Evidence of Mutilation and Deterioration— Mk. 16.

Take a close look at the two Greek manuscripts in this post. What I want you to concentrate on is the lower right hand corner of each of these pieces of papyri. What you should notice is the fraying, deterioration, and disappearance of this part of the manuscript. Contrast this with the left hand margin of these two papyri which are in tact. This pattern is regularly apparent to the observant student of Greek papyri. Why? Because in antiquity as in the 20th century with VHS tapes, people didn’t not always heed the advice— ‘please be kind and rewind’. Greek is a language read left to right, and so the extreme right of a document would often be left exposed to the elements. The results are readily apparent. One loses the end of the document.

Papyri, as we have said earlier in our ‘Memory’ posts last Fall, deteriorated quite readily in moist climates. They were made up of Nile reeds, vegetable matter, after all. It is then no surprise that we find so few papyri in Galilee and so many in the arid conditions at Qumran or in the deserts of Egypt. You can’t judge literacy very well on the basis of where you find manuscripts since ‘absence of evidence does not indicate evidence of absence’ in a moist climate when it comes to papyri and literacy, and this brings us to Mark’s Gospel and its ending.

I remain utterly unconvinced by the arguments that Mark 16.8 is the original ending of that Gospel, an ending that involves all sorts of problems including the fact that it is unprecedented for a document to end with ‘ephobounto gar…’ (See Clayton Croy on ‘The Mutilation of Mark’). No, it seems quite likely the ending of Mark was lost due to deterioration as with the papyri shown above. If for example p46 is a guide, we can well account for the loss of say 10 lines or so of script in the final column of the Gospel, just enough for a version of Mt. 28.9-10 and an edited form of the appearance to men and women in Galilee later in Mt. 28. In other words, I don’t really think the ending of Mark is totally lost. I think the First Evangelist used Mark in Mt. 28 as elsewhere he has used 95% of Mark’s Gospel. What should be added is that the second and later century additions such as the Freer logion, or the long ending (16.9ff.) were attempts in the early church to supply an ending because the church recognized Mark 16.8 couldn’t have been the ending.

Of course this is bad news for the KJV only/Majority Texters, but good news for Protestants in snake handling Kentucky, as it means that those verses about snake handling and drinking poison are not an original part of the inspired text of Mark’s Gospel. In short, ‘text should determine canon’ not the other way around, and this being so, if Mk. 16.9ff. is not an original part of Mark’s Gospel, which it surely is not, then it shouldn’t be in our English translations. Final note— Mk. 16.9-20 is probably too long anyway, to have fit at the end and bottom of the final column of Mark’s Gospel if it was written in a fair hand in majuscule, or even if it was written in minuscule Greek script.

  • Benw333

    Interesting comment by Warfield, but no, I don’t agree. I think God was in control not the apostles. And here’s the thing. God didn’t want his people to worship a perfect book dropped from heaven, like the claims about the Koran or the book of Mormon. He wanted his Bible to be as incarnational as his Son the Word. And history is messy. I doubt we had a codex of 4 Gospels in the first century. The Gospel of John does not seem to have been assembled before the 90s. Blessings, Ben

  • http://www.tcgnt.blogspot.com/ Jonathan C. Borland

    Does MEMBRANA mean anything other than parchment, i.e., animal skins? Paul’s mention that Timothy bring them means that they were available and in use by an apostle. I’m sure other apostles would have ensured that what they imposed on the early church wasn’t simply a single copy written on toilet paper that could melt away at the first rainfall on its way to the copyist office.

  • Benw333

    Membrana does mean parchment, but it was not the usual writing material anywhere in the Empire. It was like the old days when you would pay 5 times the price for writing paper here in the U.S. that had a thicker and older feel, so you could use your fountain pen on it. Parchment was a rich man’s material, and some libraries used it as well.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=500750985 Bill Barnwell

    Hi Ben! First off, let me add to the many condolences on your recent loss. I have prayed for you and your family since I found out a couple weeks ago.

    I’ve been a bit slack in keeping up on your blog, and forgive me if you’ve addressed this somewhere else, and you most likely have, but do you consider the “woman caught in adultery” passage to be authentic or would you put it in the same category as Mark’s ending?

  • James Snapp

    Ben,

    I’m not convinced that you’ve thought through what you are saying. It’s one thing to say that *if* the initial production of the Gospel of Mark included material that is now lost (which I don’t grant), that material could have been lost due to incidental deterioration of the end of the composition — whether it was a scroll that was not rewound, or a codex). No calculations are needed at all to see that the beginnings and ends of codices were the parts that were most vulnerable to damage.

    It’s another thing entirely to say that you can calculate that Mark 16.9-20 is “probably too long anyway, to have fit at the end and bottom of the final column of Mark’s Gospel if it was written in a fair hand in majuscule.” You would have to know, if the autograph is assumed to be a scroll, how long it was (and then figure that Mark had available only that exact amount of space), or, if the autograph is assumed to be a codex, you would have to know how many pages it had, and what the size of each page was, and how many letters, on average, were on each page. None of which we know, or can know.

    In which writing of Dr. Hurtado does he even remotely suggest that he has the power to calculate the capacity of a manuscript he has never seen?

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  • Benw333

    I’m not talking about a codex James, I’m talking about a scroll whose outermost edge will readily deteriorate. I am also talking about the standard size scroll without adding another length— no more than 20 feet. The calculations taking into account scriptum continuum and standard number of lines per page (see picture above) are not that hard. Blessings, Ben

  • James Snapp

    Ben,

    So you’ve used pages from two papyrus *codices* (P46 and P66) to illustrate the kind of deterioration that the end of a *scroll* would experience. And you’re assuming that the Gospel of Mark occupied a “standard size scroll,” and you have assumed this “standard size” to be a certain height, and a certain length, and you’re assuming a certain number of letters per column, and you’re assuming that that number remained consistent throughout the scroll. And you’re assuming that the scroll had no protective “filler” at the end, and you’re assuming that it was not rewound (for if it was properly rewound, the end would be the most secure, rather than the most vulnerable, portion of a scroll). But since there is no basis for any of those assumptions, it is obvious to me that whatever calculations you’ve made are pulled out of the clear blue sky. Why is this not obvious to you?

    And how is it that you have time to analyze television shows, but not to engage in a debate with me about Mark 16:9-20?

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  • Jon Altman

    You sure do seem to have lots of spare time to debate something that doesn’t matter very much.

  • James Snapp

    Bill,

    Just in case Ben is too busy watching “Sherlock” Season 2 — which, I’m told, portrays Irene Adler as a dominatrix, and has the sort of scenes that you would expect in a film in which extra effort has been made to depict a character as a prostitute — I can field your question: he does not consider John 7:53-8:11 to be part of the original text of the Gospel of John. He’s stated this before (see the notes on page 144 of “Women in the Ministry of Jesus,” and the recent video-forum that he took part in with D. Bock and D. Wallace.)

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  • James Snapp

    I don’t grant that it doesn’t matter much.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  • Jon Altman

    What is at stake for you?

  • James Snapp

    Speaking candidly, Jon, I’d rather address Ben here, and only Ben. I want to see the basis on which he has calculated the capacity of a manuscript he has never seen. To engage your question would be a tangent.

    I hope you understand.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003280676483 Temp Handle

    I think Ben’s conclusions are correct regarding Matthew’s use of Mark and hence a good suggestion for the missing ending of Mark.

    As a side note, I’d like to point out that even in recent decades we are not handling the old materials in the best way. The deterioration of the copper scroll is a travesty. Don’t these people understand basic chemistry? Let’s photograph the items and put them into low-temperature argon-filled containers ASAP.

  • Jon Altman

    On April 8 I will (yet again) be seeking to preach on the resurrection story of Mark 16: 1-8. I actually have little choice but to seek to find the Good News in the women leaving the tomb “for they were afraid.” I’m just intrigued by the notion that there was an ending intended by the Markan community of the 1st century that has been lost. What makes the most sense to me is something like a scene similar to that given by Matthew, though with much less talking (also characteristic of Mark).

  • James Snapp

    Jon,

    Send me a request via the e-mail links at the Curtisville Christian Church website, and I will be glad to send you some information that may convict you that another option is available — the option of accepting Mark 16:9-20 as inspired Scripture. This is what was done in the 100′s (long before the production of the two Greek manuscripts in which the text of Mark concludes at 16:8).

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  • Benw333

    Well brother Snapp I challenge you to come up with the ‘evidence’ that Mark 16.9ff. was a part of the original text of Mark. And what possible reason could there have been to eliminate it by later scribes? Scribes tend to add to the text or smooth it out, not truncate it (cf. the history of John 7.53ff.). What is your evidence not merely that someone knew a tradition like some of the material in Mk. 16.9ff. in the second century but they viewed it as a part of the inspired text of Mark???

  • Jon Altman

    I actually have managed to find “Good News” to proclaim about Mark 16: 1-8 several times and expect I will again.

  • Valdezmail1

    As for biblical authorship, this is not an issue for Orthodox Christians. It does appear to be an issue among contemporary Reformed apologists and theologians –and liberals. but the thing we have to remember is that God the Holy Spirit is the author of all of Scripture. It does not matter whether or not Saint Paul wrote Colossians (I believe he did). The Holy Spirit is the source and author of canonical Scripture. Khomyakov admirably puts it,

    “Neither individuals, nor a multitude of individuals within the Church preserve tradition or write the Scriptures, but the Spirit of God which lives in the whole body of the Church.”

  • James Snapp

    Ben,

    I accept your challenge. Please name the time and place where you would like to engage in a public face-to-face debate about the evidence that Mark 16:9-20 is part of the original text of Mark.

    Evidence that someone in the second century knew Mark 16:9-20 and accepted it as a part of the inspired text of Mark is easily found in Book Three, chapter 10 of Irenaeus’ “Against Heresies,” where Irenaeus cites 16:19 and states that he is quoting from Mark’s Gospel. The passage is also incorporated into Tatian’s Diatessaron. And, Justin Martyr makes a strong allusion to Mark 16:20 in First Apology 45, utilizing verbiage from 16:20 in precisely the way one would when using a Synoptics-Harmony, as Justin did.

    Your turn now: what is your evidence that anyone in the second century rejected Mark 16:9-20?

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  • James Snapp

    If the case for Mark 16:9-20 is as weak as you claim, why not engage in a public debate to show everyone how weak it is?


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