The Genuineness of Mark 16:9-20

by Dudley Ross Spears

The last verses from Mark’s gospel, (Mark 16:9-20) have been called “The Longer Ending of Mark.” The first time I came across this criticism it was in response to quoting verses 15 and 16. Mark 16:16 affirms, “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believes not shall be condemned.” The statement is so plain, the only way to avoid its force is to discredit it. Nothing is more clearly taught in the New Testament than the absolute necessity of a believer being baptized to be saved.

In addition to the criticism that seeks to avoid the strength of verse 16 regarding the necessity of baptism, other critics have offered their reasons for rejecting the “Longer Ending.” Probably the two more important persons who rejected it are Eusebius and Jerome.

Eusebius was one of the greatest minds of his day. He participated in the famous Council of Nicea (325 AD) and attempted to shelter a man named Arius from severe persecution. Arius agitated the question of the deity of Jesus for years. He did not believe Jesus was God manifest in a fleshly body. In his rejection of the final verses of Mark 16, he also rejected Mark’s account of the ascension. Both of these prominent figures of the past were successful in establishing what history has called “The Arian Heresy.”

There are things one ought to consider before discarding the debated passage.

  1. No known or reputable scholar has disputed the accuracy of what Mark 16:9-20 teaches. Many do not believe it, but that is interpretation, not valid textual criticism.
  2. The same group does not dispute the fact that Mark’s gospel did not end at verse 8 of the chapter.
  3. All understand quite well that all the substantive facts in the passage are in harmony with other passages about which there is no question.

Ancient Manuscripts

Among the major manuscripts from which the New Testament is translated two major ones do not include Mark 16:9-20. English translations based on such manuscripts either put a space after verse 8, or a footnote stating the fact that some of the oldest manuscripts do not contain the verses. Two of the oldest manuscripts are Sinaiticus and Vaticanus. Both of these appear to be fourth-century manuscripts of the New Testament. Codex Regius, an eighth-century manuscript. It also omits the last verses of Mark’s gospel. Out of all the great manuscripts, only Sinaiticus and Vaticanus omit verses 9-20 altogether.

Even though the Vaticanus omits the verses, it leaves space at the end of Mark’s gospel for an ending. The great German scholar, Lobegott Frederick Constantine Tischendorf held that both ancient manuscripts were from the same pen. Other accepted manuscripts such as the Codex Alexandrinus of the fifth century include the disputed passage. The fact that the older manuscripts leave space for an ending to the Gospel indicates the scribes knew it was incomplete. Other manuscripts contain the ending making the Gospel whole and complete.

Through the centuries the New Testament has been translated over and again into many dialects and languages. We have a great abundance of translations or versions of the Bible. It is a fact that nearly every version into which the New Testament has been translated contains the ending of Mark 16:9-20.

Earliest Christian Writers

A large number of men, who lived during the lifetime of those guided directly by the Holy Spirit to compose and record the New Testament, are witnesses to the genuineness of Mark 16:9-20. They were students who followed the apostles from place to place, listening to them as they revealed God’s will. Many of them took copious notes; quoted the words they heard; wrote commentaries and dissertations on what they heard. We call these the “Church Fathers.”

Among the earliest writers, the passage under consideration was quoted or alluded to without question. Their writings date back to as early as 70 AD. Some of them are The Epistle of Barnabas, Papias, Justin Martyr, and the Shepherd of Hermes. Justin Martyr made no less than four direct references to the passage.

Between 150 and 200 AD, Irenaeus and Tatian used the passage as a genuine part of divine revelation. One named Dionysius of Alexandria, Egypt, and a companion, Hippolytus, mention the passage as if it was genuine. Only Jerome, who put the Latin Vulgate together considered it not genuine. Jerome was obviously not so sure about it because he included it in the Vulgate.


Some critics reject the section because of a perceived difference in style in the close of Mark 16 and previous words. Henry Alford, a brilliant commentator, rejected it because he claimed there were twenty-one words and expressions not found anywhere else in the Gospel of Mark. In response to that claim, others have shown clearly the fallacy of that idea. J.A. Broadus showed that in the twelve verses prior to the disputed passage there are seventeen words never used before by Mark.

Brother J.W. McGarvey showed the same regarding the conclusion of Luke’s Gospel. He found nine words that the writer had never used before, four of them not found anywhere in the New Testament. If one rejects the disputed passage on the basis of style, why not reject the last section of Luke?

No one needs to doubt the authenticity and genuineness of the passage in Mark. They are just as much a part of divine revelation as all the previous verses in the Gospel record.

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