Jan 14, 2024
Today I will do my best to convince you that the last 12 verses of Mark 16 shouldn’t have brackets around them or footnotes that cast doubt on their authenticity. I believe that they are authentic Scripture inspired by God.
Now, I try to stay away from saying anything controversial in the Daily Bible Reading Podcast series, and it kind of bothers me that here in this first extra podcast of the year, I will say things that quite a few people with seminary training will consider leaning too much to the conservative side of the scale. But I feel constrained to be controversial now so I will come right out and say it:
I believe what Moses (Deut. 8:3) and Jesus (Luk. 4:4) said: “Man shall not live on bread alone, but by every word of God.”
If we are to live by ‘every word’, then it makes sense to me to believe that God would preserve every word for us.
Please remember that all Bible translations were made by humans. This means that there is no such thing as a perfect Bible translation, as almost all good versions state in their prefaces. Even the KJV translators admitted this in their Preface. So I ask for your patient understanding as I set out a weakness in the NLT.
The NLT has this at Mark 16:8:
8 The women fled from the tomb, trembling and bewildered, and they said nothing to anyone because they were too frightened.[c]
c The most reliable early manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark end at verse 8. Other manuscripts include various endings to the Gospel. A few include both the “shorter ending” and the “longer ending.” The majority of manuscripts include the “longer ending” immediately after verse 8.
Then with a sub-heading in bold and italic font:
Then they briefly reported all this to Peter and his companions. Afterward Jesus himself sent them out from east to west with the sacred and unfailing message of salvation that gives eternal life. Amen.
When you get to Day 26 you will note that I didn't read the shorter ending for the podcast. That ending has extremely thin support in ancient manuscripts, and where the words occur, the manuscripts often also have the longer ending, verses 9-20.
Some experts today think that Mark intended to end his Gospel with the words, “they said nothing to anyone because they were too frightened.” But this defies imagination! I don’t think authors started using the type of endings where you leave-the-audience-hanging until centuries later, like perhaps just two centuries ago. Remember that Mark starts with the words, “This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.” Mark shows a pattern of telling the outcome for every miracle. He is not about to leave the main thesis of his story without its fulfillment. The fulfillment of the starting thesis is found in the next to last verse (16:19), which says, “19 When the Lord Jesus had finished talking with them, he was taken up into heaven and sat down in the place of honor at God’s right hand.” That verse is also an important doctrinal statement, since no other Gospel includes those words as part of the story of Jesus’ resurrection. And the same verse very appropriately links Mark’s Gospel with Peter’s teaching in 1Peter 3:22.
I believe that God has preserved His Word for us. Therefore it is unacceptable to me to say that the Holy Spirit would leave a whole book of the NT without a clear ending. We have two choices for the ending: One says the ladies didn’t tell anyone because they were afraid. The other ends with Jesus at the right hand of God. Which one seems to be the proper ending to you?!
The NLT has words in bold italics before Mark 16 verses 9-20 which say, “[The most ancient manuscripts of Mark conclude with verse 16:8. Later manuscripts add one or both of the following endings.]”
Well, how many manuscripts are we actually talking about with the words ‘The most ancient manuscripts’? Then the footnote says ‘later manuscripts add’ the last 12 verses. What are the real numbers? Two of the very oldest manuscripts plus one other do not have the last 12 verses of Mark. But the manuscripts that include the last 12 verses number more than 1,650! 99.99% of ancient manuscripts contain the longer ending of Mark.
The NLT also has a footnote that starts with “The most reliable early manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark end at verse 8.” But this statement is, in my opinion, totally false. The two manuscripts they are talking about (Codex Sinaiticus and Vaticanus) cannot be said to be ‘reliable’. They are, however, recognized as the very earliest, dated at 325 and 345. However, for Codex Sinaiticus and Vaticanus to be considered reliable, one would hope they would be reasonably consistent with one another. Instead they differ from one another in 3,036 places. I believe that early scribes recognized that they were defective, and this offers a plausible explanation for why there are no extant copies made from them.
Many old-school ‘experts’ (by that I mean seminary teachers from the mid-20th century) will say that the two oldest manuscripts outweigh all of the 1,650 other ancient manuscripts. But an increasing number of today’s informed experts will not agree with the people I just called the ‘old-school experts’. Here are some points to consider:
The Greek text of the New Testament that is the direct descendant of the Westscott and Hort 1881 text is published now in various editions of the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament, and also published as the United Bible Societies Greek New Testament. There are, of course, slight changes in these editions coming down to the present day. But even today, the main text is still remarkably similar to the 1881 text by Westscott and Hort. These texts are referred to collectively as the Critical Text or the Eclectic Text. Most of our English Bible translations of the last century have been based on that text, including NASB, GNT, NLT, NIV, and ESV. It is for that reason that you will find faith-destroying footnotes in them. By ‘faith-destroying’, I mean that thinking readers ask, “If whole verses could disappear and marr the conclusion of Mark’s Gospel, how many other corruptions might there be in the New Testament?” Opponents of Christianity seize on such things to say that the Bible text is not reliable. Islamic people frequently repeat that criticism.
It is for that reason that our New Testament translation into the Indonesian language is based on the Majority or Byzantine Text. The Majority Text is not the same as the text that was the basis of the KJV, but it is similar to it.
I am so pleased that I can announce that at the end of 2022 Adam Boyd published his Text Critical English New Testament, which is an English translation of the Majority/Byzantine Text. (You can get this for free. I have included links to this and other resources at the end of the episode notes.) This is a real game changer because at last modern scholarship is able to give us accurate statistics about the percentage of manuscript support for variants in the Greek text. (The collating of manuscripts is still in process, and the percentages will continue to increase in accuracy.)
Let me give you two short examples. It would help if you could open your Bible to Mark 1 and also open ebible.org/study/ on your computer and navigate to Mark 1. You will see two columns for Scripture. Put the TCENT in the first column and the NASB in the second column. You will see that both translations give the first verse as “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” But click the superscript footnote at the word ‘Christ’ in the TCENT. It shows that 98.2% of the manuscripts have the last words, “the Son of God.” No matter what translation you are holding, it is likely that verse 1 ends with “the Son of God.
Move to verse 2. The NASB starts with, “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,” whereas the TCENT begins with “As it is written in the prophets.” Which is right? The footnote in the TCENT shows us that 96.2% of ancient manuscripts say ‘in the prophets’. Only 1.3% of manuscripts say ‘Isaiah the prophet’. Well now look at the NASB and you will see a superscript cross reference symbol at the start of the quote. The quote in the last two lines of verse 2 is not from Isaiah, but from Malachi! (The quote in verse 3 is from Isaiah.) So the Majority Text is proved right. The NASB chose to follow the Critical Text. But at the time the NASB was translated, they would not have known that their translation was supported by only 1.3% of the manuscripts.
I hope that finding a weakness in your printed Bible doesn’t upset your belief in God preserving his Word. He has preserved his Word, and we humans have a persistent habit of messing things up. If you follow the links at the end of today’s episode notes, you can find some good literal translations of the Majority/Byzantine Text. But unfortunately, we still do not have a good meaning-based translation of that text that rivals the NLT or GNT for understandability. We’ll keep on with the NLT and GNT podcasts for now. But please join me in prayer that an easy-to-utderstand translation of the Majority Text will soon be made!
Wow, what a difficult topic this is! If you have listened to this point, I thank you! Normally my extra podcasts each month will not deal with such complicated topics!
Until next time, may the Lord bless you ‘real good’.
Please consider supporting the work of James Snapp by buying and reading his 400-page book entitled Authentic: The Case for Mark 16:9-20: 2016 Edition. The Kindle book is only 99 cents. https://www.amazon.com/Authentic-Case-Mark-9-20-2016-ebook/dp/B01EU1OR9O
Phil Fields, 2019, Playing
‘Follow the Leader’ in Bible Translation:
Phil Fields, 2020, EveryWord podcast 005:
Please follow that last link to find the supplemental PDF for that episode containing an essay on the ending of Mark by Dr. Wilbur Pickering, plus two other articles. (The last one deals with Markan vocabulary.)
Adam Boyd, 2022, Text Critical Greek New Testament (TCGNG) and
Text Critical English New Testament (TCENT):
This page has a downloadable PDF of the Introduction to the TCGNT: https://alkitabkita.info/bahasa-sumber-alkitab/ (Scroll down the page until you see the PDF file displayed in a box.) You will need the information in the Introduction to understand the abbreviations in the TCENT/TCGNT footnotes.
My favorite way to access the TCENT using this nifty online
study app provided by ebible.org: https://ebible.org/study/
You can also easily access the Introduction at the top of the book menu. (Click on the zero.)