Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Irenaeus and Mark 16:19

            Irenaeus.  Ever hear of him?  You won’t see his name mentioned in the NET’s notes about Mark 16:9-20, or in footnotes about Mark 16:9-20 in the ESV, NLT, CSB, NIV, NKJV, and NRSV.  (The footnote-makers for all these versions seem to have had a strange aversion to mentioning patristic evidence, even when it is earlier than the earliest extant manuscripts of the text being supplemented.)  Irenaeus was a very important patristic writer.  Born around 120, Irenaeus grew up in the city of Smyrna in Asia Minor, and he reports that in his youth he heard the teachings of Polycarp (who had, in turn, been a companion of Papias, and had heard John).   When we walk with Irenaeus, so to speak, we are chronologically barely two generations away from the apostles themselves.

            Irenaeus went on to serve as a presbyter at Lyons (Lugdunum), in Gaul, around 170.  In 177, Irenaeus visited Rome, where he advised Eleutherius about how to deal with Montanism.  When he returned from Rome to Lugdunum, Irenaeus found that in his absence, the church there had been the target of persecution.  Many Christians had been martyred, including Blandina and the church’s bishop, Pothinus.  Irenaeus was chosen to take Pothinus’ place as bishop, an office in which he remained for the remainder of his life.

            As bishop of Lyons, Irenaeus would later counsel Victor of Rome in 190 regarding the Quartodeciman Controversy, recommending the allowance of liberty regarding how to settle a question related to the church’s liturgical calendar which had not been settled in earlier times.  But Irenaeus best-known work is one he composed earlier, in five books:  Against Heresies, in which he exposed the errors of various false teachers, including Marcion. 

            Irenaeus tells his readers when he composed Book Three of Against Heresies, in chapter three, paragraph 3:  it was during the same time that Eleutherius was presiding at Rome, i.e., approximately between 174 and 189. 

            Irenaeus explicitly quotes Mark 16:19 in Book 3 of Against Heresies (in chapter 10, paragraph 5), stating, “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 portion of Against Heresies in extant only in Latin (as “In fine autem euangelii ait Marcus: Et quidem Dominus Iesus, postquam locutus est eis, receptus est in caelos, et sedet ad dexteram Dei.”

            Dr. Craig Evans, in 2013, claimed (in the Holman Apologetics Commentary) that “it is far from certain that Irenaeus, writing c. 180, was acquainted with Mark’s so-called Longer Ending,” apparently imagining that the Latin translator of Against Heresies “may have incorporated this verse from much later manuscripts.”   Dr. Evans is wrong.  In real life, not only is there no evidence that the Latin translation of Book 3 has been interpolated at this point, but there is clear evidence against the idea.  Irenaeus’ use of Mark 16:19 in Book 3 of Against Heresies is mentioned in Greek in a marginal notation that appears in several copies of the Gospel of Mark, including GA 1582, 72, and the recently catalogued 2954.

The margin-note about Irenaeus' quote of Mark 16:19.
Viewable at the British Library's website.
            Page-views of GA 1582 and GA 72 are online.  GA 1582 is a core representative of family 1 (which would be better-named “family 1582”), a small cluster of MSS which can be traced back an ancestor-MS made in the 400s.  The margin-note says, “Irenaeus, who lived near the time of the apostles, cites this from Mark in the third book of his work Against Heresies.”  (In Greek:   Ειρηναιος ο των αποστόλων πλησίον εν τω προς τας αιρέσεις Τριτωι λόγωι τουτο ανήνεγκεν το ρητον ως Μάρκω ειρημένον.)  Thus there should be no doubt that the Greek text of Against Heresies Book 3 known to the creator of this margin-note contained the reference to Mark 16:19.  Dr. Craig Evans is invited to retract his statement.

            The copy of Mark used by Irenaeus in Lyon, had it survived, would have been older than Codex Vaticanus by a minimum of 125 years.  In addition, Irenaeus was familiar with the text of Mark used in three locales – Asia Minor, Lyons, and Rome (the city where the Gospel of Mark was composed); yet, although he comments on a textual variant in Revelation 13:18 (in Against Heresies Book 5, ch. 29-30) - a passage from a book written a few decades before Irenaeus was born - he never expresses any doubt whatsoever about Mark 16:19.  It may be safely concluded that Irenaeus knew of no other form of the Gospel of Mark except  one that contained Mark 1:1-16:20. 

            As a secondary point, evidence of Irenaeus’ familiarity with Mark 16:9-20 might also be found in Against Heresies Book Two, chapter 32, paragraphs 3-4 (which was quoted by Eusebius of Caesarea in Church History 5:7).  Close verbal connections are lacking here (Irenaeus does not say, in Book Two at this point, that he is referring specifically to what Mark wrote; he points false teachers to “the prophetical writing”), but thematic parallels abound:  Irenaeus states:

            “Those who are truly his disciples, receiving grace from him, do in his name (cf. Mk 16:17) perform [signs], so as to promote the welfare of others, according to the gift which each one has received from him. For some do certainly and truly drive out devils (cf. Mk. 16:17), so that those who have thus been cleansed from evil spirits frequently both believe, and join themselves to the church (cf. Mk. 16:16).

            Others have foreknowledge of what is to come.  They see visions, and utter prophetic expressions.  Yet others heal the sick by laying their hands upon them, and they are made whole (Cf. Mk. 16:18).

          Yea, moreover, as I have said, even the dead have been raised up, and  have stayed among us for many years. And what shall I more say? It is not possible to name the number of the gifts which the church, throughout the whole world (cf. Mk. 16:15), has received from God, in the name of Jesus Christ.”

          Irenaeus concludes Book 2, chapter 32 (which can be read in English at the New Advent website) by stating the the Christian church, “directing her prayers to the Lord . . .and calling upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, has been accustomed to work miracles for the advantage of mankind, and not to lead them into error,” in contrast to the false teachers Simon, Menander, and Carpocrates.

          If there are to be English Bible-footnotes about Mark 16:9-20 (a passage which is attested in all Greek manuscripts of Mark (over 1,650) except two - GA 304 should no longer be considered a legitimate witness to the non-inclusion of vv. 9-20), they should certainly mention the testimony of Irenaeus.  The present footnotes in the ESV, NIV, NLT, CSB, and NASB (to name a few), like the notes in the NET,  do not give readers an accurate picture of the evidence regarding Mark 16:9-20, and, imho, seem designed (by selecting which witnesses are allowed to speak, and which witnesses are silenced) to provoke doubts about the passage.  One could almost think that the footnote-writers did not want readers to know about the evidence for Mark 16:9-20 from the 100s.




Demian said...

To try to disqualify Ireneaus’ crystal clear witness to Mk 16:19 is an exercise in desperation.

Peter Gurry said...

The evidence of Irenaeus for the Longer Ending is extremely important. I think it should never go unmentioned in discussions. However, James, do you know of any English Bible footnote that mentions patristic evidence for any textual problem? It seems unfair to ask for it here but not anywhere else.

James Snapp Jr said...

Peter Gurry,

<< James, do you know of any English Bible footnote that mentions patristic evidence for any textual problem? It seems unfair to ask for it here but not anywhere else. >>

Yes, The EOB-NT, as I pointed out at .

But even if it had not: the failure to mention patristic evidence is a flaw in most English versions, not only at Mark 16:9-20. but it is a flaw throughout the New Testament. There is no reason to keep the next generation of Bible-readers ignorant about patristic evidence; certainly it would be ridiculous to say "Well, there is a time-honored tradition of keeping readers ignorant about patristic evidence so wo should keep our future readers ignorant about patristic evidence too."

Daniel Buck said...

Peter, I'm sure that in the preparation of your talk on textual footnotes in early English Bibles you ran across the KJV's textual note referencing Theophylact. Or is he not considered a patristic source?