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 http://www.jeffriddle.net/2015/04/new-book-defends-traditional-ending-of.html.]
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.