The authenticity of Mark 16:9-20 has been the focus of much analysis and discussion over the years among textual critics and Bible scholars. While the academic interest of settling a fine point of textual criticism has been much belabored, it is important to recognize that the verses contain no teaching of significance that is not taught elsewhere. Christ’s post-resurrection appearance to Mary is verified elsewhere (Luke 8:2; John 20:1-18), as is His appearance to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:35), and His appearance to the eleven apostles (Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-23). The “Great Commission” is presented by two of the other three Gospel writers (Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 24:46-48), with both belief and baptism elsewhere pinpointed as prerequisites to salvation (Matthew 28:19; Acts 2:38; 22:16; et al.). Luke verifies the ascension twice (Luke 24:51; Acts 1:9). The promise of the signs that were to accompany the apostles’ activities is hinted at by Matthew (28:20), noted by the Hebrews writer (2:3-4), explained in greater detail by John (chapters 14-16; cf. 14:12), and demonstrated by the events of the book of Acts (see McGarvey, 1875, pp. 377-378). So, in one sense, the authenticity of Mark 16:9-20 as it relates to knowing, with certainty, God’s will for our lives is superfluous. [NOTE: For a fuller discussion of the genuinness of Mark 16:9-20, see Miller, 2005.]
In ascertaining the genuineness of a textual variant, several factors are taken into consideration. The external evidence of age and geographical diversity of Greek manuscripts, ancient versions, and patristic citations are examined. Internal evidence is also weighed, taking into account transcriptional and intrinsic probabilities. The latter criterion centers on the style and vocabulary of the author in the book, as well as the usage of the author elsewhere and in the gospel accounts (cf. Metzger, 1978, pp. 209ff.).
The most persuasive piece of evidence that prompts some textual scholars to discount Mark 16:9-20 as genuine is the internal evidence. Though the Alands conceded that the “longer Marcan ending” actually “reads an absolutely convincing text” (1987, p. 287), in fact, the internal evidence weighs more heavily than the external evidence in the minds of many of those who support omission of the verses. Observe carefully the following definitive pronouncement of this viewpoint—a pronouncement that simultaneously concedes the strength of the external evidence in favor of the verses:
On the other hand, the section is no casual or unauthorised [sic] addition to the Gospel. From the second century onwards, in nearly all manuscripts, versions, and other authorities, it forms an integral part of the Gospel, and it can be shown to have existed, if not in the apostolic, at least in the sub-apostolic age. A certain amount of evidence against it there is (though very little can be shown to be independent of Eusebius the Church historian, 265-340 A.D.), but certainly not enough to justify its rejection, were it not that internal evidence clearly demonstrates that it cannot have proceeded from the hand of St. Mark (Dummelow, 1927, p. 73, emp. added).
Listen also to an otherwise conservative scholar express the same sentiment: “If these deductions are correct the mass of MSS [manuscripts—DM] containing the longer ending must have been due to the acceptance of this ending as the most preferable. But internal evidence combines with textual evidence to raise suspicions regarding this ending” (Guthrie, 1970, p. 77, emp. added). Alford took the same position: “The internal evidence...will be found to preponderate vastly against the authorship of Mark” (1844, 1:434, emp. added). Even Bruce Metzger admitted: “The long ending, though present in a variety of witnesses, some of them ancient, must also be judged by internal evidence to be secondary” (p. 227, emp. added).
So, in the minds of not a few scholars, if it were not for the internal evidence, the external evidence would be sufficient to establish the genuineness of the verses. What precisely, pray tell, is this internal evidence that is so powerful and weighs so heavily on the issue as to prod scholars to “jump through hoops” in an effort to discredit the verses? What formidable data exists that could possibly prompt so many to discount all evidence to the contrary?
Scholars direct attention to “the presence of 17 non-Marcan words or words used in a non-Marcan sense” (Metzger, p. 227). Alford made the same allegation over a century earlier: “No less than seventeen words and phrases occur in it (and some of them several times) which are never elsewhere used by Mark—whose adherence to his own peculiar phrases is remarkable” (p. 438). The reader is urged to observe carefully the implicit assumption of those who reject verses 9-20 on such a basis: If the last 12 verses of a document employ words and expressions (whether one or 17?) that are not employed by the writer previously in the same document, then the last 12 verses of the document are not the product of the original writer. Is this line of thinking valid?
Over a century ago, in 1869, John A. Broadus provided a masterful evaluation (and decisive defeat) of this very contention (pp. 355-362). Using the Greek text that was available at the time produced by Tregelles, Broadus examined the 12 verses that precede Mark 16:9-20 (i.e., 15:44-16:8)—verses whose genuineness are above reproach—and applied precisely the same test to them. Incredibly, he found in the 12 verses preceding 16:9-20 exactly the same number of words and phrases (17) that are not used previously by Mark! The words and their citations are as follows: tethneiken (15:44), gnous apo, edoreisato, ptoma (15:45), eneileisen, lelatomeimenon, petpas, prosekulisen (15:46), diagenomenou, aromata (16:1), tei mia ton sabbaton (16:2), apokulisei (16:3), anakekulistai, sphodra (16:4), en tois dexiois (16:5), eichen (in a peculiar sense), and tromos (16:8). The reader is surely stunned and appalled that textual critics would wave aside verses of Scripture as counterfeit and fraudulent on such fragile, flimsy grounds.
Writing a few years later, J.W. McGarvey applied a similar test to the last 12 verses of Luke, again, verses whose genuineness, like those preceding Mark 16:9-20, are above suspicion (1875, pp. 377-382). He found nine words that are not used by Luke elsewhere in his book—four of which are not found anywhere else in the New Testament! Yet, once again, no textual critic or New Testament Greek manuscript scholar has questioned the genuineness of the last 12 verses of Luke. Indeed, the methodology that seeks to determine the genuineness of a text on the basis of new or unusual word use is a concocted, artificial, unscholarly, nonsensical, pretentious—and clearly discredited—criterion.
For the unbiased observer, this matter is settled: the strongest piece of internal evidence mustered against the genuineness of Mark 16:9-20 is no evidence at all. Consequently, the reader of the New Testament may possess far more confidence that these verses are original than is typically given by current textual critics.
Aland, Kurt and Barbara Aland (1987), The Text of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Alford, Henry (1844), Alford’s Greek Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker), 1980 reprint.
Broadus, John A. (1869), “Exegetical Studies,” The Baptist Quarterly, :355-362, July.
Dummelow, J.R., ed. (1927), A Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York, NY: MacMillan).
Guthrie, Donald (1970), New Testament Introduction (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, third edition).
McGarvey, J.W. (1875), The New Testament Commentary: Matthew and Mark (Delight, AR: Gospel Light).
Metzger, Bruce M. (1978 reprint), The Text of the New Testament (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, second edition).
Miller, Dave (2005), “Is Mark 16:9-20 Inspired?” Reason & Revelation, 25:89-95, http://apologeticspress.org/apPubPage.aspx?pub=1&issue=572&article=433.