Some scholars believe that the ending of Mark is unoriginal due to it appearing to have a different style and the fact that it's missing from some key manuscripts. At the same time, several early Church fathers are believed to have quoted from these passages. What are the primary arguments for and against its authenticity (along with sources, please)?


4 Answers 4


My understanding is that a strong majority of scholars (including conservative scholars) take the position that the long ending of Mark was not in the original and was not written by the same author as the rest of the text, but nonetheless was added very early on (probably in the early 2nd century). However, the evidence is not as overwhelming as for the Comma Johanneum or the Pericope Adulterae, in part because the long ending of Mark is significantly older than the those two.

The main arguments are as follows. Certainly people dispute some of these arguments, but on the whole each of them is a strong argument, and taking several together gives an even stronger argument.

  • The long ending does not appear in several of our earliest and best manuscripts, most notably Sinaiticus and Vaticanus (although it does appear in Alexandrinus).
  • Many early manuscripts which do contain the long ending nonetheless contain indications marking it as disputed.
  • The existence of manuscripts containing a different ending entirely (the "short ending") also suggests that the original contained no ending.
  • The author of Mark has a distinctive Greek style, and the long ending does not match this style.
  • The author of the long ending appears to be familiar with possibly Matthew, probably Luke, and possibly Acts, while the author of Mark was not.
  • The authors of Matthew and Luke do not appear to have had the long ending in their copies of Mark.

The textual evidence, which covers the first three arguments, as found in Nestle-Aland is summarized ably at the end of the Wikipedia article under "Summary of manuscript evidence." At any rate all of these are largely undisputed facts, though there are some interesting features of that part of Mark in Sinaiticus and Vaticanus which are worth noting (explained thoroughly with images, though also with a bit of an agenda, here).

A quick summary of the argument from style and vocabulary is given by Bruce Metzger in A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament excerpted online here. A much more in depth examination is given in a paper of Travis Williams.

For the last point, you want to first notice many similarities between the long ending and Luke/Acts (as well as a small overlap with the great commission in Matthew), and then you have the trickier point of arguing that it's the long ending taking from Luke and not vice-versa. Wikipedia lists the overlaps (I haven't found a good scholarly resource for this point, though of course you can compare the passages yourself). I haven't found a good reference for arguing in which direction the borrowing is going, but if you want to argue the other way you'd need to explain why Matthew drops almost all of it (despite containing 94% of Mark) and why Luke substantially rearranges it (despite usually following Mark's order reasonably well).

It's worth noting that unlike with say the Comma Johanneum, I don't think it's been conclusively proved that the long ending of Mark is not original. Assuming it was added, it was added earlier than any copies of the text that we still have! All sorts of things are unlikely but possible. Nonetheless it seems the evidence is pretty solidly on the side of inauthenticity.

  • 1
    Added some references, and two other arguments (which are pretty closely related to the other ones).
    – Noah
    Jan 16, 2013 at 23:01
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    Excellent answer. Thanks for editing with the source.
    – swasheck
    Jan 16, 2013 at 23:12
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    BTW, as a general comment, the "Textual Commentary" by Metzger et al. really is the go to source for this kind of question. It is a detailed analysis of the choices made in Nestle And Aland, the Greek text which is used in the standard UBS text, and also is the basis for pretty much all modern translations. Every serious scholar of the Greek New Testament should have a copy of this book to accompany N&A. It is cheap and easy to use. It is available on Amazon for $25. (I'd recommend an edit to the above to include a link to the book on Amazon.)
    – Fraser Orr
    Jan 24, 2013 at 20:58
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    The book which I refer to in my answer from Dean Burgon actually addresses all your points and show these verses to be true without a doubt. The argument against it as far as manuscripts go really only rest on Vaticanus and Sinaiticus.
    – McGafter
    Sep 22, 2013 at 16:09
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    @McGafter: I looked through parts of Burgon's book, and must admit that I found it old-fashioned, out-of-date, and unconvincing. That said, I do think the LEM is something on which reasonable people can disagree! We know that both versions certainly date to the 2nd century at the latest! Furthermore, there are modern scholars who argue for the authenticity of the LEM today (e.g. Maurice Robinson), so there's no need to use arguments that are 140 years out of date.
    – Noah
    Sep 22, 2013 at 22:20

Short Answer: After weighing all of the evidence (both internal and external), it would seem that Mark 16:9-20 was indeed originally part of Mark's Gospel.

The ending of Mark's Gospel is one of the major textual problems in the New Testament.1

As noted by the OP, the "problem" is whether the end of Mark (16:9-20) was originally part of Mark's Gospel. Essentially the matter comes down to three factors.

1. External evidence

Dr. Constable summarizes the external evidence concerning verses 9-20:

The two oldest Greek uncial manuscripts of the New Testament . . . plus many other old manuscripts, do not contain them. Moreover, the writings of some church fathers reflect no knowledge of these verses. On the other hand, verses 9-20 do appear in the majority of the old manuscripts, and other church fathers do refer to them.1

DETAILS AGAINST: absent from א, B, itk, Sinaitic Syriac, ~100 Armenian mss, the two oldest Georgian mss. Some mss that do include it mark it with asterisks or obeli. Clement of Alexandria and Origen show no knowledge of the existence of these verses.3
DETAILS FOR: too many to list!!4... 99% of Greek manuscripts contain it.5 present in the vast number of witnesses, including A C D K W X Δ Θ Π Ψ 099 0112 f 13 28 33 al. Numerous patristic witness beginning with Irenaeus and the Diatessaron.3 Found in many early versions: Vulgate, Syriac, Peshitta, Coptic, Sahidic, Bohairic, Fay­yumic, Gothic, Armenian, Georgian, and Slavonic.6

Despite the absence of these verses in some old manuscripts, and the silence on these verses in the teachings of some church fathers (which could be said for any verse in the New Testament), the fact remains that most old manuscripts do contain these verses, and many church fathers do refer to them. Dr. Constable concludes well that:

[these verses] appear to have been regarded as inspired and therefore authoritative early in the history of the church.1

Thus, while external evidence in this case is far from conclusive, the evidence does weigh in favor of these verses originally being part of Mark's Gospel.

2. Internal evidence: structural coherence

Dr. Constable mentions an important structural consideration in this debate:

Throughout this Gospel, we have noted many unique features that appeal to disciples to serve God by bearing bold witness to Jesus, even in spite of persecution and suffering.1

This makes sense in light of Mark's target audience. Mark wrote his Gospel to disciples in Rome who faced a serious decision:

They faced the choice of whether to take a public stand as Christians—and suffer the loss of real estate, personal property, employment, and even their lives—or to lay low. They were required by law to offer a pinch of incense in worship of "divine" Caesar, as Roman citizens. Doing so compromised their exclusive commitment to Jesus as Lord. To fail to worship Caesar cost them dearly.1

Mark's Gospel served as an exhortation to these Roman disciples to lay down their lives and preach the gospel with boldness. In light of this, it is hard to imagine Mark ending his Gospel "with an example of disciples too fearful and amazed to bear witness to the resurrected Jesus."1 Yet this is exactly what we would have if Mark 16:8 were the end of the Gospel. Thus, structural coherence also weighs in favor of Mark 16:9-20 originally being part of Mark's Gospel.

3. Internal evidence: stylistic clues

Some interpreters believe the vocabulary, style, and content of these verses argue against Mark's authorship of them.1 (E.g. Walter Wessel and Robert G. Bratcher and Eugene A. Nida.)

Bruce Metzger elaborates on the two main considerations:

(a) The vocabulary and style of verses 9-20 are non-Markan. (e.g. απιστεω, βλαπτω, βεβαιοω, επακολουθεω, θεαομαι, μετα ταυτα, πορευομαι, συνεργεω, υστερον are found nowhere else in Mark; and θανασιμον and τοις μετ αυτου γενομενοις, as designations of the disciples, occur only here in the New Testament).
(b) The connection between ver. 8 and verses 9-20 is so awkward that it is difficult to believe that the evangelist intended the section to be a continuation of the Gospel. Thus, the subject of ver. 8 is the women, whereas Jesus is the presumed subject in ver. 9; in ver. 9 Mary Magdalene is identified even though she has been mentioned only a few lines before (15.47 and 16.1); the other women of verses 1-8 are now forgotten; the use of αναστας δε and the position of πρωτον are appropriate at the beginning of a comprehensive narrative, but they are ill-suited in a continuation of verses 1-8.3

Commentator J.R. Dummelow adds a few more:

(1) the true conclusion certainly contained a Galilean appearance (Mark 16:7, cp. 14:28), and this does not.
(2) The style is that of a bare catalogue of facts, and quite unlike St. Mark's usual wealth of graphic detail. . . .
(6) The section seems to represent not a primary tradition, such as Peter's, but quite a secondary one, and in particular to be dependent upon the conclusion of St. Matthew, and upon Luke 24:23f.2

In favor of Mark 16:9-20 being authentic, Scrivener responds to these arguments with the following dismissal:

With regard to the . . . alleged difference in style from the rest of the Gospel, I must say that the same process might be applied — and has been applied — to prove that St. Paul was not the writer of the Pastoral Epistles . . . St. John of the Apocalypse, Isaiah and Zechariah of portions of those prophecies that bear their names. Every one used to literary composition may detect, if he will, such minute variations . . . either in his own writings, or in those of the authors he is most familiar with[!]4

Scrivener is highlighting a major weakness in "stylistic clues": they tend to be easily bent to the will of the interpreter! This has been my experience as well, and so I tend to place less weight on such arguments (though they can be very telling in some cases.) But for example:

  • Metzger argues that it is strange for Mark to mention Mary Magdalene by name in 16:9 since she had already been named in 16:1, yet note that she is also explicitly named in 15:40 and 15:47 (one verse prior to 16:1)! With all due respect, this is a silly argument, and reflects a haste to justify a preconceived notion.

  • There are 17 words in Mark 16:9-20 that are not previously used in Mark's Gospel, which Metzger and others use as proof that Mark didn't write it. Yet, if you take the previous 12 verses in Mark (15:44-16:8) and apply the same criteria you find that this section also uses 17 new words that did not previously appear in Mark!7


The arguments against authenticity seem to be rooted in the writings of Eusebius,4 who, ironically, seems to have favored the inclusion of these verses.5 Regardless, both external evidence and internal structural evidence weigh in favor of the authenticity of Mark 16:9-20. Some have argued that internal stylistic evidence points to the contrary, but upon closer examination, these claims seem to be weak at best. Stylistic clues should be considered, but only with the utmost caution, given the nature and track-record of this method of analysis.

Thus, the evidence -- both internal and external -- seems to indicate that Mark 16:9-20 was, in fact, originally part of Mark's Gospel.

1: http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/mark.pdf, pp. 206-207

2: http://www.bible-researcher.com/endmark.html citing A Commentary on the Holy Bible, edited by J.R. Dummelow (New York: MacMillan, 1927), pages 732-33

3: http://www.bible-researcher.com/endmark.html citing Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (Stuttgart, 1971), pages 122-126

4: http://www.bible-researcher.com/endmark.html citing F.H.A. Scrivener, A Plain Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testament, fourth ed. (London: George Bell and Sons, 1894), volume 2, pp. 337-344

5: https://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=13&article=704 citing Aland, Kurt and Barbara Aland (1987), The Text of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerd­mans), page 287

6: https://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=13&article=704

7: https://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=13&article=704 citing Broadus, John A. (1869), “Exegetical Studies,” The Baptist Quarterly, 3:355-362, July.

  • Well said. Dean Burgon in his book also beautifully pointed out the fallacy of trusting in these stylistic clues.
    – McGafter
    Jun 19, 2014 at 8:24
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    "Yet, if you take the previous 12 verses in Mark (15:44-16:8) and apply the same criteria you find that this section also uses 17 new words that did not previously appear in Mark!" Was thinking the exact same thing. Great answer! Jun 15, 2017 at 11:15

If you have not read 'The last twelve verses of Mark' from Dean John Burgon, I'm sad to say that you have not fully researched this subject. Please read it, it will honestly vindicate these verses as a true part of the Holy Scriptures as they truly are. This book has not been fully answered by the critics since it publication over a hundred years ago, simply because it takes the right stand for the Word of God. It's too long to put into this little answer box. The book.


Another link to the book in PDF format.

The Last Twelve Verses of the Gospel According to S. Mark Vindicated Against Recent Critical Objectors and Established - John William Burgon

Besides the Gothic and Egyptian versions in the ivth century; besides Ambrose, Cyril of Alexandria, Jerome, and Augustine in the vth, to say nothing of Codices A and C;—the Lectionary of the Church universal, probably from the second century of our æra, is found to bestow its solemn and emphatic sanction on every one of these Twelve Verses. They are met with in every MS. of the Gospels existence, uncial and cursive,—except two; they are found in every Version; and are contained besides in every known Lectionary, where they are appointed to be read at Easter and on Ascension Day.

The only two missing these verses are the corrupt א and B.

What there is in this to countenance the notion that in the opinion of Eusebius “the Gospel according to S. Mark originally terminated at the 8th verse of the last chapter,”—I profess myself unable to discover. I draw from his words the precisely opposite inference. It is not even clear to me that the Verses in dispute were absent from the copy which Eusebius habitually employed. He certainly quotes one of those verses once and again [see note below]. On the other hand, the express statement of Victor of Antioch [A. D. 450?] that he knew of the mutilation, but had ascertained by Critical research the genuineness of this Section of Scripture, and had adopted the Text of the authentic “Palestinian” Copy,—is more than enough to outweigh the faint presumption created (as some might think) by the words of Eusebius, that his own copy was without it. And yet, as already stated, there is nothing whatever to shew that Eusebius himself deliberately rejected the last Twelve Verses of S. Mark’s Gospel. Still less does that Father anywhere say, or even hint, that in his judgment the original Text of S. Mark was without them. If he may be judged by his words, he accepted them as genuine: for (what is at least certain) he argues upon their contents at great length, and apparently without misgiving.

[Note] The reader is referred to Mai’s Nov. PP. Bibl. vol. iv. p. 262, line 12: p. 264 line 28: p. 301, line 3-4,, and 6-8.

The CNTTS database shows that the following manuscripts contain

verse 9 A C D05 E07 G011 K017 L019 M021 S U Wsupp Y D Q P Y W 1 2 13 28 33 35 69 118 124 157 346 565 579 700 788 1005 1071 1424 1582 2358 2372

and then jumping to verse 20 A C D05sup E07 G011 H013 K017 L019 M021 S U Wsupp Y D Q Psup Y W 1 2 13 28 33 35 69 118 124 157 346 565 579 700 788 1005 1071 1424 1582 2358

So at least above all of these the testimony of Codices Sinaiticus and Vaticanus are taken to be the true and therefore these God-inspired verses are left out.

After all that has gone before, our two oldest Codices (Cod. B and Cod. א) which alone witness to the truth of Eusebius’ testimony as to the state of certain copies of the Gospels in his own day, need not detain us long. They are thought to be as old as the ivth century: they are certainly without the concluding section of S. Mark’s Gospel. But it may not be forgotten that both Codices alike are disfigured throughout by errors, interpolations and omissions without number; that their testimony is continually divergent; and that it often happens that where they both agree they are both demonstrably in error. Moreover, it is a highly significant circumstance that the Vatican Codex (B), which is the more ancient of the two, exhibits a vacant column at the end of S. Mark’s Gospel,—the only vacant column in the whole codex: whereby it is shewn that the Copyist was aware of the existence of the Twelve concluding Verses of S. Mark’s Gospel, even though he left them out: while the original Scribe of the Codex Sinaiticus (א) is declared by Tischendorf to have actually omitted the concluding verse of S. John’s Gospel,—in which unenviable peculiarity it stands alone among MSS.

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    Hello @McGafter and welcome to BH.SE! Please edit your response to summarize the argument(s) from the book. As it stands, this is more of a comment than an actual answer. Also, consider citing some more modern sources in addition to this book since numerous textual discoveries and linguistic findings have been made since Burgon's death in the late 19th century. Textual evidence that does not take into account recent findings would be a weak argument otherwise.
    – Dan
    Aug 12, 2013 at 15:15
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    @Dan I've updated my answer. If you don't like it please refer me to these new modern discoveries that have shown these verses an Dean Burgon's work to be false so that my investigate it.
    – McGafter
    Sep 22, 2013 at 16:03
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    For example, the Syriac Sinaiticus (a 4th century Syriac text of the gospels) which also does not contain the long ending was not discovered until 1892.
    – Noah
    Sep 22, 2013 at 20:56
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    Similarly, his discussion of the Sahidic versions is missing two ancient Sahidic documents which do not have the long ending.
    – Noah
    Sep 22, 2013 at 21:29
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    Also @McGafter, in the interest of fairness, you would probably enjoy checking out Kurt Aland, "Bemerkungen zum Schluss des Markusevangeliums," in Neotestamentica et Semitica, Studies in Honor of Matthew Black, Ed. by E. Earle Ellis and Max Wilcox (Edinburgh, 1969), pp. 157-180, especially p. 159 f., and idem, "Der wiedergefundene Markusschluss?" Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche, LXVII (1970), pp. 3-13, especially p. 8 f. These are much more updated arguments that recognize the veracity of codices B and א and other modern evidence while still arguing for the originality of the ending
    – Dan
    Sep 23, 2013 at 12:59

I'm late to the game, but I'll take a swing at the bat.

As I read your question, you have brought up two issues:

  1. The manuscript evidence for the longer vs. shorter ending
  2. An appraisal of how the Fathers (esp. Eusebius) approached the issue

Part 1: The Textual evidence

Preface: Understanding the data

  • Give me the manuscripts. One of the huge reasons the longer vs. shorter ending of Mark has been such a thorn in the side for so long is that, compared to the other gospels, we don’t have nearly as many manuscripts. For the other gospels we’ve been finding papyri of various kinds and qualities. But we can’t seem to find papyri for Mark’s gospel.(The only papyri for the gospel of Mark are P45 and P88. And neither of these witnesses preserve the last chapter of Mark. Contrast this with John’s gospel. For John we have various papyri of varying qualities: P52, P90, P66, P75, P45, P95, P106, P107, P108, P109, P119, P121, P5, P39, P22, P28, and 0162.)
  • So, if we’re looking for early evidence for a path to follow, it is missing. From this point on then, the path to follow is difficult. Since it’s not as clear-cut as we would like, this is an area that we need to speak with some humility, knowing that we do not have all the answers we would like.

  • The shorter path: There is a case to be made for the shorter ending. In two well-preserved and well-copied texts Mark ends at 16:8 (“For they were afraid”).(Vaticanus and Sinaiticus)
  • In addition, some non-greek translations of the Greek New Testament don’t include the longer ending. Since we can’t go back to the papyri, these are the earliest sources we can go back to. Those who go with the shorter ending conclude that this is the earliest recoverable reading we can find and that the longer ending was added later by well-intentioned scribes.}

  • The Longer path: There is also a case to be made for the longer ending. It is the most widespread ending across the Mediterranean. It is preserved in some very well-preserved and copied manuscripts.(e.g. Alexandrinus.)
  • What is our "plan B?"

    Since there isn't the sort of evidence we are used to finding in other sets of readings, we are left to fall back on secondary sets of data.

    • The Versions. As mentioned earlier, a very few of the versions include the shorter reading (esp. the Sinaitic Syriac: ”ܘܟܕ ܫܡܥܝ ܢܦܩܝ ܘܐܙܠ ܘܠܐܢܫ ܡܕܡ ܠܐ ܐܡܪ ܡܛܠ ܕܕܚܠܢ ܗܘܝ܀ ܫܠܡ ܐܘܢܓܠܝܘܢ ܕܡܪܩܘܣ܀“ (Mark 16:8 SYRIAC-S)) But, many, many of the other versions include the longer reading. And some of them were copied quite early (e.g. the Curetonian Syriac)

    • The Fathers. The longer ending is cited by many, many church fathers. But, for our purposes, we note that it is also cited very, very early:


    Also, towards the conclusion of his Gospel, Mark says: So then, after the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God; Mark 16:19 confirming what had been spoken by the prophet: The Lord said to my Lord, Sit on My right hand, until I make Your foes Your footstool. Thus God and the Father are truly one and the same; He who was announced by the prophets, and handed down by the true Gospel; whom we Christians worship and love with the whole heart, as the Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things therein.


    Justin Martyr:

    They went out and preached everywhere

    (Apology 1:45)

    With supporting evidence from the Versions (both ancient and widespread) it's hard to quickly dismiss the longer reading. So also, with such early attestation from the fathers (citing the LE as authoritative) it's hard to dismiss the longer ending.

    • Internal Evidence.. Much has been made about the contrast in vocabulary and style in the last verses of the gospel vs. all the preceding verses. There is some merit to the arguments. Considering the fact that so much of both the structure and the vocabulary in those closing verses is different than the rest of the gospel it does make one wonder what is going on. Some have posited that the variation in style seriously weakens the argument that the LE is original. The difficulty, though, is that there isn't the data to have some clarity in one direction or another. One side sides with Sinaiticus and Vaticanus. The other side sides with the other 99% of the manuscripts. For my own part, I side with David Allan Black. One of the principles of Textual Criticism is that the answer should account for the data (or variation of data) we have today. Excluding the two uncials previously mentioned presents a problem. For they are well-copied manuscripts. Discounting all the other data presents a problem too. For, when we have faithfully copied versions and early church father directly (and authoritatively) citing the passages, it's hard to wave a magic wand and make that disappear. The only solution that might account for the data we actually have in front of us is that either a) there were two separate editions of the gospel Acc. to Mark. He wrote one version and then added some concluding words later on. And as a result, there are two, slightly different-length, gospels. This has merit. For, especially in Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, they show signs of 'trimming the text'. Cf. the variant earlier on in Mark (9:29). Note that the longer reading is the better choice there. And that's just one example. So it could be that there were two editions that were faithfully copied. There, then is also option b): Mark hands down to us Peter's gospel (as Eusebius hands down to us from Papias that Mark wrote down Peter's account). But then at the end of "Peter's" gospel, he adds a fitting conclusion. Either of these two options would account for the data we have in front of us today. But I approach this conclusion with much humility. For the data we have here is much less than with the other gospels.

    Part 2: What about Eusebius?


    In the book, Myths and Mistakes in New Testamant Textual Criticism, Andrew Blaski takes up the issue of the use of patristics in determining units of variation in the New Testament.1 I am not providing a critique of his article here. Instead, I’ll be using his article as a springboard to amplify some of the issues he brings up in his article. I’ll then use his article as a basis to test the value of patristics with a specific example. And then finally, I’ll draw together some conclusory thoughts at the end.

    Do we have the New Testament if we only have the fathers?

    In the beginning of his article, Andrew Blaski brings forth some powerful arguments and examples to give us a sober appreciation of the value the fathers have in determining the validity of units of variation in the New Testament. He puts to rest the myth that we can “compile the 36,289 quotations by the early church fathers” and then “reconstruct the entire New Testament minus 11 verses.”2 Tracking the quote down to its source, John William Burgon, Blaski informs us that Kenyon wasn’t convinced since Burgon’s sources were “comparatively uncritical texts of the Fathers.”3 This then presents us with a problem and perplexity: How do we use the early fathers to support readings in the New Testament if the manuscripts are relatively late (in a minuscule hand) and there is not a critical edition for us to work with? Ideally we’d have a critical edition. Even more ideal would be a critical edition with links imbedded in the apparatus ushering us to digital copies of the manuscript online. The sobering perplexity is that maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to cite a father in support of a reading until we actually know he is supporting a reading.

    How do the fathers actually cite sections of the New Testament?

    In his article, Blaski informs us that there have typically been three ways of categorizing citations from the fathers:

    • Citations, which are very close to being word for word with the variant in question

    • Adaptations, which contain perhaps a few words of the reading in the New Testament, but contain the thought.

    • Allusions, which are a much looser reference to the reading.

    These classes of citations are very valuable to us. For they teach us how the fathers actually cited scripture. They are valuable for these reasons:

    • Genre. When we read the fathers we have to ask ourselves what is the context that we are reading? Is it a sermon; a letter, an apologetic or polemic treatise—what is the context and the genre? Some genres do not lend themselves well to being able to find precise wording. And without precise wording we find it hard to figure out if the father can be used as a citation at all. Sermons are perhaps the most perplexing of these categories. As a practitioner of the preaching art, I realize how difficult it would be to people hundreds of years from now to precisely figure out from my words what part of a pericope I was referring to—especially if the purpose was to very narrowly determine the original wording in a text-critical manner. It’s just not the right tool for the work. Determining the genre and context then becomes a huge first task.

    • No Printing Press. At the risk of being too obvious, in the early church there was no printing press. There were no chapters. There were no verses. It’s important then for us to then put ourselves into their shoes. Without having this almost overly-precise way of finding a section of scripture, they were free to refer to a book, or a part of a book in a looser way than we would be used to today.

    • A tradition of citation. There are times that the New Testament authors give very precise citations of the Old Testament.4 It should not surprise us then that the fathers carry on the same sort of pattern. Sometimes they cite words closely. But most of the time they quote a context, drawing on larger parts of scripture than we would be used to. This too makes makes the manner that they quote scripture difficult to shoehorn into the narrow space of New Testament textual criticism.}

    Tertium Non Datum

    As Blaski elucidates, one of the other perplexities of using patristics is that, where we might expect them to take an either/or stance when it comes to variants, if both variants do not vitiate against the content and meaning of a passage, they were content, in their own way, to say, “You are not giving me a third choice. I’ll go with the third choice. I’ll take both readings as being true and valid.”

    This is a massively important truth for us to consider. For it explains seemingly contradictory evidence we see in the apparatus of our greek editions. Take, for example, the longer verses the shorter ending of the gospel according to Mark. How is it that Eusebius can both support the longer and the shorter ending? We’ll set aside this question and come back to it a little later on in this article.

    Transition to an example

    The problem with Burgon, as we looked at earlier, is that no one could verify his sources. If we wanted to make good use of patristics then, what would that look like? We would need a critical edition. And we would need access to the manuscript, preferably with a built-in transcription in the web browser as we find in the VMR.5

    While we cannot have access to these for the vast majority of patristic citations. In recent years we do have on hand a very excellent example of Eusebius. And, for the rest of our time, we’ll have a look at it in some detail. Roger Pearse has provided on his site two wonderful gifts. First, he posted “the text and translation of the remains of Eusebius of Cæsarea’s Gospel Problems and Solutions.”6 This work is a wonder to behold, since it gives us the text of Eusebius’ works as a diglot, with the source text on the left, and the target text, english, on the right. But even better than this, he also provides us with links to the Vatican library so that we can see the actual manuscript and make use of it.7 Although it isn’t the same as having a critical edition, in some ways, it’s better, since we can get our hands on the manuscript itself.8


    What follows is my transcription of the manuscript.9 I included the line breaks so that, if one wanted to go back and have a look at the manuscript, this would provide a head start.


    ⲫⲁⲓⲛⲉⲧⲁⲓⲉⲅⲏⲅⲉⲣⲙⲉⲛⲟⲥⲟⲥⲟⲥⲏⲣ· ⲡⲁⲣⲁⲇⲉⲧⲱ


    Τούτου διττὴ ἂν εἴη ἡ λύσις· ὁ μὲν γὰρ τὸ κεφάλαι

    ον αὐτὸ τὴν τοῦτο φάσκουσαν περικοπὴν ἀθετῶν,

    εἴποι ἂν μὴ ἐν ἅπασιν αὐτὴν φέρεσθαι τοῖς ἀντι

    γράφοις τοῦ κατὰ Μάρκον εὐαγγελίου· τὰ γοῦν

    ἀκριβῆ τῶν ἀντιγράφων τὸ τέλος περιγράφει

    τῆς κατὰ τὸν Μάρκον ἱστορίας ἐν τοῖς λόγοις τοῦ

    ὀφθέντος νεανίσκου ταῖς γυναιξὶ καὶ εἰρηκ

    ότος αὐταῖς, μὴ φοβεῖσθε, Ἰησοῦν ζητεῖτε τὸν ναζα

    ρηνόν, καὶ τοῖς ἑξῆς, οἷς ἐπιλέγει· καὶ ἀκούσασαι

    ἔφυγον, καὶ καὶ τοῖς ἑξῆς, οἷς ἐπιλέγει· καὶ ἀκούσασαι

    ἔφυγον, καὶ οὐδενὶ οὐδὲν εἶπον, ἐφβοῦντο γάρ.

    Εν τούτῳ γὰρ σχεδὸν ἐν ἅπασι τοῖς ἀντιγράφοις

    τοῦ κατὰ Μάρκον εὐαγγελίου περιγέγραπται τὸ

    τέλος· τὰ δὲ ἑξῆς σπανίως ἔν τισιν ἀλλ’ οὐκ ἐν πᾶ

    σι φερόμενα περιττὰ ἂν εἴη, καὶ μάλιστα εἴπερ ἔ

    χοιεν ἀντιλογίαν τῇ τῶν λοιπῶν εὐαγγελιστῶν μαρ

    τυρίᾳ· ταῦτα μὲν οὖν εἴποι ἄν τις παραιτούμενος

    καὶ πάντῃ ἀναιρῶν περιττὸν ἐρώτημα. Ἄλλος δέ

    τις οὐδ’ ὁτιοῦν τολμῶν ἀθετεῖν τῶν ὁπωσοῦν ἐν

    τῇ τῶν εὐαγγελίων γραφῇ φερομένων, διπλὴν

    εἶναί φησι τὴν ἀνάγνωσιν, ὡς καὶ ἐν ἑτέροις πολ

    λοῖς, ἑκατέραν τε παραδεκτέαν ὑπάρχειν, τῷ μὴ

    μᾶλλον10 ταύτην ἐκείνης, ἢ ἐκείνην ταύτης, παρὰ τοῖς

    πιστοῖς καὶ εὐλαβέσιν ἐγκρίνεσθαι.


    David J. D. Miller provides his own ample translation. However, if you would like a slightly alternate rendering, what follows is my own translation:

    Your first question:

    How is it that, on the one hand, in the gospel according to Matthew, it appears that the Savior was raised, “late on the Sabbath,” but, on the other hand, in the gospel according to Luke it says, “early on the first day of the week.”

    The answer to this would have two parts:

    1 On the one hand, the main consideration is the pericope11 this. The one who wants to reject [the longer ending] would say that it is not contained in all the manuscripts of the gospel according to Mark. The accurate12 copies of the gospel according to Mark conclude with the words of the man who appeared to the women and said to them, “Do not be afraid. Jesus the Nazarene, whom you seek.” And later on these manuscripts add, “and when they heard, they fled and did not say anything to anyone. For they were afraid.” For there13 is where nearly all the copies of the gospel according to Mark conclude.

    On the other hand, after this, in some manuscripts (but not in all) whatever there is that might follow would be unneeded, especially if it somehow might contain a contradiction to the testimony of the other evangelists.

    This would be an answer: One would deny it and thus invalidate the details concerning it.

    2 But if another person would not dare to reject in any way what is transmitted in the writings of any of the gospels, that person would say that there are two readings here, as there are in many other passages, and that each of them is to be admitted. It is not for believers to revere and accept this one over that one, or that one over this one.


    Before we evaluate the questions themselves, the context behind the questions is fascinating in its own right. With the question that Marinus writes we see that the primary context is not of a text-critical nature. Instead, it’s of a chronological nature. But Eusebius does address the question from a text critical perspective in passing.

    First, he mentions that the longer reading “alleges” that Jesus rose on the first day of the Sabbath.14 The verb that Eusebius uses here is not a common one. In NT usage it often introduces a heavy element of doubt.15 Eusebius does not prefer the longer ending. And he’s not at all subtle about letting Marinus know about it.

    Second, he gives his evidence. And his evidence has two parts. First, he mentions that the accurate copies conclude with the shorter ending. Today we hear the canon that manuscripts need to be weighed, not just counted. Here we see Eusebius doing the same in his own time. The second piece of evidence is that nearly all the copies of Mark conclude with the shorter ending. Evidently in Eusebius’ day, it was the direct opposite of what we see today. At least in Cæsarea, nearly all the manuscripts contained the shorter ending.

    Third, he mentions the word, “if.” As one reads his first answer, it is frustrating to see his almost clinical detachment to the issue. He does not speak in the indicative. Instead, he speaks in the optative mood, casting the entire discussion in the category of an aloof, esoteric conversation that seemingly has little consequence. He is definitely not speaking with firmly-held conviction.

    Finally, If his somewhat aloof first answer to Marinus leaves us perplexed, then will his second answer help us? Maybe it might. But it probably will not. For he follows the pattern the fathers have that if there are two readings that do not contradict and conflict with each other, then we receive both.16 The problem though, is that he has already written that what follows after vs. 8 is unneeded, since “it might contain a contradiction to the testimony of the other evangelists.”

    But if we do follow Eusebius here in his second answer, that we receive both readings, what does this mean for the pursuit of attaining an initial text? At the very least, if we follow Eusebius here and receive both readings we are now pursuing initial texts, not one initial text. Note what Eusebius asserts in his second answer: We receive both readings. And there is no scenario for Eusebius where the longer ending is the only one. The conversation has changed at this point. Instead of arguing that the gospel according to Mark ends with a shorter reading or with a longer reading, Eusebius asserts that we should receive both. As one exemplar we might choose Vaticanus. For this codex has shorter readings all throughout. And as an exemplar on the longer side we might pick up Alexandrinus. In this continuous text not only is there a seemless flow from the shorter ending to the longer one, there is also contained all throughout the codex slightly longer readings.17 Do these exemplars contain two separate editions—one being slightly longer than the other, but the doctrine unchanged in both? Do we have a possible New Testament example of what we find in the state of the text handed down to us in Jeremiah? In the manuscripts in Jeremiah we might have not one, but two editions.18 These sorts of examples are quite rare. But if we are willing to admit that there might be two editions of Jeremiah, it would be wise to consider the possibility of pursuing not one, but two editions of Mark—even if they only differ from each other slightly. These are the issues we must wrestle with if we take Eusebius' second answer seriously.

    What sort of witness then is Eusebius? Can we put him in the shorter ending column? Or can we put him in the longer ending column? What he seems to be saying is that, from his evidence and study, the shorter ending is the accurate one. But he is willing to hear more evidence, even if it conflicts with his own conclusions. How does one list this in an apparatus? Do we list him as a witness for both as the UBS apparatus does? Do we list him as a witness for the shorter reading, since he gives reasons and evidence for preferring the shorter reading? And if we do this, do we add some sort of tag or asterisk? Maybe we could put a vid[etur] tag next to his name, not because the his text is uncertain, but instead what he is doing with his text is uncertain. Maybe we factor him out entirely. Since, if he cannot take a stand on either side of the issue, what use is he as a witness?

    A Further discussion about Fathers

    Once we step outside the NT manuscripts and start reading the fathers there are difficulties that confront us. There are text-critical issues. There are contextual issues. There are exegetical issues. This is not easy work. One of the pitfalls of this sort of work can be seen in working with the works of a church father closer to our own time. Martin Luther is quoted often. But how often is he quoted correctly? Confessional Lutheran pastors take their “quia” subscription to the book of Concord and the writings of Luther that it contains. They subscribe to them because they are a correct reflection of what God says in his word. But no Confessional Lutheran pastor takes his quia subscription on Luther’s Table talks. For these were not recorded carefully. And the context in them is often difficult to determine even when we can determine that Luther spoke the words.19

    So the question before us then, is Eusebius speaking here in an authoritative context, like Luther in his Smalcald Articles? Or is he speaking in a less-formal, conversational, rough-draft format (like Luther’s Table Talk)? As one looks at the context in his letter to Marinus, it seems like the latter is the more accurate choice.


    There are perplexities in dealing with patristics. Before we make use of them we need to engage with text-criticism, exegesis, and finally a study of the context. As we make use of them, they only become usable when we have a critical edition and access to images of the manuscripts. But even after this, it might become challenging since the fathers were content to cling to more than one reading if it didn’t contradict scripture. And even more perplexing, as one reads Eusebius, one wonders to what extent we should use him as a witness at all. It becomes too much of a temptation to unjustly make Eusebius a champion of either the longer ending or the shorter ending. One begins to wonder if the approach taken by the Tyndale House is the best one:

    The books that constitute the Greek New Testament have a rich body of evidence behind them. Parts of these texts are attested in Greek manuscripts from as early as the second century AD, and significant witnesses come from every century thereafter until the sixteenth century, when printing had substantially displaced manuscripts as the way to transmit the biblical text.20

    Until there is a body of manuscripts from the fathers that can be accessed in a critical edition with links to images, the better approach might be to side-step them as primary witnesses (and maybe even secondary witnesses in some examples) until their body of evidence becomes more robust.

    1 Andrew Blaski, “Myths about Patristics,” Myths and Mistakes in new Testament Textual Criticism. (Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426: Intervarsity Press, 2019), pp. 228-252.

    2 p. 229.

    3 For more background on Burgon’s use of patristics, cf. Mark H. Heuer, “An Evaluation Of John W. Burgon’s Use Of Patristic Evidence.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 38, no. 4 (December 1995): 530.

    4 e.g. Matthew 1:23. In this verse, other than where the 3fs “וְקָרָ֥את” is changed to the 3rd plural, “ⲕⲁⲗⲉⲥⲟⲩⲥⲓⲛ”, the citation is precise. But there are times the New Testament authors quote a context. e.g. Matthew 2:15

    5 https://ntvmr.uni-muenster.de

    6 https://www.roger-pearse.com/weblog/2015/12/12/eusebius-of-caesarea-gospel-problems-and-solutions-now-online-in-english/

    7 https://www.roger-pearse.com/weblog/2016/04/12/manuscript-of-eusebius-quaestiones-ad-stephanummarinum-now-online/

    8 ...figuratively speaking.

    9 My thanks to David J. D. Miller for translating this work and giving me a head start in my appraisal of the text.

    10 Here the manuscript seems to read, “ἄλλον ταυτη εκεινης. η εκεινην παρα τοις.”

    11 The longer ending that alleges φάσκουσαν

    12 τὰ ἀκριβῆ

    13 ἐν τούτῳ, referring to the shorter ending.

    14 “Αναστὰς δὲ πρωῒ πρώτῃ σαββάτου” (Μάρκον 16·9 THGNT-T)

    15 Cf. Acts 24:9; 25:19; Romans 1:22

    16 As one example among so very many, one could look at 2 Thessalonians 2:3, where, with equal weight and evidence, we have the option of either, ὁ ἄνθρωπος τῆς ἀνομίας or ὁ ἄνθρωπος τῆς ἁμαρτίας . A different word. But neither changes the meaning.

    17 For examples, one can look at the units of variation in these verses: Mark 7:4; 7:15; 9:44,46; 11:26

    18 As an example of the state of the text in Jeremiah, Prof. Phetsanghane’s article is a worthy contribution to the conversation: https://www.academia.edu/11768627

    19 Cf. John Brug’s Excellent article: https://essays.wls.wels.net/handle/123456789/4127

    20 Dirk Jongkind et al., eds. The Greek New Testament. Accordance electronic ed. (Wheaton and Cambridge: Crossway and Cambridge Univerity Press, 2017), paragraph 63.

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