There is a popular post booming on social media that summarizes a book by Nicholas P. Lunn. Lunn argues the current ending of Mark (everything after 16:8) really is original to Mark (against the clear scholarly consensus) and that the scholars who argue that Mark either ends at 16:8 or the ending was lost are just wrong.
I understand the need and desire to defend the scriptures, but this is not the hill to die on. It’s not even a hill worth much of a debate.
The ending we have of Mark is a good and true ending. There is nothing wrong with it, but it is extremely unlikely that it is original to Mark. And that’s fine – the story of the woman taken in adultery is a good and true story that is not original to John – in fact it interrupts the flow of the narrative (and in some manuscripts even appears in other gospels or at the end of John). I still consider it scripture; I just consider it misplaced.
The ending of Mark is like that. Lunn starts from the presupposition it must be true, and then engages in serious confirmation bias affirmation. For example, he relies too much on secondary sources and seems to have very little direct knowledge of the original manuscripts:
The impression throughout the whole chapter is that Lunn’s knowledge of the actual manuscripts is mediated almost totally through other secondary literature . . . In general, throughout the chapter, the argument is basically a discussion of the way other secondary sources discuss the primary evidence. The conclusion, that Vaticanus and Sinaiticus stand isolated, is not sustained by the argument.
(this long quote is from a very conservative evangelical reviewer, someone you would think would be predisposed to confirm the ending we have in the Bible).
Moreover, the modern day CS Lewis, NT Wright (a very conservative/orthodox Anglican priest with stellar and impeccable academic credentials) agrees that what comes after 16:8 is not original and argues that the original ending of Mark was lost (this quote comes from the excellent The Ressurection of the Son of God a solid academic tome that convincingly – and somewhat mind-numbingly, due to sheer weight of evidence he compiles – argues that a physical resurrection of Jesus is not only supported by the weight of evidence but is the best explanation for what happened historically after his death):
The problem is well known. Stated simply (those in search of the full complexity can find it in the critical commentaries and monographs) it appears like this. The earliest manuscripts of the gospel, the great fourth-century codices Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, conclude with 16:8. They are followed by several later manuscripts, and some of the early Fathers of the church either show no knowledge of the longer ending or show, even while reproducing it, that they know it to be dubious. (Unfortunately, none of the many earlier papyrus fragments of New Testament material contains Mark 16; we can always hope for a providential accident of archaeology.) But the great fifth-century manuscripts, led by Alexandrinus, include the ‘longer ending’ (verses 9–20), and most subsequent manuscripts follow this lead. In addition, four manuscripts from the seventh, eighth and ninth centuries, and some later ones, insert the so-called ‘shorter ending’, in effect verse 8b; and all except one of these then continues with the ‘longer ending’ as well. A good many of the manuscripts that do contain the longer ending, however, have marks in the margin (asterisks or obeli) to indicate that the passage is regarded as of doubtful authenticity. The apparently independent omission in the two fourth-century manuscripts, coupled with all the other scattered evidence, makes it highly likely that the longer ending is not original. In addition, though the content of verses 9–20 contains some apparently Markan features (e.g. the disciples’ lack of faith in 16:11, 13, 14), in other ways it looks suspiciously as though it is derived from elements of the resurrection accounts in the other gospels. Thus, for instance, 16:12–13 is an obvious summary of Luke’s Emmaus Road story (24:13–35); the appearance to the disciples as they were eating (verse 14) belongs with Luke 24:36–43; the commission in verse 15 is parallel to Matthew 28:18–20; and the ascension in verse 19 is taken from Luke 24:50 and Acts 1:9–11. And, as is often pointed out, the command about the necessity of baptism for salvation (verse 16) and the the list of wonderful deeds the apostles will do (verses 17–18) look as though they are a summary of some aspects of later church life. All of these have led the great majority of contemporary commentators, of all shades of opinion, to agree that, though the longer and shorter endings are extremely interesting, they are almost certainly not by Mark. Actually, the ‘longer ending’ looks, from its opening in verse 9, as if it might even have originally been a separate account altogether, since it begins in parallel to Mark 16:1–2/Matthew 28:1/Luke 24:1/John 20:1, not in sequence with Mark 16:1–8: 9When he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went out and told the people who had been with him, who were mourning and weeping. But when they heard that he was alive, and that he had been seen by her, they did not believe. This might imply that verses 9–20 were not simply composed by somebody wishing to provide a fuller ending for Mark, but may have originally been a separate summary of Easter events which was then used to plug the gap, even though it actually overlapped with some of the material already present. But this observation, though it opens fascinating possibilities (could it have been originally a separate account? part of a lost gospel?), is not relevant to our present task. There is broad agreement that the author of the gospel did not himself write either verse 8b or verses 9–20 . . . There are, however, powerful reasons for questioning this theory, and for proposing that Mark did indeed write a fuller ending which is now lost, and for which verses 8b and 9–20 are replacements by later scribes not altogether out of tune with Mark’s intentions. We may note, to begin with, that the beginning and ending of a scroll were always vulnerable. A glance at any edition of the Dead Sea Scrolls, in particular at facsimile photographs, will reveal that even the scrolls which are preserved almost in their entirety are in many cases damaged at both ends. One recalls, too, the scroll of Jeremiah’s book being steadily whittled away by the king with his penknife. But, while this suggests that lost endings (and beginnings) are very much a physical possibility, it proves nothing. Nor does the fact that it is unusual to end a sentence, let alone a book, with gar get us very far. What counts is an understanding of the book Mark was writing, and a sense of what would have been an appropriate ending for this kind of book. Ultimately, of course, making a case on this subject would require a whole commentary; here, inevitably, we can only summarize . . . The better answer is that Mark did indeed write more, and that what he wrote was lost—by accident most likely, by the fire in Rome possibly, or, just conceivably, by malicious action (perhaps by some early textual critic, bent on causing problems for later readers—or, more seriously, by someone, in the church
Wright, N. T.. Resurrection Son of God V3: Christian Origins and the Question of God (Kindle Locations 13676-13809). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.
Now, Lunn does have some answers for some of these issues, but his arguments are really only convincing to those predisposed to agree. Lunn’s over-reliance on secondary sources hurts his argument, and while he might take down some of the more post-modern scholarship that tries to argue Mark ended at 16:8, period, from what I have read in the book itself, it’s more of an exercise in confirmation bias. Sometimes the scholarly consensus actually is correct, and it’s no use jumping on the Lunn bandwagon just because most of modern biblical scholarship is something of a waste. Nothing in the Gospel hinges on the current ending of Mark being original to Mark – we should follow the actual evidence where it leads, rather than defend hills that may not even be hills after all.
[As an aside, if you are interested in textual criticism of this sort, I do not reccomend “Misquoting Jesus” by Bart Ehrman. While the basic information in it is accurate, the conclusions he draws are intellectually dishonest and also an example of confirmation bias.]
But – hey, if you want to believe Lunn over NT Wright and others, that’s fine. I’m not going to get into any arguments over it (discussions are fine, arguments are not). However, I would caution against using Lunn in Gospel Doctrine to rail against the godless scholars who want to ruin the Bible. Realize plenty of good and faithful people can believe differently, and it’s okay.
If you do have questions or want to continue the discussion (and make it a discussion – the angry, snide, sarcastic comments I’m seeing on social media will have no place here), feel free to do so in the comments. I can’t check back often, but I will try to answer any comments or questions as often as I can.