Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
January 22, 1953

Is Mark 16:9-20 Spurious?

Willis G. Jernigan

The makers of the much advertised Revised Standard Version place Mark 16:9-20 in the margin of the text after these words, "Some texts and versions add 16:9-20." Careful examination of this disputed passage reflects that its genuineness was never questioned with much authority until the days of Eusebius (316 A. D.) and Jerome (400 A. D.). On the other hand the section was freely quoted from as early as the middle of the second century. "The Shepherd of Hermas" written about 150 A. D. contains certain expressions without doubt taken from Mark 16:16. About 160 A. D. Justin Martyr uses the entire last two verses (verses 19 and 20). In one of his books (Adv. Haer, 3:10), Irenaeus (177 A. D.) quotes the beginning and end of Mark's gospel, near the end of his quotation he uses Mark 16:19 in this expression, "But in the end of his gospel Mark saith, 'And the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken unto them, was received into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God,' confirming what was said by the prophet, `The Lord saith unto my Lord, sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool'." This use of the disputed passage by Irenaeus seems conclusive that there was no doubt in the day in which he lived as to its authenticity. Also in the second century it was cited by Tatian, and in the third by Hyppolytus and Dyonisius, these lived from one hundred to two hundred years prior to Eusebius or Jerome.

Jerome, one of the earliest of objectors to the reception of Mark 16:9-20, who used the best manuscript of the Old Italic when he prepared his Vulgate, admitted the disputed passage (The First Vulgate, known as the Old Italic, contains it). All of the Uncial Manuscripts, with only three exceptions, contain the twelve verses. The three not containing them are, The Sinaitic, the Vatican and the much later Uncial Manuscript (L), of the eighth century. The first two belong to the fourth century.

All of the most ancient versions of both the East and the West without exception contain, in whole or in part, the disputed passage. These include the Peshito Syriac, which without controversy dates from the middle of the second century; the Philoxenian; the Curetonian Syriac. The last named, the Curetonian, is a very ancient version, and of course in existence many years before either the Sinaitic or Vatican manuscripts, this version presents very conclusive evidence of the genuineness of the disputed text. There is only one copy of this version extant, and in that copy the Gospel of Mark is missing, with the exception of one small fragment, and that fragment contains verses 17, 18, 19, 20 of the passage before us.

All the Coptic versions contain the disputed verses. All the Cursive Manuscripts except two contain the passage. The Gothic Version of Ulphilas (about the fourth century) contains four of the disputed verses.

The historical correctness of the representations of the disputed passage has never been called in question, but only its genuineness as a portion of Mark's original manuscript. As to its historical correctness in its representations we quote from Brother J. W. MeGarvey, who spent many years in the field of Biblical Criticism.

"All the historical statements of the passage are known to be true, independently of their occurrence here, because they are found in the other gospels or in Acts. Thus the statements concerning the appearance of Jesusto Mary Magdalene, which occupy verses 9-11, are substantially verified by John and Luke. (See John 20:1-18; Luke 8:2.) The statement concerning his appearance to two disciples as they went into the country, is but a brief account of what is more fully described in Luke 24:13-36, and yet it is so varied in expression as to show that it is not an abbreviation from Luke. All the items of the appearance of Jesus to the eleven, described in verse 14, are substantiated by the statements in Luke 24:36-43, and John 20:19-23; and those pertaining to the commission and the ascension (15, 16, 19, 20), are confirmed by Luke's account of the latter (24:36-51), and by Matthew's report of the former (28:19-20); while the promise concerning the signs that were to follow the believers is substantially included in Matthew 28:20, and John 14:12, and is fully verified by the events recorded in Acts.

"Not only are the statements of the passage thus proved to be authentic, but the manner in which the details are handled, and the forms of expression employed, show unmistakable marks of an original writer. His sources of information were independent of the narratives of Matthew, Luke and John, and yet they were correct. He must have lived and written previous to the general circulation of the other gospels, and within the apostolic age ... A true piece of history attached to Mark's book is not less valuable or authoritative because some other person than Mark may have been the author of it." — Genuineness of Mark 16:9-20, J. W. McGarvey (Lexington, Ky., 1875)

In concluding his essay Brother McGarvey wrote, "Our final conclusion is, that the passage in question is authentic in all its details, and there is no reason to doubt that it was written by the same hand which indicted the preceding parts of this narrative. The objections which have been raised against it are better calculated to shake our confidence in Biblical Criticism than in the genuineness of this inestimable portion of the word of God." (ibid.)

After a complete review of all evidences, both external and internal, as to the genuineness of these disputed verses, one conclusion and only one is forced upon us. The passage is certainly authentic. It has the ring of truth. The makers of the Revised Standard Version erred presumptively without doubt in placing the passage in the margin, and instead of commenting, "Some texts and versions add the following," they should have said, "The great majority of texts and versions carry verses 9-20 as a portion of Mark's gospel."