The Unanswered Dean John William Burgon (1813-1888) on the Last Twelve Verses of the Gospel of Mark

        The following is a brief excerpt of Dean Burgon’s 400 page defense of the authenticity of the long ending of the Gospel of Mark. This section is near the end of his erudite apologetic. 

It being freely admitted that, in the beginning of the 4th century, there must have existed Copies of the Gospels in which the last chapter of S. Mark extended no further than ver. 8, the Question arises, — How is this phenomenon to be accounted for? The problem is not only highly interesting and strictly legitimate, but it is even inevitable. In the immediately preceding chapter, I have endeavored to solve it, and I believe in a wholly unsuspected way.

But the most recent Editors of the text of the New Testament, declining to entertain as much as the possibility that certain copies of the second Gospel had experienced mutilation in very early times in respect of these Twelve concluding Verses, have chosen to occupy themselves rather with conjectures as to how it may have happened that S. Mark’s Gospel was without a conclusion from the very first. Persuaded that no more probable account is given to the phenomenon that that the Evangelist himself put forth a Gospel which (some unexplained reason) terminated abruptly at the words efobounto gar (chap. 16:8), –they have unhappily seen fit to illustrate the liveliness of this conviction of theirs, by presenting the world with his Gospel mutilated in this particular way. Practically, therefore, the question has been reduced to the following single issue:– Whether of the two suppositions which follow is more reasonable:

First, –That the Gospel according to S. Mark, as it left the hands of the inspired Author, was in this imperfect or unfinished state: ending abruptly at (what we call now) the 8th verse of the last chapter:–of which solemn circumstance, at the end of eighteen centuries, Cod. B and Cod. Aleph are the alone surviving Manuscript witneses? Or,

Secondly, –That certain copies of S. Mark’s Gospel, having suffered mutilation in respect to their Twelve concluding Verses in the post-Apostolic age, Cod. B and Cod. Aleph are the only examples of MSS. so mutilated which are known to exist at the present day?

  1. Editors who adopt the former hypothesis, are observed (a) to sever the Verses in question from their content:[1] (b) in introduce after ver. 8, the subscription “KATA MAPKON”[2] — (c) to shut up verse 9-20 within brackets.[3] Regarding them as “no integral part of the Gospels,”[4] – “as an authentic anonymous addition to what Mark himself wrote down,”[5]—  a ”remarkable Fragment,” placed as a completion of the Gospel in very early times”;[6] —  they consider themselves at liberty to go on to suggest that “the Evangelist may have been interrupted in his work:” at any rate, that “something may have occurred, (as a result of the death of S. Peter), to cause him to leave it unfinished.”[7] But “the most probable supposition “ (we are assured) “is that the last leaf of the original Gospel was torn away.[8]

            We listened with astonishment, contenting ourselves with modestly suggesting that surely it will be time to conjecture why S. Marks’ Gospel was left by its Divinely inspired Author in an unfinished state, when the fact has been established that it was probably so left. In the meantime, we request to be furnished with some evidence of that fact.

            But not a particle of Evidence is forthcoming. It is not even pretended any such evidence exists. Instead, we are magisterially informed by “the first Biblical Critic in Europe,” – (I desire to speak of him with gratitude and respect, but S. Mark’s Gospel is a great deal more precious to me that Dr. Tischendorf’s reputation), –that “a healthy piety reclaims against the endeavors of those who are for palming off as Mark’s what the Evangelist is so plainly shown [where?] to have known nothing at all about.[9] In the meanwhile, it is assumed to be a more reasonable supposition, — (a) That S. Mark published an imperfect Gospel; and that the Twelve Verses with which his Gospel concludes were the fabrication of a subsequent age; than, –(b) That some ancient Scribe having with design or by accident left out these Twelve concluding Verses, copies of the second Gospel so mutilated became multiplies, and in the beginning of the 4th century existed in considerable numbers.

            And yet it is notorious that very soon after the Apostolic age, liberties precisely of this kind were freely taken with the text of the New Testament. Origen (A.D. 185-254) complains of the licentious tampering with the Scriptures which prevailed in his day. “men add to them,” (he says) “or leave out, –as seems good to themselves.”[10] Dionysius of Corinth, yet earlier, (A.D. 168-176) remarks that it was no wonder his own writings were added to and taken from, seeing that men presumed to deprave the Word of God in the same manner.[11] Irenaeus, his contemporary, (living within seventy years of S. John’s death), complains of a corrupted Text.[12] We are able to go back yet half a century, and the depravations of Holy Writ become avowed and flagrant.[13] A competent authority has declared it “no less true to fact than paradoxical in sound, that the worst corruptions of the New Testament has been ever subjected originated within a hundred years after it was composed.”[14] Above all, it is demonstratable that Cod. B. and Cod. Aleph abound in unwarranted omissions very like the present,[15] omissions which only do not provoke the same amount of attention because they are of less moment. One such extraordinary depravation of the Text, in which they also stand alone among MSS and to which their patrons are observed to appeal with triumphant complacency, has already been made the subject of distinct investigation. I am much mistaken if it has not yet been shown in my 7yj chapter, that the omission of the words en Efesw from Ephesians 1:1, is just as unauthorized, — quite as serious blemish,–as the suppression of S. Mark 16:9-20.

John W. Burgon, The Last Twelve Verses of the Gospel According to S. Mark (Erlanger, KY: Faith and Facts Press, nd, 1871), 323-326


            [1] Tischendorf, Tregelles, Alford

            [2] Tregelles, Alford

            [3] Alford

            [4] “Haec non Marco scrita esse argumentis probatur idoneis.” [“These things are not written by Mark, is proven by appropriate argument”]– See the rest of Tischendorf’s verdict, supra, p. 10; and opposite, p. 245.

            [5] Tregelles, Account of the Printed Text, 259.

            [6] Alford, New Testament, vol. 1, Prolegomena, [p. 38] and p. 437.

            .[7] So Norton, Tregelles, and others.

            [8] This suggestion, which was originally Griesbach’s, is found in Alford’s New Testament, vol. 1. 433 (ed. 1868). –See above , p. 12. The italics are not mine.

            [9] Vide supra, 10.

            [10] Opp. Vol 3, 671.

            [11] Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 4, 23. Consider Rev. 22:18, 19.

            [12] Note the remarkable adjuration of Irenaeus, Opp. 1, 821, preserved by Eusebius, lib. v. 20, — See Scrivener’s Introduction, 383-384. Consider the attestations at the end of the account of Polycarp’s martyrdom, P.P. App. 2, 614-616.

            [13] Allusion is made to the Gnostics Basilides and Valentinus, especially to the work of Marcion.

            [14] Scrivener, Introduction, 381-391.

            [15] See Chapter 6.

Published by Dr. Peter Van Kleeck, Sr.

Dr. Peter William Van Kleeck, Sr. : B.A., Grand Rapids Baptist College, 1986; M.A.R., Westminster Theological Seminary, 1990; Th.M., Calvin Theological Seminary, 1998; D. Min, Bob Jones University, 2013. Dr. Van Kleeck was formerly the Director of the Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, Grand Rapids, MI, (1990-1994) lecturing, researching and writing in the defense of the Masoretic Hebrew text, Greek Received Text and King James Bible. His published works include, "Fundamentalism’s Folly?: A Bible Version Debate Case Study" (Grand Rapids: Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, 1998); “We have seen the future and we are not in it,” Trinity Review, (Mar. 99); “Andrew Willet (1562-1621: Reformed Interpretation of Scripture,” The Banner of Truth, (Mar. 99); "A Primer for the Public Preaching of the Song of Songs" (Outskirts Press, 2015). Dr. Van Kleeck is the pastor of the Providence Baptist Church in Manassas, VA where he has ministered for the past twenty-one years. He is married to his wife of 43 years, Annette, and has three married sons, one daughter and eighteen grandchildren.

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