Tuesday, April 12, 2022

The Vocabulary of Mark 16:9-20

           “The vocabulary and style of verses 9-20 are non-Markan (e.g., πιστέω, βλάπτω, βεβαιόω, πακολουθέω, θεάομαι, μετ τατα, πορεύομαι, συνεργέω, στερον are found nowhere else in Mark; and θανάσιμον and τος μετ’ αυτο γενομένοις, as designations of the disciples, occur only here in the New Testament.”  Thus wrote Bruce Metzger in his Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (p. 125, Ó 1971 by the United Bible Societies, Stuttgart, Germany). 

          Throughout Metzger’s Textual Commentary, signs of his reliance upon Hort’s Notes on Select Readings (1881) can be detected; for example, Hort wrote that “the petty historical difficulty mentioned by Marinus as to the first line of v. 9 could never have suggested the substitution of 4 colourless lines for 12 verses rich in interesting material” (p. 44) and Metzger has merely paraphrased this (in TCGNT p. 126) as “No one who had available as the conclusion of the Second Gospel the twelve verses 9-20, so rich in interesting material, would have deliberately replaced them with four lines of a colorless and generalized summary.”

          Metzger parroted Hort a little.  More recent commentators have parroted Metzger a lot, as if the first point he makes about vocabulary is  very cogent, sufficient to settle the question about whether or not Mark wrote 16:9-20.  For example, after making a lengthy quotation from Metzger, Matt Slick wrote in 2008, “In the last 11 verses under discussion there are 17 “new” words that don’t occur in the entire gospel of Mark.  It appears that someone wrote the ending of Mark and added it to the gospel because the style is different, and the vocabulary is different.”

          But Metzger never told his readers how many once-used words readers ought to expect in a twelve-verse segment of the Gospel of Mark.  This situation was remedied in 2019 by Karim al-Hanifi in the brief essay, The end of an argument on the ending of Mark, (available at  Al-Hanifi identified 696 words that Mark uses only once in Mark 1:1-16:8.  Bruce Terry, defining a “once-used word” more strictly, put the total at 555 once-used words.  Using the lower total, if we divide 555 once-used words into 659 verses (rejecting, with the Nestle-Aland compilation, Mark 7:16, 9:44, 9:46, 11:26, and 15:28, just to keep things simple) that’s an average of .84 once-used words in each verse.  So in a typical twelve-verse segment of Mark, it should not be unusual at all to find 8 once-used words.   Using Al-Hanifi’s tally, we should expect an average of .95 once-used words in each verse, averaging 11-12 once-used words in each 12-verse segment.

          There are quite a few 12-verse segments of Mark in which the rate of once-used words is significantly higher than eight, and higher than 12.  This list is based on Al-Hanifi’s essay:

          Mark 1:1-12:  17 once-used words

          2:16-27:  18 once-used words

          4:13-24:  16 once-used words

          4:25-36:  16 once-used words

          4:37-5:7:  17 once-used words

          6:49-7:4:  17 once-used words

          7:5-16:  15 once-used words

          7:17-28:  21 once-used words

          11:31-12:9:  16 once-used words (9 of which are in 12:1!)

          12:34-13:1:  19 once-used words

          13:14-25:  21 once-used words

          13:26-37:  16 once-used words

          13:38-14:12:  20 once-used words

          14:37-48:  19 once-used words

          15:13-24:  23 once-used words

          15:25-36:  15 once-used words

          15:37-16:1:  24 once-used words


Here are the top nine 12-verse segments of Mark, ranked in a most-non-Markan-words contest:

j 15:37-16:1:  24 once-used words

k 15:13-24:  23 once-used words

l 7:17-28:  21 once-used words

m 13:14-25:  21 once-used words

n 13:38-14:12:  20 once-used words

o 12:34-13:1:  19 once-used words

p 14:37-48:  19 once-used words

q 2:16-27:  18 once-used words

r 16:9-20:  18 once-used words


          The number of once-used – or, in Metzgerian spin-language, “non-Markan” words – in Mark 16:9-20 is high, but not remarkably or exceptionally high.  Mark 16:9-20 finishes the Most “Non-Markan”-Words contest in eighth or ninth place. 

          Mark 16:9-20 does have a few vocabulary-related features that don’t look fully consistent with the syntax used in Mark 1:1-16:8.  Perhaps the most notable example is the use of κείνη (16:10), κκενοι (16:11, 13), κείνοις (16:13), and κενοι (16:20) all appearing as pronouns in 16:10, 11, and 13.  But κκενον also appears in Mark 12:4-5 as a pronoun, twice.   This seems within the expressive range of any writer.  Plus, before we define “Markan style” and declare that Mark was capable of this expression but not that one, we should remember that it is not as if we are examining the style of War and Peace;  we only have 16 chapters from Mark.   

          Let’s look at some other objections:

          · Is it a glaring absence, as Travis Williams has alleged, for Mark 16:9-20 not to contain the words εθύς (“immediately”) and the πάλιν (“again”)?  Not the least little bit!  As Bruce Terry has pointed out, it is not just Mark 16:9-20 that does not employ εθύς and πάλιν; the last 53 verses of Mark do not employ them.  Terry divided the text of Mark 1:1-16:8 into 650 sets of 12 consecutive verses, and found that over 57% of such sets contain neither εθύς nor εθέως, and 61% do not have πάλιν.  More than 35% do not contain εθύς nor εθέως nor πάλιν.  It is hardly an objection,” Terry writes, “to say that the last twelve verses are in the same category with more than one-third of the sets of twelve consecutive verses in the rest of the book.”

          · Is it inconsistent for an author to write πρώτη σαββάτων in 16:9, having used μις σαββάτον in 16:2?  I suspect that if Mark 16:9 had employed μις σαββάτον, the objection would automatically be raised that a mimic has imitated Mark’s language.  Casual variations of this sort are natural and we observe them in other places in Mark.  For instance, Mark states in 5:2 that the demoniac came κ τν μνημείων, and then Mark uses different wording almost immediately in  5:3 and 5:5 (τος μνήμασιν).  Similarly, Luke wrote ν τ σάββατ and ν τος σάββασιν and τ μέρ το σαββάτου (cf. Lk. 13:10-16).

          · Is it inconsistent to write πορεύεσθαι three times (in verses 10,12, and 13), rather than to employ a compounded word (such as κπορεύσθαι)?   John Burgon addressed this objection over a century ago.  The appearance of the uncompounded words in verses 10, 12, and 13 is unique, but the word involved is also very common (like the English word “go”).  “Unless the Critics are able to shew me which of the ordinary compounds of πορεύομαι S. Mark could possible have employed for the uncompounded verb [Burgon then lists each passage where  a form of πορεύομαι is used] their objection is simply frivolous.”

          · Is it inconsistent to use θεάθη in 16:11 and θεασαμέοις in 16:14, rather than other terms (forms of ράω and βλέπω) that could have been used instead?  Again, this objection existed in Burgon’s day, and Burgon covered it thoroughly (on pp. 156-158 of The Last Twelve Verses of the Gospel According To S. Mark Vindicated, etc., 1871).  Comparable usages of unique verbiage that could be replaced with an author’s more ordinary vocabulary appear in the other Gospels too.  That Mark should use a special term to convey what were special encounters is not at all surprising.

          · Is it inconsistent to refer to Jesus’ followers in 16:10 as “those who had been with Him” (τοις μετ’ αυτου γενομένοις)?   A few moments’ thought should be sufficient for anyone to realize that the new phrase is called for by new circumstances.  On earlier occasions, Jesus’ followers had been with Him; no reason yet existed to refer to them as “those who had been with Him.”  Also, Mark uses similar language in 5:40 (τους μετ’ αυτο).  The words τοις μετ’ αυτου γενομένοις would not and could not describe Jesus’ followers in the Gospel of Mark until 14:50.  Similarly, Mark simply had no previous occasion to use terms such as ἔνδεκα (“eleven”) and θανάσιμον (“deadly thing”).

           The following points supportive of Markan authorship of 16:9-20 should not be ignored:

          (1) Mark’s fondness for presenting things in groups of three is exhibited by the arrangement of three appearances of Christ after His resurrection (to Mary Magdalene, to the two travelers, and to the eleven, with φάνη or φανερθη used each time).

          (2) Mark employs the terms ναστναι (8:31, 9:10), ναστ (9:9), and ναστήσεται (9:31, 10:34) to refer to Christ’s resurrection, although other terms could have been used.  The use of ναστς in 16:9 is thus a Markan feature.

          (3) Mark uses the word πρωϊ (in 1:35, 11:20, 13:35, 15:1, 16:2) more frequently than the other Gospel-writers.  Its presence in 16:9 supports Markan authorship.

          (4) The words in 16:15 – πορευθέντες ες τν κόσμος παντα κηρύξατε τ εαγγέλιον (“Go into all the world, preach the gospel”) resemble the words in Mark 14:9 – κηρυχθ τ εαγγέλιον ες λον τν κόσμος (“the gospel shall be preached into all the world”).

          (5) The term σκληροκαρδίαν (“hard-heartedness”) in 16:14 is somewhat uncommon, but it also appears in Mark 10:5.

          (6) Κτίσει is more Markan than it is anything else in the four Gospels (besides 16:15, forms of this word appear in Mark 10:6 and 13:19).

          (7) Κατακριθήσεται (“shall be condemned”) is Markan; cf. κατακρινοσιν in 10:33 and κατέκριναν in 14:64.

          (8) The appearance of ρρώστους in 16:18 is Markan; cf. ρρστοις in  Mark 6:5 and ρρώστους in 6:13.

          (9) Πανταχο (“everywhere”) in 16:20 is Markan, at least in the Alexandrian Text, appearing in Mark 1:28.  (A related term, either πάντοθεν or πανταχόθεν, is used in Mark 1:45.) 

           Sometimes this sneaky objection is made:  If Matthew and Luke possessed copies of Mark with 16:9-20, why didn’t they use its contents?  Let’s imagine that Mark 16:9-20 contained strong parallels with Matthew 28 and Luke 24.  The deduction by champions of the Alexandrian Text would have been automatic:  whoever created such an ending for the Gospel of Mark must have derived the parallels from Matthew and Luke!         

          This objection puts Mark 16:9-20 in a no-win scenario:  when Mark 16:9-20 doesn’t have strong parallels in Matthew 28 and Luke 24, it means that Mark 16:9-20 is spurious; yet had Mark 16:9-20 been brimming with strong parallels in Matthew 28 and Luke 24, this, too, would mean that Mark 16:9-20 is spurious!   The objection amounts to mere rhetoric.   

          The point should be raised though, that we should expect to see strong sustained parallels with Matthew or Luke or both in any ending composed to conclude the Gospel of Mark.  Since we see no such thing in Mark 16:9-20, the reasoning of Metzger on this particular point is cogent:  “It is unlikely that the long ending was composed ad hoc to fill up an obvious gap” (Textual Commentary, p. 125).    No one, trying to compose an ending for the Gospel of Mark, would write what is seen in Mark 16:9-20; the natural option would be, instead, to follow the narrative structure of Matthew 28:9-11 and 28:16-20.    

          The internal vocabulary-based evidence is is consistent with the hypothesis I have advocated in Authentic:  The Case for Mark 16:9-20:  Mark himself was permanently interrupted midway through 16:8, and his colleagues in Rome, before making any copies of Mark’s Gospel-narrative, completed his otherwise unfinished work by appending verses 9-20, having drawn them from Mark’s own writings.  As part of the text as it existed at the point when and where the production of the text in the ancestor of all copies ceased, and before the transmission of the text began, Mark 16:9-20 should be regarded as canonical and authoritative by all Christians.


Wayne Mitchell said...

A discussion of the Markan vocabulary in 9-20 may also be found in Lunn, The Original Ending of Mark, 136-62. He also has a four page list of uncials and minuscules that have defective endings (352-55).

James Snapp Jr said...

("Defective endings" as in, MSS which have been damaged toward the end of the MS.)


Luther said...

G0d bless you