In Defense of Mark 16:16

This article is the first of a 3-part series written by Travis Quertermous and appearing in POWER, in three consecutive issues beginning with December 2002. It gives a defense of the long ending of Mark and deals with other attacks on the true teaching of that section of Scripture. I commend it to your reading. I thought it was quite excellent.  –DRL

In Defense of Mark 16:16

by Travis L. Quertermous

It is very common for denominational scholars to deny the inspiration of Mark 16:9-20. The note on this passage contained in the Ryrie Study Bible by Charles C. Ryrie of Dallas Theological Seminary is typical of this line of reasoning: “These verses do not appear in two of the most trustworthy manuscripts of the N.T., though they are part of many other manuscripts and versions. If they are not a part of the genuine text of Mark, the abrupt ending at verse 8 is probably because the original closing verses were lost. The doubtful genuineness of verses 9-20 makes it unwise to build a doctrine or base an experience on them (especially vv. 16-18).”  [Arthur L. Farstad, The New King James Version in the Great Tradition, 2nd Ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989): pp., 112-113, emp. added]

Similar notes on Mark 16:9-20 are found in many study Bibles of different translations. They have caused widespread and needless confusion as they are absolutely unfounded. An overwhelming case can be made for the genuineness of Mark 16:9-20.

In the first place, it is nothing less than a denial of inspiration to suggest that God would go to the trouble to produce the Bible and then allow parts of it to be lost. Such a theory flies in the face of verses like Psalm 119:89, “Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven.” 1 Peter 1:23 speaks of “the word of God which lives and abides forever.” Jude 3 assures us that the faith has been “once for all delivered to the saints” and that includes Mark 16:9-10!

Not all denominational scholars agree with these attacks on Mark 16:9-20. Dr. Arthur L. Farstad, the Executive Editor of the translation committee that produced the New King James Version said of this disputed text:

The New American Standard Bible (1971) puts this paragraph in brackets and has a note reading, ‘Some of the oldest manuscripts omit from verse 9 through 20.’ The version adds an alternative reading for the end of the book, stating that this reading is found in ‘a few later manuscripts and versions.’ These notes are misleading. The ‘Some of the oldest manuscripts’ are really just two Greek manuscripts (there is also one much later manuscript). It should be said that the ‘sacred and imperishable proclamation’ (shorter ending of Mark) also has very little to commend its authenticity.

The note in the New International Version is more accurate as to number of manuscripts, but highly interpretative: ‘The two most reliable early manuscripts do not have Mark 16:9-20.’ Actually, the reliability of Vaticanus and Sinaiticus is strictly a theory, though widely taught.

Also, one of these two manuscripts contains space for the missing paragraph, a very unusual thing when using expensive vellum (fine animal skins). Apparently the scribe was aware of the passage but lacked it in his exemplar. The other manuscript shows evidence of having been tampered with to fill up the space.

It is common to say that the style of Mark 16:9-20 is unlike Mark’s, but this is subjective. Actually, there are stylistic parallels between Mark 16 and Mark 1.

Verse 8 of chapter 16 (where the two minority manuscripts close) ends with the second (‘for’) in Greek, which is usually the second word in a sentence. To end a book on this word seems most unlikely.

Also, especially if one accepts the theory that Mark is the oldest Gospel, we would have the Resurrection story without the risen Christ actually appearing—a disappointing Easter indeed!

Some try to solve the problem by saying that the original ending is lost and verses 9-20 are a makeshift substitute. This seems a very weak theory in light of our Lord’s promise that His words would never pass away (Matthew 24:35).

Frankly, one fears that some would like to be rid of the passage because of verses 16-18 on the doctrines of baptism and miracles.

The point that the footnotes in most Bibles fail to report is that 1,400 manuscripts do contain this passage. Further, St. Jerome, when he translated the New Testament into Latin, included Mark 16:9-20. It is significant that he did so in the fourth century, when the dissenting Egyptian manuscripts were also written! Apparently these two copies which lacked this passage were not representative in their own time.

In short, the long ending of Mark is on a firm foundation and widely supported.

[Charles C. Ryrie, The Ryrie Study Bible, NKJV (Chicago: Moody Press, 1985): 1570].

Nor is this all of the evidence that supports the inspiration of Mark 16:9-20. On July 23-26, 1952, brother Thomas B. Warren met the veteran Missionary Baptist debater Dr. L.S. Ballard in public debate on the plan of salvation. Brother Warren affirmed this proposition: “The Scriptures teach that water baptism is for (in order to obtain) the remission of past sins.” In defense of that proposition, brother Warren introduced Mark 16:16 and Dr. Ballard denied its authenticity. But brother Warren was well prepared for this argument and prepared a chart demonstrating the overwhelming evidence for the passage’s genuineness. [Thomas B. Warren and L.S. Ballard, Warren-Ballard Debate on the Plan of Salvation, Third Printing, (Jonesboro, AR: National Christian Press, 1979): p. 104].  Eleven of the thirteen manuscript families represented on the chart do have Mark 16:9-20. But the oldest of these date only to the fourth century. Eleven ancient translations also have this passage and five of these are from the second century while three are from the fourth century. Furthermore, the church “fathers” overwhelmingly quote from Mark 16:9-20 as the Word of God!

In short, one must argue in the face of a mountain of evidence to deny the inspiration of Mark 16:9-20! It is a shame that some of our own “scholars” have fallen for this unfounded infidelic argument. Mark 16:16 is undeniably part of the Bible and it proves beyond all doubt that baptism is essential to salvation.