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Textual Criticism
of the New Testament
The Case for
Mark 16:9-20
The passage before us has generated more heated discussion possibly than
any other passage. The question is: Which ending of Mark is the true one? This
traditional ending to the gospel? Or, a truncated ending found in a handful of

Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first
to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils. And she went
and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept. And they,
when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed

After that he appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked,
and went into the country. And they went and told it unto the residue:
neither believed they them.

Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided
them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not
them which had seen him after he was risen.  And he said unto them, Go ye
into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that
believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be
damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall
they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up
serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they
shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into
heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. And they went forth, and
preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the
word with signs following. Amen. (Mark 16:9-20 KJV)

This passage was completely omitted by the original Revised Standard Version

It was double bracketed by the Westcott/Hort Greek New Testament, the Nestle
Greek New Testament, and the United Bible Societies Greek New Testament.
That means it was regarded as a later addition to the text, but which was retained
because of its evident antiquity and its importance in the textual tradition.
The Verses Omitted in the New Testament

Some have stated that no real concern should be shown over the omission of
these verses because what is taught in these verses which are omitted is taught
elsewhere in scripture. Yet as Edward Miller stated in

… (c) Holy Scripture is too unique and precious to admit of the study of the
several words of it being interesting rather than important; (d) many of the
passages which Modern Criticism would erase or suspect – such as the last
twelve verses of Mark, the first Word from the Cross, and the thrilling description
of the depth of the Agony, besides numerous others – are valuable in the
extreme; and, (e) generally speaking, it is impossible to pronounce, especially
amidst the thought and life seething everywhere round us, what part of Holy
Scripture is not, or may not prove to be, of the highest importance as well as

Besides, if one verse can be set aside today that teaches a particular point, what
principle prohibits the removal of the other verses (either collectively or one-by-
one) at a future date? No man, nor group of men, has the right to remove one
verse of scripture.

The first matter of business in determining the validity of a passage is realizing
what evidence needs to be examined in order to come to a conclusion. We will
discuss these further as we examine them.] There are three things that most
textual critics examine. 1. Does the passage fit into the flow of the context? 2. Is
the literary style of the passage compatible with the supposed author? And, lastly
and most important; 3. What evidence do we find for the passage in the
manuscripts, lectionaries, ancient versions, and quotations of early writers?

Does the passage fit into the flow of the context?

And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of
James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and
anoint him. And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they
came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun. And they said among
themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the
sepulchre? And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away:
for it was very great. And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young
man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they
were affrighted. And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus
of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the
place where they laid him. But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that
he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto
you. And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they
trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they
were afraid. (Mark 16:1-8 KJV)

The purpose of the Gospels is to build faith. (see John 20:30,31) To end an
appeal for faith with the words “for they trembled and were amazed: neither said
they anything to any man; for they were afraid” seems to be incredulous. The
passage immediately preceding the verses in question calls for a further
explanation to give meaning and completion to the Gospel account. If nothing
was said, and they were afraid, how and why was the gospel spread throughout
the world with such fervor and boldness?

The last twelve verses as they appear in the King James Version give the
explanation that the first eight verses in the chapter call for. The reassurance of
the appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene causes her to speak to the
apostles, although they still do not believe. The appearance to the two disciples
on the road causes them to believe, but the rest of the disciples still did not
believe. It took the appearance of Jesus to them all to convince them of the truth
of the resurrection. His further words of encouragement and command give them
the impetus to proceed on the mission and commission which would take the rest
of their lives. The continued presence of miracles bolstered their faith and

Westcott and Hort give the alternative ending found in L:
"And they announced
briefly to Peter and those around him all the things enjoined. And after these
things Jesus himself also sent forth through them from the east even unto the
west the holy and incorruptible proclamation of the eternal salvation."

Read the two endings. Does the so-called alternative ending of L give the
assurance that is given by the last twelve verses of our version? Does it provide
the answers needed to complete the chapter? Does it explain the courage and
faith of the disciples as they evangelized the world? Does it give reason for their
willingness to give their lives for the story they were telling? In every way, and in
every category the alternative ending is lacking.

If it is unreasonable to expect the chapter to end after verse eight, and the
alternative ending is inadequate for the questions and explanations needed to
complete the Gospel, we are left with the ending of the last twelve verses being
the only rational answer.

Is the literary style of the passage compatible with the supposed author?

In the case of Mark 16:9-20, this means: Is the passage written in the same style
as Mark wrote the rest of his Gospel? Those who reject the passage claim that
the style (i.e., the choice of words and the use of grammar) of these verses is
contrary to that found in the remainder of the book. Thus, they claim the
passage not to be a part of the Gospel of Mark.

The claims for differences in vocabulary and phraseology for this passage, and
other portions of scripture, both large and small, are similar. Words or phrases
are pointed out as only being used in a particular place, and therefore indicative
of being placed there by another author. Whether it is the JPED theory applied to
the writings of Moses, or the writers of the Gospels, it limits the vocabulary and
style of the writer when presenting different topics to the same choices. It
assumes that the writer has a limited vocabulary, and a limited means of
expressing himself.

J.W. Burgon notes twenty-seven instances which are noted by critics to attempt
to exclude these verses as not genuinely Markan [p. 226 footnote;
]. He deals with
these objections in detail in
Chapter IX. Internal Evidence demonstrated to
be the very reverse of unfavourable to these Verses.

The simple and easy answer to this seeming dilemma is seen by a comparison of
Mark 1:9-20 which these same critics do not question, and Mark 16:9-20 which
they seem to almost unanimously reject. The same uniqueness of vocabulary
and style which they use to condemn the last twelve verses of the Gospel are
equally applicable to the last twelve verses of the first chapter. “The legs of the
lame are unequal.”

What evidence do we find for the passage in the manuscripts, lectionaries,
ancient versions, and quotations of early writers?

This chart gives an inkling of the evidence that overwhelmingly shows Mark 16:9-
20 as belonging to the Gospel of Mark.


Uncial manuscripts are written in capital block letters, in a formal hand for
libraries and collections. The Uncial manuscripts are divided into two categories,
the lettered uncials and the numbered uncials.

Traditionally the lettered uncials are the older manuscripts. The lettered uncials
are numerically in favor of the inclusion of the passage eleven (11) to two (2).
The two manuscripts which argue against the inclusion of the passage are the
Sinaiticus and the Vaticanus, both from the fourth century. They both have a
reputation as two of the oldest and most complete manuscripts; but, it is a
reputation that is overstated as is seen by their exclusion of this passage (among

The Vaticanus may give a backhanded witness to the inclusion of the passage.
At Mark 16:8 it is true that verses nine through twenty are missing, but so is the
beginning of the Gospel of Luke. The Vaticanus is not like modern bibles which
begin the next book on the next page, the Vaticanus began the next book on the
next line. Why then is there a blank space at the end of Gospel of Mark? Not only
is there a blank space, but it corresponds with the size of the last twelve verses
of the Gospel as it appears in our version. Therefore, the hand which produced
the Vaticanus was familiar with these twelve verses and leaves a testimony that
he believed that something was missing from the Gospel as it was produced in
this manuscript.

This leaves the sole testimony among the uncials in Sinaiticus.  This manuscript
similarly has a blank space where these twelve verses would fit. Again, the copier
of the Sinaiticus was familiar with the passage in question, and left room for it,
presumably because he believed it belonged.

Other lettered uncials of reknown, such as the Alexandrinus, the Ephraemi
Rescriptus, the Freer Gospels, D, and the Regius as well as a number of others
all include these verses.

The lettered uncials which include the passage date from the fifth to the tenth
centuries, which indicate the existence of the passage in manuscripts back to the
third century and beyond.

There are two numbered uncials which include the verses, which date from the
sixth and seventh centuries. There are no numbered uncials which do not
include the passage.

The minuscule or cursive manuscripts are those written in the smaller case
running hand that would be the less formal, or ordinary communication of every
day. These manuscripts would represent those Bibles used by individuals more
than likely. There are forty-five (45) manuscripts which include the passage,
ranging from the 9th through the 15th centuries. There is one (1) manuscript
which stands alone in its testimony for exclusion from the 12th century.

Although the exact numbers of the Byzantine manuscripts which include the
passage, and the numbers which exclude it (which I understand to be zero -0-)
are not known, the reading of the majority of the Byzantine manuscripts
overwhelmingly includes Mark 16:9-20.

The manuscript evidence, excluding the Byzantine texts (which comprise the vast
majority -- up to 95% -- of manuscripts extant), is numerically sixty-eight (68) to
three (3) in favor of the inclusion of the passage.

Once the testimony of the Byzantine texts is added, the result is more
manuscripts,  versions, lictionaries, and early writers favor of the passage.
Therefore, unless one arbitrarily determines the Sinaiticus and Vaticanus texts to
contain the purest text, the passage is overwhelmingly verified as part of the
original text.

The evidence concerning the last twelve verses of Mark favors the inclusion of
the verses  overwhelmingly. In fact, it makes one wonder why the passage was
ever questioned.

Lectionaries are books of selected readings for churches. They are by nature
fragmentary. Therefore, their testimony is more important if the reading includes,
rather than excludes a passage, unless the passage is in the middle of a
reading. It is not surprising that a passage would be missing if it either proceeds
a reading or follows a reading. From the 11th to the 13th centuries there are six
(6) lectionaries which include the verses in question. The reading of the majority
of lectionaries in the Synaxarion (the so-called “movable year” beginning with
Easter) and in the Menologion (the fixed year “beginning with September 1) do
not include Mark 16:9-20. The lections end with verse eight (8). [For a further
discussion of the testimony of the lectionaries see CHAPTER X, “The Testimony
of the Lectionaries shown to be absolutely decisive as to the genuineness of
these Verses.”, in J.W. Burgon’s THE LAST TWELVE VERSES OF THE GOSPEL
ACCORDING TO S. MARK; reprinted by Faith and Facts Press – 3910 Rankin
Drive – Erlanger, KY 41018.]

The early versions (translations) present a preponderance of evidence in favor
of the twelve verses in eighteen (18) different versions, from the 2nd to the 13th
centuries. The Curetonian, Peshitta, Harclean and Palestinian Syriac; the
Sahidic, Bohairic and Fayyumic Coptic; the Vulgate; the Armenian; the Georgian;
and the old Latin versions known as Bezae Cantabrigiensis, Corbeiensis II,
Aureus, Sangallensis, Monacensis, Rhedigeranus, Sangallensis, and Colbertinus
all include Mark 16:9-20. There are five (5) early versions, dating from the 2nd to
the 6th centuries, which are cited as excluding the passage: the Sinaitic Syriac,
the old Latin Bobiensis, certain Armenian manuscripts, certain Georgian
manuscripts and Ethiopic manuscripts.

Early writers give a numerical edge to the inclusion of the passage. The
Diatessaron of Tatian from the 2nd century, Justin (165 AD), Irenaeus (202 AD)
in the Greek and Latin, Tertullian (220 AD), Aphraates (367 AD), the Apostolic
Constitutions (380 AD), and Didymus (398 AD) all cite the verses as belonging to
the Gospel of Mark. Those which are given as testimony against the passage
are: Clement of Alexandria (215 AD), Origen (254 AD), Eusebius (239 AD),
certain manuscripts according to Eusebius, Jerome (420 AD), certain
manuscripts according to Jerome, and Ammonius from the 3rd century. [For a
fuller discussion about the testimony of early writers see J.W. Burgon’s
CHAPTER III, “The early Fathers appealed to, and observed to bear
favourable witness to these Verses.”, and CHAPTER V, “The alleged
hostile witness of certain of the early Fathers proved to be an
imagination of the Critics.”

When you line the evidence up by century, it becomes even more compelling.
From the 2nd century the evidence is six (6) for and one (1) against. In the 3rd
century, it is five (5) for and three (3) against. In the 4th century it is five (5) for
and five (against). In the 5th century it is six (6) for and two (2) against.  In the
6th century it is two (2) for and one (1) against. In the 7th century it is five (5) for
and zero (0) against. In the 8th century it is three (3) for and none (0) against. In
the 9th century it is seven (7) for and zero (0) against. In the 10th century it is
four (4) for and none (0) against. In the 11th century it is twelve (12) for and
none (0) against. In the 12th century it is nineteen (19) for and one (1) against.
In the 13th century it is nine (9) for and zero (0) against. In the 14th century it is
four (4) for and none (0) against. In the 15th century it is two (2) for and zero (0)
against. In every century except the 4th century the evidence favors the inclusion
of the passage. Considering the evidence of the Vaticanus and the Sinaiticus,
the scale may be considered tipped in favor of the inclusion of the verses in the
4th century as well.


This is a true story.

One time a preacher was making his point on Mark 16:16 – He that believeth and
is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. He
forcefully cried out to the audience on hand, “If you don’t believe me, I’ll come
and show it to you in your own Bible!”

“It’s not in my Bible!” cried a woman in the back.

Immediately the preacher strode to the back, took the Bible from the lady’s hand,
turned to the sixteenth chapter of Mark, and , lo and behold, the passage was
not there! She had taken a pair of scissors and cut it out!

When I was a boy, I remember hearing this illustration used in a sermon to show
the disrespect which some people had for the Bible, and how they removed
certain unwanted passages from the Scriptures in one way or another. What the
women did in this story is unconscionable. But, pray tell, what is the difference
between a woman taking a pair of scissors and cutting passages she does not
like out of her personal Bible, and an editor taking an exacto knife and slicing the
same verses out of a Bible he is preparing for publication? Is it not of far greater
import when the editor does it; because the Bible he so mutilates will not only be
for his own private reading and study, but is prepared to be used by thousands,
or even millions?

Friends and brethren, how far have we already drifted?