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Mark 16:8 seems much too abrupt for an ending to the Gospel of Mark. The textual evidence indicates that none of the four endings we now have after Mark 16:8 are original, in other words the original ending was lost. The ending may have broken of the scroll and been lost. For no variation to be authentic would imply that the original lost its ending before being copied. Does this indicate that the Gospel of Mark was early enough that its recipients did not realize the significance of its record to start making copies of it before it started to wear out?

Note: This question does not address the debate over the textual criticism results that has been addressed in Is the ending of the Gospel of Mark (16:9-20) original?.

Appendix: Bruce Metzger's textual commentary

   16:9–20      The Ending(s) of Mark

Four endings of the Gospel according to Mark are current in the manuscripts. (1) The last twelve verses of the commonly received text of Mark are absent from the two oldest Greek manuscripts (א and B), from the Old Latin codex Bobiensis (itk), the Sinaitic Syriac manuscript, about one hundred Armenian manuscripts, and the two oldest Georgian manuscripts (written A.D. 897 and A.D. 913). Clement of Alexandria and Origen show no knowledge of the existence of these verses; furthermore Eusebius and Jerome attest that the passage was absent from almost all Greek copies of Mark known to them. The original form of the Eusebian sections (drawn up by Ammonius) makes no provision for numbering sections of the text after 16:8. Not a few manuscripts that contain the passage have scribal notes stating that older Greek copies lack it, and in other witnesses the passage is marked with asterisks or obeli, the conventional signs used by copyists to indicate a spurious addition to a document.... -- Metzger, B. M., United Bible Societies. (1994). A textual commentary on the Greek New Testament, second edition a companion volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (4th rev. ed.) (pp. 102–103). United Bible Societies.

This is only the first part of Metzger's commentary on this subject, is much longer.

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    I don't see that this is a duplicate question about textual criticism -- rather, it is asking about the implications the textual criticism has for dating & the Synoptic Problem. Apr 30, 2023 at 3:36
  • Does this answer your question? Is the ending of the Gospel of Mark (16:9-20) original?
    – Michael16
    Apr 30, 2023 at 6:30
  • Not only it's duplicate on the longer ending. It's based on the presupposition that that the the longer ending was lost, and thus asking about how early the book must be that churches didn't care about copying it that much that the ending was lost in time. It is highly opinion based duplicate question.
    – Michael16
    Apr 30, 2023 at 6:34
  • Since I presuppose the ending was lost, how can this be a duplicate question asking was it lost? In fact, I reference the textual criticism question in the question as originally asked and state this is not a question debating the textual criticism. You reference the question does the ask when I already posted the link to that question in my original post stating I wasn't asking that.
    – Perry Webb
    Apr 30, 2023 at 10:18
  • Yes I noticed that, and then flagged it as opinion based. It's not duplicate but opinion based. There's hardly a question in the topic. You seem to seek affirmations to your narrow and baseless presupposition opinion. There's no basis of evidence, hermeneutics and reason applicable here but only imagination, guess work, which is unhelpful and unproductive.
    – Michael16
    May 1, 2023 at 6:33

2 Answers 2

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For sake of responding to the question as posed, this post will adopt the premise that the original ending of Mark's Gospel has been lost. A more extensive discussion of evidence for and against this premise (as well as a discussion of competing theories), is presented here: The Ending of the Gospel of Mark. 1



3 possibilities

If the original ending of Mark's Gospel has been lost, there appear to be 3 possibilities regarding Mark's relation to the other Synoptic Gospels:

A. Mark came first, and the original ending was lost after at least 1 of the other Synoptics was written

B. Mark came first, and the original ending was lost before the other Synoptic Gospels were written

C. Mark did not come first

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Provenance of the Gospels

This information will be of value to the discussion insofar as it indicates that the Synoptic Gospels were published in distinct and distant parts of the Roman Empire.

Matthew: Matthew's Gospel is written to an audience that is expected to have detailed cultural understanding of the Judaism of the time & place where Jesus lived. This restricts the geographic origin of Matthew to a relatively narrow part of the Eastern Mediterranean, from approx. Judea in the south to Syria in the north. (see the section "What audience is assumed by the authors?" in this post)

Mark: All early sources place Mark's origin in or near Rome. There is no competing historical evidence.

Luke: All early sources place Luke's origin in the Pauline mission, and several early sources suggest it was published in Greece.

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Possibility A

Mark came first, and the original ending was lost after at least 1 of the other Synoptics was written

If this happened, then in order to have been used as a source for Matthew and/or Luke, the Gospel of Mark had already achieved a geographically significant circulation prior to the loss of the original ending. This would require that the lost ending disappeared from multiple geographically dispersed manuscripts representing, in the language of textual criticism, multiple manuscript families.

The odds of this occurring by accident are prohibitively low. In order for this to have occurred on purpose (somebody painstakingly purged the ending from manuscripts spread across the Mediterranean) a degree of centralized control that did not exist in the early church would have been needed. By the 4th century, when the church did have greater centralized authority, the Gospel of Mark had been in circulation for ~3 centuries across an immense geography, and it would not have been possible to conduct an Orwellian edit to remove the ending of all manuscripts in existence in every language.

I will have to conclude that possibility A is false.

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Possibility B

Mark came first, and the original ending was lost before the other Synoptic Gospels were written

This case offers the more plausible scenario wherein the ending was lost very shortly after Mark was published--the Occam's Razor hypothesis being that the ending was lost on the original manuscript before any complete copy had been made. In this case, Matthew & Luke recognized a fundamental part of the story was missing from their source (Mark), and composed their post-resurrection narratives from other material available to them.

From a strictly historical viewpoint, there is no clear reason why this couldn't have happened; however, the OP asks Does this indicate that the Gospel of Mark was early enough that its recipients did not realize the significance of its record to start making copies of it before it started to wear out?

I suggest at least 4 reasons why the answer to this question is no.

  • Mark is a missionary tract--it is written to present the Christian message to an audience who does not know who Jesus is. The Christian movement grew geographically so fast that one copy of the Gospel of Mark would have been woefully impractical (unless a more extensive account, such as Matthew & Luke, were already available -- but in that case Matthew and/or Luke were written before the ending was lost, and possibility B is false)
  • Two opposing claims must be maintained at the same time: a) For many years the Gospel of Mark existed only in a single copy, published in Rome, and available to a very limited audience & b) the Gospel of Mark was so widely disseminated that it would be the principal source used by Gospels published across the Mediterranean.
  • If the ending of Mark's Gospel was lost because the scroll was so heavily used, then why couldn't those who had so heavily loved & used the scroll rewrite the ending from memory?
  • Clement of Alexandria traces the origin of the Gospel of Mark in some detail, and from his account the early recipients of the Gospel of Mark very much did recognize the importance of this material. Prominent Romans are reported to have literally begged for Mark to make a written account of the preaching they had heard (see Historia Ecclesiastica 2.15.1). Clement is one of the best positioned scholars in history to know the history of this Gospel. For those who wish to discard Clement's information or disparage his credibility, this post may be of interest.

While I don't see that a lost ending of Mark is necessarily inconsistent with Markan Priority, I do not see how it supports Markan Priority either.

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Possibility C

Mark did not come first

In this case, the answer to the OP's inquiry would be a simple "no", and Mark, presumably familiar with Matthew and/or Luke, wrote a shorter Gospel which was later damaged. If Mark was written later than Matthew and/or Luke, it is perhaps easier to see why the truncated ending of Mark would be less devastating (and therefore less in need of urgent correction), since the audience would have already had a more complete account of Easter from the other Gospels.

Mark's Gospel is the least-quoted--by far--of the 4 Gospels among 2nd, 3rd, and 4th generation Christians, suggesting that it was less prominent and less used in the early church. This would make it easier for the ending to go missing. But such lack of prominence is much easier to explain if 1 or more Gospels preceded Mark than if Mark was the primary source for the life of the central figure of Christianity.

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A Relevant Synoptic Problem Argument

Sometimes the abrupt ending of Mark is used as direct evidence for Markan Priority. (how could Mark, if he knew Matthew and/or Luke, choose to leave out almost all of the Easter account?).

I offer an extended response to this question here.

But, if the original ending of Mark's Gospel has been lost, this argument loses all force. We would no longer be able to claim that Mark left out this material. In fact, no textual comparison between the ending of Mark and the ending of Matthew/Luke could be made at all, since (on this hypothesis) we do not even have the relevant text of Mark.

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Conclusion

The hypothesis that the original ending of Mark's Gospel has been lost undoes one popular argument for the Priority of Mark, but there are other arguments for Markan Priority and a lost ending is not inconsistent with the possibility that Mark wrote first.

The hypothesis that the original ending of Mark's Gospel has been lost is also consistent with the possibility that Mark was not the earliest Gospel written. That the church could lose such an important Easter text is, in my view, easier to explain if Mark were not the primary source, but was written after Matthew or Luke had already been published.



Related questions:

1 - Disclaimer - this is a link to my own work on the subject

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    I've been aware of your in depth work on the "synoptics" for sometime now. You, of all posters here, should be best suited to answer the OP's question. And, your "YouTube" videos on the "synoptics", as to the likes of content; meaning; audience and priority leave little more to be desired. Very well done. A definite upvote from me. Apr 30, 2023 at 16:56
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I am not sure this is going to answer your question because we have very little data on which to base even an opinion. That is, the question is about what we do not know rather than what we do know. So let me offer some very general remarks.

Any theology of divine inspiration of the holy Scriptures must include a portion that suggests that God would miraculously preserve what He wants to be preserved. Put another way, if God did not preserve something for the whole Christian church, then He did not need us to know about it.

[Caveat: This is not to suggest that some NT prophets who gave non-preserved local messages intended to be local and not for the rest of the church, were not inspired as much as, say, Paul. All this means that such local inspired messages were intended for the local audience and little else and did not need to be preserved.]

For example, it is difficult to say that some documents are inspired if they were never preserved for the Christian Church to read and receive divine instruction from. Such documents include:

  • the books of Enoch - lost for over 1500 yeas and now (especially 1 Enoch) rather scrambled and the only copy we have is not in the original language
  • the book of Jasher - the only copy we now have is almost certainly fraudulent
  • the book of Mormon - the original document is "unavailable" and its actual text is also "unavailable"

The same is true of Mark and its ending. If the copies we now have are likely fraudulent (ie, pseudepigraphons), then I would simply suggest one of two things:

  • Either Mark really does end suddenly (as does Acts), or,
  • God did not wish to have the original ending preserved and various pious authors wanted to provide a "nicer" ending.

Thus, I do not subscribe to the idea that the copies of Mark were made before it was regarded as divinely inspired because it would not have been copied at all. Indeed, the earliest copy of a complete Matthew is from 350 (as with Mark also) from the Codex Sinaiticus. All earlier copies lack the final sections of Matthew but in those cases, we do not suggest anything similar.

The difference between the endings of Matthew and Mark is that the endings of Matthew are uniform while those of Mark are not. All this may suggest that Mark really did end suddenly.

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  • In contrast is the ending to the Gospel of John. John 20:30-31 appears to be the conclusion to John's Gospel. Chapter 21 appears to be an appendix John added to state verse 23 then he adds another conclusion. That's the human factor, but it's God's sovereignty that the message in chapter 21 was preserved for us.
    – Perry Webb
    Apr 30, 2023 at 0:19
  • I agree with you, and God's inspiration works together with God's sovereignty and human actions. Probably the best we can say is the missing ending is consistent with an early date for Mark, but all we can say for sure is for some reason God didn't preserve it.
    – Perry Webb
    Apr 30, 2023 at 0:21
  • It is unclear how this answer responds to the question regarding the priority of Mark? Apr 30, 2023 at 1:35
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    @HoldToTheRod - it is an attempt to show that the sudden ending is probably what God intended. If God had wanted some other ending, God would have preserved it.
    – Dottard
    Apr 30, 2023 at 3:00

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