Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Evangelism is Ill-Served by Mark 16:15

The cure for faulty doctrine is reason and sound exegesis.

Detail of the idiosyncratic 5c uncial Codex Bezae. The word highlighted
is GAR ("for"), the final word in v. 8.

I want to talk about a recent email that I received from Crossway books—Crossway is the publisher of the ESV, the English Standard Version of the Bible—and I’m on one of their generic mailing lists for some reason. Anyway, this latest email was just an update on the four most recent posts on their blog, all of which shared the common theme of evangelism. The second post on the list was called "7 Tips for Sharing the Gospel with Teens," by Jaquelle Crowe.

Ms Crowe’s brief bio states:
Jaquelle Crowe (BA, Thomas Edison State University) is a young writer from eastern Canada. She’s the lead writer and editor in chief of TheRebelution.com and a contributor to the Gospel Coalition, desiringGod.org, and Unlocking the Bible. Her first book is This Changes Everything: How the Gospel Transforms the Teen Years.

Here's the sentence excerpted from her post that caught my eye in the email:
All Christians are commanded to share the gospel—including us young ones (Mark 16:15).
Now, if we go to that verse in Crossway’s own ESV, we will see that the immediate context is that of the risen Jesus speaking to his disciples:
And he said to them, "Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation."
So, you can see why she referenced that verse, but can you also see why that statement backed-up with that reference threw up a little red flag for me?

Well, here’s the problem. If you take a look on the same page in the ESV, between vv 8 & 9, you will see the following uppercase editorial notation in square brackets:

Notice that verse 9 on that detail is placed in double square brackets.

The footnote of this notation reads:
Some manuscripts end the book with 16:8; others include verses 9-20 immediately after verse 8. At least one manuscript inserts additional material after verse 14; some manuscripts include after verse 8 the following: But they reported briefly to Peter and those with him all that they had been told. And after this, Jesus himself sent out by means of them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation. These manuscripts then continue with verses 9-20.
Looks like there are a few text-critical issues regarding all the verses after 16:8.

Well, whenever I come across an issue related to the NT manuscripts, my first port of call is the great textual critic Dr Bruce Metzger’s invaluable guide to the significant variants in the Greek text, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. In Metzger’s book, there is a lengthy discussion of the text-critical circumstances that prompted that note in the ESV, which he sums up this way on page 105:
Thus, on the basis of good external evidence and strong internal considerations it appears that the earliest ascertainable form of the Gospel of Mark ended with 16:8.
So, in short, it would appear that everything after v. 8 written in the extant manuscripts is not original to the Gospel of Mark.

The text of Mark 16:9-20 is referred to by Bible scholars as the “Longer Ending”. There are actually 4 quite different endings (one of which is translated for us by the ESV above), but this longer ending is the one that found its way into the Latin Vulgate and Erasmus’ 1519 Greek NT. From there it made its way into the Textus Receptus and then, finally, into the Authorised Version of 1611 (or, if you prefer, the KJV); which is why we are all so familiar with it.

Now, on page 522 of the 1993 United Bible Societies translators’ A Handbook on the Gospel of Mark, Robert Bratcher and Eugene Nida (yes, that’s the same Eugene Nida of Louw & Nida Lexicon fame) write the following:
It is not difficult, however, to recognize vv. 9–20 as a later addition to the (incomplete) Gospel of Mark which … contributes nothing to the Church’s knowledge of her Lord, and … represents him as speaking in a manner completely foreign to his character, as revealed in the canonical Gospels. The Longer Ending may indeed, as Hort concluded, be founded on some tradition of the apostolic age; however, as he said, “it manifestly cannot claim any apostolic authority”.
There are a couple of things of note in that quote. First, the reason they mention “unfinished” is because, in the original Greek, v. 8 ends with a preposition (gar, meaning “for”), which does indicate, as it would in English, that there is supposed to be more text to follow. Since it seems highly unlikely that Mark would end his Gospel in such an unusual and unsatisfying way, it is nearly universally accepted that the autograph had a more typical ending—but, of course, in the absence of proof that it did, this isn't a certainty, so they put the word “unfinished” in brackets.

Notice also that Bratcher and Nida are saying that these eleven verses not only contribute nothing to our knowledge of Jesus, they have him speaking in a way that is “completely foreign” to Mark and the other Gospels; both strong internal evidence against them being original.

Note also that Hort is said to have placed these verses in the “apostolic age.” Metzger agrees, they are a very early addition, possibly second century. But their age, while it does bestow upon them a certain level of importance to church historians and textual critics, does not confer on them “any apostolic authority.”

Bratcher and Nida sum up:
It would be highly precarious, at the least, for the Church to base her understanding of the events of the post-resurrection period of her Lord’s ministry upon such a document as the Longer Ending.
The final resource I want to cite here is James Brooks’ NAC commentary on Mark. Here the author writes, again in all uppercase and in square brackets:
This is followed by an English translation of the verse with, significantly, no further commentary.

Yes, the text of Mark 16:8 is a very unsatisfying ending and the urge to “supply a more appropriate” one is understandable, but the simple truth of the matter is that all of the extant material after 16:8 is not original to Mark’s Gospel. This means that Mark 16:15 is NOT Scripture, NOT a reliable witness as to the wishes of the Lord regarding evangelism.

So, regardless of what you think of the doctrine of the Great Commission (and I, personally, have a number of reservations about it, which I’ll discuss in a later post), it is long past time for teachers and preachers to stop using Mark 16:15 to lend authority to their concept of it.

And to Ms Crowe and those misguided by her, Jesus did not command all Christians to share the Gospel according to Mark 16:15 ... because there is no Mark 16:15.

Take care & God bless!

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