Should Mark 16:9-20 be part of the Bible?


17th century artist Pasquale Ottino’s portrayal of Peter dictating the gospel being penned by Mark

Th Gospel According to Mark commonly ends with the following:

9 Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons. 10 She went and told those who had been with Him, as they mourned and wept. 11 And when they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe.

12 After that, He appeared in another form to two of them as they walked and went into the country. 13 And they went and told it to the rest, but they did not believe them either.

14 Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen. 15 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.  16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.  17 And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues;  18 they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

19 So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen. (Mark 16:9-20, NKJV)

Some have wondered if Mark 16:9-20 should be part of the Bible.

The old Radio Church of God (which later became the Worldwide Church of God put out the following:

 Are the last twelve verses or Mark’s Gospel inspired?

One of the most controversial points or Scripture is whether Mark 16:9-20 is actually a part or Scripture. Although it appears in the King James Version, many other translations either label this section as an appendix or leave it in the footnotes as in the controversial Revised Standard Version or the Bible. The Moffatt Translation, together With the Goodspeed and others, not only has the long ending round in the King James Version, but it also has another shorter ending.

Since the Bible is a revelation from God about those essential facts which we need to know, but which we have no other way or obtaining, it is very important that we know what constitutes the Bible. If this last portion or Mark’s Gospel is spurious, it is time we learned of the fact. If it is genuine, it is vital that we believe what it contains.

Let us briefly understand the facts behind the controversy. The eighth verse of Mark, chapter 16, ends abruptly — seemingly at a place where it would be natural to have the thought continue. Why? There have been two reasons generally postulated. (1) That Mark originally wrote an ending that has been totally lost, the present endings being merely additions by later copyists. (2) That for some yet unknown reason Mark was not permitted to finish his Gospel, and that probably another person wrote an ending. The scholars are, of course, in confusion as to whether this ending was inspired, or whether it was merely the addition or another copyist. It might be important to bring in at this point the fact that almost all scholars dismiss the secondary short ending found in the translations of Moffatt, Goodspeed, and others. In Hasting’s Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels it is plainly stated that this short addition is not found in any of the early Church writers. We can therefore consider it as merely the addition of a copyist.

The longer ending to Mark’s Gospel, is however, quoted extremely early. Mark 16:19 is quoted as a part of Mark’s account by Irenaeus in Against Heresies (Bk. iii, 10, 6) between 182 and 188 A.D. There are allusions to it in even earlier writings, although not as a true quotation. Not only did Irenaeus accept it as a part of Mark’s Gospel when arguing with “heretics,” but, says Hastings: “No writer before Eusebius is known to have rejected them, and their presence in all later MSS (manuscripts) shows that the successors of Eusebius, in spite of his great authority, did not follow his judgment in the matter.” (Eusebius was the court favorite and the church historian in the days of Emperor Constantine.)

These facts point plainly to the great antiquity of the longer ending as preserved in the common English versions. But were they inspired?

Let us consider now the common idea that the real ending of Mark was lost. Since the Bible explains that the Word of the Lord endures forever, are we to assume that so important a matter as the resurrection was allowed to perish? Notice chapter 36 of Jeremiah, verse 23. Here one of the scrolls containing the inspired words of the Lord was cut with a penknife and cast into a fire and totally destroyed. Did God leave it to some copyist to guess what it might have contained? No! Baruch, the scribe of Jeremiah, was ordered to write in a new scroll “all the former words that were in the first roll” (verse 28). So one of the basic principles is that God’s inspired Word can not perish.

Now turn to Mark 16. Since God does not allow His Word to perish, it is logical that there never were added verses now lost.

The answer is definitely that it is an INSPIRED ending.

If these last verses or Mark’s Gospel are left out, the book does not come to an orderly conclusion as does every other book in the Bible. Human writings are filled with error, but the Bible is foolproof, complete, inspired, and wholly preserved through the power or God. These verses are an inspired part of the Word of God. ( Are the last twelve verses or Mark’s Gospel inspired? Letter Answering Department, Letter number 935. 1953)

But not all accept that.

Dr. James Tabor, a former member of the old Worldwide Church of God who disagrees with many of its then doctrines, wrote the following:

The problem with the Gospel of Mark for the final editors of the New Testament was that it was grossly deficient. First it is significantly shorter than the other Gospels–with only 16 chapters compared to Matthew (28), Luke (24) and John (21). But more important is how Mark begins his Gospel and how he ends it. …

Like the other three Gospels Mark recounts the visit of Mary Magdalene and her companions to the tomb of Jesus early Sunday morning. Upon arriving they find the blocking stone at the entrance of the tomb removed and a young man–notice–not an angel–tells them:

“Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing (Mark 16:6-8)

And there the Gospel simply ends!

Mark gives no accounts of anyone seeing Jesus as Matthew, Luke, and John later report. In fact, according to Mark, any future epiphanies or “sightings” of Jesus will be in the north, in Galilee, not in Jerusalem.

This original ending of Mark was viewed by later Christians as so deficient that not only was Mark placed second in order in the New Testament, but various endings were added by editors and copyists in some manuscripts to try to remedy things. The longest concocted ending, which became Mark 16:9-19, became so treasured that it was included in the King James Version of the Bible, favored for the past 500 years by Protestants, as well as translations of the Latin Vulgate, used by Catholics. This meant that for countless millions of Christians it became sacred scripture–but it is patently bogus. You might check whatever Bible you use and see if the following verses are included–the chances are good they they will be, since the Church, by and large, found Mark’s original ending so lacking. Here is that forged ending of Mark:

Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept. But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it. After these things he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them. Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover. So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.

Even though this ending is patently false, people loved it, and to this day conservative Christians regularly denounce “liberal” scholars who point out this forgery, claiming that they are trying to destroy “God’s word.”

The evidence is clear. This ending is not found in our earliest and most reliable Greek copies of Mark. In A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Bruce Metzger writes: “Clement of Alexandria and Origen [early third century] show no knowledge of the existence of these verses; furthermore Eusebius and Jerome attest that the passage was absent from almost all Greek copies of Mark known to them.”1 The language and style of the Greek is clearly not Markan, and it is pretty evident that what the forger did was take sections of the endings of Matthew, Luke and John (marked respectively in red, blue, and purple above) and simply create a “proper” ending. (Tabor J. The “Strange” Ending of the Gospel of Mark and Why It Makes All the Difference. April 1, 2017. http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/new-testament/the-strange-ending-of-the-gospel-of-mark-and-why-it-makes-all-the-difference/)

Is that correct?

Well, that is partially correct. But, because it is missing certain information, there are reasons to doubt the conclusion as the evidence is not clearly against it.

Consider that we have an early 2nd century quote from Papias of Hierapolis that states:

15. “This also the presbyter said: Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward, as I said, he followed Peter, who adapted his teaching to the needs of his hearers, but with no intention of giving a connected account of the Lord’s discourses, so that Mark committed no error while he thus wrote some things as he remembered them. For he was careful of one thing, not to omit any of the things which he had heard, and not to state any of them falsely.” These things are related by Papias concerning Mark. (Eusebius. The History of the Church, Book 3, Chapter XXXIX; Digireads, pp. 68-69)

Papias claimed to know at least some of the original apostles as well as considered to be a companion of Polycarp of Smyrna. This is the first reference we have to Mark and a gospel, and it is considered to be accurate.

Consider also the following:

Justin Martyr, who died in A.D. 165, wrote in his First Apology ch. 45 that the apostles “going forth from Jerusalem, preached everywhere.” The three words in red here represent three Greek words identical to Greek words used in Mark 16:20, including the somewhat rare word pantachou. A comparison of this paragraph of Justin’s work shows that it is highly likely that he was borrowing his terms from the Long Ending. (Snapps J. The Authenticity of Mark 16:9-20. La Vista Church of Christ. http://lavistachurchofchrist.org/LVarticles/AuthenticityOfMark16920.html accessed 07/15/17)

Here are three words of the actual Greek from Mark 16:20:

ἐξελθόντες ἐκήρυξαν πανταχοῦ (Mark 16:20. Interlinear Greek-English New Testament, 3rd edition by Jay P. Green.  Baker Books, 1996, p. 170)

Here is the actual Greek from the fifth verse of chapter 45 of the First Apology of Justin:

5. τὸ οὖν εἰρημένον Ῥάβδον δυνάμεως ἐξαποστελεῖ σοι ἐξ Ἰερουσαλὴμ προαγγελτικὸν τοῦ λόγου τοῦ ἰσχυροῦ, ὃν ἀπὸ Ἰερουσαλὴμ οἱ ἀπόστολοι αὐτοῦ ἐξελθόντες πανταχοῦ ἐκήρυξαν, καί, καίπερ θανάτου ὁρισθέντος κατὰ τῶν διδασκόντων ἢ ὅλως ὁμολογούντων τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ Χριστοῦ, ἡμεῖς πανταχοῦ καὶ ἀσπαζόμεθα καὶ διδάσκομεν. (http://khazarzar.skeptik.net/books/justinus/apolog1g.htm accessed 07/16/17)

Here is a translation of those three Greek words into English of Mark 16:20:

Mark 16:20
forth,       and  preached   everywhere
1831    9999   2784              3837
exelthóntes  ekeéruxan  pantachoú

(Interlinear Transliterated Bible. Copyright © 1994, 2003, 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved. [For more detail see the full copyright page.])

“And” is not in the original Greek (9999 means that there was no Greek word–the other numbers refer to a numbering system of Greek words used in Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance).

So, Mark literally (in English) wrote “forth preach everywhere,”  whereas Justin used the identical Greek words and wrote “forth everywhere preached.”

Thus, Justin’s writing seems to at least an implied be early confirmation of Mark 16:20.

While Dr. Tabor referred to Clement and Origen of Alexandria, it should be noted that they had trouble with gnosticism and other matters, and their lack of comment on these verses does not necessarily prove that they were unaware of them (though in Origen’s case, as he commented about a lot, it suggests that Alexandria may not have had the full version of Mark’s gospel).

Prior to when Origen did all of his writing, we have a quote from Irenaeus of Lyon. He 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; confirming what had been spoken by the prophet: The Lord said to my Lord, Sit on My right hand, until I make Your foes Your footstool. Thus God and the Father are truly one and the same; He who was announced by the prophets, and handed down by the true Gospel; whom we Christians worship and love with the whole heart, as the Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things therein. (Irenaeus. Against Heresies. Book III, Chapter 10, Paragraph 5. Translated by Alexander Roberts and William Rambaut. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885)

The part I bolded above is what is written in Mark 16:19. This writing would be in the late second century, several decades from the time that Papias wrote. Furthermore, since Irenaeus also claimed to have known Polycarp, it is logical to conclude that he could have used the same account by Mark that Polycarp and Papias would have used.

Since Irenaeus quoted Mark 16:19 in the 180s A.D., this  passage does not seem to be a late addition as various critics of Mark 16:9-20 claim.

Consider, also, that most books of the New Testament, and all the other gospel accounts end with the word “Amen.” It is logical that Mark’s account would as well. It is not likely that it stopped abruptly.

As far as details of the resurrection go, the account at the end of Mark’s gospel ties in with the other gospels. For details, see What Happened in the ‘Crucifixion Week’?

Furthermore, in the book of Acts we see many of the signs that are mentioned in verses 17 and 18 confirmed.

For example, “they will cast out demons” is shown in Acts 16:16-18; “they will speak with new tongues” is shown in Acts 2:4; 19:6;  “they will take up serpents … it will by no means hurt them” cf. Acts 28:3-5; “they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover” is shown in Acts 28:8. Though we do not have a scriptural account of “if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them,” we do have an account outside of scripture that the Apostle John was put into a pot of boiling water and that he was unharmed (see Polycarp, Fragments from Victor of Capua). It was claimed by Tertullian in the 3rd century (Tertullian. The Prescription Against Heretics. Chapter 36. Translated by Peter Holmes. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 3. Edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885) that this is why John was then exiled to the island of Patmos, which he mentions in Revelation 1:9.

Furthermore, notice the following, related to Papias of Hierapolis:

But it must be noted here that Papias, their contemporary, says that he heard a wonderful tale from the daughters of Philip. For he relates that in his time one rose from the dead. And he tells another wonderful story of Justus, surnamed Barsabbas: that he drank a deadly poison, and yet, by the grace of the Lord, suffered no harm. (Eusebius. The History of the Church, Book 3, Chapter XXXIX; Digireads, pp. 68-69)

It may well be that Papias related this in order to show that Mark 16:18 had been shown to be accurate.

Thus, the evidence of the inclusion of Mark 16:9-20 pre-dates the ‘evidence’ of its non-inclusion.

As far as for perhaps why Greco-Romans also accept Mark 16:9-20, Wikipedia had the following:

Since Mark 16:9-20 is part of the Gospel of Mark in the Vulgate, and the passage has been routinely read in the churches since ancient times (as demonstrated by its use by Ambrose, Augustine, Peter Chrysologus, Severus of Antioch, Leo, etc.), the Council’s decree affirms the canonical status of the passage. This passage was also used by Protestants during the Protestant Reformation; Martin Luther used Mark 16:16 as the basis for a doctrine in his Shorter Catechism. Mark 16:9-20 was included in the Rheims New Testament, the 1599 Geneva Bible, the King James Bible and other influential translations.  …

ADDS V9-20

A group of manuscripts known as “Family 13” adds Mark 16:9–20 in its traditional form.

Including about a dozen uncials (the earliest being Codex Alexandrinus) and in all undamaged minuscules.

Uncials: A, C, D, W, Codex Koridethi, and minuscules: 33, 565, 700, 892, 2674.

The Majority/Byzantine Text (over 1,200 manuscripts of Mark); the Vulgate and part of the Old Latin, Syriac Curetonian, Peshitta, Bohairic, Gothic; …

Adds: Irenaeus, manuscripts according to Eusebius, Marinus, Acts of Pilate, manuscripts according to Jerome (add with obeli f1 al), Ambrose, Aphraates, Augustine, Augustine’s Latin copies, Augustine’s Greek manuscripts, Tatian’s Diatessaron, Eznik of Golb, Pelagius, Nestorius, Patrick, Prosper of Aquitaine, Leo the Great, Philostorgius, Life of Samson of Dol, Old Latin breves, Marcus Eremita, Peter Chrysologus. Also, Fortunatianus (c. 350) states that Mark mentions Jesus’ ascension.(Mark 16. Wikipedia, accessed 07/15/17)

And it is likely that it was in the Vulgate because the Catholic doctor and saint Jerome felt it was legitimate.

This view is also shared by certain others, like Dr. Dave Miller:

Eusebius of Caesarea (A.D. 339), as well as Jerome (A.D. 420), are said to have indicated the absence of the verses from almost all Greek manuscripts known to them. However, it should be noted that the statement made by Eusebius occurs in a context in which he was offering two possible solutions to an alleged contradiction (between Matthew 28:1 and Mark 16:9) posed by a Marinus. One of the solutions would be to dismiss Mark’s words on the grounds that it is not contained in all texts. But Eusebius does not claim to share this solution. The second solution he offers entails retaining Mark 16:9 as genuine. The fact that he couches the first solution in the third person (i.e., “This, then, is what a person will say…”), and then proceeds to offer a second solution, when he could have simply dismissed the alleged contradiction on the grounds that manuscript evidence was decisively against the genuineness of the verses, argues for Eu­se­bi­us’ own approval. The mere fact that the alleged contradiction was raised in the first place demonstrates recognition of the existence of the verses.

Jerome’s alleged opposition to the verses is even more tenuous. He merely translated the same interchange between Eu­se­bius and Marinus from Greek into Latin, recasting it as a response to the same question that he placed in the mouth of a Hedibia from Gaul (see the discussion by Burgon, 1871, p. 134). He most certainly was not giving his own opinion regarding the genuineness of Mark 16:9-20, since that opinion is made apparent by the fact that Jerome included the verses in his landmark revision of the Old Latin translations, the Vulgate, while excluding others that lacked sufficient manuscript verification. Jerome’s own opinion is further evident from the fact that he quoted approvingly from the section (e.g., vs. 14 in Against the Pelagians, II.15 [Schaff and Wace, 1954, 6:468]).

Further evidence for omission of the verses is claimed from the Eusebian Canons, produced by Ammonius, which allegedly originally made no provision for numbering sections of the text after verse 8. Yet, again, on closer examination, of 151 Greek Evangelia codices, 114 sectionalize (and thus make allowance for) the last twelve verses (see Burgon, p. 391; cf. Scrivener, 1883).

In addition to these items of evidence that support omission of verses 9-20, several manuscripts that actually do contain them, nevertheless have scribal notations questioning their originality. Some of the manuscripts have markings—asterisks or obeli—that ordinarily signal the scribe’s suspicion of the presence of a spurious addition. However, even here, such markings (e.g., tl, tel, or telos) can be misconstrued to mean the end of the book, whereas the copyist merely intended to indicate the end of a liturgical section of the lectionary. Metzger agrees that such ecclesiastical lection signs constitute “a clear implication that the manuscript originally continued with additional material from Mark” (1994, p. 102, note 1).

The internal evidence that calls verses 9-20 into question resolves itself into essentially two central contentions: (1) the vocabulary and style of the verses are deemed non-Markan, and (2) the connection between verse 8 and verses 9-20 seems awkward and gives the surface appearance of having been added by someone other than Mark. These two contentions will be treated momentarily. (Miller D., Ph.D. Is Mark 16:9-20 Inspired? Copyright © 2005 Apologetics Press. https://apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=13&article=704 accessed 07/15/17)

Thus, some of the reasons proposed to exclude Mark 16:9-20 do not seem to hold up well to additional scrutiny.

What about the writing style objections by scholars like Dr. James Tabor?

It may well be that a writer other than Mark ended up finishing the Gospel account credited to him. If so, that would not be that impossible from a scriptural perspective.

For example, the first five books of the Bible, sometimes called the books of Moses, have an ending in the Book of Deuteronomy that Moses could not have written, as he was already dead (cf. Deuteronomy 34:5-12). It may well be that someone else, like perhaps Peter (who some believe dictated the gospel to Mark to write) or the Apostle John (believed to have been the last of the original apostles to die as well as the one who would have essentially canonized the New Testament (see also The New Testament Canon – From the Bible and History) may have written the last several verses to Mark. If so, that would account for the stylistic differences (though the fact is that the same writer often has different writing styles, so Mark may have written the ending).

Although some object to Mark 16:9-20, evidence supports that it is scriptural and should be part of the Bible.

Some items of possibly related interest may include:

The Old Testament Canon This article shows from Catholic accepted writings, that the Old Testament used by non-Roman Catholics and non-Orthodox churches is the correct version.
The New Testament Canon – From the Bible and History This article, shows from the Bible and supporting historical sources, why the early Church knew which books were part of the Bible and which ones were not.
Lost Books of the Bible? Is the Bible missing books? What about the Book of Jasher and the Book of Enoch? What are the pseudepigrapha?
Is Matthew 28:19 in the Bible? Some have claimed that Matthew 28:19 has added words as part of a trinitarian plot. Is that true?

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