The Long and Short of It
As we have been studying through Mark some of you have been reading ahead in your bibles and are wondering what other verses we have left to cover in this gospel account. For some we finished our exposition of Mark last week after we dealt with verse 8. For others we still have 12 verses to go before we finish Mark’s account. What this means is that we have finally come to a section of Scripture which is highly debated among brothers and sisters in Christ, and which has been a source of needless consternation among some Christian circles for centuries.
When it comes to the ending of Mark’s gospel there is what is known as The Long Ending, and The Short Ending. Some translations will only have Mark 16:1-8, while other translations will have a longer ending containing verses 9-20. There are also some translations that read through to verse 8, but rather than containing verses 9-20, they include a shorter ending causing Mark to end with the women learning of the empty that at one point contained the Son of God. The ending of such translations of Mark read:
“8 They went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had gripped them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. [And they promptly reported all these instructions to Peter and his companions. And after that, Jesus Himself sent out through them from east to west the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.]”
The question that is raised is, why? Why are there such differences between translations? Why does it appear that some have added to the word, or why does it appear that some have taken away from the word of God? Is it because dastardly translators have purposely left out 12 verses in an attempt to distort the faith which has once for all been delivered to the saints, or is it because textual scholars differ over which historical manuscripts to use when translating the Word of God? When one does their research, they will discover it is the latter and not the former. Meaning the discrepancies in translations are not due to mischievousness, but rather the historical manuscripts that are thought to be the most reliable by the translator.
This inevitably draws people to question not only the credibility of translations, but more importantly God’s ability to providentially preserve His own Word, which then begs the critical question, can we trust that what we have today is in fact the Word of the Living God?
We will end today by discussing how to handle the ending of Mark, but before we do so it would be profitable for us to discuss Scripture, namely its inspiration and preservation. When we understand this, we will see that there is neither a legitimate cause for consternation towards translations that may handle Mark differently, nor is there a cause for concern as to whether we truly possess the Word of God today. Some are concerned that differences in manuscripts give reason to doubt the credibility of the Word, but as John MacArthur rightly points out:
“The presence of variations in some biblical manuscripts is no threat to the authority, reliability, and inerrancy of Scripture.”
We can all go home knowing for certain that God has spoken in history and He has made Himself known through His Word, which He has providentially preserved to this day.
“Every type of destruction that human philosophy, human science, human reason, human art, human cunning, human force and human brutality could bring to bear against a book has been brought to bear against this Book, and yet the Bible stands absolutely unshaken today. At times almost all the wise and great of the earth have been pitted against the Bible, and only an obscure few for it. Yet it has stood.”
The Inspiration of the Scripture
One thing everyone must come to terms with is that Scripture never tries to prove to people that it is the Word of God. In other words, it never gives reasons or evidence why one should understand it to be what it claims to be. One systematic theology text says this:
“The Bible is a presuppositional declaration from God to man…Scripture makes no attempt to prove its truthfulness to the reader. It offers no list of reasoned arguments as evidence. God’s Word simply presents truth as truth, while both expecting and demanding the reader to accept it as such.”
Make no mistake, the Scripture presents a plethora of confirmed truths pertaining to science, geography, history, prophecy, and everyday human experiences, but the Scripture does not utilize these things as proof for its legitimacy as the Word of God. In a similar way, the Bible never gives the reader reasons as to why they should believe that God exists. The existence of God is presupposed, which is seen in at the very start, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” It is the same thing with the Scripture.
The Bible claims to be the Word of the Living God. Jesus said in Matthew 4:4 that:
“Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”
In 2 Timothy 3:16, the Apostle Paul declares that:
“All Scripture is inspired by God…”
Inspired by God being a phrase translated from the Greek word Theopneustos. Theos meaning God, and Pneusto meaning breath. All Scripture is “God breathed”. It proceeds from the very mouth of God. It is a work of His inspiration.
When it comes to the doctrine of inspiration there are several differing views:
- Partial or Conceptual Theory:
“God never gave the writers of the Bible the exact words they would write; rather, God gave them general ideas or impressions, and they put those down in their own words.”
This view rejects the verbal inspiration of Scripture, meaning it rejects that God inspired the very words of the Bible. It looks at the Scripture as a work that may contain the Word of God but is not actually the Word of God. God merely inspired concepts in the authors and they wrote about them in their own words. Such people who adhere to this view would suggest that God implanted the Apostle Paul with the concept of love, and Paul in turn wrote the famous thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians.
This view inevitably opens the Scripture up to error because it divorces God’s inspiration from the words of Scripture
Jesus describes all the Word of God to be truth.
- Natural Theory:
“The biblical authors found inspiration for their writing of Scripture not from God but from within themselves.”
This view is refuted by the clear teaching of Scripture in 2 Timothy 3:16, as well as 2 Peter 1:20-21, which describe God as the agent of inspiration.
- The Dictation Theory:
“Suggests that God gave the human authors of the Bible the precise words to write. The process of inspiration simply involved them penning these words verbatim. The human author was merely an instrument God used like a pen to compose His words on the page.”
There are clearly instances like this in the Scripture as is especially seen with Moses being given the Law, but there is reason to understand that the Bible as a whole is not merely a product of divine dictation where the human authors were merely an instrument of God. If this were the case, all the books of the Bible would contain the same style of writing and a coherent vocabulary throughout it. This is clearly not the case with the Scripture as it contains a variety of writing styles and word usage, which indicates individual personality.
- Verbal, Plenary Inspiration:
“God through His Spirit inspired every word penned by the human authors in each of the sixty-six books of the bible in the original documents (i.e., the autographs). Inspiration describes the process of divine causation behind the authorship of Scripture. It refers to the direct act of God on the human author that resulted in the creation of perfectly written revelation. It conveys the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit whereby he used the individual personality, language style, and historical context of each writer to produce divinely authoritative writings.”
This is exactly what the Scripture describes. Verbal, Plenary meaning that every word and all the words were inspired by God. The author of Hebrews tells us that God:
“Spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son.”
Peter declares in 2 Peter 1:20-21:
“20 But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”
In other words, the Scripture did not originate in the mind of man. Men did not take it upon themselves to write the word of God, rather God moved holy men of old by the Spirit to write His word through their individual personal. Men truly did write the Bible, but God is the ultimate Author.
John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue pose a common question asked about the inspiration of the Scripture, and they provide an insightful answer:
“Still the question remains, how could the Bible be the words of men like Peter and Paul at the same time be God’s words as well? Part of the answer to this complex question is simply because God had made Peter and Paul and the other writers of Scripture into the men that He wanted them to be by forming their very personalities. He controlled their heredity and their environments. He controlled their lives, all the while giving them the freedom of choice and will. And when these men were exactly what He wanted them to be, He directed and controlled their free and willing choice of words so that they wrote down the very words of God.
God made them into the kind of men whom He could use to express His truth, and then God literally selected the words out of their lives and their personalities, vocabularies, and emotions. The words were their words, but in reality their lives had been so framed by God that they were God’s words.”
Since God is the ultimate Author of Scripture, it is inerrant, meaning it contains no error whatsoever in the original writings because it came from One of eternal perfection. If a person can draw a straight line with a crooked stick, God is obviously capable of brining about His word without fault or error through imperfect men, and that is exactly what He has done. Through 40 different authors, with three different languages, over a span of 1500 years, in 66 books, God wrote His Word.
The Preservation of the Scripture
The question that now needs to be asked is this: If the original writings, the autographed texts, were the inspired, inerrant, infallible, and authoritative Word of God, can translations today be considered the same thing? The answer is yes, so long as it matches the meaning of the Word as it was expressed in the original writings.
This brings up another question: Has God preserved His Word to this day so that the translations we have can indeed be considered the inerrant, infallible, authoritative Word of God? Afterall Psalm 119:89 says:
“Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven.”
The Psalmist says in Psalm 119:52:
“Of old I have known from Your testimonies that You have founded them forever.”
Isaiah 40:8 says:
“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.”
Let us take a moment to consider two instances in Scripture that capture God preserving His inspired Word through the diligent action of man.
The first is with Moses. In Exodus, God gave Moses, “the two tablets of testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God.” Moses is going to break these tablets in anger at Israel’s sin before the people can even see them. God had given His Word in writing for the people, but it was now lost through the action of man. What did God do? He had Moses write out the same commandments He had originally given to Him. There are two important things to notice by God doing this. One is clearly that God preserved His Word, but the other is that God entrusted a man to make a copy of the original, and that copy of the original written by man was considered the Word of God because it replicated what God originally said.
The second instance of divine preservation is seen with the prophet Jeremiah. God had Jeremiah write down words to give to the King calling him to repent. Jeremiah 36:4 says:
“4 Then Jeremiah called Baruch the son of Neriah, and Baruch wrote on a scroll at the dictation of Jeremiah all the words of the Lord which He had spoken to him.”
Jeremiah 36:23 records the King’s reaction as the scroll containing the Word of God was read to him:
“When Jehudi had read three or four columns, the king cut it with a scribe’s knife and threw it into the fire that was in the brazier, until all the scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the brazier.”
The King completely destroyed the Word of God; however, Jeremiah 36:27-28 and 32 says:
“27 Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah after the king had burned the scroll and the words which Baruch had written at the dictation of Jeremiah, saying, 28 “Take again another scroll and write on it all the former words that were on the first scroll which Jehoiakim the king of Judah burned.’…32 Then Jeremiah took another scroll and gave it to Baruch the son of Neriah, the scribe, and he wrote on it at the dictation of Jeremiah all the words of the book which Jehoiakim king of Judah had burned in the fire; and many similar words were added to them.”
What did God do? He preserved His Word which is fixed in the heavens and will never fade away.
Can we be sure that the Word of God we hold today matches the originally inspired texts? Yes, we can through a science known as textual criticism, which analyzes and compares biblical manuscripts to determine what was contained in the autograph texts. If there were a competition to see which ancient book had the most manuscripts supporting it, the Word of God would win by a landslide. Take a moment to consider other ancient writings:
- Herodotus’s History is translated from 8 manuscripts. The oldest of these dates to 1,300 years after the original was written.
- Caesar’s Gallic Wars is translated from 10 manuscripts. The earliest one dates to 1,000 years after the original work was made.
- The History of the Peloponnesian War is translated from 8 manuscripts. The earliest manuscript dates to 1,300 years after the initial writing.
- The Iliad, by Homer has 643 manuscripts.
These all pale in comparison to the manuscripts we have for the New Testament. There are over 5,000 Greek manuscripts still existing to this day. Some contain verses, and some contain the entire New Testament. Some of these pieces even date within 25-50 years of the autograph texts. People have suggested that if one were to consider the ancient translations we possess of the New Testament that number would quicky turn to over 25,000 copies. As F.F. Bruce said:
“There is no body of ancient literature in the world which enjoys such a wealth of good textual attestation.”
With that many manuscripts, textual scholars can easily distinguish between what was originally written, and what was either a scribal error or a later addition. They can accurately determine what the inspired texts said with a body of manuscripts that great. It has also been suggested that:
“If every possible variant were accepted, the message of each chapter of the Bible that would be affected would read essentially the same.”
Yes, God breathed out His Word to us, and He has preserved it to this day so that we know with certainty that we possess His inspired, inerrant, infallible, and authoritative Word.
Conviction of The Scripture
Does one need to know all of this to believe the bible is indeed the Word of God? To put it another way, does all this information generate conviction within the heart and mind of the non-believer to believe that the Bible is what it claims to be? Does understanding textual criticism convert the soul? No, it does not.
In the end, believing the Bible to be the living and active Word of God is not a matter of seeing evidence, but a matter of whether the Holy Spirit has done a regenerating work in the heart of a person bringing them to life and the conviction that the Scripture is indeed the Living God’s Word. John Calvin acknowledged this years ago in his Institutes of the Christian Religion saying:
“Still, however, it is preposterous to attempt, by discussion, to rear up a full faith in the Scripture. True, were I called to contend with the craftiest despisers of God, I trust, though I am not possessed of the highest ability or eloquence, I should not find it difficult to stop their obstreperous mouths; I could, without much ado, put down the boastings which they mutter in corners, were anything to be gained by refuting their cavils. But although we may maintain the sacred word of God against gainsayers, it does not follow that we shall forthwith implant the certainty which faith requires in their hearts. Profane men think that religion rests only on opinion, and therefore that they may not believe foolishly, or on slight grounds, desire and insist to have it proved by reason that Moses and the prophets were divinely inspired. But I answer, that the testimony of the Spirit is superior to reason. For as God alone can properly bear witness to his own words, so these words will not obtain full credit in the hearts of men, until they are sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit. The same Spirit, therefore, who spoke by the mouth of the prophets, must penetrate our hearts, in order to convince us that they faithfully delivered the message with which they were divinely entrusted…Some worthy persons feel disconcerted, because, while the wicked murmur with impunity at the Word of God, they have not a clear proof at hand to silence them, forgetting that the Spirit is called an earnest and seal to confirm the faith of the godly, for this very reason, that, until he enlightens their minds, they are tossed to and fro in sea of doubts.”
John MacArthur offers a similar thought:
“Is it easy to convince someone that the Bible is the Word of God on the basis of its unity, its scientific, historical accuracy, its miracles, its archaeological evidence? I haven’t found that to be the case. In a special series spread over a three-week period I presented such data at a private college in California. I felt the proof was overwhelming and not one person became a believer. Why doesn’t it convince all unbelievers when it’s so convincing to us? Paul said it when he wrote, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). Only when the Holy Spirit does His regenerating work, only as He opens the mind, tears off the scales of blindness, gives life where there is death and plants the marvelous understanding of the revelation of God, only then do people come to believe and trust in the Bible. The reason I know the Bible is true is that the Spirit of God has convinced me of it.”
What about Mark?
After all of this, what do we do about the ending of Mark? Is the Long Ending part of the originally inspired texts, or is the Short Ending? Is it that neither are part of the original and Mark truly does end abruptly at verse 8? There are several reasons to believe that neither the Long Ending nor the Short Ending of Mark are part of the original texts inspired by God, but were later added in the mid to late second century to give clarity:
- The endings are not found within the earliest and most reliable manuscripts which were written closest to the inspired (autograph) texts. This indicates they were added later. The shorter ending has the weakest support among the collection of manuscripts, and the fact that there are a couple of different endings that circulated early in the history of the church should lead one to question how authentic the longer one truly is given it is not found in the manuscripts closet to the originals.
- The church fathers such as the reputable 3rd century church historian Eusebius, and Jerome, a 4th century Bible translator, maintain that the overall collection Greek manuscripts during their respective times did not contain verses 9-20. There were some 2nd century men who appeared to have somewhat of a knowledge of the longer ending, such as Irenaeus and Tatian; however, others like Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Cyprian show no knowledge of it.
- The endings are not Marcan, meaning when you consider Mark as a whole, they do not reflect Mark’s style of writing. In fact, one person discovered that within these twelve verses there are eighteen words used that are not found anywhere else in Mark’s gospel. This would also explain what seems like a very strange transition between verses 8-9 where one would expect a continuation of thought, but instead they are given an explanation of who Mary Magdalene was, though she was already spoken of three times prior to this in the previous context. It is true that Mark is a fast-paced gospel account where many things happen immediately, but the long ending reads like a rushed account wanting to tie up any loose ends.
Let us take a moment to examine the contents of the long ending of Mark and compare it to other portions of Scripture. There is something we should notice by doing this that should ease all concern and squelch any consternation.
Mark 16:9-10 says:
“9 Now after He had risen early on the first day of the week, He first appeared to Mary Magdalene, from whom He had cast out seven demons. 10 She went and reported to those who had been with Him, while they were mourning and weeping.”
What does John 20:1-2 say? John says:
“Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb. 2 So she ran and came to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.”
What does Luke 8:2 say? Luke says:
“And also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses: Mary who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out.”
Mark 16:11 says:
“11 When they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they refused to believe it.”
What does Luke 24:10-11 say? Luke says:
“10 Now they were Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James; also the other women with them were telling these things to the apostles. 11 But these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them.”
Mark 16:12-13 says:
“12 After that, He appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking along on their way to the country. 13 They went away and reported it to the others, but they did not believe them either.”
What does Luke 24:13-35 say? Luke records the entire account of Jesus appearing to these men on the road to Emmaus.
Mark 16:14 says:
“14 Afterward He appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at the table; and He reproached them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who had seen Him after He had risen.”
What does Luke 24:36-40 say? Luke says:
“36 While they were telling these things, He Himself stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be to you.” 37 But they were startled and frightened and thought that they were seeing a spirit. 38 And He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet.”
Mark 16:15 says:
“15 And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.’”
What does Matthew 28:19-20 say? Matthew says:
“19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Mark 16:16 says:
“16 He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.”
What does John 3:18,36 say? John says:
“18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God… 36 He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
Mark 16:17-18 says:
“17 These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; 18 they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
What does Acts 1:8; 2:4,43; 4:30; 5:12; 16:18; 28:3-5? It says:
“1:8 but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth… 2:4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance… 2:43 Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles… 4:30 while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus… 5:12 At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s portico… 16:18 She continued doing this for many days. But Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!” And it came out at that very moment… 28:3 But when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened itself on his hand. 4 When the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they began saying to one another, “Undoubtedly this man is a murderer, and though he has been saved from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live.” 5 However he shook the creature off into the fire and suffered no harm.”
Mark 16:19-20 says:
“19 So then, when the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed.”
What does Luke 24:51-53 say? Luke says:
“51 While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they, after worshiping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple praising God.”
What does Acts 1:9 say? It says:
“9 And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.”
What does Hebrews 1:3, and 2:3-4 say? The author of Hebrews says:
“1:3 When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high… 2:3 how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, 4 God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.”
What is the point in going through all these verses? The point is that even if one believes these verses were not originally inspired by God through Mark, the truths they speak of are still conveyed by other authors of the Scripture. In other words, take away the Long and Short endings of Mark and there is no loss of truth. No doctrine has been diminished whatsoever, and Christians can be confident that God has truly preserved His Word.
Why the Abrupt Ending?
We should answer one final question: Why would Mark end so abruptly in verse 8, and why should we embrace such an ending with joy?
We should recall that Mark immediately opened his gospel account with the words, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” The rest of His account is spent quickly carrying the narrative along by showing His Roman audience who Christ truly is, and people’s responses to Him. He showed how Jesus continually left people in wonder, awe, terror, fear, amazement, and astonishment. People were in wonder at His teachings. They were in awe at His miracles. The disciples were terrified at His transfiguration. In fear, a Roman centurion cried out at His crucifixion, “Truly this Man was the Son of God!” Mark then tells us that three days later, the women closest to Christ are fleeing from the tomb, “for trembling and astonishment had gripped them.” Why? What does the empty tomb say about Him? The empty tomb does not say, as the Romans centurion concluded, that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. The empty tomb declares that Jesus Christ is the Son of God!
Mark abruptly ends at a point where people are left in a state of wonder, awe, terror, fear, amazement, and astonishment. They are left with the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. They are left with the good news good that after Christ put away our sin by the sacrifice of Himself, He forever lives to save all who draw near to God through Him. When it comes to the ending of Mark that is the long and the short of it.
 The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Mark 9-16, John MacArthur; Page 408
 Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth, John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue; Page 104
 Genesis 1:1
 Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance; NT Number: 2315
 Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth, John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue; Page 76
 John 17:17
 Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth, John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue; Page 75
 Exodus 34:27
 Hebrews 1:1-2a
 Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth, John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue; Page 76
 Exodus 31:18
 Exodus 34:1-2,27-28
 The Books and The Parchments, F.F. Bruce; Page 178
 Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin; Page 33
 The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Mark 9-16, John MacArthur; Page 410-11