Where Does the Gospel of Mark End?

You may have noticed that your Bible has an asterisk beside or brakets around the last few verses in Mark (specifically verses 9-20).

Introduction to the Endings of Mark

You may have noticed that your Bible has an asterisk beside or brackets around the last few verses in Mark (specifically verses 9-20).  The reason for this is that there is a dispute over whether those verses were actually written by Mark and whether or not they should be considered inspired scripture.  This article will attempt to explain the dispute, come to a conclusion, and explain how this may affect the way we read and view our Bibles.  We will examine the available manuscripts, references from early church fathers, and the writing style of the last twelve verses of Mark.

The Endings

Actually, there are four endings of Mark in the current manuscripts.  As the Bible was copied by hand in the first few centuries sometimes errors were introduced to certain verses.  Scholars review all the available manuscripts considering when and where they were written and piece together what was and was not in the original writings.  In most of the books of the Bible, this process is not difficult, but the issue surrounding Mark is still debated.  The first ending (1) found in the oldest Greek manuscripts ends Mark at chapter 16, verse 8. Because this ending essentially leaves the reader hanging, especially when compared to the other versions, it is often called "the abrupt ending." (2) A small number of manuscripts continue after verse 8 with what is commonly known as "the shorter ending."  Some Bibles also include this short passage in a footnote or as an alternate verse 9: "But they reported briefly to Peter and those with him all that they had been told.  And after these things Jesus himself sent out through them, from the east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation." (3) A large number of later manuscripts continue with verses 9-20, called "the longer ending" or the "traditional ending." This is the ending included in almost every Bible today.  (4) The traditional ending also appears with an additional section1 between verses 14 and 15, often called "the Freer Logion."  This added section is obviously non-original and has very little external evidence supporting it.  Its content, style and language are non-Markan and this ending is never included in Bibles.

1The Freer Logion: “And they excused themselves saying, “This age of lawlessness and unbelief is under Satan, who does not allow the truth and the power of God to prevail over the unclean things of the spirits [or, does not allow what lies under the unclean spirits to understand the truth and power of God]. Therefore reveal your righteousness now” – thus they spoke to Christ. And Christ replied to them, “The term of Satan’s power had been fulfilled, but other terrible things draw near. And for those who have sinned I was handed over to death, that they may return to the truth and sin no more, in order that they may inherit the spiritual and incorruptible glory of righteousness that is in heaven.”