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Whose Mark 16:9–20? Mine, Yours, Theirs?

February 18, 2012

Ben Witherington, who blogs as “one of the world’s leading evangelical scholars,” has up a post entitled, “Evidence of Mutilation and Deterioration— Mk. 16.”  He gets us looking at a corner not part of this text

or of this text either

and comes to some rather final conclusions.  These:

I remain utterly unconvinced by the arguments that Mark 16.8 is the original ending of that Gospel, an ending that involves all sorts of problems…. [T]he second and later century additions such as the Freer logion, or the long ending (16.9ff.) were attempts in the early church to supply an ending because the church recognized Mark 16.8 couldn’t have been the ending.


Of course this is bad news for the KJV only/Majority Texters, but good news for Protestants in snake handling Kentucky, as it means that those verses about snake handling and drinking poison are not an original part of the inspired text of Mark’s Gospel.

Now, I don’t know what Mark 16:9-20 is for you (despite your practices or beliefs about snake handling and poison drinking or the lack thereof).  But I like to read this little Greek text rhetorically.

I find it fascinating that a presumably male author (someone like “Mark”) writing to other men, would presume to end it the way Mark 16:9-20 ends this good news.  Even if it’s an attempt by “the early church” to complete this story, maybe especially if it’s such an attempt, then it’s amazing.

We have a woman who was once familiar with demons, seven of them, being the first one Jesus appears to after death.  We have her as the witness, testifying to emotional, weepy and mourning men.

And like Ben Witherington, these men “remain utterly un-convinced by the arguments.”

Or, as the little bit of Greek rhetoric puts it:  κἀκεῖνοι ἀκούσαντες ὅτι ζῇ καὶ ἐθεάθη ὑπ’ αὐτῆς ἠ-πίστησαν.

Then Jesus shows us himself, to two of the men, who also remain utterly un-convinced:  οὐδὲ ἐκείνοις ἐπίστευσαν.

Then this final text of “Mark” has Jesus showing himself to the remaining living disciples and the author describes them to us readers as the ones who remain utterly unconvinced:  τὴν ἀ-πιστίαν αὐτῶν.

And Jesus speaks a few choice rhetorical words at them because these men had remained utterly un-convinced:  οὐκ ἐπίστευσαν.

Is the little addition, then, about the snake handling and the poison drinking and the ascension of the dead body now alive something we readers are to be less convinced of than we are of this implausible prior, womanly post-demonic failed rhetoric?

4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 22, 2012 10:01 pm

    Hi J. K.,

    Ben Witherington III’s commentary on Mark contains a series of false statements about the external and internal evidence pertaining to Mark 16:9-20. He has basically repeated what Bruce Metzger said in his book “A Textual Commentary on the New Testament” but Ben managed to mangle quite a few facts in the process.

    For example, when Dr. Withington tells his readers about “the fact that Eusebius and Jerome both tell us these verses were absent from all Greek copies known to them,” that is *not* a fact. That’s fiction. If Dr. Witherington had conducted his own research about what Eusebius and Jerome say about Mark 16:9-20, he would have known better that to say such a silly thing. But now he’s said it, and many readers who trust him have innocently repeated his false claim to their congregations and students. How’s he going to repair the damage? *IS* he going to attempt to do so? Will he issue a correction as far-reaching as the initial false statements? Or will he say nothing, and allow those false statements to continue to be absorbed and repeated by his future readers? Perhaps you should ask him. In sky-writing. Every day.

    Just about every paragraph of his comments about Mark 16:9-20 contains mistakes in his descriptions of the evidence. Nevertheless, he has the confidence to propose removing Mark 16:9-20. When such negligence meets such confidence, disaster happens.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  2. February 23, 2012 5:21 pm

    Thank you for taking time to leave the comment. You’ve alerted us to how some of assumptions made, if untrue and then unverified, may lead to repeated falsehoods. You suggest I should ask Witherington about what his views are now about whether he might retract statements made in the past. Before I do such a thing, do you know whether others have asked him? Has he responded to your expressed concerns; and have you raised these to him yourself yet?

    My post was mainly trying to point to the ironies of all the doubts that the long ended of Mark expresses among the followers of Jesus. It’s not too unlike Witherington’s doubts. And whoever wrote the long ending of the gospel seems rhetorically savvy enough; was he (or she or were they) trying to convince a readership? If it was Mark, the author of the rest of the gospel, then was he trying to say something about believability and credibility and such?

  3. February 25, 2012 9:18 am

    J. K. Gayle,

    I have engaged Dr. Witherington’s claims in the comments-section that accompanies his blog-entry.

    Regarding the matter of the reasons why Mark 16:9-20 says what it says, see my research-book, “Authentic: The Case for Mark 16:9-20,” a digital copy of which I would be glad to send to you on request.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  4. February 26, 2012 7:20 am

    Thank you for pointing me and the other blog readers here to the now lengthy conversation over at Dr. Witherington’s post. I see that he’s had a recent family tragedy that makes his input somewhat difficult and limited; and I read how you’ve kindly offered to him the option of a public debate on the question of the ending of Mark’s gospel. If you do engage in this kind of forum, would you please let me know?

    Thanks also very much for the offer of providing me with a copy of your book. I would very much like to read it! My email address is jkgayle at gmail dot com. You are generously and inexpensively making the book available via in the Kindle format, I must add:

    Best regards,

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