Is the Longer Ending of Mark (Mark 16:9-20) Holy Scripture?
An Examination of the Nature of Biblical Authority.
In the summer of 1995 a period of Sabbatical Leave allowed me to complete a dissertation for the MA degree in Aspects of Biblical Interpretation at London Bible College (a College of Brunel University). The full text of the dissertation is available in LBC Library and through the usual academic sources. The abstract below indicates the direction of my argument.
Modern scholarship is agreed that Mark 16:9-20 is very unlikely to have been originally written to follow 16:8 but was added at a later date. However I argue that this does not necessarily remove the Longer Ending from carrying the full authority of Scripture, for a number of reasons.
1. The authority of Scripture rests in the historicity of the events of salvation and revelation which it records, and on the foundational nature of the theological interpretations given to those events by the original faith communities. The words of Christ in the gospels are authoritative not because the writers were “inspired” but because Christ said those words. The authorship of a particular passage affects its credibility, but not its authority. So if we believe that Christ actually did say Mark 16:15-18, who actually recorded those sayings is secondary. The case for including the Longer Ending is considerably stronger than that for John 8:1-11 which seems to be more widely accepted, curiously.
2. Locating Biblical authority in the “original inspired autograph” is unnecessary and flawed. Inspiration is the guardian of Biblical Authority but not its source. Many scholars seem to embrace the underlying assumptions of inerrancy in practice whilst (rightly) challenging it in theory. During the period of Canon formation variant readings were all accepted as authoritative, not just the underlying autograph. It is deeply unsatisfactory to locate Biblical authority in an underlying (sometimes inaccessible or reconstructed) autograph in preference to any of the texts which have actually been used in worship and witness by the church over the centuries.
3. It rests with the Church and not the Academy to decide what is or is not “Holy Scripture”. The vast
majority of believers through history have accepted the Longer Ending as Scripture. Recently too often the Longer Ending is disregarded simply because the tools of Redaction and Narrative criticism which require a single author or final redactor are unable to cope with the discontinuity at Mark 16:8. Is the tail wagging the dog here? For some writers, there is a theological problem in Mark 16:9-20 with its portrait of holistic mission stressing signs and wonders, in contrast to Matthew 28:16ff on teaching and discipleship. But we do not complete the jigsaw of Scripture by throwing away pieces which to some perspectives may not seem to fit (as Fee seeks to do with 1 Corinthians 14:34-35). That would be a very slippery slope!
4. Whilst not in any way basing my case for authority on Markan authorship, I did come to feel that the case against Markan authorship rested too heavily on the (undisputed) discontinuity at 16:8. I am not convinced by the linguistic arguments suggesting that the Longer Ending in “unquestionably not Mark”. An original simple linguistic test I devised investigating the distribution of “singly-occurring” words in Mark suggests persuasively that 16:9-20 is “typically Mark”. Elements of “non-Markan” vocabulary are explicable by the unique subject matter. I would love to explore further the possibility that the Longer Ending was a fragment of a different work also by Mark – perhaps his equivalent of Acts. This seems to me an excellent explanation of how its addition to the gospel at a later date was so readily accepted by the churches?
5. B.M.Metzger has written,
Since Mark was not responsible for the composition of the last twelve verses of the generally current form of his Gospel, and since they undoubtedly had been attached to the Gospel before the Church recognized the fourfold Gospels as canonical, it follows that the New Testament contains not four but five evangelic accounts of events subsequent to the resurrection. (B.M.Metzger The Text of the New Testament Oxford: OUP, 1992, 229.)
If he is right, the Longer Ending must be treated as Holy Scripture!
The following authors were most important in my understanding of Biblical Authority and Mark 16:9-20.
B.S.Childs Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture London: S.C.M. Press, 1979.
The New Testament as Canon: An Introduction London: S.C.M. Press, 1985.
Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments London: S.C.M. Press 1992.
J.Hug La Finale de l’Evangile de Marc Paris: J.Gabalda, 1978
B.M.Metzger The Canon of the New Testament Oxford: Clarenden Press, 1987
A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament Leiden: E.J.Brill, United Bible Societies, 1971.
The Text of the New Testament Oxford University Press, 1992.
C.H.Pinnock The Scripture Principle London: Hodder, 1985.
I am always happy to discuss the topics of Biblical Authority, the Longer Ending of Mark’s Gospel, or indeed any aspects of New Testament Studies or systematic theology. Do get in touch.