Dean John William Burgon on 2nd-5th Century Testimony to Mark 16:9-20

Codex Alexandrinus. 5th c

“II. That, at some period subsequent to the time of the Evangelist, certain copies of S. Mark’s Gospel suffered that mutilation in respect of their last Twelve Verses of which we meet with no trace whatever, no record of any sort, until the beginning of the fourth century.And the facts which now meet us on the very threshold, are in manner conclusive; for if Papias and Justin Martyr [AD 150] do not refer to, yet certainly Irenaeus [AD 185] and Hippolytus [AD 190-227] distinctly quote Six out of Twelve suspected Verses, –which are also met with in the two oldest Syriac Versions, as well as in the old Latin Translation. Now the latest of these authorities is earlier by a full a hundred years than the earliest record that the verses in question were ever absent from the ancient MSS. t the eighth Council of Carthage, (as Cyprian relates,) [AD 256] Vincentius a Thiberi, one of the eighty-seven African Bishops were assembled, quoted the 17th verse in the presence of the Council.

Nor is this all. 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 era, is found to bestow its solemn and emphatic sanction on every one of thee Twelve Verses. They are met with in every MS. of the Gospels in existence, uncial and cursive, — except two; they are found in every Version; and they are contained besides in every known Lectionary, where they are appointed to be read at Easter and on Ascension Day.”

The overwhelming early evidence in Church history for the Mark 16:6-20 prior to the 4th century MSS Sinaiticus and Vaticanus speaks to the passage’s authenticity. If it was present before the 4th century, its absence in two manuscripts cannot erase the prior evidence of the passage’s inclusion at the end of Mark’s Gospel. Nevertheless, this failed reasoning lingers in modern Evangelical textual criticism and prompted the infamous note after Mark 16:8, “The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20.” The two witnesses are Codices Sinaiticus and Vaticanus against conclusive testimony for the passage before and after the 4th century. As if plucking the two MSS out of the entire manuscript tradition the modern Church was brought to question the authenticity of these verses. One deeply sorrowful but reliable report was that a faithful churchman, trusting his pastor not to lead him astray, after being told that the verses were spurious took a black, felt-tipped marker and drew a black “X” across the nine verses, crossing then out. Burgon was not making a dogmatic assessment. The manuscript evidence does not support the exclusion of the passage. Stalin said “Those who vote decide nothing. Those who count the vote decide everything.” For modern textual critics, “The manuscript decides nothing. Those who adjudicate the manuscript decide everything.”

John W. Burgon, The Last Twelve Verses of the Gospel According to S. Mark (Erlanger, KY: Faith and Facts Press, nd, 1871), 328-329.

Codex A: Alexandrinus, 5th century

Codex C: Ephraemi Rescriptus, 5th century

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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