Should the Last Twelve Verses of Mark 16 be in your Bible?

Testimony of early Christian writers

Apart from a few fragments, our oldest manuscripts are of the fourth century, but the writings of a hundred or more writers of a much earlier period are available to testify to the contents of copies of the New Testament much earlier than any Greek manuscripts we now possess.

It is true that many of these writers quote loosely and from memory, but even a very general allusion to these verses would be sufficient proof that the ancient writer was familiar with the words and found them in copies then in use.  Such allusions are to be found:

  • In the writings of Papias AD 100
  • Justin Martyr AD 151 quotes the last verse within fifty years of the death of the last Apostles
  • Irenaeus quotes and comments on verse 19 in AD 180
  • Hippolytus quotes verses 17 and 18 in the period AD 190-227
  • Vincentius quoted verses 17 and 18 at the Seventh Council of Carthage, AD 256, in the presence of eighty-seven African Bishops
  • About 150 years later Augustine quoted the same passage
  • the third century ‘Gospel of Nicodemus’ contains verses 15, 16, 17, 18
  • the ‘Apostolical Constitutions’ of the third or fourth century quote verse 16 as it stands in the Received Text
  • Eusebius, AD 325, was familiar with the last twelve verses
  • the Homily of Aphraates, AD 337, quotes verses 16, 17, 18
  • Ambrose, Archbishop of Milan, AD 374-397, quotes verses 15, 16, 17, 18 and 20
  • Chrysostom, AD 400, quotes verses 19 and 20 and adds ‘This is the end of the Gospel’
  • Jerome, AD 331-420, retains the disputed passage
  • Nestorius the heretic quotes verse 20
  • Cyril of Alexandria accepts the quotation and comments on it some time before AD 340
  • Victor of Antioch, AD 425, bears emphatic testimony to the genuineness of this passage

These authorities belong to every part of the ancient church and several of them are of more ancient date than our oldest manuscripts.

Modern critics quote Gregory of Nyssa, Hesychius, Severus of Antioch, Eusebius, Victor of Antioch and Jerome as hostile to Mark 16:9-20.  But Gregory and Severus merely quotes the words of Hesychius; Victor quotes Eusebius and refutes him; and Jerome only translates but does not approve the words of Eusebius.  We are thus left with Eusebius only, and an examination of his testimony indicates that he did not deny that the disputed words were in many manuscripts of his time.  Eusebius mentioned that because of apparent discrepancies between the concluding portions of the Gospels, some people were inclined to exclude the final verse of Mark.  Victor clearly states that the words were to be found in the Palestinian copy of Mark.

Testimony of the Ancient Versions

The New Testament was translated at a very early period into Syriac, Latin, Gothic, Egyptian, etc.  Some of these translations were made from Greek copies more ancient than any we now possess.  They can therefore tell us what scholars found in their New Testament before the time of our oldest manuscripts.  In the Peshito Syriac of the second century, the Curetonian Syriac of the third century, the Philoxenian Syriac of the fifth century, Jerome’s Latin of the fourth, the Old Latin of the second, the Gothic of the fourth, the Egyptian of the fourth or fifth, the Thebaic of the third, some copies of the Armenian of the fifth century – in all these ancient translations we have evidence that the translators found the disputed verses included in the Greek copies available to them.  Most of those ancient translations were made long before the Vatican and Sinai copies were written.  The Greek copies used by the translators in the second and third centuries contained the last twelve verses, while the Greek copies used by the Vatican and Sinai copyists in the fourth century were incomplete.

Testimony of the Greek Manuscripts

The great majority of the manuscripts contain the disputed words, but two very ancient copies omit them, namely Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus, both of the fourth century.  A nineteenth-century scholar examined twenty ancient uncial manuscripts and about six hundred cursives and found only these two at variance with the Received Text.

Codex Alexandrinus and Codex C, perhaps fifty years later than Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, contain these verses.  Codex Bezae (D), often in agreement with the two defective manuscripts, parts company with them here and includes the verses.  It is clear that the Sinai and Vatican manuscripts exhibit a mutilated text in this place, as they do in many other passages.

These two manuscripts, though ancient, are in many respects defective and untrustworthy, carelessly written with numerous omissions.  The Vatican Manuscript in the Gospels alone omits these words and clauses nearly one thousand five hundred times; the largest proportion of these is found in Mark.  Codex Sinaiticus abounds with ‘errors of the eye and pen, to an extent not unparalleled, but happily unusual in documents of first-rate importance’ [John W. Burgon, The Last Twelve Verses on the Gospel According to S. Mark (Oxford, England; James Parker and Co., 1871, p. 98).  These two documents exhibit signs of a common origin in an earlier defective copy.

False Witnesses

The Vatican copy stops short at the end of verse 8, but the copyist left a blank space sufficient to accommodate the missing verses.  It seems likely that the copyist knew that there was a portion missing in the copy available before him.

In the Sinai copy the double page containing the end of Mark and beginning of Luke was removed at an early date and replaced with the four sides rewritten to exclude Mark 16:9-20.  By slightly increasing the size of the letters and spaces the writer was able to extend his shortened version to the top of the column preceding Luke 1.  He filled in the remainder of his last line with an ornamental flourish to make sure that no addition could be made without being immediately evident.  Tischendorf, the discoverer of the Sinai Codex, alleged that these pages were written by the copyist of the Vatican manuscript.  The evidence does no more than indicate that few early manuscripts terminated in this way, but that the copyists themselves were conscious of the omission.  These two manuscripts are shown to be false witnesses.

Notes in Ancient Copies

The critics assure us that many ancient manuscripts contain a note stating that Mark 16:9-20 was missing from many other copies.  Scholars have been found to quote their predecessors without verifying their accuracy.  Thus Tregelles alleges that in twenty-five copies a note states that these verses are missing from the most correct copies.  This statement seems to have been quoted second hand from Griesbach and Scholz 1830.Scholz misquoted Griesbach and Griesbach misquoted Wetstein 1751 and Birch.

For example, Scholz copies Griesbach, who says two manuscripts at Rome have an asterisk against Mark 16:9-20.  Investigations show that there is not an asterisk, but a symbol referring the reader to a note on another page where there is a similar mark where it is plainly stated that the passage is genuine.  There is also a note stating that the text had been collated with the ancient and approved copies at Jerusalem.

Scholz says that Codices 23, 34, 39, and 41 contain a note by Severus of Antioch that the ‘more accurate copies end at verse 8’.  Others have followed blindly.  Codex 23 has no such note.  Codex 41 has a note to the opposite effect – that the more accurate copies contain the verses.  Codices 34 and 39 have no such note whatever.  When Tischendorf, Tregelles and their successors and imitators tell us that thirty manuscripts contain a note casting doubt on Mark 16:9-20 they are repeating the mistakes of others.  Most of the manuscripts referred to contain a note confirming the inclusion of the verses.  The critics can furnish no evidence that the Gospel according to Mark as it left the hands of its author was imperfect or unfinished.  (All emphases are by the author).

Excerpt from a booklet titled Should the Last Twelve Verses of Mark 16 be in your Bible?, Product Code A106, by unspecified author; publ. Trinitarian Bible Society, London, England.