12 Feb 2020

The Long Ending of Mark (16.9-20): Patristic, Versional, and Greek Evidence

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bible, Church History, King James Version, Mark, Restoration History
Textual note in my NIV

I am frequently asked about the ending of Mark and the pros and cons of the various endings.  This is a delicate issue and one should approach the evidence with an open mind without a predetermined outcome.  Some have mistakenly argued that the whole issue revolves around two uncial mss: Sinaiticus and Vaticanus. MSS stands for “manuscripts.” 

It is true that these two important mss omit the passage. However the problem was known and debated long before the discovery of Sinaiticus or the release of Vaticanus.  In fact the problem is as old as the church itself!  The Church Fathers are our first witness to the controversy over the ending of Mark’s Gospel. It is a gross error to say, as some claim, that Westcott and Hort brought this “problem” to us. 

An Apology for this Post

Before I make this note I need to defend it.  I can already hear some one say “you do not have to have a PhD, or be a scholar, to go to heaven!”  But I think this actually misses the real issue because that is not the issue.

When an individual stands before a congregation, or a group of people, assuming the role of a teacher, it is reasonable to assume that person is grounded deeply in the subject at hand (surely James 3.1 is relevant).  Such an assumption is not unwarranted.  When our children go to school, we parents firmly expect the teacher to know more about math than the elementary students who are learning basic “math facts.” If a teacher is instructing children, in any subject, we expect that he/she have first done his/her own homework. 

The same is true in any congregation.  No, one does not need a PhD, or to be a scholar, to go to heaven any more than one needs a PhD in math to be a teacher in elementary school.  But to teach the subject we expect the point of view of the teacher to be grounded in more than mere prejudice or wishful thinking.  We expect that the teacher has a certain level of mastery of the material at hand.

Yet somehow we change our expectations when it comes to the most important subject in our life – the Bible.  But every (there is no exception to this in my view) person who wishes to assume the role of “teacher” in the family of God, should understand how the Bible came together as much as a physics teacher should understand the laws of physics. So a preacher needs to understand the basics of textual criticism and some general knowledge of the history of the Bible.  Preachers do not have to be scholars in textual criticism but they need to know the basics of how it works and why it matters.  We should not build doctrine on something that is no more than the a “thus sayeth the scribe” (to use a Jack Lewis ism).  The needs of polemical debate should not determine our attachment to a textual variant.

The Bible did not fall out of heaven in 1611 to a group of men employed by the Church of England. Those men were not inspired or guided by the Holy Spirit in some special capacity not open to every other translator down through the years. What textual criticism attempts to do is establish what a given writer (Plato, Aristotle, Matthew, Isaiah, Paul) actually wrote.  It does this by principles that have been honed through the years much like the principles of medicine. 

We can tell a preacher is misinformed if he baldly claims “five thousand manuscripts have Mark 16:9-20” to prove the authenticity of these verses.  Why? Because all five thousand of those manuscripts anywhere between 800 to 1300 YEARS later (i.e. younger) than the manuscripts that do not have 16.2-20.  Such a claim betrays that the person does not understand how textual criticism works. 

Think of it like this a thousand people with Ebola can be traced back to a single carrier and the further you get from the carrier the more folks can be infected.  The same with manuscripts.  A single mistake can be copied dozens and hundreds of times down the line.  Thus when those preachers say there are x number of mss with the Long Ending (= 16.9-20 as in the KJV) the vast majority of those manuscripts date to the high medieval period, that is after 1100 AD to AD 1400. Most of these mss belong to the same “family” of mss as well (this family is known as the Byzantine family).

Further these teachers misrepresent the facts of the case because a large number of those mss have more than the Long Ending as we shall see below.  This is why manuscripts are weighed not merely counted.  My point here is that a person standing before a congregation should have a basic understanding of how the Bible came to be in our church pews. 

When every modern translation of the English Bible tells the average ordinary reader “ancient manuscripts do not have the following …” the teacher/preacher should understand why.  The Long Ending of Mark is no exception. 

Textual criticism examines evidence from the Greek and other manuscripts. It also includes “the versions” which are ancient translations of the Greek New Testament into various ancient tongues, some are as old as the most ancient Greek text.   Textual criticism also takes into account quotations of the Bible from various Fathers & Mothers of the church and what they have to say about textual question. A basic introduction to the subject like Bruce Metzger’s The Text of the New Testament or Kurt Aland’s The Text of the New Testament should simply be required reading for preachers and teachers.  Now I did not say everyone had to read these but the person that presents him or herself as that teacher then yes indeed they should have a basic knowledge.  So with all that said I present some thoughts I have put together on the Long Ending of Mark. 

The leaders of the Stone-Campbell Movement were all committed to the critical text of the Bible translated into the most current English idiom. See my Words Easy to Understand: The Restoration Movement and the King James Version.

Commentators on Mark 16.9-20

I know of no standard commentaries on the Gospel of Mark that accept the authenticity of Mark 16.9-20 in the Textus Receptus (basically the KJV).  I may be wrong but I do not know the commentary.

Even commentaries among Churches of Christ like Earle McMillian’s The Gospel of Mark (1973) in the Living Word Commentary series and Allan Black, The Gospel According to Mark, in the NIV College Press Commentary series reject the authenticity of the Long Ending.  This is not a “liberal” vs “conservative” matter at all.  It is a matter of the evidence. 

J. W. McGarvey’s evolving perspective on the ending of Mark is an instructive one to remember.

McGarvey was a sophisticated scholar and understood the significance of textual criticism far more than those who seem to read only his original conclusion to the matter in his 1875 Commentary on Matthew and Mark (or more likely a snippet of a quotation of his Commentary in the Spiritual Sword or other secondary source).  Unlike the debaters, McGarvey never stopped studying and thinking about the issue in light of fresh evidence.  What many do not realize is that much of the evidence known today was unavailable and therefore unknown to McGarvey, especially among the ancient Versions.  But a textual critic, and the informed preacher, will know this and not simply judge the eternal salvation of another on the basis of something that is almost certainly not the word of God.  McGarvey addressed the issue several times in the decades following 1875 and his position moved considerably. See J. W. McGarvey’s Evolving Relationship with Mark 16.9-20.

We will soon learn there are four different endings to the Gospel of Mark and English reader of the NRSV will be able to see these.  One more minor point many of the mss that have the Long Ending have scholia (scribal notes) much like a modern translation.  To the evidence.

Ending of Mark in Codex Sinaiticus

Part One: Patristic Testimony Regarding the “Long Ending” of Mark

One of the surprises we learn when we approach the ending of Mark is that the church has always known there was a “problem” with the text. What that means is the problem was not created nor discovered by modern scholars but has been known and discussed from the beginning of church history.


Eusebius is probably best known to Christians today as the author of a foundational, indeed indispensable, history of the early church. Eusebius also wrote a book entitled “On Problems and Solutions in the Gospels” addressed to Marinus (a bishop of Caesarea).  Marinus was troubled over the apparent contradiction between Matthew 28.1 and Mk 16.9 regarding the eve of the sabbath or the morning of the first day of the week.  Eusebius responds,

The solution is two fold.  For one man, rejecting the passage (to kephalaionauto), the section which makes the statement, will say that it is not current in all the copies of the Gospel according to Mark. That is, the accurate copies determine the end of the narrative according to Mark at the words of the young man . . .  For at this point the end of the Gospel according to Mark is determined in nearly all the copies of the Gospel according to Mark; whereas what follows, being scantily current, in some but not in all, will be superfluous; and especially if it contradicts the testimony of the other evangelists . . . (PG, XXII, 938f).

The above statement by Eusebius is remarkable indeed. The Orthodoxy of the famous historian is not questioned.  But his testimony speaks volumes for it shows: 1) in his day most copies of Mark did not have vv.9-20 and; 2) he states that the “accurate” (in his opinion) copies did not contain the long ending and  3) both he, and bishop Marinus, recognize the ending is “superfluous.” 

In a scholium (a marginal note in an ancient manuscript) bearing the name of Eusebius has been preserved in Manuscript 255.  The scholium means either a rejection of the Long ending or an ignorance of the long ending. Enumerating the appearances of Christ after the Resurrection it states: “according to Mark he is is not said to have appeared to the disciples after the Resurrection” (quoted in Westcott and Hort, Introduction to the New Testament in the Original Greek, Appendix p. 33).  There is other material relating to Eusebius but I need not relate it all.


Two generations after Eusebius, Jerome — a man with a love for manuscripts, translator of the Vulgate and possibly the greatest scholar in the ancient church — replied to the same kind of question raised by Marinus but this time by a fair lady named Hedibia from Gaul. He writes,

For either we do not receive Mark’s testimony because it is found in few [copies of the] gospels, nearly all the Greek codices being without this section, especially as it appears to contradict the other evangelists . . .” (Epistle 120 ad Hedibiam)

Here again a statement from one of the greatest scholars in the history of the church regarding the text of Mark.  His testimony is that the passage is found in “few” mss — indeed “nearly all” are without it.  This statement is made 800 to 1000 years before the actual physical date of “the vast majority of manuscripts” that some claim in support of the long ending. 

Hesychius of Jerusalem(died around 450)

Hesychius published a work that in previous centuries was thought to be the work of Gregory of Nyssa but now that has been corrected.  The work is titled “An Oration on the Resurrection.”  He has occasion to comment on the textual issue regarding Mark 16, these are his words,

In the more accurate copies the Gospel according to Mark has its end at “for they were afraid” [i.e v.8]; but in some copies there is added, ‘Now when he was risen early the first day of the week. . .‘ But this appears to contradict to some extent  what had been adduced by us [from Matthew]”

(quoted in Bruce M. Metzger, “The Practice of Textual Criticism Among the Church Fathers” in Studia Patristica, vol 12, p. 345).   A little over 100 years later another commentator, Severus of Antioch (died about 540) made the exact same comment — perhaps quoting Hesychius. 

Victor of Antioch (fifth century)

Not much is known about Victor other than he was a presbyter and a careful commentator on biblical texts.  Victor states that vv. 9-20 are not found in most mss but only in “some.”   (Westcott and Hort have an extended discussion of Victor’s Commentary, pp. 34f). 

Several church fathers who quote virtually the whole Bible, but show no genuine knowledge of Mark 16.9-20 are Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Cyprian and Cyril of Jerusalem.  All of these Fathers had occasion to quote or comment on these verses but they are deafeningly silent on them. 

What conclusions can we draw from the above information? 1) The early church was acutely conscious of a problem with the ending of the Gospel of Mark; 2) The “majority” copies in their (the Father’s) day did not contain the long ending of Mark; 3) not only did these Father’s testify to the lack of attestation in the mss they said it was lacking in “the accurate” or the “better” mss; 4) The Father’s show some reservations about the text because of the perceived contradiction between vv. 9-20 and the other evangelists.

That many later Fathers quoted from the text (especially later) is not questioned.  But they also quoted freely from the Apocrypha — even by those who when asked would say they don’t consider these works to be “canonical.”   There is a problem with the ending of Mark.  The absolute chaos in the mss tradition in Greek and the versions attest to this.  There are no fewer than four separate endings which clearly indicates there was a problem.  The Father’s voice is a significant one — the Long Ending is most likely not original to the Gospel.

Part Two: Greek and Versional Manuscript Evidence

We examined, briefly, the patristic discussion of Mark 16.9-20 which revealed the Fathers were quite aware of a “problem” with these verses.  When we look at the extant Greek manuscript tradition itself we see more of which they spoke.  The English reader of the NIV encounters this statement at the end of Mark 16.8:

[The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20.]

Every modern translation, ESV, RSV, NRSV, NIV, TNIV, NIV2011, JB, NLB, etc, will have this text in brackets, in a footnote, or somehow set off from the rest of the text indicating that it is inauthentic.  The ESV, for example, says “[Some of the Earliest Manuscripts Do Not Include 16:9-20]” this is followed by a note that includes textual data on the other endings of Mark. 

But the statement in the NIV is true as far as it goes but it is also misleading to some extent.  The evidence is far more than Sinaiticus and Vaticanus.  What a serious misreading and misinformed reading of the scholia.  However, both the uncials just mentioned do in fact omit the text – and they are early and reliable.    There are actually four different endings preserved in the Greek mss tradition, I will briefly list each one. The endings are

1) Ending at v. 8
2) The Shorter Ending
3) The Freer Logion
4) The Long Ending

Ending at Verse 8

The Gospel of Mark ends at v.8 in a variety of early witnesses.  This is where the text ends in Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, numerous Old Latin mss (notably Bobiensis), and in the Old Syriac Gospels, over 100 Armenian, and the Adysh and Opiza Georgian mss (the oldest surviving Georgian mss), a number of Ethiopic end at v.8. All of these manuscripts lack the traditionally known “Long Ending” as represented in the King James Version. 

Special mention must be made of the Armenian version.  In 1891, F. C. Conybeare did pioneering work on the Armenian version.  The Etchmiadzin mss of the Gospels introduces vv. 9-20 with the words, “Of the presbyter Ariston,” that it attributing authorship of these verses to some one other than Mark.  Of the 220 known Armenian mss only 88 include the text at all. Ninety-nine end the Gospel at v. 8.  The remainder present both the Long and Shorter ending of Mark (cf. Bruce M. Metzger, The Early Versions of the New Testament, pp. 163-164).  This was evidence that J. W. McGarvey never knew about btw. 

Other witnesses that contain the long ending have scribal scholia (that is notes similar to the ones in the NIV and ESV today) that indicate the scribes did not think the verses were authentic.  Scholia have been preserved in the following Greek mss 1, 20,  22, 137, 138, 1110, 1215, 1216,1217, 1221, 1582, etc, etc). 

Codex Regius (L) was discovered and edited in 1846 by Tischendorf.  This manuscript contains both the Long and the “Shorter” ending of Mark separated by ornamental lines after v.8 and the shorter ending.  The scholia says: “There is also current . . .” Then it gives the shorter reading (which I will cover below) and then again: “These are current . . .” A photograph of the ending of Mark in Codex Regius is given in the Aland’s The Text of the New Testament, p. 112.  In many other Greek, and versional mss, this passage is marked with astericks or obeli, the ususal marks by scribes on passages that were questioned.

Codex Bobiensis (k) is an example of
a fourth/fifth century Latin mss with the
Shorter Ending of Mark

The Shorter Ending

The “Shorter” Ending of Mark reads after v.8,

But they reported briefly to Peter and those with him all that they had been told. And after this Jesus himself sent out by means of them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.”    

This reading ends Codex k, a fourth century Old Latin mss.  Usually in the mss tradition this ending comes after v.8 and then proceeds (after scholia) on with what we know as vv. 9-20.  It is preserved in this combination in uncial msss L, Psi, 099, 0112, many Armenian mss (see above), most of the Ethiopic mss, the Harclean Syriac, Sahidic and Bohairic mss.  A picture of Minuscule 274 where the ending is written in the margin is in Metzger’s Text of the New Testament, plate XI and a picture of the Old Latin k is in Aland’s Text of the NT, p. 188.

As a side note on the “Shorter Reading” and the so called blank space in Vaticanus (=B).  Some have made much of the blank at the end of Mark in B but they should not get their hopes up to high if they think the blank space would contain the long traditional ending.  It is unusual in B for this space but scholars have calculated the letter sizes used by the scribe and there only enough space for the so called “Shorter Ending” not nearly enough for the Long Ending – this was demonstrated as far back as 1909 by Theodore Zahn (cf. William L. Lane, New International Commentary: The Gospel According to Mark, p. 602). 

The Freer Logion v. 14.

Until 1906 the only knowledge we had of what has become known as the “Freer Logion” came from Jerome. Codex W was published in 1910 and is now in the Freer Art Gallery in Washington D.C.  Jerome testifies that this particular reading was in a large number of Greek mss in his day but it was not known independently until Codex W was published.  At verse 14 in what is the Long Ending we read:

And they excused themselves, saying, This age of lawlessness and unbelief is under Satan, who does not allow the truth and power of God to prevail over the unclean things of the spirits.  Therefore reveal thy righteousness now’ – thus they spoke to Christ. And Christ replied to them, ‘The term of years for Satan’s power has been fulfilled, but other terrible things draw near.  And for those who have sinned I was delivered over to 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.” 

We have here a variant that was once prevalent but has only been preserved in one mss.  For those who want an in-depth discussion of the Freer Logion see Lane’s The Gospel According to Mark, pp. 606-611.

The Long orTraditional Ending in the Textus Receptus

The Long Ending is attested in most of the medieval manuscripts that make up the Byzantine family. Interestingly enough a large number of these also contain the “Shorter Ending” discussed above. 

The Long Ending (v.19) is quoted by Irenaeus around 180. Some have suggested that Justin Martyr also did but this is disputed.  Irenaeus is the only confirmed quote in the Ante-Nicene period of any of the material in these texts.  Two early Fathers are especially enlightening: Tertullian and Cyril of Jerusalem.  Both did extensive lectures on baptism, they refer to every NT text on baptism except Mark 16.16.


It is evident to any thoughtful reader that the ending of Mark is indeed a “problem.”  Had Mark always included the “Long Ending” it would be very difficult to explain how the other endings came about.  But if Mark did end at verse 8 then it is easy to see why, and how, the other readings came about.  I believe the evidence lends itself to the placement of a very large question mark by these verses as unoriginal.

One who originally was quite confident in the authenticity of the Long Ending was, noted above, J.W. McGarvey in his Commentary on Matthew and Mark published in 1875.  McGarvey interacts with British scholar, Henry Alford, a critic of the authenticity of the passage.  McGarvey in the years following learned of more info regarding the question.  Interestingly enough by 1896 McGarvey seems to be agreeing with the very commentary by Alford that he had struggled to disprove.  He wrote in the Christian Standard,

I think the trend of opinion in recent years is in favor of the suggestion first made by Alford – that the fragment was not originally a part of Mark’s Gospel but that it is an authentic piece of history appended by a contemporary writer.  This would account for its absence from some MSS and its presence in others.” (“An Oft Repeated Question,” Christian Standard 32 [1896], 1239).

That is a long way from what his Commentary states in 1875.   Much of the information shared in this note was not known to McGarvey’s in 1896 – and the story is not over yet.

Appendix: Reading on the Matter of the Ending of the Gospel of Mark

Here are some resources on the issue of Mark 16.9-20.  Some of the sources that follow are necessarily more complex due to the nature of the case but Metzger and Aland are not that difficult to get into. 

Basic Introductions

Kurt & Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament (Revised and Enlarged Edition).  This work has the feel of a introductory “handbook” to what textual criticism is and how it works.  It is peppered with charts for the distribution and dates of various manuscripts, photographs of passages that are of interest, and the contents of all the known papyri.  Several points of contact with Mk 16.9-20.

Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration.  This classic is now in its Third Edition with Bart Erhman’s name attached.  This work is laid out differently than the Aland’s.  It has informative chapters on how books were made in the ancient world, a history of the text of the New Testament and how textual criticism works. Like the Aland’s work it has many (but not as many) pictures.   It has specific discussion of Mark 16.9-20.  

D. C. Parker, Codex Sinaiticus: The Story of the World’s Oldest Bible.  Parker gives a wonderful introduction to Aleph.  How it was made.  The scribes that produced it.  The correctors who in centuries following that wrote all over it.  The story of its rediscovery in the West.  Lavishly illustrated.  A valuable book just to get into the world of ancient Bible making.

More Specific Resources

Ernst Cadman Colwell, “Mark 16, 9-20 In the Armenian Version,” Journal of Biblical Literature 56 (1937): 369-386

Fred C. Conybeare, “On the Last Twelve Verses of St. Mark’s Gospel,” Expositor 2 (1895): 401-421

Stanley Helton, “Churches of Christ and Mark 16:9-20,”  Restoration Quarterly 36 (1994): 33-52

P. E. Kahle, “The End of St. Mark’s Gospel. The Witness of the Coptic Versions,” Journal of Theological Studies 2 (1951): 49-57

T. C. Skeat, “The Codex Siaiticus, the Codex Vaticanus, and Constantine,” Journal of Theological Studies 50 (1999): 583-625

John Christopher Thomas, “And the Signs are Following: Mark 16:9-20 – A Journey into Pentecostal Hermeneutics,” Journal of Pentecostal Theology 11 (2003): 147-170.  (This is a fascinating article.  Many Pentecostals have held dearly to the Long Ending of Mark as have debaters in Churches of Christ.  Both do so from largely doctrinal reasons rather than textual evidence.  The Pentecostals for verses 17 and following and CofCs for verses 15 and 16.  Sometimes we can see ourselves by seeing our fault in others.

John Christopher Thomas, “A Reconsideration of the Ending of Mark,” Journal of the Evangelical Society 26 (1983): 407-409

Charles Russell Williams, The Appendices to the Gospel of Mark: A Study in Textual Transmission, University of Yale Press, 1915.  This is a comprehensive study of the Endings of Mark as they were known in 1915.  It is very informative. It has considerable information on the state of the question.  This book is available FREE on Google Books. 

Travis Williams, “Bringing Method to Madness: Examining the Style of the Longer Ending of Mark,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 20 (2010): 397-418.

There are, of course, many more resources but I am not attempting to be exhaustive.  These works can give us a healthy respect for the status of the Mark 16.9-20.  It is almost certainly not authentic.  The evidence against it is pretty clear and at the very least so questionable.

3 Responses to “The Long Ending of Mark (16.9-20): Patristic, Versional, and Greek Evidence”

  1. Darryl Willis Says:

    Well written, Bobby! I seem to have read recently that there is a trend suggesting verse 8 was not the ending, but it did not convince me. I truly think Mark ends with v 8 intentionally as a “now what?” challenge. It just makes sense.

    The other endings (especially the traditional longer ending) just doesn’t fit stylistically with the book of Mark itself. It READS like a compilation–a mishmash of Luke and Matthew (with a little extra dash for flavor).

    While I studied Gk and Hebrew, I’m not fluent or a scholar–(I only have an MA in Bible). But I do consider myself someone who understands literature and style. 16:9-20 just does not fit the rest of Mark.

  2. Dwight Says:

    The thing I found weird in Mark 16:9-20 is the allusion to what happens in Acts 1 in vs.19 “So then, after he had spoken to them, the Lord Yeshua was taken up into heaven and sat at the right hand of God”, while the other books end before that happening. It’s a very deliberate attempt to transition into, but actually pre-empts the beginning of Acts.

  3. Jerry Starlingw Says:

    For me, the death knoll of the Byzantine ending with the 5,000 MSS having it, is the contradiction between Luke 24 and Mark 16:13 in the reaction of the people in Jerusalem to the two Jesus appeared to on the road to Emmaus. Luke says that when the two returned to Jerusalem, the group there were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” After which the two told what had happened to them. Mark 16:13 simply says the two went back, told what happened “but they did not believe them.”

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