Bible Scholar Breaks Ranks and Reverses His Views on the Ending of Mark Based on Evidence

The progress of scholarship can be painfully slow when established paradigms are wrong. Even when abundant data and logic support a new way of looking at things, old paradigms can die hard as the guard sticks with what “everybody knows.” That’s probably why it took over 200 years for the experts of the British Navy to concede that scurvy can be prevented with citrus fruits. It’s also why Ignaz Semmelweis would be rejected and scorned for years for his crazy notion that some kind of invisible material (germs) from the unwashed hands of doctors was killing mothers in European clinics after childbirth when they were delivered by medical students who often had been working on cadavers the same day.

I recently ran across an encouraging example of a Bible scholar breaking ranks from the “consensus” of his fellow scholars and completely reversing his position on an important New Testament issue. Scholars for decades have rejected the so-called “longer ending” of the Gospel of Mark (verses 9 to 20 in Mark 16) as fraudulent, a late addition from scribes who were uncomfortable with the “legitimate” abrupt ending at verse 8. But the consensus of scholars on this point may have been largely based on peer dynamics as scholars accepted and repeated what others had said without a careful consideration of the data. The weakness behind that consensus has, in my opinion, been thoroughly exposed by several scholars, most notably Nicholas P. Lunn in The Original Ending of Mark: A New Case for the Authenticity of Mark 16:9-20 (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2014), as I have mentioned before here.

In light of Lunn’s work, we can see that many scholarly statements on the issue of the ending of Mark are surprisingly wrong and easily demonstrated to be false. A lengthy list of such statements has been compiled by James Snapp, Jr. in Authentic: The Case for Mark 16:9-20: 2016 Edition (James Snapp, Jr: 2016, Kindle edition). For example, numerous scholars have informed their readers that verses 9-20 of Mark 16 “are lacking in many of the oldest and most reliable manuscripts” (Norman Geisler), and that there are “many” ancient Greek manuscripts that simply end at Mark 16:8 (e.g., Larry O. Richards, Wilfrid J. Harrington, Jim Levitt). Eugene Peterson states that the long ending “is contained only in later manuscripts.” Donald Juel even speaks of the “almost unanimous testimony of the oldest Greek manuscripts” in excluding the longer ending. This error is further amplified by Ernest Findlay Scott’s claim that the 12 verses of the longer ending “are found in no early manuscript,” and David Ewert takes that error to its zenith with, “All major manuscripts end this Gospel at 16:8.”

Among the many scholars quoted by Snapp is Craig A. Evans, currently the the John Bisagno Distinguished Professor of Christian Origins and Dean of the School of Christian Thought at Houston Baptist University in Texas. Evans had written that “Many of the older manuscripts have asterisks and obeli [the technical term for funny little marks like ÷ or ] marking off the Long or Short Endings as spurious or at least doubtful,” and, “Later copies contain vv. 9-20, but they are marked off with asterisks or obelisks, warning readers and copyists that these twelve verses are doubtful.” Evans stated that these verses “were added at least two centuries after Mark first began to circulate,” which would seem to put the origins of the longer ending to some time after 260. In reality, there is overwhelming evidence that the longer ending as we have it was known and used by Christians long before a few Greek manuscripts were made without it.

After reading Lunn, Dr. Evans wrote:

Nicholas Lunn has thoroughly shaken my views concerning the ending of the Gospel of Mark. As in the case of most gospel scholars, I have for my whole career held that Mark 16:9-20, the so-called “Long Ending,” was not original. But in his well-researched and carefully argued book, Lunn succeeds in showing just how flimsy that position really is. [Craig A. Evans, statement printed on the back cover of Lunn, The Original Ending of Mark; see also]

Evans offers a welcome example of a scholar changing his mind in light of the evidence on this matter. Many scholars feel there is no need to even consider the questions Lunn and others raise about the consensus rejection of the longer ending of Mark, but this is unfortunate and might remind us to exercise caution when adjusting our faith based on a purported scholarly consensus. Kudos to Dr. Evans!

This topic is relevant to the Book of Mormon, of course, since the words of Christ to His New World disciples, as quoted by Mormon in Mormon 9:22-25, include words very similar to the great commission Christ gave His apostles in the longer ending of Mark. Knowing that the longer ending of Mark has support as authentic scripture helps solve a particularly interesting Book of Mormon challenge.

Author: Jeff Lindsay

14 thoughts on “Bible Scholar Breaks Ranks and Reverses His Views on the Ending of Mark Based on Evidence

  1. Imagine a headline like this: "Book of Mormon (Abraham) Scholar Breaks Ranks And Reverses His Views of ______ Based on New Evidence." Is such a thing conceivable?

  2. I was not aware of this critical observation between the BoM and the long version of Mark. Regarding degrees of glory, apologist argue Emanuel Swedenborg formed his similar idea independently of JS revelation. With the long version of Mark, an apologist could argue the same. So, long version or not, the apologists can offer an explanation.

  3. Anon, you seem to have little awareness of what actually has been going on for a long time in LDS circles. Many findings/theories from LDS scholars of the past century began as someone breaking ranks with tradition or the previous consensus. When the evidence has been convincing, viewpoints have shifted gradually or suddenly in some cases. Examples include moving from hemispheric models to limited geography for the Book of Mormon, the method of translation of the Book of Mormon, and developments in many other issues (racial issues in the Book of Mormon and a variety of Book of Abraham topics).

    One of the most interesting and most recent developments of this kind is the gradually growing but perhaps still minority view that the Book of Mormon translation process reflects an archaic dialect from the Early Modern English era that cannot be explained by imitation of KJV English, and reflects a surprising form of verbal control and consistency at odds with the mainstream theory of Joseph dictating in his own dialect and with his own awkward grammar. Skousen broke ranks, as did Carmack, based on extensive data.

    Mormon scholars are frequently reversing their old views and breaking ranks from old paradigms based on data.

    On the other hand, it is frustrating to see that no amount of data or evidence will budge some critics from even considering that there might be another explanation for the Book of Mormon than the simple data-impoverished theories they toss out. The extensive and detailed Arabian evidence might as well not exist, for example.

  4. To Jeff's comment I would add that plenty of scholars over the years have been "reversing their old views and breaking ranks from old paradigms based on data" by rejecting the historicity of the LDS scriptures entirely. Exciting times!

    — OK

    1. To piggyback on this comment, my first reaction to Jeff's post above is that the "it's foolish to be content with long-held beliefs because someday they might be proven wrong" sword cuts both ways. I was once a firm believer in Mormonism until research and data that was new (at least to me) convinced me otherwise. Regardless of your belief or confidence in your knowledge, your point of view can be changed by new knowledge. Jeff's cautionary tales about not being too smug in the confidence of your knowledge should be pointed back at him from time-to-time. The Mormon paradigm is as firmly entrenched in its circles as the secular one is in its own.

  5. Anon – Mormanity is correct. Mormon “apologists" have long since “broke ranks” (aka capitulated), admitting Mormonism is no better than any other Christian faith, a massive break through.

  6. Jeff, thanks for all you do. I host a quarterly study group for LDS scholars, members (and any other interested parties) to meet and talk about church history, doctrine, practices, etc. The messages that are shared are uplifting, and faith-promoting.

    I'd like to invite you to join us at one of our upcoming events. We meet virtually via web conference, so you can call in from the comfort of your own home. It would be awesome to meet you and hear more about what you are working on. If you'd like to present something you are passionate about, we could put you on the presentation list. I've sent you a FB friend request as well.

    Take care!

  7. Evidence is a frustrating thing because it never looks as strong to people on the other side as it does to you. This is true even in physics, where disputes are about as free of human emotional bias as it is possible to get.

    Too many textbooks, desperate to simplify discussions of superhuman complexity, describe classic experiments as unquestioned verdicts that settled matters decisively: Michaelson and Morley disproved the ether, Rumford disproved caloric, measurements of black body radiation established quantum mechanics. Alas, these stories of instant scientific revolutions are only retrospective accounts of how things should have been—for the sake of the poor teachers who have to explain them. In fact none of these supposedly decisive bodies of scientific evidence were seen as decisive at the time. They were recognized as important, but at the time they seemed to leave lots of room for interpretation, and debate dragged on for years.

    Theories and belief systems in general do not just offer answers. They also tend to define what the questions are. They make implicit assumptions about what issues are relevant, and while these assumptions may seem to be obviously valid from one point of view, from another these same assumptions about the nature of the question can seem like arbitrary blinders that deliberately ignore the most essential things. What counts as decisive evidence within one set of assumptions may be very much less compelling when a different set of issues and questions is on the table.

    So I think I can understand how Mormon apologists may be frustrated that skeptics are so unmoved by Nahom. It looks the same from the other side, perhaps even much more so. Perhaps skeptics deflect Nahom stuff by putting their faith in fluke, well-covered fraud, or future evidence that is not yet discovered; but Mormons appear to have enormously more to deflect, and to rely correspondingly on the faith which can outweigh mountains of evidence.

  8. James, good perspective, thanks. Regarding Book of Mormon evidence, I am curious about the mountains of evidence against it you mentioned, as opposed to arguments from silence. The curious thing is that many of the objections raised in the past have progressively found support for plausibility. Have you considered the implications of this trend?

  9. Mormanity – Asked and answered a 100 times. For example, Ignatius Donnelly and the Atlantis Theory … Damnation – incapable of progressing ….

  10. I suppose it's true, Jeff, that the biggest mountains against the Book of Mormon are absence of evidence from New World archaeology. To me this does seem like a huge mountain, in spite of whatever one might say about absence of evidence not being evidence of absence.

    The trend of apologetic success that you mention also looks rather different to me. I don't see any tendency at all towards finding the ruins of Zarahemla with inscriptions in Hebrew. What I see looks exactly like what I'd expect to see from the steady efforts of Mormon apologists: gradual development of arguments and explanations, and occasional turning up of odd little flukes.

    Four-leafed clovers are very unusual in any random handful of herbage, but any good-sized lawn will have one or two four-leafers in it somewhere. If you diligently search the whole neighborhood every day for four-leafed clovers, it's not surprising that you keep finding a few every week, all summer long. In fact it would be weird if you didn't.

    In the same way it would be odd if Mormon apologists, working hard all these years, hadn't been able to find anything at all that seemed to fit with Mormon beliefs about the Book of Mormon. A more or less steady accumulation of odd little things looks to me just like that: it's exactly the pattern that I'd expect to see if the Book of Mormon were a fraud that just happened to be believed by a bunch of smart people who kept trying to defend it.

    The fact that even all that steady effort by intelligent Mormon apologists has not turned up any really dramatic evidence for the Book of Mormon's major claims is for me another mountain of absence. When you don't find something because you haven't even looked for it, then absence of evidence is not evidence of absence; but when you've looked hard and still turned nothing up, then that does support absence. The things that Mormon apologists have found prove to me that they have indeed been looking; and yet they still haven't found anything big. To me, that's a bad sign.

  11. Dry pavement is evidence that it is not raining. To declare the absence of rain, non-evidence against “it is raining” is pure deceit and immoral.

  12. …and yet, James, so many Mormons use the complete lack of real evidence as evidence. "This was prophesied! If there were hard evidence, I wouldn't need faith!" Utter nonsense and cognitive dissonance. Meanwhile, every news cycle brings actual proof of this church's real fruits: excommunicating children, lying about not having a paid clergy, showing intolerance to the marginalized, and now: silencing little girls.
    Just like Jesus would do?????????

  13. Until recently, I never really understood evangelicals and their theology of salvation. For them it is a free gift that the executive functions of the mind need only to make the active decision to accept. Such a simple thing. But here we have examples of people such as Mormanity, who obstinately refuse to progress beyond their own self-imposed damnation, much like an addict, actively choosing to run away from numerous exposures of reason. The concrete of the dam has cured so much, a longer mortal probation will make no difference.

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