It is written:
Mark 16:15-16-And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.
In studying the passages in the New Testament about baptism, we need to now turn our attention to the words of Jesus in Mark’s account of the Great Commission.
However, before we examine the grammar of this text, we need to carefully study the authenticity of the text.
You see, some of the older manuscript copies of the Gospel of Mark do not contain Mark 16:9-20; therefore some teach that Mark 16:15-16 isn’t even part of the Bible!
To give you an idea of who would make this claim, consider the following.
On July 23-26, 1952, two preachers met in public debate on the subject of baptism. The debaters were L.S. Ballard (representing the Baptist church), and Thomas B. Warren (representing the churches of Christ). The propositions were: “The Scriptures teach that faith in Christ producers salvation without further acts of obedience” (Affirmative: L.S. Ballard, Negative: Thomas B. Warren), and “The Scriptures teach that water baptism is for (in order to obtain) the remission of past sins” (Affirmative: Thomas B. Warren, Negative: L.S. Ballard).
During the debate, Mr. Ballard argued that Mark 16:16 is not inspired of God and therefore denies its’ teaching.
For example, in his first negative speech he declared:
“Well, here’s a translation of the Bible that leaves out Mark, from the ninth verse of the sixteenth chapter to the close of the chapter. Is it authoritative, elder Warren? Is it a good translation? Well, he’ll say, “No, be-cause it leaves out Mark 16: 16.” Well, this is the Revised Standard Version of the New Testament, and it isn’t in there. He leaves it out. So he says, “Now the scholars are all with me on this proposition.” Well, I don’t care even to enter into such a discussion as that. I’ll take Mark 16: 16 exactly as it stands, though I don’t believe it is inspired.” (Thomas B. Warren & L.S. Ballard, Warren – Ballard Debate On The Plan Of Salvation, 1800-1805 (Kindle Edition); National Christian Press)
Throughout the debate, Ballard continued to deny the authenticity of Mark 16:15-16. Through the years, others done the same.
So, what are the facts of the matter?
Does Mark 16:15-16 belong in the Bible?
First, let’s be sure we clearly understand the issues involved here.
Our knowledge of the New Testament comes from three sources: the copies of the original Greek manuscripts; the early versions (translations of the New Testament into other languages); and quotations from the church fathers.
The original manuscripts of the New Testament have been lost, due to the fact that well-used ancient manuscripts often disintegrated quickly in Palestine. Thankfully, we have thousands of copies of the New Testament Scriptures. When we examine these manuscripts, we find that some of the copies of Mark bring his Gospel to a close at Mark 16:8. The NKJV Thompson Study Bible has this excellent footnote at Mark 16:9:
“Verses 9-20 are bracketed in NU-Text as not original. They are lacking in Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, although nearly all other manuscripts of Mark contain them.”
Now, in regard to the number of manuscripts, how significant is this?
Snapp concisely lays out the facts with these words:
“Some Bible-footnotes mention that ‘some manuscripts’ lack the passage, and that ‘other manuscripts’ contain the passage. Such footnotes tend to deceive their readers…Out of the over 1, 500 existing Greek manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark, only two of them clearly bring the text to a close at the end of 16:8. All the others, unless they have undergone damage in chapter 16, include verses 9 to 20.” (James Snapp, Jr., Authentic: The Case For Mark 16:9-20, 79-82 (Kindle Edition); no publisher cited)
Let this sink in: of the 1500 copies of Mark’s Gospel, TWO of them do not include Mark 16:9-20!
Second, why is the passage missing from some of the earlier manuscripts?
Thomas B. Warren’s words here are helpful:
“Mark 16:9-20 does not appear in the Codex Sinaiticus (Aleph) and Codex Vaticanus (B). These are two of the three oldest extant Uncial MSS and are the two referred to in the marginal note of the ASV on this passage. But B also lacks from 9:14 to the end of Hebrews, 1st and 2nd Timothy, Titus, Philemon, and Revelation. So if one rejected everything which is lacking in Codex B,, these books would have to be omitted….Codex B has a blank space at the end of verse 8, indicating that something has been left out. This perhaps came about as the result of a leaf being broken off of the manuscript from which B was copied. This seems to furnish evidence that the manuscript from which B was copied contained Mark 16:9-20.” (Thomas B. Warren, Is Mark 16:9-20 Inspired? A Defense, 5)
So, the evidence shows that some of the scribes who were copying out their copy of Mark had a damaged scroll. They knew that something belonged there, but because they were not sure what, they left their Gospel account blank from Mark 16:8.
Third, what are the evidences from the early versions of the Bible?
In Thomas Warren’s public debate with Baptist preacher Ballard on the subject of baptism, the text of Mark 16:9-20 was carefully examined. Warren provided a relevant chart which shows that the earliest versions of the Bible demonstrate the text is authentic. The following information from that chart documents the textual evidence in favor of Mark 16:9-20:
Manuscripts That Have Mark 16:9-20: Washington; Alexandrian; Epheremi; Bezae; Basiliensis; Tischendorfianus; Sangallensis; Monacenis; Cyprus
Versions (Translations Of Greek New Testament Into Other Languages-Many Of These Predate Most Greek New Testament Manuscripts): Peshitto; Curetonian; Coptic; Sahidic; Tatian’s Diatessaron; Vulgate; Gothic; Aethiopic; Jerusalem Syr; Philoxenian; Gregorian
Without a doubt, the evidence from the Greek manuscripts and the early version is overwhelming that Mark 16:9-20 belongs in the Bible!
Fourth, what about the evidence from the early church quotations of this passage?
Bill Cooper has provided very fascinating material on these matters:
“Papias alluded to Mk 16:18 in ca AD 100. How he might have achieved that feat if the verses had not been written and in circulation by his day is not explained. Likewise, Justin Martyr, writing in AD 151, directly quotes verse 20 of Mk 16. Irenaeus (ca AD 180) remarks on verse 19. Hippolytus, ca AD 200, quotes verses 17 and 18. In the Seventh Council of Carthage (AD 256), two of the verses were directly quoted, with none of the eighty- seven bishops present raising so much as an eyebrow. With truly delicious irony, the Acta Pilati (sometimes called the Gospel of Nicodemus), though a Gnostic work of the 3rd century, quotes verses 15- 18 of this chapter. The so- called Apostolic Constitutions of the same century quotes verses 15 and 16. Eusebius, ca AD 325, discusses favourably at some length the entire section of Mk 16:9- 20. Marinus, a contemporary and student of Eusebius, asks positive questions about the entire section. Aphraates ‘the Persian’ writes about verses 16- 18 in his First Homily of AD 337. Ambrose, writing ca AD 390, writes about verse 15 four times, verses 16- 18 three times, and verse 20 but once. Chrysostom, ca AD 400, refers to verse 9 and quotes 19- 20 directly. Jerome, in ca AD 400, is perfectly happy to include the entire section in his own Vulgate translation of the New Testament. Augustine, at this time, writes repeatedly about, and quotes directly from this entire section. Victor of Antioch, ca AD 425, speaks most emphatically and at great length on these verses. A hundred years later, Hesychius of Jerusalem likewise writes at length on them; and all this is not to mention the Synopsis Scripturae Sanctae, ascribed to Athanasius, which also speaks at length on Mark 16:9- 20. 2 Much older than Sinaiticus or Vaticanus, by centuries in fact, are the following early translations and versions of Mark’s Gospel, and they all contain 16:9- 20 precisely as we have them: the Peshitta; the Curetonian Syriac; the Recension of Thomas of Harkel; the Vetus Itala (Old Latin); the Gothic; and all the Egyptian versions. 3 What more can we possibly say? How on earth can it ever be claimed that Mark 16:9- 20 was added after Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, when so much written evidence from at least twenty- two more ancient witnesses than they stands to the contrary? It beggars belief. Whenever you read a modern edition of the Bible – in whichever version it might be – which tells you that the ‘oldest manuscripts’ do not attest to Mark 16:9- 20, then know that that is absolutely false. The oldest manuscripts tell exactly the opposite story, as all the above authorities testify.” (Bill Cooper, The Authenticity Of The New Testament-Part One: The Gospels, 1418-1434 (Kindle Edition)
Fifth, consider this: in recent years, there has been a great deal of study regarding the Gnostic books discovered in Nag Hammadi, Egypt, beginning in 1947. The Gnostics were a group of heretics in the early church who tried to combine Christianity with pagan religious belief. They buried their books in Nag Hammadi, and some of them date to the late first and early second centuries. What is especially interesting for our purposes here is that many of these Gnostic books directly refer to Mark 16:9-20!
Please consider the following lengthy quotation:
“The Gospel of Mary. This apocryphal writing is partially preserved in a fifth-century Coptic manuscript, 296 plus two smaller Greek fragments. 297 The contents are basically in the form of dialogues, though certain narrative elements are also present. 298 The teachings it contains are of a Gnostic type. Its date is generally assigned to the middle of the second century, though two recent publications of the text claim an even earlier date. 299 The context of the allusions is that of Mary, probably to be identified with Mary Magdalene, 300 addressing the disciples on the matter of taking the gospel message to the world, which they had just been instructed to do by Jesus. Here within the space of a few lines of text we find: [Jesus said,] “Go then, preach the good news about the kingdom” (4.37) After he had said these things, he departed from them (4.39) But they grieved and wept greatly (5.1) “How shall we go out to the rest of the world to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom of the Son of Man?” (5.1) Then she [Mary] stood up, greeted them all, and said to her brothers, “Do not weep and do not grieve” (5.2) There is evident correspondence here with certain words and phrases appearing in Mark 16: 9–20. These include: (a) The command of Jesus to preach the gospel (v. 15); (b) His departure after issuing this command (v. 19); (c) The grieving and weeping of the disciples (v. 10); (d) The coming of Mary to the disciples (v. 10); (e) The use of the words “go out,” “the world,” “proclaim,” and “gospel” all in the same context (cf. vv. 15, 20). This latter concentration of vocabulary especially connects the two texts. The fact of dependence on the longer ending at this point has also received scholarly endorsement, including that of leading Gnostic scholar Elaine Pagels. 301 (b) The Gospel of Peter. This document is a seemingly orthodox Gospel text, though with several fanciful embellishments, which in many places adheres to the order and reflects the wording of the four canonical Gospels. The primary source for this work is the Akhmim Fragment, 302 variously dated between the sixth and eighth centuries. 303 Three much smaller fragments have been identified, dating from the late second or third centuries. 304 The book was known to Serapion of Antioch (c. 190) and to Origen (c. 245). 305 Recent estimates place the original composition of the work around 150 or slightly before. 306 Although the work is only partially extant, dependence upon the canonical Gospel of Mark is unmistakable. In the closing portions of the Akhmim manuscript the author relates the visit of Mary Magdalene and others to the tomb at dawn on the Lord’s Day (12.50–51). The language of what follows clearly reflects that of the NT Gospels, especially that of Mark. Here (12.53–54) among the women the question is raised concerning moving the stone, together with the explanation that “the stone was very large” (μέγας γὰρ ἦν ὁ λίθος). It is Mark alone that records this latter detail (16: 4). According to the non-canonical work the women then look into the tomb and see a “young man sitting” (νεανίσκον καθεζόμενον) inside (13.55). Again the dependence upon Mark (νεανίσκον καθήμενον, v. 5) is quite definite, none of the other Gospel writers using the term νεανίσκος in this context. The description given of him “wearing a bright robe” (περιβεβλημένον στολὴν λαμπρότατην) also clearly reflects the unique phrasing of Mark (περιβεβλημένον στολὴν λευκήν, v. 5). Once the angelic figure has spoken to them, still using basically Markan phrasing (13.56), the women flee from the tomb in fear (13.57), the verbs “fled” (ἔφυγον) and “being afraid” (φοβηθεῖσαι) drawn from Mark 16: 8 (ἔφυγον . . . ἐφοβοῦντο). 307 In view of these links with Mark no serious doubt can be entertained that the author of the Gospel of Peter either had a copy of Mark’s Gospel before him, or at least he was intimately acquainted with its contents in his mind. The verbal correspondences are not absolutely identical, but are sufficiently close to safely conclude dependence. The manuscript breaks off just a few lines after the women have fled the tomb, but before it does the attention turns to the disciples. With Peter as the spokesman for the group we read (15.59), “But we twelve disciples of the Lord were weeping and grieving.” Here the Greek phrase describing their mourning is the twofold expression ἔκλαιομεν καὶ ἐλυποῦμεθα. Can it be dismissed as purely coincidental that the first sub-section of the longer ending (16: 9–11) contains the words “mourning and weeping” (πενθοῦσι καὶ κλαίουσιν, v. 10)? As with the examples in the above paragraph this is not verbatim citation, but we believe the connection is nevertheless definite on several grounds: (a) it falls at the same point in the narrative, that is, after the departure of the women from the tomb, and the author has quite clearly been following Mark up to here; (b) there has been a switch in grammatical subject from the women to male disciples in both texts; (c) in each case the expression consists of two verbs conjoined with καὶ; (d) one of the verbs is the same (“ weep”), the other from the same semantic domain (“ grieve/ mourn”). Additionally, there is the significant fact that the two-fold phrase of mourning in the Gospel of Peter 15.59 echoes a previous similar phrase in 7.27. Both contexts describe the mourning of the disciples after the death of Jesus, before they knew of his subsequent resurrection. In the earlier case the Greek text reads πενθοῦντεϛ καὶ κλαίουντεϛ, where the wording of Mark 16: 10, πενθοῦσι καὶ κλαίουσιν, is even more closely reflected. Such a near resemblance of language makes it hard to doubt that this latter text was known to the author. We further add the important fact that the grief of the disciples finds no mention in the other canonical Gospels in this post-crucifixion context, only the ending of Mark contains such a reference. 308 The evidence strongly suggests then that in his depiction of the disciples’ grief the author of the Gospel of Peter was here also borrowing from Mark’s Gospel, a Gospel in which the longer ending was an integral part. (c) The Epistula Apostolorum. This pseudepigraphon has come down to us in one defective Coptic manuscript of the fourth or fifth century, one Latin fragment from around the same time, and a later complete Ethiopic version. 309 It necessarily originated from before the close of the second century since Clement of Alexandria cites one passage almost verbatim. 310 Most probably the work is to be assigned a date in the region of 110–150.311 The document purports to be a letter from the apostles containing an account of what is basically orthodox teaching of Jesus delivered to themselves in a post-resurrection setting. Though mostly consisting of discourse this is embedded within a narrative framework that is related to that found in the canonical Gospels, with which the author was acquainted. Both Synoptic and Johannine material are clearly incorporated. Several features suggest familiarity with the longer ending of Mark. The first and most prominent of these is structural, pertaining to the events immediately following the discovery of the empty tomb. Upon the appearance of Jesus to the women who visited the tomb, the Epistula relates how one of them (named as “Martha” in Coptic, as “Mary” in Ethiopic) is sent to report to the disciples that the Master was alive. The disciples’ response to this was “we did not believe her that the Savior was risen from the dead” (sec. 10). Another woman is then sent (named as “Mary” in Coptic, as “Sarrha” in Ethiopic) with the same message and again the response is “we did not believe her” (sec. 10). Finally, Jesus himself comes to the disciples, but even then it says “we did not believe that it was the Lord.” Jesus then verbally chastises them for their doubt (sec. 11). The three-fold visitation to the disciples after the resurrection is the same underlying structure as found in Mark 16: 9–14. In the Markan record the first report by Mary Magdalene is met with the words “they did not believe” (ἠπίστησαν, v. 11). 312 The response to the second report, by two unnamed disciples, is likewise “they did not believe them” (ἐκείνοις ἐπίστευσαν, v. 13). Thirdly, when Jesus himself comes to them, he rebukes them because “they had not believed [οὐκ ἐπίστευσαν] those who saw him after he had risen” (v. 14). The general pattern of three reports of the resurrection, beginning with a woman, possibly Mary, and ending with Jesus himself, is present in both, and is not the framework found in the other canonical Gospels. Not only this, the link is made more certain by the presence of a statement of unbelief in each of the three instances. Such a response is hardly present at all in the other Gospels. Luke contains a mere trace, yet not in such a negative way (24: 41). In John it is only Thomas, a week later, who is said to lack faith (20: 27). Matthew does not speak specifically of unbelief at all. 313 And certainly a threefold mention of unbelief is unique to the disputed Markan ending. 314 As the early portion of the Epistula dealing with resurrection appearances and reports reflects Mark 16: 9–14, so the discourse of Jesus that follows and its conclusion echo themes and language occurring in Mark 16: 15–20. The risen Jesus commands his disciples to “Go and preach to the twelve tribes, and preach also to the Gentiles” (sec. 30, and sec. 41; cf. Mark 16: 15). In this same context mention is made of miraculous “signs” (sec. 30; cf. Mark 16: 17). Belief and baptism are found juxtaposed in the words “whosoever hears you and believes in me shall receive from you the light of the seal through me, and baptism through me” (sec. 41; cf. Mark 16: 16). The message preached is designated “the word” (sec. 42; cf. Mark 16: 20). Jesus speaks of himself being at the “right hand” of the Father (sec. 19; cf. Mark 16: 19). The instructions of Jesus are concluded by the statement, “When he had said this and had finished his discourse with us . . . the heavens parted asunder, and there appeared a bright cloud which bore him up” (sec. 51). This parallels “After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven” (Mark 16: 19). 315 To close our investigation of these non-canonical writings, we point out that the significance of the foregoing correspondences has to be assessed from the perspective of the rarity of such documents from the period prior to AD 150. It is not to be imagined that these three have been selected from a whole range of similar texts, and that the basis of their selection was the fact that in places they bear a resemblance to the ending of Mark. Such a view does not at all represent the actual state of affairs. The truth is that known non-canonical works like those included here dating from this particular half-century are far from numerous. Moreover, for a significant proportion of those that are known only extremely limited portions of their text are recoverable, either from patristic citations or fragmentary remains (Gospel of the Ebionites, Gospel of the Egyptians, Gospel of the Hebrews, Gospel of the Nazoraenes, Egerton Gospel, Preaching of Peter). For most of them anything like a reconstruction of their contents is totally impossible. Further still, our particular concern is not in these documents per se, but in parallels that they might contain with the post-resurrection narratives appearing in canonical scripture. Several writings from this time whose text is still available to some degree contain no such comparable post-resurrection material (Gospel of Thomas, Apocalypse of Peter, Protoevangelium of James, Apocryphon of John). 316 The only additional text that might have been included is the Apocryphon of James, which may arguably likewise show indications of acquaintance with the Markan ending. 317 Once these limitations regarding the non-canonical books are understood, then we recognize that the three writings included above amount to almost the entirety of the relevant material from that period. We can appreciate much more then the import of the fact that each one of the three considered, all of which relate to or are dependent to some extent upon the canonical Gospels, shows elements traceable among these latter solely to Mark 16: 9–20.” (Nicholas P. Lunn, The Original Ending of Mark: A New Case for the Authenticity of Mark 16:9–20, 72-76 (Kindle Edition); Eugene, Oregon; Pickwick Publications)
Why is this especially significant in regards to our study of Mark 16:9-20?
“Since the text would require some years after its composition to become known and for its authority to become established, the ending must be dated on the basis of this evidence to around AD 120–125 at the very latest. Yet as it is now recognized that several non-canonical Gospels dating from this same period, such as the Gospel of Mary and the Gospel of Peter, make use of the ending, for the passage to be considered an authoritative source alongside canonical Gospel material its origins must needs reach back even further. In view of this latter evidence it would be difficult to place the origins of Mark 16:9–20 after the turn of the century.” (Nicholas P. Lunn, The Original Ending of Mark: A New Case for the Authenticity of Mark 16:9–20, 357 (Kindle Edition); Eugene, Oregon; Pickwick Publications)
Mark 16:9-20 definitely belongs in the Bible. One reason that people deny its’ inclusion in God’s Word is because of its’ teaching regarding baptism and salvation. I believe that Farstad hits the nail on the head as to why so many today want to excise this text from the Word of God:
“Frankly, one fears that some would like to be rid of the passage because of verses 16-18 on the doctrines of baptism and miracles. The point that the footnotes in most Bibles fail to report is that 1,400 manuscripts do contain this passage. Further, St. Jerome, when he translated the New Testament into Latin, included Mark 16:9-20. It is significant that he did so in the fourth century, when the dissenting Egyptian manuscripts were also written! Apparently these two copies which lacked this passage were not representative in their own time.” (Arthur L. Farstad, The New King James Version: In the Great Tradition, 113 (Kindle Edition); Nashville, TN; Thomas Nelson Publishers)
In our next study, we will examine what this text teaches us regarding the subject of baptism.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.