Following up on my previous post on the Book of Mormon and Mark 16 (“Longer Ending of Mark, Part 1“), I would like to review a portion of the external evidence for the authenticity of the disputed longer ending of Mark (Mark 16:9-20). Nicholas P. Lunn’s The Original Ending of Mark: A New Case for the Authenticity of Mark 16:9-20 (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2014) provides a good summary of the external evidence, though the emphasis of his work is on the many internal evidences. But the most extensive resource I’ve found on external evidence is James Snapp, Jr., Authentic: The Case for Mark 16:9-20: 2016 Edition (Kindle). In “Introductory Summary: Mark 16:9-20: A Scholarly Consensus?” in the section “Manuscript Evidence,” Snapp explains that the evidence from New Testament manuscripts does not present an overwhelming case for rejecting the longer ending:
Regarding the Shorter Ending [wherein Mark ends abruptly at the empty tomb in Mark 16:8], it is very misleading to vaguely say that some manuscripts have the Shorter Ending and some manuscripts have verses 9-20, because only six Greek manuscripts contain the Shorter Ending. The Shorter Ending was composed in Egypt , where the abruptly-ending text had previously circulated, in order to round off the otherwise sudden stoppage of the narrative. All six of the Greek manuscripts that contain the Shorter Ending also present at least part of the usual 12 verses, showing that they contained the entire passage when they were in pristine condition. The rest of the Greek manuscripts, that is to say, the remaining 99% of the manuscripts, uniformly present Mark 16:9-20 after verse 8. Gundry’s assertion that these manuscripts (over 1,600 in number) “hopelessly disagree” with each other is absurd.
In the following section, “Patristic Evidence,” he summarizes evidence from the earliest references to Mark (discussed in much detail in later sections):
Four compositions from the 100’s attest to the existence of copies of Mark which contained Mark 16:9-20: Epistula Apostolorum (by an unknown author), First Apology (by Justin Martyr), the Diatessaron (by Tatian), and Against Heresies (by Irenaeus).
Epistula Apostolorum (150) echoes the narrative structure of these 12 verses; it depicts the disciples not believing the report of a woman who had seen the risen Jesus –an event unrecorded in the Gospels except in Mark 16:10-11. The author also mentions the command of Christ to the apostles to “Go and preach,” (resembling Mark 16:15 ), and his use of the phrase “mourning and weeping” resembles wording in Mark 16:10.
Justin Martyr (155), in First Apology chapter 45, as he interprets Psalm 110, makes a strong allusion to Mark 16:20 (blended with Luke 24:52, just as one would expect a person to do who was using a Synoptics-harmony, as Justin did). As Justin refers to how the apostles went forth from Jerusalem preaching everywhere , he used three words – exelthontes pantachou ekeruxan – which appear together nowhere else except in Mark 16:20, in a different order. In chapter 50 of First Apology, Justin alludes to the scene in Mark 16:14 , using the phrase, “And later, when he had risen from the dead and was seen by them.”
Tatian (c. 172) incorporated all twelve verses into his Diatessaron, which expanded on his predecessor’s Synoptics-harmony by including the text of the Gospel of John. In the Latin Codex Fuldensis (a Diatessaronic witness from the West), and in the Arabic Diatessaron (from the East), the contents of Mark 16:9-20 are given essentially the same arrangement, thus echoing their second-century ancestor.
Irenaeus (c. 184), in the tenth chapter of Book Three of Against Heresies, wrote, “Also, towards the conclusion of his Gospel, Mark says: ‘So then, after the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God.’” Like most of Irenaeus’ work, this part of Against Heresies exists only in Latin. A Greek annotation in Codex 1582 (based on an ancestor-manuscript produced in the mid-400’s) next to Mark 16:19 affirms the genuineness of Irenaeus’ statement; the annotation says, “Irenaeus, who lived near the time of the apostles, cites this from Mark in the third book of his work Against Heresies.” This annotation also appears in minuscule 72, and in an uncatalogued manuscript recently described by the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts.
Papias, a writer very early in the 100’s (c. 110), wrote something that may relate to the contents of Mark 16:18. Eusebius of Caesarea, in Book 3, chapter 39 of his Church History, quotes Papias along the following lines: “Papias, who lived at the same time, relates that he had received a wonderful narrative from the daughters of Philip. For he relates that a dead man was raised to life in his day. He also mentions another miracle, regarding Justus surnamed Barsabbas: he swallowed a deadly poison, and received no harm, on account of the grace of the Lord.”
Papias describes a believer who was not harmed by poison, but he does not explicitly say that he is providing an example of the fulfillment of the prophetic words of Mark 16:18. It is possible that he mentioned this anecdote as an illustration of how Mark 16:18 was to be understood –that is, as a prophecy about incidental dangers, rather than deliberate self-endangerment – but it is also possible that he told the story simply because it was interesting.
Snapp addresses claims that Clement and Origen show no knowledge of the longer ending, which turn out to be arguments from silence that bear little evidentiary weight. But in fact, there is a compelling case that Clement actually was aware of the longer ending.
Further, Jerome is repeatedly said, by commentator after commentator, to have regarded the longer ending of Mark as spurious, and to have known of no Greek manuscripts supporting it. But those claims arise from his tendency to freely copy the text of others with minimal change, resulting in his use of a passage ultimately deriving from Eusebius that questioned the longer ending. But Jerome himself actually supported the longer ending by including it in his Vulgate Gospels. As for Eusebius, who is perhaps the main early Christian voice cited to support rejection of the longer ending, he was clearly aware of New Testament manuscripts that had the longer ending, did not insist that it should be rejected, and “recommended to Marinus that the passage be punctuated and retained” (Snapp, section “Introductory Summary,” sub-section “Patristic Evidence”).
The patristic support for the longer ending include Tertullian (195-220), Hippolytus (235), Vincentius (256), and many more. Snapp has chapters dealing with evidence from the 100’s, the 200’s, the 300’s, the 400’s, and later evidence for the authenticity of the longer ending. It is also clear that the longer ending was an important part of early Christian lectionary documents used in worship (Snapps, Chapter 7, “Lectionary Evidence”).
If the concepts in Mark 16:9-20 were fabricated long after the Gospel of Mark was written, it is difficult to understand how some of the earliest Christian documents we have provide support for their authenticity. Many of these documents existed long before the two related manuscripts, the Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus were composed, the earliest extant Greek manuscripts that are the primary tools used to reject the longer ending of Mark. What we learn from the early Christian evidence is that there were much earlier manuscripts of Mark known in the Christian world but not extant today that support the authenticity of the longer ending of Mark. This strengthens the possibility that Christ actually spoke the words quoted at the end of Mark 16, and that He could have spoken similar words to His New World disciples in the Book of Mormon, as quoted in Mormon 9.
There is much more to the external evidence to consider, and also significant internal evidence that we will review briefly in upcoming posts.