Sunday, March 02, 2008

The end of Mark

I don't suppose you know who Agur is. I certainly didn't. Although the Proverbs are attributed to Solomon, the last two chapters are the Sayings of Agur and the Sayings of King Lemual.

In Proverbs 30:5-6 Agur says: Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.

Scripture is complete. I remember making a cup of tea for my parents when a small child. I thought I would experiment with flavors and added a small teaspoonful of mustard to each cup. It was not a success.

Some have deliberately added to the Bible. An example would be extra conditions for salvation such as the prayers of saints or the intercession of Mary, good works. The sects have extra books like the Book of Mormon or Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. Other have eliminated part of Scripture. They don't have to be physically cut out pages, just disparage them. The creation? An ancient Hebrew myth disproved by Darwin. Jonah? A folk tale. The miracles? Sleight of hand or hypnotism. The resurrection? Meant to be interpreted spiritually.

Sometimes the alteration to Scripture has been accidental. An error of transplantion - it's not easy to get it completely right. Words change their meaning over time and even tracing etymology does not always help. How about copying errors? The famous "wicked" Bible had "Thou shalt commit adultery" and an early edition of the NIV had 'immoral' instead of 'immortal'.

Prior to 1947 it was assumed that many copying errors had crept into Scripture over the years like Chinese whispers, but the Dead Sea Scrolls have shown us that Scripture is remarkably free of mistakes. Over 1000 years from the DSC to the Masoretic text the Old Testament books were copied accurately.

So where does that leave the end of Mark? The earliest Manuscripts end at Mark 16:8. The rest of the chapter is written in a different style. It speaks of Mary Magdalene as if she were being introduced for the first time rather than having been a major character in the previous chapters. It is really a summary of what is found in the other gospels. But is also contains contentious promises that do not hold up: picking up snakes and drinking poison. I know that there are various groups in America that pick up snakes as part of their worship, and indeed you can immunize against snake venom so as to be unaffected, but even pastors in these churches are sometimes killed by the bites of rattlesnakes. I know St Paul was bitten by a snake without ill effect, but someone else was cured by Peter's shadow. It is dangerous to generalize from the particular if your only warrant is a passage added 400 years after the gospel was first written.

To my mind, the most compelling evidence for the later interpolation of Mark 16:9-20 is seen in the structure of the gospel.

Mark 1 to 6:29 starts and finishes with John the Baptist. Jesus is established as the Messiah.
Mark 6:30 to 8:21 is topped and tailed with the feeding miracles. The first Jewish, the second, gentile. The gospel is not just for the Jews but for all mankind
Mark 8:22 to 10:52 is contained within the healing of two blind men. The disciples have eyes but will not see.
Mark 11-13 begins with the cleansing of the Temple and ends with the prediction of the destruction of the Temple. Temple worship is to cease. The sacrifice of animals was but a picture of the sacrifice of Christ.
Mark 14 begins with Mary anointing Jesus and ends with her going to anoint his body and finding no body there. Jesus the anointed one; prophet priest and King.

There it is complete. There is no need for an extra coda. It is complete and flawless.


peterdray said...

Hello there Mr Hamblin!

Just stumbled across your blog; I wonder if you remember me. I was in David's class at school. You once bowled me for a duck at cricket at Meyrick Park. (I'm now working with UCCF in Lancashire and Cumbria, and married to Linda.) Are you still at Lansdowne Baptist Church?

I've always wondered whether I'd preach on Mark 16:9 onwards if asked - any thoughts?

By the way, I'd love to get in contact with David again. We drifted out of contact when we left school. Could you send me his email? My email address is peterdray AT yahoo DOT com

Really good to see your passion for Scripture! I'll keep checking back from time to time :)

Anonymous said...

Dear Terry H.:

About Mark 16:9-20: I invite you to do a little more digging. The earliest extant manuscript of Mark is Papyrus 45, and it does not end at 16:8. It does not have any text from Mark chapter 16 at all, because of extensive damage.

Two early Greek manuscripts -- and ONLY two -- conclude Mark at the end of 16:8. And in each of these two copies from the 300's, there's a unique feature which indicates that the copyist was aware of the existence of Mark 16:9-20.

The earliest manuscripts are not always the earliest evidence. In the case of Mark 16:9-20, at least three sources from the 100's -- Justin Martyr, Tatian, and Irenaeus -- used Mark 16:9-20 as part of the Gospel of Mark.

Regarding stylistic factors such as "It speaks of Mary Magdalene as if she were being introduced for the first time rather than having been a major character in the previous chapters" -- a point that various commentators have borrowed from Bruce Metzger, who got it from a scholar in the late 1800's named Hort -- should be taken into consideration, but just as it raises a difficulty for the idea that Mark wrote 16:9-20 as the end of his Gospel, it also raises a difficulty for those who claim that the passage was written in order to complete the Gospel of Mark. Why would an accretion-maker fail to smooth the edge, so to speak, of his accretion?

As for the claim that "It is really a summary of what is found in the other gospels," this is simply not the case; Mark 16:9-20 provides several pieces of material which are not paralleled in the other Gospels. Shared subject-matter does not add up to literary dependence.

As for the claim that it "contains contentious promises that do not hold up: picking up snakes and drinking poison," the same objection can be made against Luke 10:19, if an interpreter insists on a literal interpretation. The problem with the Appalachian snake-handlers is their interpretive approach, not Mk. 16:18.

The claim that Mark 16:9-20 was "added 400 years after the gospel was first written" is false. (James Tabor of UNC Charlotte spread such a claim in his book "The Jesus Dynasty" but it is simply untrue.)

I welcome you to visit an online presentation defending Mark 16:9-20 as an authentic part of the Gospel of Mark, at

Yours in Christ,

James Snapp, Jr.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dr. Terry,
As a reader of the CLL list (my father died of it), I have long admired you for so many reasons....your work, your expert selfless help to others, and not the least, your open profession of faith. However, as a Catholic Christian who also loves her faith, I must try to correct a common misconception.
We Catholics believe that salvation comes through Jesus Christ, and no other. The saints, including Mary, are those we admire for living holy lives; they inspire us to do the same. We honor them, have warm feelings toward them, and try to imitate their good qualities, but our worship is reserved for God alone, in His Trinity.
The Catholic Church has also never taught that we earn salvation by good works. Only by God's grace, completely unmerited by works, is one saved. Paul explains in Philippians 2:13, "God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work." James 2:17 also says that "faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead." Later, in verse 26 he says, "For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead." In other words, authentic faith is manifested in works, it inspires us to do good works, just as you have exemplified. Good works also, when they become habits, help to keep us from sin. So, and I am quoting from Karl Keating, a very knowledgeable catholic writer, "What makes us justified in God's sight is faith. If we have true faith, good works follow naturally and protect that faith."
Please forgive me for going on so....but, because I respect you so much, I wanted you to know.
I copy your writings on the bible and have read many more than once. I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers.
I also wish you a wonderful retirement, with plenty of time to savor life. Thank you for helping me and so many others.

Terry Hamblin said...

Thank you for your contribution. I certainly advise readers to follow your link and read your essay. This is obviously a matter that has concerned the church over its whole history and I am not an expert on textual criticism. I think I will have to be content with the fact that there are arguments for and against, but I shan't be picking up any snakes or drinking poison.

Terry Hamblin said...

Well I agree with your interpretation of Scripture and if that is today's Catholic teaching, Hooray! I would question you use of the word 'never'.

Martin Luther was at odds with the church over the sale of indulgences - certificates to get out of purgatory - as a means of raising money for the building of St Peter's. He was also dismissive of the letter of James as a 'straw epistle'; but here I disagree with him. Faith that does not result in good works is an empty faith.

We have dear Christian friends who are Roman Catholics whose understanding of the gospel does not differ from ours, but the history of the church hierarchy leaves a lot to be desired. For many centuries Catholics were denied the word of God and even their worship in their own language, many pagan beliefs were absorbed into Christian traditions and priests discouraged the reading of the Scripture. I agree that at least since Pope John 23rd the Catholic church has been changing, but several doctrines like prayers for the dead, prayers to saints, the Imaculate Conception, the Assumption of Mary, auricular confession and the real presence in the Mass seem to me to be additions to Scripture that are unwarranted. I know some of them are onferred from certain passages, but the evidence to justify these inferences seems to me to be lacking.