Question: A note in my Bible says that the earliest manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20. Does that mean that these verses in the Gospel of Mark were added later, and are therefore not part of God’s inspired, revealed Word?
The answer is “No.” Here’s why:
First, the note in your Bible is accurate in that the earliest manuscripts do not contain this portion of Mark. However, that only means the earliest manuscripts we have found so far. All that can be said for certain is that for some reason, unknown at this time, these earlier documents—of which there are only a few—lost their final paragraph.
Second, the “ancient witnesses” the note in your Bible refers to are comments written in the margins of ancient biblical manuscripts. These “witnesses” are often identified by a number since no author’s name for the comment is available. For example, one such “ancient witness” is identified by the number “20”. He wrote in the margin of his manuscript of Mark 16:8:
From this to the end is not found in some
copies; but in the ancient copies the whole
is found uncurtailed.
This ancient author is telling us that he personally knows of other copies of Mark that are “ancient” to him that have not lost the last paragraph of Mark 16!
We can be confident then that Mark’s Gospel did not end with verse 8. So the question is whether verses 9-20 are authentic to Mark or whether they were added later, as many claim.
While it is true that the shift from verse 8 to verse 9 is awkward and abrupt, this is also true for much of Mark’s Gospel. Rather than flowing from one event or scene to another, events in Mark’s Gospel are presented as happening “immediately.” Style is not a convincing argument against Mark’s authorship.
Finally, most of the content in verses 9-20 can be found in the other Gospels as well, especially Matthew, and none of the content is incompatible with biblical teaching. This is even true of verses 17-18, where Jesus says just before His Ascension:
And these signs will accompany those who
believe: In my name they will drive out demons;
they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up
snakes with their hands; and when they drink
deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will
place their hands on sick people, and they will
Some have misconstrued this to mean that all believers will demonstrate miraculous powers and will be invincible to snake bites. What Jesus actually says is that “signs will accompany those who
Believe,” and gives examples of what some of those “signs” could be.
In short, there is no reason not to trust the Gospel of Mark in its entirety. The closing paragraph is present in most manuscripts, sound in doctrine, and typical of Mark’s somewhat awkward style. And even though this final paragraph is not present in some ancient documents, the “witnesses” testify to earlier copies where it was present.
Ps. 119:43 Never take your word of truth from my mouth, for I have put my hope in your laws.