Mark 16:1 When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” 4 And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. 5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. 6 And he said to 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. 7 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.” 8 And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

9. 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. 10 She went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept. 11 But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it. 12 After these things he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. 13 And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them.  14 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. 15 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 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.”19 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. 20 And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.

The ESV includes the following footnote after 16:8. Other versions include similar.

16:9 Some manuscripts end the book with 16:8; others include verses 9-20 immediately after verse 8. A few manuscripts insert additional material after verse 14; one Latin manuscript adds after verse 8 the following: 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. Other manuscripts include this same wording after verse 8, then continue with verses 9-20

We’ll deal with these three comments in turn (my comments in bold):

  • “16:9 Some manuscripts end the book with 16:8;”. This is true; two of six main uncials do so, though the manuscript shows signs that the copyists knew 9-20 and deliberately removed the text, not that the text was unknown.
  • “others include verses 9-20 immediately after verse 8.” This is the majority of all manuscripts, and supported by early testimony.
  • “A few manuscripts insert additional material after verse 14; one Latin manuscript adds after verse 8 the following: 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. Other manuscripts include this same wording after verse 8, then continue with verses 9-20.”  These are all known to be late readings and not original.

So the options are:

  1. Either that Mark ended with 16:8 “…they feared but” (the Greek text ends with gar=but);
  2. Or that the familiar ending 16:9-20 is original.
Textual Evidence

Evidence of the 6 main uncials (i.e., gospels written entirely in capitals)

  • Codex Alexandrinus, London (A) – (5th c. uncial, Byzantine text type in Gospels)
  • Codex Vaticanus, Rome (B) – (4th c. uncial, Alexandrian) – space left for 9-20 but never filled.
  • Codex Ephraemi, Paris (C) – (5th c. uncial, Alexandrian text type)
  • Codex Bezae, Cambridge  (D) – (5th/6th c. uncial, Western text type)
  • Freer Codex, Washington (W) (5th c. uncial, Caesarean text type in Mark 5:31-16:20)
  • Codex Sinaiticus, London (Aleph) – (325-360AD, uncial, Alexandrian type) – 9-20 missing, but the page has been replaced and rewritten.

Alexandrinus (Byzantine), Ephraemi (Alexandrian), Bezae (Western), and Washingtonius (eclectic) show that the text 9-20 was present in all major text types. Vaticanus and Sinaiticus give indirect evidence that they were copied from originals with the traditional ending 9-20 in the case of Vaticanus, and possibly an ending as long as 9-20 in the case of Sinaiticus.

  • Vaticanus was copied from an ancestor (i.e. older than Vaticanus) which appears to have contained 9-20, since space is left for 9-20 to be filled in, but the scribe then started to write Luke on the reverse side of the page, leaving the only blank column in the whole NT of Vaticanus. And these are wide columns – with three columns per page, where Sinaiticus has four columns per page, so this is a page and a half. Normally books start on the same page, so Mark starts in the column immediately right of Matthew, Luke immediately right of Mark, and so on. The evidence in Vaticanus is overall in favour of a substantial ending (the size of 9-20) having occupied the blank column and a half of an ancestor of Vaticanus.  Whether the whole text 9-20 fits in depends on whether a 42-line or 44-line column is used. As this website demonstrates <>, with the shorter 42-line column there is room only for 9-19. However with a 44-line column then 16:9-20 fits in with room to spare.
  • Sinaiticus, was also copied from an ancestor (i.e. older than Sinaiticus) which could have contained some ending after 16:8.  Though the space in Sinaiticus appears to be smaller than Vaticanus, and some argue that there originally was no ‘space’ at all. Unfortunately it is impossible to assess with consistency what the ancestor of Sinaiticus had, since the sheet in Sinaiticus for Mark 14:54- Luke 1:56 has been replaced with a new copy written on new sheet (a bifolium, a sheet folded in the middle creating four pages, each with four columns, totalling 16 replaced columns).  The handwriting of the replacement sheet is one of only three sheets in the NT of Sinaiticus by a different scribe from the scribe who copied the rest of Sinaiticus.  It is also difficult to determine how much time lapsed between the main text of Sinaiticus NT (Scribe A) and the three cancel sheets (Scribe D), but a different scribe (Scribe D) producing the 3 cancel sheets suggests some lapse of time, or a change of place since Scribe A was not available. Scribe D’s 3 cancel sheets may even have been copied from a different original. Scribe D’s lettering on the replacement sheet for  Mark 14:54 to Luke 1:56 is irregular – cramped in some columns 1-through-8 (Mark 14:54-16:1), spaced with larger letters in column 9 (Mark 16:2-8a) then only half a verse at the head of column 10 (Mark 16:8b), an almost clear column, then starting Luke in column 11 (Luke 1:1). Skeat (British Museum 1938) concluded that the original of Sinaiticus used by Scribe A probably did not have room for the traditional long ending 9-20 based on Scribe A’s average letter spacing of 635 letters per column. But Scribe A’s letter spacing also varies. If Scribe D’s spacing in columns 9 and 10 (now Mark 16:2-16:8b, and blank) was consistent with 678 letters per column in column as in column 8, then 16:1-17 would fit into the space, but not 16:18-20. Nevertheless something was happening in the end of Mark which caused Scribe A’s original sheet to be removed and Scribe D’s cancel sheet to be inserted.

So five of the major uncials — Alexandrinus, Vaticanus, Ephraemi, Bezae, Washington — are direct or indirect testimony to Mark 16:9-20, and the sixth, Sinaiticus, has had the original sheet replaced, and could well have been copied from an original which had 9-20, or something else.

Witness of early NT translations

These translations demonstrate that 9-20 was part of the original text, before the translations:

  • Syriac Curetonian (3rd c.)
  • Syriac Palestinian (5th c.) – the Siniatic Syriac is missing the ending.
  • Old Latin (2nd-3rd c.) – all manuscripts except one
  • Latin Vulgate (4th c.)
  • Coptic Bohairic, North Egypt, Memphis (3rd c.)
  • Coptic Sahidic, South Egypt, Thebes  (2nd c.) – all manuscripts except one.
Witness of early Christian writers

All the following give evidence of Mark 16:9-20, though one, Eusebius, casts doubt on it as hard to harmonise with Matthew, etc.:

  • Papias (c 70-145) – appears to reference 16:18 in refers to Justus Barsabbas (Acts 1:23) drinking poison and being preserved
  • Justin Martyr (145AD) – use of terms of 16:20 concerning the ascension.
  • Irenaeus (c 177AD) – quotes 16:19 in full: “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 sitteth on the right hand of God;” (Against Heresies III 10:5)
  • Tertullian (220 AD) – allusion
  • Hippolytus (235 AD) – allusion to 16:17-18
  • Council of Carthage (256AD) – Cyprian records Vincentus of Thibarus citing 16:17-18
  • Apostolic Constitutions (3rd-4th c. AD) quote Mark 16:16
  • Porphyry ‘Against The Christians’  (234-305) – the neoplatonist philosopher Porphyry criticises Christians for Mark 16:18 – drinking poison and handling serpents – this is recorded by Christian Macarius of Magnesia (c 390).
  • Eusebius (263-339) – recognises many versions have 16:9-20, but questions the verses on the grounds of lack of harmony with other gospels. Some believe Eusebius perhaps did not include 16:9-20 in the fifty codices he had made at Caesarea for Emperor Constantine.
  • Ambrose (337-340)
  • Chrysostom (347-407)
  • Jerome (347-420) – quotes Eusebius, but later cites 16:14 as scripture. Includes 16:9-20 in his Vulgate.
  • Acts of Pilate (4th C) – apocryphal work

The above evidence, which even includes Eusebius, suggests that the original Gospel did not end with “and feared but”, but included 9-20.

Why did the copyists remove 9-20 from Vaticanus and Sinaiticus?

In Eusebius’ letter to Marinus, Eusebius replies to a question about how to harmonize Matthew 28:1 with Mark 16:9. Eusebius’ first answer is that one can remove the difficulty by rejecting all of Mark 16:9-20 on the grounds that it does not appear in all copies. Eusebius’ second  answer is that, if the passage is retained then harmonization is easily achieved by understanding 16:9 as a separate phrase, “Rising early, on the first day of the week”. However it is clear that Eusebius preferred the first answer, so when he created the Eusebian Canons (also known as ‘Ammonian sections’ — a Gospel harmonisation in 1165 sections used before modern chapter divisions were adopted in 13thC), he did not include Mark 16:9-20. This does not mean however that he necessarily excluded 16:9-20 out of the fifty copies he prepared for the Emperor Constantine, because Vaticanus and Sinaiticus — which are later but thought to be of this tradition — are copied from originals which did contain 9-20. He could have included 16:9-20 without harmony numbers, since he did not believe they could be harmonised. Markings to this effect probably led to the decision of the copyists of Vaticanus to not fill in the space, and the chief scribe in charge of Sinaiticus to remove the original scribes’ work sheet with Mark 14:54 to Luke 1:56, and replace it with a new sheet ending at 16:8.

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