5. The Last Twelve Verses Of Mark Burgon’s best known work in the field of textual criticism was his treatise on The Last Twelve Verses of Mark, which he published in 1871 after years of preliminary study. (61) For over a century this volume has deservedly been held in high esteem by believing Bible students, and its basic arguments all this while have remained irrefutable. In the following paragraphs, therefore, an effort will be made to summarize Burgon’s discussion of this disputed passage and to bring his work up to date by the inclusion of new material which has been discovered since Burgon’s day.
(a) The Critics Unable to Develop a Satisfactory Theory
And they went out quickly and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid. All the naturalistic critics agree that with this verse (Mark 16:8) the genuine portion of Mark’s Gospel ends. But this negative conclusion is the only thing upon which critics are able to agree in regard to the conclusion of Mark. When we ask how it came about that Mark’s Gospel ends here without any mention of the post-resurrection appearances of Christ, immediately the critics begin to argue among themselves. For over one hundred years (since the publication of Burgon’s book) they have been discussing this question and have been unable to come up with a theory which is acceptable to all or even to most of them.
According to some critics, Mark intentionally ended his Gospel with the words for they were afraid. J. M. Creed (1930), (62) for example, and R. H. Lightfoot (1950) (63) have argued that all other attempts to explain why the Gospel of Mark ends here have failed, and that therefore we must believe that Mark purposely concluded his Gospel at this point. The scholars who hold this view have advanced various theories to explain why Mark would have done so strange a thing. According to Creed, the story of the empty tomb was new when Mark wrote his Gospel, and by ending with the silence of the women Mark was explaining why this story had never been told before. (64) According to Lohmeyer (1936), the purpose of Mark in ending his Gospel at 16:8 was to hint at a glorious second coming of Christ which was to take place in Galilee. (65) Lightfoot (1937) had a Barthian theory of this passage. He thought that Mark’s purpose in concluding with 16:8 was to leave the reader in a state of reverent awe which anticipated an “event” or “crisis” which was “found to have the quality of absolute finality” (66) (whatever that means).
But the theory that Mark purposely ended his Gospel at 16:8 has never been widely held, in spite of Creed’s and Lightfoot’s arguments that this is the only possible view. As Beach (1959) rightly observes, “It seems unlikely that Mark would end the Gospel on a note of fear, for the whole purpose and import of the Gospel is that men should not be afraid.” (67) And it is even less likely that Mark concluded his Gospel without any reference to the appearance of the risen Christ to His disciples. For this, as W. L. Knox (1942) reminds us, would be to leave unmentioned “the main point of his Gospel, and the real ‘happy ending’ on which the whole faith of the Church depended.” (68)
Many of those who hold that the Gospel of Mark ends at 16:8 endeavor to account for this alleged fact by supposing that Mark intended to finish his Gospel but was prevented from doing so, perhaps by death. “At Rome,” remarks Streeter (1924), “in Nero’s reign this might easily happen.” (69) But to suppose that Mark died thus prematurely is to contradict the express statements of Papias, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen that Mark lived to publish his Gospel. And even if all these ancient writers were wrong and Mark did die before he had finished his Gospel, would his associates have published it in this incomplete state? Would they not have added something from their recollections of Mark’s teaching to fill in the obvious gap in the narrative? Only by doing thus could they show their regard for their deceased friend.
Hence the only remaining alternative open to the critics is that the original ending of Mark’s Gospel has completely disappeared. Juelicher (1894) (70) and C. S. C. Williams (1951) (71) suggest that it was intentionally removed by certain of those who disapproved of its teaching concerning Christ’s resurrection. Other scholars believe that the original conclusion of Mark’s Gospel was lost accidentally. Since it was the last page, they argue, it might easily have been torn off. But although these theories explain the absence of this hypothetical “lost ending” from some of the manuscripts, it can hardly account for its complete disappearance from all the known copies of Mark. Creed (1930) pointed this out some years ago. “Once the book was in circuration, the conclusion would be known and a defective copy could be completed without difficulty. And there would be an overwhelming interest in a restoration of the complete text at this crucial point. It would seem better, therefore, to push back the supposed mutilation to the very beginning of the book’s history. But the earlier we suppose the mutilation to have taken place, the greater the likelihood that the author was himself within reach to supply what was wanting.” (72)
(b) Ancient Evidence Favorable to Mark 16:9-20
Thus it is an easy thing to say that the genuine portion of the Gospel of Mark ends at 16:8, but it is a difficult task to support this statement with a satisfactory explanation as to how the Gospel came to end there, a task so difficult that it has not yet been adequately accomplished. But the last twelve verses of Mark cannot be disowned on the strength of an unsupported statement, even when it is made by the most eminent of modern scholars. For these verses have an enormous weight of testimony in their favor which cannot be lightly set aside. They are found in all the Greek manuscripts except Aleph and B and in all the Latin manuscripts except k. All the Syriac versions contain these verses, with the exception of the Sinaitic Syriac, and so also does the Bohairic version. And, even more important, they were quoted as Scripture by early Church Fathers who lived one hundred and fifty years before B and Aleph were written, namely, Justin Martyr (c. 150), (73) Tatian (c. 175), (74) Irenaeus (c. 180), (75) and Hippolytus (c. 200), (76) Thus the earliest extant testimony is on the side of these last twelve verses. Surely the critical objections against them must be exceedingly strong to overcome this evidence for their genuineness.
(c) Documents That Omit Mark 16:9-20
No doubt the strongest argument that can be brought against the last twelve verses of Mark is that there are extant documents that omit them. In Legg’s apparatus these are listed as follows: the Greek manuscripts Aleph and B. the Sinaitic Syriac manuscript, the Adysh and Opiza manuscripts of the Old Georgian version, and 8 manuscripts of the Armenian version. Colwell (1937), however, has enlarged this list of Armenian manuscripts to 62. (77)
In place of Mark 16:9-20 the Old Latin manuscript k has the so called “short ending” of Mark, which reads as follows:
And all things whatsoever that had been commanded they explained briefly to those who were with Peter; after these things also Jesus Himself appeared and from the east unto the west sent out through them the holy and uncorrupted preaching of eternal salvation. Amen.
L, Psi, and a few other Greek manuscripts have this “short ending” placed between 16:8 and 16:9. P. Kahle (1951) reports that 5 Sahidic manuscripts also contain both this “short ending” and Mark 16:9-20. (78) The “short ending” is also found in the margins of 2 Bohairic manuscripts and in 7 Ethiopic ones.
(d) The Negative Evidence of the Documents Inconclusive
Long ago Burgon demonstrated that this negative evidence of the documents is inconclusive. In the first place, he pointed out that in the early Church there were those who had difficulty in reconciling Mark 16:9 with Matthew 28:1. For, at first sight, these two passages seem to contradict each other. Mark says that Christ rose “early the first day of the week,” that is, Sunday morning; while Matthew seems to say that Christ rose “in the end of the Sabbath,” which, strictly interpreted, means Saturday evening. It is true that Matthew’s expression can be more loosely construed to mean the end of Saturday night, and thus the conflict with Mark can be avoided, but there were some early Christians, it seems, who did not realize this and were seriously troubled by the apparent disagreement. Eusebius (c. 325), in his Epistle to Marinus, discusses this problem at considerable length. His solution was to place a comma after the word risen in Mark 16:9 and to regard the phrase early the first day of the week as referring to the time at which Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene rather than as indicating the hour in which He rose from the dead. (79)
In the second place, Burgon called attention to the fact that in many ancient manuscripts of the Four Gospels the Western order was followed. Matthew was placed first, then John, then Luke, and finally Mark. Thus Mark 16:9-20 was often, no doubt, written on the very last page of the manuscript and could easily be torn off. (80) Suppose some early Christian, who was already wrestling with the problem of harmonizing Mark 16:9 with Matthew 28:1, should find a manuscript which had thus lost its last page containing Mark 16:9-20. Would not such a person see in this omission an easy solution of his difficulties? He would argue as modern critics do that the genuine text of Mark ended at 16:8 and that verses 16:9-20 were a later addition to the Gospel narrative. Thus a tendency on the part of certain ancient scribes to omit the last twelve verses of Mark could easily develop, especially at Alexandria where the scribes were accustomed to favor the shorter reading and reject the longer as an interpolation.
(e) The Alleged Difference in Literary Style
One of the negative arguments employed by the critics is the alleged difference in literary style which distinguishes these last twelve verses from the rest of Mark’s Gospel. This argument is still used by critics today. Thus Metzger (1964) claims that “seventeen non-Marcan words or words used in a non-Marcan sense” are present in these verses. (81) Long ago, however, Tregelles (1854) admitted “that arguments on style are often very fallacious, and that by themselves they prove very little.” (82) And Burgon (1871) demonstrated this to be true. In a brilliant chapter of his treatise on Mark he showed that the alleged differences of style were mere nothings. For example, Meyer (1847) and other critics had made much of the fact that two typically Marcan words, namely, euthus (straightway) and palin (again) were not found in Mark 16:9-20. Burgon showed that euthus did not occur in chapters 12 and 13 of Mark and palin did not occur in chapters 1, 6, 9, and 13 of Mark. Thus the fact that these words did not occur in Mark 16:9-20 proved nothing in regard to the genuineness of this section. (83)
(f) The Alleged Discrepancy Between Mark 16:9-20 and Mark 16:1-8
For over one hundred years also it has been said that there is a discrepancy, a remarkable lack of continuity, between the last twelve verses of Mark and the preceding eight verses. Mark 16:9-20, we are told, differs so radically from Mark 16:1-8 that it could not have been written by the Evangelist himself but must have been added by a later hand. Why, the critics ask, are we not told what happened to the women, and why is no account given of the appearance of the risen Christ to Peter and the other disciples in Galilee, a meeting which is promised in Mark 16:7? These objections, however, are not as serious as at first they seem to be. For it was evidently not Mark’s intention to satisfy our curiosity about the women or to report that meeting of Christ and His disciples which is promised in Mark 16:7. His purpose was to emphasize the importance of faith in the risen Christ. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe (Mark 16:16-17). Thus he passes over everything else and concentrates on those appearances of the risen Christ in which belief (or unbelief) is especially involved.
Thus there is nothing in these arguments from internal evidence which need give the defender of Mark 16:9-20 any real cause for concern. On the contrary, the critics themselves are the ones who must bear the sting of these objections. They are caught in their own trap. For if the last twelve verses of Mark are in such obvious disagreement with what immediately precedes, how could they ever have been added by a later hand? Why didn’t the person who added them remove such glaring contradictions?
Hort answered this question by supposing that Mark 16:9-20 was taken by some scribe from a lost document and added to Mark’s Gospel without change. (84) Similarly, Streeter suggested that Mark 16:9-20 was originally “a summary intended for catechetical purposes; later on the bright idea occurred to some one of adding it as a sort of appendix to his copy of Mark.” (85) This theory of Hort and Streeter, however, is far from a satisfactory explanation of the facts. For if Mark 16:9-20 was taken from an independent document and if the discontinuity between this section and the preceding verses is as great as these scholars say it is, then why were no efforts made to smooth over the discrepancy? The manuscripts reveal no signs of any such attempts.
(g) Eusebius’ Epistle to Marinus
Eusebius (c. 325) did not include Mark 16:9-20 in his canons, a cross reference system which he had devised for the purpose of making it easier to look up parallel passages in the Four Gospels. This does not necessarily mean, however, that Eusebius rejected these last twelve verses of Mark. Burgon demonstrated this long ago in his study of Eusebius’ Epistle to Marinus. The relevant portions of this Epistle are translated by Burgon as follows
He who is for getting rid of the entire passage will say that it is not met with in all the copies of Mark’s Gospel: the accurate copies at all events circumscribe the end of Mark’s narrative at the words of the young man who appeared to the women and said, ‘Fear not ye! Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth,’ etc.: to which the Evangelist adds,—’And when they heard it, they fled, and said nothing to any man, for they were afraid.’ For at these words, in almost all copies of the Gospel according to Mark, the end has been circumscribed. What follows, (which is met with seldom, and only in some copies, certainly not in all,) might be dispensed with.
But another, on no account daring to reject anything whatever which is, under whatever circumstance, met with in the text of the Gospels, will say that here are two readings (as is so often the case elsewhere;) and that both are to be received,— inasmuch as by the faithful and pious, this reading is not held to be genuine rather than that nor that than this. (86)
This passage from Eusebius was repeated by Jerome (c. 400), Hesychius of Jerusalem (c. 430), and Victor of Antioch (c. 550). On the basis of it modern critics claim that Eusebius rejected the last twelve verses of Mark, but this is plainly an exaggeration. The second paragraph of this passage shows that Eusebius regarded Mark 16:9-20 as at least possibly genuine. Critics also have interpreted Eusebius as stating that “the accurate copies” and “almost all copies” end Mark’s Gospel at 16:8. But Burgon pointed out that Eusebius doesn’t say this. Eusebius says that the accurate copies cicumscribe the end at 16:8 and that in almost all copies the end has been circumscribed at this point. What did Eusebius mean by this unusual expression? Burgon’s explanation seems to be the only possible one.
Burgon reminded his readers that it was customary, at least in the later manuscript period, to indicate in the New Testament manuscripts the beginning and the end of the Scripture lesson appointed to be read in the worship services of the Church. The beginning of the Scripture lesson was marked by the word beginning (Greek arche), written in the margin of the manuscript, and the end of the reading by the word end (Greek telos), written in the text. Burgon argued that this practice began very early and that it was this to which Eusebius was referring when he said that the most accurate copies and almost all copies circumscribe the end at Mark 16:8. Eusebius was not talking about the end of the Gospel of Mark but about the liturgical sign indicating the end of a Scripture lesson. He is simply saying that this liturgical sign end (telos) was present after Mark 16:8 in many of the manuscripts known to him. (87)
This may explain why some of the New Testament documents omit Mark 16:9-20. It may be that some scribe saw the liturgical sign end (telos) after Mark 16:8 and, misinterpreting it to mean that Mark’s Gospel ended at this point, laid down his pen. And this would be especially likely to happen if the last page, containing Mark 16:9-20 had accidentally been torn off. “Of course,” Burgon argued, “it will have sometimes happened that S. Mark 16:8 came to be written at the bottom of the left hand page of a manuscript. And we have but to suppose that in the case of one such Codex the next leaf, which should have been the last, was missing, — (the very thing which has happened in respect of one of the Codices at Moscow) — and what else could result when a copyist reached the words, FOR THEY WERE AFRAID. THE END, but the very phenomenon which has exercised critics so sorely and which gives rise to the whole of the present discussion? The copyist will have brought S. Mark’s Gospel to an end there, of course. What else could he possibly do?” (88)
When once this omission of Mark 16:9-20 was made, it would be readily adopted by early Christians who were having difficulty harmonizing Mark 16:9 with Matthew 28:1. “That some,” Burgon observes, “were found in very early times eagerly to acquiesce in this omission; to sanction it, even to multiply copies of the Gospel so mutilated; (critics or commentators intent on nothing so much as reconciling the apparent discrepancies in the Evangelical narratives;) — appears to me not at all unlikely.” (89)
Burgon also suggested that just as Jerome and other later writers copied Eusebius’ Epistle to Marinus so in this Epistle Eusebius himself was merely copying some lost treatise of Origen (c. 230), (90) and this was one of the very few points on which Westcott and Hort were inclined to agree with Burgon. (91) If this suggestion is correct and Origen was the original author of the Epistle to Marinus, then the consequences for textual criticism are very important. For all documents that omit Mark 16:9-20 are in some way connected with Alexandria or Caesarea, the two localities in which Origen, the great textual critic of antiquity, lived and labored. The absence of Mark 16:9-20 from these documents and the doubts which Eusebius seems to have felt about them may all be due to an error of judgment on the part of Origen.
(h) Were Heretics Responsible for the Omission of Mark 16:9-20?
Burgon died in 1888, too soon to give us the benefit of his comment on a development which had taken place shortly before his death, namely, the discovery in 1884 of the apocryphal Gospel of Peter in a tomb at Akhmim in Egypt. (92) Had Burgon lived longer, he would not have failed to point out the true significance of the agreement of this Gospel of Peter with the Old Latin New Testament manuscript k in the last chapter of the Gospel of Mark.
According to modern scholars, the original Gospel of Peter was written about 150 A.D. by docetic heretics who denied the reality of Christ’s sufferings and consequently the reality of His human body. This false view is seen in the account which this apocryphal writing gives of Christ’s crucifixion. In it we are told that when our Lord hung upon the cross, the divine Christ departed to heaven and left only the human Jesus to suffer and die.
And the Lord cried out aloud saying: My power, my power, thou hast forsaken me. And when he had so said, he was taken up. (93)
Also the account which the Gospel of Peter gives of the resurrection of Christ is uniquely docetic.
… and they saw the heavens opened and two men descend thence having a great light, and drawing near unto the sepulchre… and the sepulchre was opened, and both of the young men entered in . . . and while they were yet telling them the things which they had seen, they saw again three men come out of the sepulchre, and two of them sustaining the other, and a cross following after them. And of the two they saw that their heads reached unto heaven, but of him that was led by them that it overpassed the heavens. And they heard a voice out of the heavens saying, Hast thou preached unto them that sleep? And an answer was heard from the cross, saying: Yea. (94)
In the Gospel of Mark the Old Latin New Testament manuscript k gives a heretical, docetic account of the resurrection of Christ similar to that found in the apocryphal Gospel of Peter. In Mark 16:4 manuscript k reads as follows:
Suddenly, moreover, at the third hour of the day, darkness fell upon the whole world, and angels descended from heaven, and as the Son of God was rising in brightness, they ascended at the same time with him, and straightway it was light. (95)
It is generally believed by scholars that k represents an early form of the Old Latin version, which, like the Gospel of Peter, dates from the 2nd century. If this is so, the fact that k agrees with the Gospel of Peter in giving a docetic account of the resurrection of Christ indicates that Irenaeus (c. 180) was correct in pointing out a special connection between the Gospel of Mark and docetism. This ancient Father observed that docetic heretics “who separate Jesus from Christ, alleging that Christ remained incapable of suffering, but that it was Jesus who suffered,” preferred the Gospel of Mark. (96)
In chapter 16 of Mark, then, the Old Latin k contains a text which has been tampered with by docetic heretics who, like the author of the apocryphal Gospel of Peter, denied the reality of Christ’s sufferings and of His human body. And this same k also omits the last twelve verses of Mark and substitutes in their place the so-called “short ending,” which omits the post-resurrection appearances of Christ.
And all things whatsoever that had been commanded they explained briefly to those who were with Peter; after these things also Jesus Himself appeared and from the east unto the west sent out through them the holy and uncorrupted preaching of eternal salvation. Amen. (97)
Do not these facts fit together perfectly and explain each other? The same docetic heretics who tampered with the first half of Mark 16 in k also abbreviated the second half of Mark 16 in this same manuscript. They evidently thought that in the last twelve verses of Mark too great emphasis was placed on the bodily appearances of Christ to His disciples. They therefore rejected these concluding verses of Mark’s Gospel and substituted a “short ending” of their own devising, a docetic conclusion in which Christ’s post-resurrection appearances are almost entirely eliminated.
In addition to these docetists who abbreviated the conclusion of Mark’s Gospel there were also other heretics, probably Gnostics, who expanded it by adding after Mark 16:14 a reading which was known to Jerome (415) (98) and which appears as follows in Codex W
And they answered and said, ‘This age of lawlessness and unbelief is under Satan, who doth not allow the truth of God to prevail over the unclean things of the spirits. Therefore reveal thy righteousness now.’ So spake they to Christ. And Christ answered them, ‘The term of the years of Satan’s dominion hath been fulfilled, but other terrible things draw near. And for those who have sinned I was delivered over unto death, that they may return to the truth and sin no more, that they may inherit the spiritual and incorruptible glory of righteousness which is in heaven.’ (99)
Hence, in addition to the causes which Dean Burgon discussed so ably, the tampering of heretics must have been one of the factors which brought about the omission of Mark 16:9-20 in the few New Testament documents which do omit this passage.
We see, then, that believing scholars who receive the last twelve verses of Mark as genuine are more reasonable than naturalistic scholars who reject them. For there are many reasons why these verses might have been omitted by the few New Testament documents which do omit them, but no reason has yet been invented which can explain satisfactorily either how a hypothetical “lost ending” of Mark could have disappeared from all the extant New Testament documents or how the author of Mark’s Gospel could have left it incomplete without any ending at all.
It is sometimes said that the last twelve verses of Mark are not really important, so that it makes little difference whether they are accepted or rejected. This, however, is hardly the case. For Mark 16:9-20 is the only passage in the Gospels which refers specifically to the subject which is attracting so much attention today, namely, tongues, healings, and other spiritual gifts. The last verse of this passage is particularly decisive (Mark 16 :20). Here we see that the purpose of the miracles promised by our Lord was to confirm the preaching of the divine Word by the Apostles. Of course, then, these signs ceased after the Apostles’ death. Today we have no need of them. The Bible is the all-sufficient miracle. And if we take this high view of the Bible, we cannot possibly suppose that the ending of one of the Gospels has been completely lost.