Should the Longer Ending of Mark (Mark 16:9-20) be in the Bible?

Case for the Longer Ending of Mark

The longer ending of Mark, which appears as Mark 16:9-20 in most translations, is believed to be spurious by many Bible translators and commentators today. Most modern translations footnote the passage, and the NIV 2011 prints the passage in italics, further indicating doubt as to its authenticity. The omission is supported by Aleph (4th century), B (4th century), 304 (12th century), Latin k (4th/5th century), Syrus Sinaiticus, a Sahidic manuscript, Armenian manuscripts (Nestle-Aland: Novum Testamentum Graece, 27th revised edition (2006)). Eusebius (early 4th century) and Jerome (late 4th century) appeared to know of many Greek manuscripts omitting the passage, but they nonetheless knew of the passage. The longer ending is supported by W (4th/5th century), A (5th century), C (5th century), D (5th century), Theta (9th century), 33 (9th century), 2427 (14th century?), majority of all Greek manuscripts, Vulgate and part of the Old Latin tradition, Syrus Curetonianus, Syriac Peshitta, Syrus Harklensis, Bohairic (Nestle-Aland: Novum Testamentum Graece, 27th revised edition (2006)). The late 2nd century Irenaeus considered the passage as authentic scripture, citing Mark 16:19 as follows:

“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 sits on the right hand of God; confirming what had been spoken by the prophet: The Lord said to my Lord, Sit on My right hand, until I make Your foes Your footstool.” (Against Heresies (Book III, Chapter 10:5))

For more on the external and internal evidence for the authenticity of the longer ending, the following articles provide much greater detail:

The Authenticity of Mark 16:9-20 by James Edward Snapp, Jr. (2007)

Is Mark 16:9-20 Inspired? by Dave Miller, Ph.D. (2005)

Instead of reiterating most of the points in these articles, this page will provide additional information to support the authenticity of the longer ending of Mark.

Does the earliest manuscript of Mark 16 count as proof against the longer ending?

The above-mentioned articles note that Vaticanus (c. 325–350 AD), the oldest manuscript omitting the longer ending, leaves an entire blank column in between the end of the book of Mark and the beginning of the book of Luke. The authors note how this is unusual as the regular practice of the scribe is to begin a new book in the column immediately after the ending of the previous book. This blank space provides enough room for the longer ending of Mark. Vaticanus’ omission does not prove that the longer ending did not exist in the early 4th century any more than does the omission in the RSV prove that the longer ending did not exist in the 20th century (the first edition of the RSV omitted the longer ending). The omission in Vaticanus merely proves that the scribe of Vaticanus did not consider the longer ending as part of scripture. The blank column in Vaticanus, however, proves that some sort of longer ending existed in the early 4th century and that it was of such weight and importance that the scribe of Vaticanus left enough space for it, presumably to include it if the scribe changed his mind later as to its authenticity. Shown below are the ending and beginning of each New Testament book of Codex Vaticanus, demonstrating that an entire blank column exists only at the ending of Mark (which is Mark 16:8 in Vaticanus).

Between Matthew and Mark:

Between Mark and Luke:

Notice the entire blank column after Mark 16:8. Luke begins on the new page.

Between Luke and John:

Between John and Acts:

Between Acts and James (the General Epistles follow Acts in Vaticanus)

Between James and 1 Peter:

Between 1 Peter and 2 Peter:

Between 2 Peter and 1 John:

Between 1 John and 2 John; and between 2 John and 3 John; and between 3 John and Jude:

Between Jude and Romans (the Pauline Epistles follow the General Epistles in Vaticanus):

Between Romans and 1 Corinthians:

Between 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians:

Between 2 Corinthians and Galatians:

Between Galatians and Ephesians:

Between Ephesians and Philippians:

Between Philippians and Colossians:

Between Colossians and 1 Thessalonians:

Between 1 Thessalonians and 2 Thessalonians:

Between 2 Thessalonians and Hebrews (the last book in the 4th century copy of Vaticanus):

The extant copy of the original codex of Vaticanus does not contain the end of Hebrews, Pastoral Epistles and Revelation. These missing portions were supplied by a 15th century minuscule manuscript. The images above are provided for the reader to see that the blank column at the end of the book of Mark in Vaticanus could only mean that the scribe could not definitively say that the book ended at Mark 16:8. Thus Vaticanus only counts as a half-witness against the longer ending.

Should Mark 16:9-20 be considered inspired scripture even though it appears to have been written by someone other than Mark?

Some have argued based on the vocabulary that Mark did not write the longer ending. The articles linked to above address this issue. However, even if Mark did not write the longer ending, that would not justify casting its canonicity aside. Several ending verses in books named after the primary author bear indications that they were not written by the primary author. Yet, Evangelicals never doubt the inspiration and canonicity of such verses:

It seems that Moses did not write Deuteronomy 34:5-12 as the narrative describes his death and burial, and it is not certain who wrote these verses, but Evangelicals do not doubt the inspiration and canonicity of these verses.

It seems that Jeremiah did not write Jeremiah 52 and it is not certain who wrote this chapter, but Evangelicals do not doubt the inspiration and canonicity of this chapter.

Critics who wish to remove Mark 16:9-20 by reason of its supposed non-Markan authorship ought to apply the same reasoning across the entire Bible and remove Deuteronomy 34:5-12 and Jeremiah 52, if they would dare to do so. A passage in a book named after its primary author does not have to be written by the primary author in order for that passage to be inspired and canonical.

No false doctrine

Some have argued against the doctrinal orthodoxy of the longer ending.

Mark 16:12 says Jesus “appeared in another form.” Some claim that this text teaches the heresy that Jesus did not resurrect in a literal physical body. Such a claim is unwarranted. Jesus changed his form previously (Transfiguration: Mark 9:2) and the resurrected Christ in Revelation 1:14 has a rather extraordinary form, so there is nothing strange about a physically resurrected Jesus changing his form.

Some claim that Mark 16:16 teaches the false doctrine of baptismal regeneration. But upon careful reading, the verse does not teach such a thing. In the conditional statement, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved,” the only necessary condition is “belief.” “Baptism” is mentioned because it is often associated with belief. The fact that baptism is not a necessary condition is demonstrated in the rest of verse 16. It says, “…he that believeth not shall be damned.” The only condition for damnation is unbelief, not the lack of baptism. If you believe, get baptized, go to church, read your Bible, etc. etc. etc., you shall be saved! But the only necessary condition is belief.

Some claim that the promise of signs listed from verse 17 to 18 is not true because many Christians today do not exhibit these signs. However, the Lord’s primary focus was on those to whom he was directly addressing. Verse 14 says the Lord “upbraided them with their unbelief.” Thus the signs listed in verses 17-18, which were to become indications of faith, were specifically given to those whom our Lord upbraided for the lack of faith until that point. Eventually, the disciples “confirm[ed] the word with signs following” (verse 20). The book of Acts and other church histories describe these apostolic signs listed in verses 17 and 18. Although the Lord can provide signs to anybody as he wills, the specific promises in verses 17 and 18 were given to those disciples whose faith had wavered and needed assurance for their eventual faith.

These seemingly controversial messages in Mark 16:9-20 perhaps contributed to its omission early on.