. Wallace's erroneous claims related to the ending of Mark (just search for "Wallace" here at the blog and see what comes up) had an effect. I am however more interested in the cure than the cause.

Daniel Buck said...

It appears that Zachary Cole's father may pastor the church whose website hosted his article.

James Shelton said...


The evidence you present, epsecially Irenaeus, shows that the longer ending mss. were out there and rather early. Thanks for the contributions you make to textual criticism. Always insightful and carefully researched. God bless!

James Shelton

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Thanks for the research. I am very slow to concede any scripture as not authentic unless rigorously tested and proven beyond reasonable doubt. I dont know how old the surviving copy's of Irenaeus used to make your claim are, but even if they are younger than the early fourth century, they still would wittness to earlier copy of Irenaeus. It is doubtful anyone back then would willingly conspire to use Mark in Irenaeus in order to prove Mark to be older than Vaticanus and Sinaiticus