Gospel of Mark Week: 1 – The Author and the Manuscript – UPDATED

So I’m reading this really great Catholic commentary on the Gospel of Mark and I remembered that I have a ton of Bible study stuff for the Gospel of Mark. So lets go through it together.

I like the idea that the Gospel of Mark is just about as close to an eyewitness account as we can get.

The earliest manuscripts of the second Gospel are titled “According to Mark”. This heading is not part of the original work but was added by the early Christians. It summarizes the Church’s uniform tradition that Mark, a disciple of Simon Peter, wrote the second Gospel. Although Mark did not write as an eyewitness of Christ’s public ministry, he was a channel of apostolic tradition through Peter, who was his primary source of information about the life of Jesus. His association with Peter is evident in both the NT and the testimony of the early Church. Within the NT, Peter refers to his companionship with “my son Mark” in 1 Pet 5:13, and interpreters have noted that the general outline of Mark’s Gospel is similar to Peter’s presentation of the gospel in Acts 10:36-43. Outside the NT, several Church Fathers insist that Peter’s authority stands behind the second Gospel. Papias (A.D. 130) describes Mark as the “interpreter” of Peter, while Iranaeus (A.D. 180), Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 200), and Tertullian (A.D. 200) echo this tradition.

The Gospel of Mark
(The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible)

Even though Mark was writing based on Peter’s authority, he also knew Jesus himself.

We can be sure that Mark knew Jesus Christ personally, although he was not one of the twelve Apostles: most ecclesiastical writers see in Mk 14:15-52, the episode of the young man who leaves his sheet behind him as he flees from the garden when Jesus is arrested, as Mark’s own veiled signature to his Gospel, since only he refers to this episode. If this were the only reference it would be ambiguous, but it is supported by other circumstantial evidence: Mark was the son of Mary, apparently a well-to-do widow, in whose house in Jerusalem the first Christians used to gather (Acts 12:12). An early Christian text states that this was the same house as the Cenacle, where our Lord celebrated the Last Supper and instituted the Holy Eucharist. It also seems probably that the Garden of Olives belonged to this same Mary; which would explain Mark’s presence there.

More interesting, historical stuff about the book itself.

There is a very interesting thing about Mark’s gospel. In its original form it stops at Mark 16:8. We know that for two reasons. First, the verses which follow (Mark 16:9-20) are not in any of the great early manuscripts; only later and inferior manuscripts contain them. Second, the style of the Greek is so different that they cannot have been written by the same person as wrote the rest of the gospel.

But the gospel cannot have been meant to stop at Mark 16:8. What then happened? It may be that Mark died, perhaps even suffered martyrdom, before he could complete his gospel. More likely, it may be that at one time only one copy of the gospel remained, and that a copy in which the last part of the roll on which it was written had got torn off. There was a time when the church did not much use Mark, preferring Matthew and Luke. It may well be that Mark’s gospel was so neglected that all copies except for a mutilated one were lost. If that is so we were within an ace of losing the gospel which in many ways is the most important of all.

The Gospel of Mark
(The Daily Bible Series*, rev. ed.;

* Not a Catholic source and one which can have a wonky theology at times, but Barclay was renowned for his authority on life in ancient times and that information is sound.

I have been contacted by a gentleman who begs me to stop quoting Barclay’s comment that Mark 16:9-20 is not in any of the early great manuscripts. (See the comments for his full remarks on the subject.)

Therefore, I turned to Mary Healy’s excellent Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture to see what she said. Here we go, sports fans!

Verses 9-20, commonly called the Longer Ending, do not appear in the earliest manuscripts of the Gospel. Scholars are virtually unanimous in holding that these verses were not written by Mark but by a Christian of the late first or early second century who sought to fill out the abrupt ending of verse 8. (Footnote: a few ancient and medieval manuscripts of Mark insert other brief endings, which the Church does not accept as canonical.) Yet the Church accepts this addendum as part of the canon of inspired Scripture. The Holy Spirit’s gift of inspiration is not limited to the original writer, but encompasses each biblical book in its final edited form. 

The author of the Longer Ending was apparently familiar with all four Gospels (or with the oral testimonies on which they were based), and compiled these verses from the resurrection accounts in Matthew, Luke and John. …

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About Julie Davis
  • James Snapp, Jr.

    William Barclay’s statement that Mark 16:9-20 is “not in any of the great early manuscripts; only later and inferior manuscripts contain them” is false. It is supported by the great early codices Alexandrinus, Bezae, Ephraemi Rescriptus, and Washingtonianus. In fact, every intact Greek copy of Mark, except Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, includes the passage. Also, material from the passage in question is used by patristic writers (Justin, Tatian, Irenaeus) in the 100′s, well over a century before the production of the two Greek copies that stop the text of Mark at 16:8.

    Please, if you don’t want to spread lies — and I take it for granted that you don’t want to do that — stop spreading Barclay’s false statement.

    Regarding Barclay’s claim that that the style of Mark 16:9-20 shows that these verses “cannot have been written by the same person as wrote the rest of the gospel,” I will spare you a detailed analysis that challenges that assertion, and simply note that various other passages of Scripture, such as parts of Proverbs, the last chapter of Jeremiah, and many Psalms, are not ascribed to the main human author of the book but are nevertheless canonical.

    Again: Barclay’s statement cannot be promoted by anyone who is both well-informed and honest. I have informed you of the facts. Please retract that claim immediately.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  • juliedavis

    Mr. Snapp, thank you for your comments. You prompted me to check another source, an extremely modern source who used the most up to date scholarship. I have included those comments above. Please note, in particular, her remarks about the canonical nature of the Longer Ending. I think, reading through Mr. Barclay’s writing, this is what he is getting at as well. He is clearly leaving the door open …

  • http://www.curtisvillechristianchurch.org/public/MarkOne.html James Snapp, Jr.

    Thanks. I don’t think Healy’s interpretation of the evidence is correct either; a person attempting to write a conclusion for Mark’s Gospel would be far more likely to wrap up the scene in verse 8 instead of pressing the reset-button of the narrative, so to speak, at the beginning of verse 9, and a person aware of the contents of Matthew 28 would have a very strong reason not to say that the disciples did not believe Mary Magdalene, and a person aware of Luke 24 would have a very strong reason to describe the report of the two travelers to the main group of disciples, and the appearance of Jesus to the eleven, as one episode instead of two. For these reasons (and others), it’s more likely that verses 9-20 were adopted from an already-existing composition, rather than composed specifically to conclude a text of Mark that stopped at 16:8.

    Healy’s statement, “A few ancient and medieval manuscripts of Mark insert other brief endings” needs improvement. There is only /one/ alternative ending to Mark 16:9-20, specifically, the Shorter Ending found (in a rather mangled form) in Old Latin Codex Bobbiensis, and, between 16:8 and 16:9, in Codex Regius (L), and a few other Greek manuscripts, and in dozens of Ethiopic copies. Codex W has the Freer Logion between v. 14 and v. 15, but that’s an interpolation, not an independently composed ending.

    At least her description of the manuscripts in which Mark ends at 16:8 is merely vague, rather than incorrect like Barclay’s.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    William Barclay is not always a reliable source, but on this point he is simply saying what all mainstream text critics and Biblical commentators say, namely that our earliest and best manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark end abruptly with 16:8.

    Julie, well done not allowing an internet bully to get you to retract reliable information and substitute his misinformation! :-)

  • http://www.curtisvillechristianchurch.org/public/MarkOne.html James Snapp, Jr.


    If you visit
    you will be able to view reproductions of pages from the two early Greek manuscripts in which Mark ends at 16:8, and from three early Greek manuscripts in which Mark ends at 16:20. Other pieces of evidence pertaining to the manuscript-support for Mark 16:9-20 are there too. (Also, if you read Barclay’s “The First Three Gospels,” I believe you’ll find some significant clarification of what he said in his DBS commentary.)

    James McGrath,

    It should be obvious that the claim that our two earliest Greek manuscripts of Mark do not contain 16:9-20 is not the same as the claim that none of the early great Greek manuscripts contain the passage. Are you saying that Mark 16:9-20 is NOT supported by the great early codices Alexandrinus, Bezae, Ephraemi Rescriptus, and Washingtonianus, and the Rossano Gospels? Are you saying that Irenaeus does not quote Mark 16:19? Please explain.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

    • juliedavis

      I’m saying that I am sticking with what the Catholic source said and moving on … that gives people enough info to look further if they wish.