In The King James Only Controversy (second edition 2006), James White discussed some external evidence about Mark 16:9-20, on pages 316-318. He concluded that “Given the external evidence, we believe every translation should provide the passage. However, we also believe that every translation should note that there is good reason to doubt the passage’s authenticity.” This effectively erases the passage’s doctrinal force, as if to tell the reader, “Maybe it’s inspired and authoritative, but maybe not.”
Some aspects of White’s description of the external evidence need adjustment – not least of which is what White doesn’t say: he does not mention the testimony of the second century writers Justin, Tatian, and Irenaeus. Irenaeus specifically quoted Mark 16:19 in Against Heresies Book III, Chapter 10, paragraph 5, in about 180, over a century before the production of the two fourth-century manuscripts in which the text of Mark ends at 16:8. White only mentions one patristic writer, Jerome – and instead of mentioning that Jerome included Mark 16:9-20 in the Vulgate, White only says, “Jerome was aware of manuscripts lacking the passage.” Other patristic writers – Aphrahat, Ambrose, Apostolic Constitutions, and Augustine, for example – are not called to the witness stand, and the jury – White’s readers – never hears their testimony.
White stated that 16:9-20 is not in “some manuscripts of the Sahadic Coptic version,” by which the Sahidic version is meant. Perhaps someone somewhere has confirmed that more than one manuscript of the Sahidic version lacks Mark 16:9-20, but as far as I know, the Sahidic codex P. Palau-Ribes Inv. Nr. 182 is the only Sahidic manuscript that fits such a description. It is one of the three non-Greek manuscripts of Mark 16 made before the 700s in which there is no text from verses 9-20. (The other two are the Sinaitic Syriac manuscript and the Old Latin Codex Bobbiensis – both of which White mentions by name, with no mention of the Curetonian Syriac, the Syriac Peshitta, the Gothic version, and the Old Latin manuscripts that include Mark 16:9-20.)
There is a detectable correlation here: statements from patristic writers, and individual versional manuscripts, that do not support Mark 16:9-20 are mentioned; statements from patristic writers, and individual versional manuscripts, that support Mark 16:9-20 are not mentioned. For someone who says, “The reader should be given all the information available,” White has done a remarkably poor job of presenting the evidence that supports Mark 16:9-20.
|My defense of Mark 16:9-20|
is available as an e-book
White also perpetuated a common error about asterisks or obeli, stating, “f1, 205 and others” include Mark 16:9-20 “along with critical marks (such as asterisks or obeli) indicating that the scribe knew of its questionable nature.” Regarding this claim (which was spread by Bruce Metzger), see Points #3 and #4 in my 2016 post Mark 16:9-20 – Sorting Out Some Common Mistakes, and for additional details see my book, Authentic: The Case for Mark 16:9-20.
White referred to “l, 1602,” among the witnesses for the double-ending (i.e., witnesses that attest to both the Shorter Ending and 16:9-20). This is an editorial or typographical mistake. The italicized letter “l” when standing by itself should be used to refer to the Old Latin manuscript Codex Rehdigeranus. However, the intended reference here is not to Codex Rehdigeranus: it should be an abbreviation for the word “lectionary,” and “1602” should be combined with it, so as to refer to just one witness: the Greek-Sahidic fragment l1602. For details about the unusual annotations which l1602 shares with 099, L, and 083 (indicating that their combined testimony echoes a rather narrow line of transmission), see my book. (White’s reference to “l, 153” in his discussion of Mark 1:2 should likewise be corrected to refer to lectionary 153.)
White also states that “Some Old Church Slavonic manuscripts (from as far along as the tenth century) include only verses 9-11 of the longer ending.” The fourth edition of the UBS Greek New Testament only lists one Old Slavonic manuscript that fits such a description. But, whether one Old Slavonic manuscript or a dozen, how can this be construed as evidence against Mark 16:9-20? Suppose someone falls into a pit full of hungry lions, and afterwards, only an arm is taken out of the pit. Should we conclude that only an arm fell into the pit? No, and likewise this Old Slavonic evidence is evidence of a damaged exemplar which, when made, contained the entire passage.
White also attempted to use the inclusion of the Freer Logion in Codex W as evidence against the inclusion of Mark 16:9-20, but surely this is backwards: Codex W supports the inclusion of Mark 16:9-20, and if Metzger’s estimate of the date of the Freer Logion’s creation is accepted, then it shows that 16:9-20 was in the copy used by the creator of the Freer Logion in the 100s or 200s (i.e., prior to the production of Vaticanus and Sinaiticus) – as well as in the Greek codices to which Jerome referred when (in 417, in Against the Pelagians) he mentioned the Freer Logion and said that he found it “In certain exemplars, and especially in Greek codices, near the end of the Gospel of Mark.”
White employs a somewhat problematic approach when he states, “It is the multiplicity of readings that causes so many experts to reject the longer ending’s originality.” Textual critics routinely encounter variant-units that involve a multiplicity of readings, without concluding that they must all be scribal corruptions. White says, “There simply would be no need for all these different endings if verses 9 through 20 were a part of the originally written gospel.” This is both an exaggeration and an oversimplification.
In over 1,600 Greek manuscripts of Mark, the text flows straight from 16:8 to 16:9. In three manuscripts (Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, and the medieval minuscule 304), the text stops at the end of 16:8. The Shorter Ending is in a total of six Greek manuscripts (albeit just in the margin in the case of the medieval minuscule 274). And that is all the distinct endings of Mark that exist in Greek manuscripts. Codex W does not give us a different ending; it presents 16:9-20 with an interpolation between v. 14 and v. 15. White’s phrase “all these different endings” is just tricky rhetoric.
When phrased realistically, the question “Why these three endings?” is not difficult: though present in the autograph in
16:9-20 was absent from an exemplar used in ; this accounts for the form
of the text in B and À. The Shorter Ending was then composed there to
compensate for the otherwise abrupt conclusion to Mark’s narrative; this
accounts for the form of the Latin text in Codex Bobbiensis (k); then the usual ending began to
circulate in Egypt again, and it eclipsed the Shorter Ending, sometimes being
grafted to 16:8 and sometimes to the Shorter Ending; this accounts for the
double-ending in Egyptian and Ethiopic sources. Egypt
A focused and thorough study of the evidence in this case is conducive to a conclusion in favor of Mark 16:9-20. However, when evidence is misrepresented, and when it is hidden and silenced, it is easy to convince readers that Mark 16:9-20 should only be given a “maybe, maybe not” status. In White’s world, to take away the authority of a reading found in 99% of the Greek manuscripts, one does not have to prove that it is spurious. Simply (1) point out that it has a rival, and (2) inflate the importance of that rival, and voila: the task of eroding the authority of the passage is complete; it is doomed to a bracketed existence in the land of “Maybe, Maybe Not.”
Now let’s briefly take a broader look at how James White misrepresents the evidence in other passages. He has avoided sharing important evidence in the course of rejecting readings in the following passages: Matthew 1:25, Matthew 17:21, Matthew 21:12, Matthew 23:14, Mark 1:2, Mark 10:24, Mark 11:26, Mark 15:28, Mark 16:9-20, Luke 2:14, Luke 23:17, Luke 23:34, John 1:18, John 3:13, John 5:4, and John 7:53-8:11.
One example may suffice. In his list of evidence against Luke 23:34a, White lists “sy” instead of “sys). This little difference is the difference between saying (a) the Peshitta, the Curetonian Syriac, the Harklean Syriac, the margin of the Harklean Syriac, the Sinaitic Syriac, and the Palestinian Aramaic version omit this passage, or (b) the Sinaitic Syriac omits this passage. The latter is the actual case. Of course White does not bother to mention the Syriac evidence that supports the passage anywhere in his discussion of this textual contest. He also avoids letting his readers know that Justin Martyr refers to this passage in the middle of the 100s.
Such evidence-molding is widespread in White’s descriptions of textual contests: Irenaeus is not mentioned in his discussion of Mark 16:9-20. The early Old Latin chapter-summaries, and Jerome’s testimony that he found the pericope adulterae in many manuscripts, both Greek and Latin, go unmentioned in White’s discussion of John 7:53-8:11. Minuscule 1424 is listed as a witness for the non-inclusion of the pericope adulterae but White does not mention its margin-note which affirms the legitimacy of the passage. The forgery 2427 is still listed by White (in a discussion of Mark 1:2) as if it is a legitimate witness. And so forth.
Also, White argues repeatedly that modern translations present a stronger case for the deity of Christ than the KJV does. This proposal, however, collides with White’s other proposal: the idea that passages which are considered dubious should not be relied upon (i.e., treated as Scripture) as the basis for a doctrine. All arguments that a version such as the NIV presents a strong case for the deity of Christ in Mark 1:1, John 1:18, John 14:14, Acts 16:7, Acts 20:28, Romans 9:5, First Timothy 3:16 (regarding which White states on page 261 that he prefers the usual reading, “God was manifest in the flesh”), First Peter 3:14-15, Jude v. 5, et al, are undermined by White’s maxim to the effect that when you have a serious textual variant, you should not built theology upon it.
In conclusion, while I have no objection to The King James Only Controversy’s protests against Ruckmanism and similar varieties of KJV-Onlyism, White has consistently molded the evidence in such a lop-sided way in his discussions about textual variants that this book really should not be considered a text-critical resource even as a last resort. White’s approach has not only misled many readers about the evidence relevant to many textual variant-units, but it has also encouraged them to exile many passages of genuine Scripture to the land of Maybe, Maybe Not – and will continue to do so as long as it is sold. The publisher is Bethany House, a division of the Baker Publishing Group.