Monday, July 21, 2014

"Perspectives on the Ending of Mark": A Review


Inevitably every few months a member of my congregation or someone I have known for some time will ask me a question regarding textual criticism. Although they rarely, if ever, use the words "textual criticism," that is precisely the world they are engaging. Why does the NIV put seemingly random verses in the footnotes? What is the deal with the brackets in John 8 and 1 John and Mark 16?

Ultimately I believe that textual criticism has enhanced our understanding of Scripture and strengthen orthodox views on the Bible. With that said, however, no doubt there are a few places in Scripture that are problematic and cause difficulties. The ending of Mark is perhaps the leading example of that. All modern translations inform the reader that the last twelve verses of Mark are not found in the earliest manuscripts and thus its authenticity cannot be validated. So what do we do with this? How do we handle these twelve verses?

In his edited book Perspectives on the Ending of Mark: Four Views (Broadman and Holman, 2008), Dr. David Alan Black engages the questions above by presenting to the reader a variety of perspectives from some of Christedom's best thinkers on the subject.

The book is straightforward and I am sure the reader will gain a basic understanding of the arguments presented just by glancing at the book's table of contents. For the sake of space, I want to highlight what I believe to be the best and most convincing argument found in the first chapter written by Dr. Daniel B. Wallace. In essence, Wallace suggests that the last twelve verses were not original. I offer a few of his most compelling reasons why below.

First, the external evidence. Although Wallace admits that at least 95% of the Greek manuscripts contain the longer ending, that does not mean that it is original. In fact, the oldest and best manuscripts do not contain these verses. In this context, Wallace asks Which is more likely, that scribes would intentionally omit vv. 9-20 or that they would add these verses? (10) Unless that question is answered, the authenticity of the last twelve verses of Mark remain questionable.

In addition, a number of manuscripts contains what scholars call an Intermediate Ending. In fact, one scholar (David Parker) highlighted by Wallace, David Parker pointed out six different endings for Mark, along with multiple variations within them (27). This, of course, leads naturally to the question, why are there so many differences in the [manuscripts] here? (27)

Secondly, the internal evidence. Wallace writes:
It is not just vocabulary, but syntax, style, and contextual flow that must be taken into consideration. As well, source criticism plays a role: Mark 16:9-20 deviates strongly from the pattern we see everywhere else in the Gospel when it comes to synoptic parallels. By far the best explanation for the Matthean and Lukan Resurrection accounts looking so different from each other is that they had lost their template because Mark ended his Gospel at vs. 8. (31)
Although critics, like myself, of the long ending of Mark highlight the many problems of the internal evidence, Wallace introduces us to another problem with the long ending. Assuming that Mark was written first, it is striking that neither Matthew nor Luke follow Mark in the resurrection appearances. This can be easily explained if their copies of Mark did not contain the last twelve verses.

Third is the problem with the genre of Gospel. Wallace addresses the often asserted argument that no ancient story or history ends like Mark. The last word of verse 8 is the English "for." Furthermore, that verse concludes with the women in fear. There is no satisfying ending. Therefore, some assert, either the long ending is authentic or the original ending has been lost. Wallace responds:
J. Lee Magness, . . . demonstrates that suspended endings - that is, endings that leave the reader hanging - can be found in Graeco-Roman literature, in the Old Testament, and in the New Testament. In other words, he shows that such a literary approach is not due to a Kafka-like existentialism, but is rooted in ancient culture. (34)
One example of this is the conclusion of Acts. Wallace then writes:
I can't help but wonder if Luke at least caught what Mark was doing literarily and consciously emulated his style in the book of Acts - intentionally leaving the book open-ended to bring his readers into the narrative. If so, Luke used and respected Mark - both for its content and for its literary technique. (35)
As it regards to ending an ancient book with "for," Wallace points out that in 1972 an actual book ending with ["for"] was found. The discovery was made by P. W. van der Horst, who concluded his article by the observation, "The proof was really not necessary for common sense alone could argue that, if a sentence or paragraph can end with ["for"], a book can too." He then adds Coupled with the increasing popularity of narrative criticism, more and more scholars have come to embrace the notion that Mark intended to end his book as he did. (36)

I believe Wallace presents a compelling case that is difficult to contradict at this time. It seems likely to me that the last twelve verses are not original and in this one chapter Wallace provides us with a number of reasons for embracing that view. Nonetheless, the entire book and all of its "perspectives" is worth considering. This is an important issue and not just for academics. Black has provided Christendem with a helpful source in considering the options.


For more:
"Has God Spoken?" by Hank Hanegraaf
"Dead Sea Scrolls Mystery" Documentary
Repost | "God's Word in Human Words": A Detailed Critique - Part 1
Repost | "God's Word in Human Words": A Detailed Critique - Part 2
Repost | "God's Word in Human Words": A Detailed Critique - Part 4
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