Friday, July 13, 2012

A Much Better Day: Mark 16

Today is Friday the 13th, which many people take as a bad omen. For me, while there is some measure of historical significance to why we tend to think Friday the 13ths are a bad day, the day itself? Not scary. Most superstition falls under the category of self-fulfilling prophecy. You expect bad things to happen, then bad things happen.

I’d need to find and cite a sociologist or psychologist to prove that to you as a fact, but that’s not my point here. My point is this: whatever you think of today, whether you expect it to be good or not good, there has been a much better day. It was better both objectively and subjectively.

Put yourself in the sandals of those who had followed the earthly ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. They have followed and then watched Him be executed at the hands of the Roman government. That Friday was one of the worst days that they could have experienced. Many had left everything and suffered rejection by their culture to follow Jesus, and He was now dead.

That’s just their feelings. That’s what made that Friday a subjectively bad day. It was an objectively bad day because all of the tendencies of human nature were on display. In the Jewish leaders, we see the willingness to do whatever it took to retain power. In the crowd, the herd mentality is demonstrated while the crowd easily condemns a known innocent man. In Pilate, the cowardice to stand for right. In crucifixion the sheer willingness of man being inhuman in his treatment of his fellow man. All of the worst of who we are as people was on display that Friday.

If Mark ended there, at the end of Mark 15, showing the downside of giving up everything to follow Jesus. Showing the destructive nature of humanity. Showing the absolute horror of sin. If Mark had stopped there, life would be tragic.

Yet Mark does not stop there. Mark 16 (link) comes along next. Think about that day:

First, for the followers of Jesus, it must have been a relief. I actually think that may have been one of the first emotional reactions to the Resurrection. Yes, relief. More even than astonishment: the followers of Jesus had seen the dead live again before. This time it is greater, of course, because no one but Jesus could raise the dead, so His Resurrection was independent of other actors.

Yet they would have been relieved that what they had been doing was not in vain. I think the evidence shows they did not fully understand what had happened, but they knew it was a better day for them, personally.

Objectively speaking, it was a great day. Why? All of those evils that showed the evidence of mankind’s fallen nature? Each wrong suffered by Jesus was not enough to keep Him dead. He took all the sin that we could offer and still, His righteousness and power raised Him from the dead.

That puts us in this position: we can be forgiven. Sin was not able to overpower God. Light is stronger than darkness, truth greater than lies—all of this reality breaks through on this one day. Death is not co-equal with life, but is subject to the power of God.

If that’s not a better day, I do not know what is. Whatever issues of bad luck you suppose today, recognize that there is a great day in the past you need to remember. The Resurrection was that day, and because of that day, every day you live should be drawing closer to the God who saved you from sin and makes you righteous in His sight.

Today’s Nerd Note: It’s the end of Mark. You can’t skip all those italicized sections in modern Bibles about the ending of Mark in the Nerd Note, now can you?

Here’s the deal: we do not have Mark’s original written work. Instead, we have thousands of copies and fragmentary copies. The science of determining what Mark originally wrote is called “Textual Criticism.” I wish it had a better name than “Criticism” but that’s what we have.

The original work Mark wrote is called an “autograph.” Not because he signed it, but because it is “self-written” which is essentially the meaning of autograph. That work is lost to us, unless it is blended in with a stack of papyri in a museum but we don’t know it is what it is.

In pre-printing press times, writings were generally copied by hand and circulated. There is a general historic understanding that many times in the Christian world in those first centuries, when a copy of a writing came into an area, it would be copied by the local Christians. If they could afford to do so and if they had time before the courier moved on with the writing. In time, one ends up with a great many copies of the original text. Those copies are copied, and then copied, and then…(you get the point.)

While the people doing the copying would have been careful, haste and weathering of the source would have raised issues. Further, what we have now is based on what has survived and been examined. The term for that is extant. That means "surviving and known.” The extant manuscripts cluster into groups, typically showing their original source locations.

As Christianity spread, manuscript clusters developed in various places. Most of the extant manuscripts we have are from Egypt because the climate lends itself toward their survival. However, there are other areas where manuscripts survive.

The textual critic then has to take those extant manuscripts and compare them. Two major factors weigh on which text goes forward to be used in a Bible translation: age and number. The age is how old the reading is—typically, a reading that is known from the 2nd century will be favored over one that only ages to the 10th century. It is closer in age to the original and so more likely to be correct.

The second is number: how many manuscripts exist with a reading? The high number gives the likelihood that the reading was common and widespread, favored by those who knew it. Imagine if we had the previous generation of Baptists recreate hymns: the majority would get Victory in Jesus right. If it was wrong, they would correct it and trash the incorrect copies.

Mark’s ending puts these two factors in conflict: the older texts leave off Mark 16:9-20, while more texts have Mark 16:9-20. It is fairly well accepted that Mark should not end with verse 8, but how should it have ended?

The so-called “Longer Ending” fits with both the Matthew account of the Resurrection and the experience of the Apostles and early church in terms of attesting miracles to their message. It may not have been part of Mark’s original writing, but it does not conflict with any point of Scripture and so does no harm to be there.

Unless, of course, you misinterpret Mark 16:17-18 to be instruction rather than observation and go picking up deadly snakes and drinking poison on purpose. That will get you killed most of the time.


  1. Doug,

    Mark 16:9-20 is not in two Greek manuscripts from the 300's. But Irenaeus specifically quotes Mark 16:19, in Book 3 of "Against Heresies," composed around 184. Tatian incorporated the whole passage in the Diatessaron, around 172. Justin makes a strong allusion to 16:20 in First Apology chapter 45, around 160.

    So the evidence for Mk. 16:9-20 as part of the text is older than those two manuscripts from the 300's. We've got something like 1,700 Greek manuscripts of Mark that support 16:9-20, plus over 40 Roman-Empire-era patristic utilizations of the passage: in terms of the age, quantity, diversity, and ecclesiastical authority of attestation, the evidence that supports Mark 16:9-20 wins on every point.

    Plus, even the two Greek manuscripts in which the text of Mark stops at 16:8 are quirky: in one of them, there is a big blank space after 16:8, as if the copyist was aware of verses 9-20 and tried to leave space for them. In the other one, the four pages that contain Mark 14:54-Luke 1:56 -- including the page where Mark's text ends at 16:8 -- are replacement-pages; they were not written by the same copyist who wrote the surrounding pages.

    Also, it is not true that "Most of the extant manuscripts we have are from Egypt." Are you sure you know what you are talking about, and have not been misled by some ambiguous footnotes or misinformed commentators?

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

    1. I was under the impression that most of the surviving papyrus manuscripts we have come from Alexandria, so there is a greater number from there. I have certainly oversimplified that here and should not have worded that as simply "manuscripts."

      So, as to me knowing what I'm talking about, I only know what I have read and heard. The general conclusion that I have seen and heard is that possibly Mark ended as the longer ending reads, but that to be be certain about is questionable.

      I could be misunderstanding the issue and I could be misinformed--the hodgepodge of commentaries, remembered lectures, and other items that feed the "nerd note" section is far from infallible.

    2. Yes; most of the *papyri* are from Egypt.

      There is a ton of misinformation circulating about Mark 16:9-20 in various commentaries (many of which might as well have photocopied Bruce Metzger's inaccurate comments on Mk. 16:9-20 in his "Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament"). If you would like some research-materials about Mark 16:9-20, I can send some digital copies of my work to you; just send a request to james (dot) snapp [at) gmail (dot) com .

      Yours in Christ,

      James Snapp, Jr.

    3. You know the way this type of thing goes: one is only as good as the books he has. I'll click through and take a look at your website.

      I think we are, generally, somewhat handicapped by only having one or two well-known and widely published textual critics. I heard Dr. Metzger lecture in college almost 2 decades ago and know his work is heavily influential. I'm not sure I know of many viewpoints that counter his that are widely published.

      Does not make him right, certainly, but makes it hard to know the alternatives.

  2. Doug,

    I have provided an online critique of Metzger's comments about Mark 16:9-20 at

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.


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