Is the Gospel of Mark Reliable History?


The New Testament begins with four parallel accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Critics of the Bible often claim that these four accounts – the Gospels – were not written by the men whose names they bear, but were penned by Christian converts at least a generation after the death of Jesus. It is often claimed that the story of Jesus first was propagated in oral tradition, and that the first written attempts consisted of “sayings” attributed to Him. Later, it is claimed, these sayings were placed within a chronology of legendary events.

According to the critics, The Gospel commonly referred to as Mark’s was the first of the canonical Gospels to have been composed. Though it is thought to reflect a more accurate picture of the “historic Jesus” than the other three, Mark’s Gospel is nonetheless denounced by the critic as largely unhistorical, and supersaturated with legendary material. Only scholars like John Domonic Crossan and the Jesus Seminar are smart enough to discern between legendary material in the Gospels and reliable history.

Ancient church historians, on the other hand, had an entirely different opinion. To them, the Gospels were indeed written by the men whose names they bear, and the picture of Jesus painted by them was completely accurate. So which view is correct?

Assumptions – data – Interpretations

Those that deny the trustworthiness of the Gospels are almost always anti-supernaturalistic in their assumptions. That is, they don’t believe that God exists, or that if God does exist, He certainly has not involved Himself in the affairs of men in a supernatural way. With these assumptions firmly in place, the critic comes to the New Testament, which is replete with accounts of God’s miracles, including the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and necessarily must regard them as fictitious.

On the other hand, if we can believe that a God that can act exists, and there is plenty of evidence to suppose that He does, then we can suppose that there may have been acts of God. In this case, it just might be possible that the New Testament writers have accurately recorded these events. We could not simply write off the New Testament as fiction, but instead must weigh the historic evidence and reach our conclusions based on it. This is our approach here to the trustworthiness of the second Gospel – the Gospel according to Mark.

Why aren’t they signed?

Many critics point to the fact that none of the Gospels include the signature of their writers. Many assume that the Gospels were therefore written by anonymous authors and later, because they agreed theologically with the doctrines held by the church, were attributed to certain apostles. There are four strong arguments against this idea:

  1. Scrolls had labels on them 1– Christianity was birthed out of Judaism and as such, it is almost certain that its earliest writings were in scroll form. Martin Hengel has noted after careful research into the transmission of texts in the ancient world, that scrolls had nametags attached to them identifying whom their author was. It is therefore not surprising that the names of the Gospel writers are not found in the main body of text. These names would have been preserved on the tag.
  2. Unambiguous titles were deemed important – History records that Christians were subject to sporadic persecutions throughout the first century, particularly after AD 64 when Christians were targeted by the emperor Nero. Clearly, those interested in the new faith would have plenty of incentive to investigate the reality of its claims. This includes the claimed authorship of the Gospels. Tertullian noted in his denouncement of the heretic Marcion’s heavily doctored version of Luke’s Gospel that:

“A work ought not to be recognised which holds not its head erect [or which] “gives no promise of credibility from the fullness of its title and the just profession of its author.” [Tertullian, “Against Marcion” 4:2].

  1. No contestation regarding authorship If the Gospels were really written by anonymous authors, then there should have been some confusion regarding authorship, as copies were being made and propagated. Unlike the apocryphal writings of the second century, we can detect nothing of this among the canonical Gospels 2.
  2. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are unlikely names to have been picked by a forger. Neither Mark nor Luke was an apostle or eyewitnesses to the events of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Matthew was an eyewitness to Jesus, but he was not one of the “inner group” of apostles (Peter, James, and John). In fact, as a former tax collector, he would have no doubt been regarded as one of the least esteemed of the apostles (Remember, even Jesus was attacked for mingling with such people in Matthew 9:11). Mark, don’t forget, was also the subject of much controversy and tension because of his refusal to follow Paul and Barnabas “to the work” on their first missionary journey (Acts 13:13, 15:38). These names seem like very unlikely inventions.

The External Evidence

  1. The Manuscript Evidence. The New Testament has more manuscript evidence supporting it than any other piece of ancient literature. Though critics may wish to believe that the Gospel picture of Jesus is a fanciful embellishment (a lie), they must acknowledge that it is a well-preserved one. In other words, though the critic would like to believe that the Gospels have been changed to meet the changing doctrinal positions of the church, he must acknowledge that there is absolutely no manuscript evidence to support this belief. As far as we can tell, the Gospels as we have them today reflect what was originally written.
  2. The Muratorian Cannon (AD 170) is an ancient canonical list of books deemed inspired by the early church. Though list is fragmental, and begins with the Gospel of Luke, nearly all scholars agree that the Gospels of Matthew and Mark almost certainly preceded Luke in the list.3
  3. Papias. Papias, the bishop of Hierapolis in the early second century, was a contemporary of Polycarp (who himself was said to be a disciple of the apostle John). Papias wrote five volumes of church history, which unfortunately have become lost, except for brief excerpts in the writings of others. One such fragment comes from the church historian Eusebius (writing about 324 A.D.). The following quote from the writings of Papias (cited by Eusebius) makes it clear that he believed that Matthew and Mark were the writers of their respective Gospels:

“For information on these points, we can merely refer our readers to the books themselves; but now, to the extracts already made, we shall add, as being a matter of primary importance, a tradition regarding Mark who wrote the Gospel, which he [Papias] has given in the following words]: And the presbyter said this. Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered. It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him. But afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who accommodated his instructions to the necessities [of his hearers], but with no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord’s sayings. Wherefore Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he remembered them. For of one thing he took special care, not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements. [This is what is related by Papias ! regarding Mark; but with regard to Matthew he has made the following statements]: Matthew put together the oracles [of the Lord] in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them as best he could.” Eusebius, The Church History, c. A.D. 324, section Book 3.39 (also Book 2.17)4

  1. Irenaeus (AD 170) is very clear about who the author of the second Gospel was:

“Matthew published his Gospel among the Hebrews (i.e. the Jews) in their own tongue, when Peter and Paul were preaching the gospel in Rome and founding the Church there. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, himself handed down to us in writing the substance of Peter’s preaching. Luke, the follower of Paul, set down in a book the gospel preached by his teacher. Then John, the disciple of the Lord, who also leaned on His breast, himself produced his gospel, while he was living at Ephesus in Asia.” Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.1.5 Where did he get this idea? Irenaeus says that he was a hearer of Polycarp, who himself was a disciple of the apostle John.

  1. Hegesippus (AD 150) embarked on a research project in the mid second century investigating the doctrines of the different churches throughout the Roman world. His conclusion was that they all agreed 6. If they all agreed, and Irenaeus was convinced that Mark wrote the second Gospel, then we can strongly suspect that most-if not all-of the other churches did so as well.
  2. The Works of Luke (Luke and the Book of Acts) The Book of Acts documents the history of the early Church following the ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven, and extends until about the 60’s of the first century. Though many critics simply denounce the book as fable, its accuracy in matters of historic detail would lead the honest researcher to an entirely different conclusion. For example, Acts comments on geopolitical divisions, the titles of political rulers, and the legal systems that existed throughout the Roman Empire. Since none of these things are static, but ever-changing, chances are good that if Acts was really a second century forgery, at least some of the details given would reflect this later period. As it stands, Acts appears quite correct, even in matters of minute detail.7

Acts claims to be a first century work, and if we let the evidence speak for itself, this does indeed appear to be the case. Notice that Paul is the star character of the book, yet it ends abruptly with Paul under house arrest in Rome. There is no mention of his impending trial or his execution believed to have occurred under Nero. These facts and many others strongly suggest that Acts was completed before the mid 60’s of the first century.

Why is this important? Note that Acts is really the second part of a two-part work, the Gospel of Luke being the first part. Almost all scholars agree that Luke was the last of the synoptic Gospels to be written. This would mean that Mark’s Gospel was completed within 30 years of the death of Jesus Christ. Critics often claim that Mark, like the other Gospels, is largely legendary material, which has accreted around a kernel of historic truth. If this is the case, it is totally without president. The critic can point to no example of that much legendary material accumulating around an historic figure over such a short period of time.

  1. Mark’s Family The book of Acts tells us that after Peter was miraculously released from prison, he went straight to the house of Mary, whose son was John Mark. From this passage we learn that many Christians had been gathered praying (Acts 12:12). From the book of Acts then – a book shown to be reliable in every area where it can be tested, Peter was directly connected to Marks’ family. Therefore, the tradition that Mark’s Gospel was really of series of recollections based on the testimony of Peter becomes plausible indeed, especially when we consider the next point.
  2. The Epistle of 1 Peter The writings of Papias reflected his belief that Peter was indeed the author of the epistle that bears his name.8 Peter concludes this epistle with these words:

“The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Marcus (Mark) my son.” (1 Peter 5:13)

Though the exact location of “Babylon” has been the subject of much debate, the fact is, Peter and Mark do appear to be travelling companions. This offers further support for Papias’ statements regarding Mark’s Gospel. The designation of Mark as Peter’s “son” is akin to the relationship described between Paul the Apostle and his young disciple Timothy (2 Timothy 1:5, 1 Corinthians 4:17, Philippians 2:22).

The Internal Evidence for an Early Date

  1. Joseph of Arimathea and the Jews In Mark 15:43-46, Joseph of Arimathea is called an “honourable councillor” (Strongs #1010, bouleutes [bool-yoo-tace], From G1011; an adviser, that is, (specifically) a councilor or member of the Jewish Sanhedrin:-counselor.) These verses tell us that it was Joseph that came and pleaded with Pilate for the body of Jesus in order to give him a proper and decent burial. To suggest that Joseph was a fictitious character written into the narrative in the second or third centuries appears absurd. At this point the rift between Judaism and Christianity was already deep and wide. H.L. Ellison, lecturer and writer on the Old Testament, Dawlish, Devon, England, states:

“At first Christians were regarded as a Jewish sect by both Jews and Gentiles. This led to opposition and persecution of the church by the Jewish authorities, who objected to its doctrines and the admission of Gentiles without their accepting the Law. After the Jewish revolts against Rome (AD 66-73, AD 132-35) most Christians disassociated themselves from the Jews. The Christians’ refusal to support the revolts caused them to be regarded as national enemies. From this time few Jews were converted to Christianity. Increasingly Christians came to regard Jews as deliberate haters of the good. When the church became recognized by Constantine legal discrimination against Jews increased and they were gradually deprived of all rights.” “The Christian Church and the Jews”, in “The Eerdman’s Handbook to the History of Christianity”, 1987, p. 50

It’s hard to imagine that Christians writing in the second or third century would invent a character like Joseph, a prominent Jewish council member, in such a favourable light. Further, it’s seems very unlikely that Joseph’s character is entirely fictional as his claimed prominence as a council member would have been easily refuted if it were not so.

  1. The Women’s Testimonies In the ancient Middle East, a woman’s testimony was seen as next to worthless, and no woman’s testimony was admissible in court. Lane states:

“Women were on a very low rung of the social ladder in first-century Palestine. There are old rabbinical sayings that said, ‘Let the words of the Law be burned rather than delivered to women’ and ‘Blessed is he whose children are male, but woe to him whose children are female.’ Women’s testimony was regarded as so worthless that they weren’t even allowed to serve as legal witnesses in a Jewish court of law.” 9

In all four Gospels, however, we read that the first to encounter the resurrected Jesus were women. If an author wanted to propagate a false resurrection story, it hardly makes sense that women would figure prominently as key witnesses. It is not unthinkable therefore, that the women’s testimonies were included because the Gospel writers simply wanted to present a record of the facts, not a formal defense for their faith.

Passages that Imply Eyewitness Testimony

Though the writer of the second Gospel was not an eyewitness to the events he describes, many of the details he relates almost certainly came from those that were.

Mark 3:1-5 – Here we read of how Jesus healed a man with a crippled hand on the Sabbath day. Many of the Pharisees resented that Jesus had done this because in doing so, he had violated their man-made traditions built around God’s command to rest on the Sabbath. Though the same event is recorded in Matthew’s Gospel (12:9-13), Matthew does not include the eyewitness details found in Mark. In verse 3 we read, “And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts…”

Mark 7:34 – Jesus heals the deaf mute. Here Mark writes about Jesus: “And looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, be opened.”

Mark 8:12 – After being questioned by the Pharisees and listening to their demands for a miraculous sign Mark informs us, “And he sighed deeply in his spirit and saith, Why doth this generation seek after a sign?”

Mark 8:31-33 – Here Jesus tell His disciples that He must be rejected by the religious authorities and be executed. In v. 32 we are told that Peter began to rebuke him. In v. 33 we read, “But when he turned about and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying, get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savorist not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.”

In both this and the parallel passage in Matthew 16:13-23 is prefaced with Jesus’ question to His disciples about whom they thought He really was. In both it is Peter who responds that Jesus is the Christ of God. Notice that in Matthew’s account, the Lord commends Peter for his response. No such words of acclamation are recorded by Mark. Why is this? One explanation might be that Peter was indeed the source of Mark’s information. Not willing to bring glory to himself in any way, shape or form, it might well be that he deliberately neglected to inform Mark of this detail.

Mark 9:1-3 In this passage, Jesus climbed to the top of a mountain with Peter, James and John, and it is here that He is “transfigured”. The details of Christ’s appearance are precise (v.3): “And his raiment became shinning, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them.

The detail is so specific that we have every right to suspect Mark got this information from an eyewitness. Only Peter, James and John were present with Jesus on the mountain, so from which did Mark glean this information? As mentioned earlier, Peter was believed by the early church to have been Mark’s source. The transfiguration account recorded by Mark supports this view in more than one way.

In this account, Jesus is joined by Moses and Elijah. Peter is recorded as saying “Master, it is good for us to be here: let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias (Elijah). For he wist not what to say; for they were sore afraid. And there was a cloud that overshadowed them: and a voiced came out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: Hear him.” (vv. 5-7).

The transfiguration account is prefaced by Mark with the words of Christ (Mark 9:1): “And he said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.” Notice Peter’s choice of words (2 Peter 1:16-18): “For we have not followed cunningly devise fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount.

Mark 9:14-18 – This passage bears the unmistakable marks of authenticity. Pay careful attention to how it reads:

“And when he came to his disciples, he saw a great multitude about them, and the scribes questioning with them. And straightway all the people, when they beheld hem, were greatly amazed, and running to him saluted him. And he asked the scribes, What question ye with them? And one of the multitude answered and said, Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit; And wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth him: and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away: and I spake to thy disciples that they should cast him out; and they could not.”

Here we are told that Jesus directed his question to the scribes specifically, only to have one of the people jump in and answer. The scribes never do get a chance to answer Jesus. To what end would a forger put this question into the mouth of Jesus, direct it to a specific audience, and then neglect to give us that audience’s response? The whole scene seems entirely uncontrived, but reflective of genuine human interaction.

Mark 9:38 – Here we read of John’s words (as opposed to one of the disciples in general). John is recorded as saying, “Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbade him because he followeth not us.” Note that this is in keeping with what we know of John’s character. In Luke 9:51-56 John is recorded as asking Jesus for permission to call down fire from heaven on certain Samaritans because they rejected Christ’s message. No wonder Jesus nick-named James and John “the sons of thunder.”

Mark 10:17-22 – This is the famous passage where the rich man asks Jesus about what he must do to enter into eternal life. In both Mark and Matthew’s accounts Jesus tells the rich man to sell all that his has and follow him. In both accounts the rich man walks away sad because he had great possessions. It is only in Mark’s account that we read, “Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him…” Again, Mark includes a detail consistent with what one would expect from an eyewitness description.

Mark 10:23-After Christ’s discourse with the rich young man and the young man’s refusal to follow Jesus on his terms, Mark states:

“And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God.” The parallel passage in Matthew 19:33 does not include the detail that Jesus first looked round about before commenting on those who trust in riches, nor does it need to. This detail is of little doctrinal significance. Its inclusion here strongly suggests that what we have here is an eyewitness account.

Mark 10:32 – “And they were in the way going up to Jerusalem; and Jesus went before them: and they were amazed; and as they followed, they were afraid.”

The detail about the disciples being amazed and afraid seems strangely out of place. There’s nothing explicit in the text preceding these comments to justify them. To what purpose would a forger include them? Again, comments such as these would lead an honest researcher to suspect that what we are reading here are the honest recollections of one who was present with Christ as He journeyed to Jerusalem.

Mark 10:46-Here we read of Jesus’ healing of a blind man as he went out of Jericho. Mark informs us that it was Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus that was healed. Again, one would not expect a forger to reveal such details that could be checked, but to hide behind imprecision and ambiguity.

Mark 10:49-50 – In the same event we read, “And Jesus stood still, and commanded him to be called. And they call the blind man, saying unto him, Be of good comfort, rise; he calleth thee. And he, casting away his garment, rose, and came to Jesus.”

The detail about the man casting away his garment adds nothing to the miracle – which is the reason the story was recorded to be sure. How do we explain its inclusion here? That it was recorded either by an eyewitness, or by one had opportunity to interview an eyewitness is certainly reasonable.

Mark 14:51-52 – All four Gospels record that the Jesus was arrested at night in a garden, and that those who came and seized Him were led by Judas Iscariot. All record that one of Christ’s disciples (John tells us it was Peter) drew a sword and attacked the servant of the high priest. Pandemonium ensues, and the disciples flee. Only Mark includes this interesting detail:

“And there followed him a certain young man, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young men laid hold on him: And he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked.”

This detail has sparked much discussion and speculation. Who was the young man? Not one of the disciples, for v. 50 states that all forsook Him and fled. Some suggest he was simply someone who lived in or near the garden, who was woken out of sleep by the noise of the band of soldiers. Others suggest it was a young man of the house, where Christ and his disciples ate their passover; who had followed him to the garden, and still followed him, to see what would become of Jesus.

Again we must ask ourselves to what end would a forger include a detail of this kind. It really adds nothing doctrinally. It doesn’t magnify Jesus, or support the Gospels’ claims that He was the Son of God. In fact, this event comes with absolutely no explanatory supplementation whatever, and we are left to guess at why it was included. It’s hard to imagine a later forger inventing such a story, when there seems to be no doctrinal reason to put it there. We must therefore suspect that the story about the young man in the garden was recorded because someone there saw his narrow escape.

Mark 14:54, 66-72 – In these verses we read of how some at the palace recognized Peter as one of Jesus’ disciples, and of Peter’s denials that he knew Jesus. The story is told in all four Gospels, and we must ask ourselves from where this information came. Is it not likely that Church history is correct, and that Mark’s information came straight from Peter himself?

Mark 15:21 – The road to Golgotha. The passage tells us that when Jesus became too wearied to bear his cross, it was Simon the Cyrenian, the father of Alexander and Rufus who was compelled to carry it for Him. As noted above, it seems unlikely that a forger would divulge specifics that could be checked out, but would rather conceal his work behind vagueness. The mention of Simon so specifically seems consistent with certain, eyewitness testimony.

The mention of Simon’s two sons may mean that they were well-known Christian converts at the time that this Gospel was written. If so, one of these sons may have been known to the Apostle Paul who wrote, “Salute Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine.” (Romans 16:13).

Mark 16:7 – The angel’s message. All the Gospels record an angelic visitation to the women who came to Christ’s tomb, and their message to inform the disciples of His resurrection. Only in this Gospel is Peter singled out: “But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you.”

Why is Peter singled out this way? Some commentators suggest that the angelic message was meant as a special comfort to Peter, who was still grieving over his own cowardice, and his dashed hopes in Jesus as a conquering messiah. Others suggest that the message was meant to make clear that Peter’s denials removed him from his position among the disciples. Nevertheless, the instruction to go and meet Jesus meant that the Lord stood ready to forgive and reinstate Peter into the apostleship. Whatever the intent, the angelic message would have had special significance for Peter, and its inclusion in Mark’s Gospel is to be expected if Peter was indeed his source.

The Last Verses – Does Mark 16:9-20 Belong?

Much has been said regarding the authenticity of the last twelve verses of Mark’s Gospel. Most Bibles today include a footnote at verse 9 which states something to the effect that these verses are not found in the “oldest and most reliable manuscripts.” Many would take the footnote at face value, but the inquiring mind must ask, “What constitutes a most reliable manuscript? What criteria are being used to judge a manuscript’s reliability?” Lets examine the facts, then each can colour them with his own ideas as he likes.

  1. The Majority of MSS include these verses see: F.J.A. Scrivener 10, “A Plain Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testament”, Fourth Ed., London: George Bell and Sons, 1894, volume 2, pp. 337-344: “Out of all the great manuscripts, the two oldest [Sinaiticus and Vaticanus] stand alone in omitting vers. 9-20 altogether.”
  2. The Majority of MSS are in agreement see: Benjamin G. Wilkinson, “Our Authorized Bible Vindicated”, cited in David Otis Fuller, “Which Bible”, Institute for Biblical Textual Studies”, 1990, “pp.187-188: “These manuscripts have in agreement with them, by far the vast majority of copies of the original text. So vast is this majority that even the enemies of the Received Text admit that nineteenth-twentieths of all Greek manuscripts are of this class.”
  3. The Oldest MSS are discordant H.A. Scrivener, “Six Lectures on the Text of the New testament and the Ancient Manuscript Which Contain it, Chiefly Addressed to Those Who do not Read Greek” (Cambridge: Deighton, Bell, and Co.), 1875, p. 78:

“…the evidence of the ancient authorities is anything but unanimous; that they are perpetually at variance with each other, even if we limit the term ancient within the narrowest bounds…The reader has but to open the first recent critical work he shall meet with, to see them scarcely ever in unison’ perpetually divided two against three, or perhaps four against one.”

  1. The Oldest MS omits these verses, but leaves a space for them Codex Vaticanus (Codex B) was thought by Westcott and Hort to be the closest to the true reading. The text is written in three columns, and where one book ends, the scribe consistently left the rest of the column blank, then resumed with the next book at the top of the next column. The one exception is the end of Mark’s Gospel. At verse 8, the rest of the column is left blank, which is characteristic. However, the entire next column was also left blank. See: see: F.J.A. Scrivener, “A Plain Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testament”, Fourth Ed., London: George Bell and Sons, 1894, volume 2, pp. 337-344. To view photographs of the entire manuscript in PDF form see CD Rom from The Society for Distributing Hebrew Scriptures, Joseph House, 1 Berry Mead Road, Hitchin, Herts., SG5 1RT, United Kingdom.
  2. Irenaeus quoted from a version of mark’s Gospel that included these verses Irenaeus (130-202) wrote: “Also, towards the conclusion of his Gospel, Mark says: “So then, after the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God.” Irenaeus, “Against Heresies”, Book 3, Chapter 10:5. This is a direct reference to Mark 16:19!
  3. Linguistic arguments against these verses are weak. Popular opinion holds that Mark 16:9-20 must be spurious because of its difference in style from the rest of the Gospel. This argument appears bankrupt under closer inspection. Below are listed some of the major linguistic arguments of the exclusion of Mark 16:9-20 and their rebuttals:
  4. a) Mary Magdalene is introduced in verse 1, and is re-introduced in verse 9, indicating that another author is responsible for this section.

Rebuttal: Mary is not being re-identified. Verse 9 is merely supplying his with additional information about her. This technique of supplying additional information about a character already mentioned is typical of Markan style: (In 3:16 we are told that Jesus re-named Peter even though he had already been introduced. In 3:17 the same is said of James and John. In 6:16 we are given additional information about Herod, and in 7:26 additional information is given us about the Syro-Phoenician woman whose daughter was possessed.

  1. b) The Greek wording is too awkward for verse 9 to be a continuation of verse 8.

Rebuttal: Verse 9 is NOT a continuation of verse 8. Mark has created two distinct sections here. The resurrection (the central them of chapter 16) is substantiated by two stupendous facts: The empty tomb and the post-resurrection appearances. From an apologetic view, neither fact is convincing on its own. An empty tomb without any appearances denotes nothing but a missing body. Appearances without the empty tomb denote hallucinations. But both together indicate that Jesus actually rose from the dead bodily. Mark is simply giving us both evidences with out mixing them: Verses 1-8 focuses on the empty tomb, while 9-20 focuses on the post-resurrection appearances of the Lord.

  1. c) There are 16 words found in verses 9-20 that appear nowhere else in Mark’s Gospel. This must mean that this section was penned by another author.

Rebuttal: Its true that there are 16 words unique to this section. However, it is also true that there are at least 20 unique words in the 12 verses from Mark 15:40-16:4 – a section most everyone agrees is authentically Mark’s.

  1. d) Two of Mark’s most used words “euthus” and “eutheos” (both mean “immediately”) are not seen in the last 12 verses.

Rebuttal: Neither are these words seen in the last 53 verses! Furthermore, there are 9 words found in 16:9-20 that are used elsewhere in Mark as much or more than in the other Gospels

  • Proi (early) v.9 + 5 other times, Matthew 3 X, John 2X
  • Apista (unbelief) v.14+ 6:6, 9:24, Matthew 15:58
  • Sklerokardia (Hardness of heart) v. 14, 10:5, Matthew 19:8
  • Kerusso (preach) vv.15, 20, +12 X, Matthew 9X, Luke 9X
  • Euaggelion (Gospel) v 15 + 7X, Matthew 4X
  • Ktisis (Creature) v.15, 10:6, 13:19 – Found only in Mark
  • Arrostos (sick) v.18, 6:5, 6:13, 13:19, Matthew 14:14
  • Kalos (well, recover) v. 18 + 5X, Matthew 2X, Luke 4X
  • Pantachou (everywhere) V.20, 1:28, Luke 9:6
  1. e) It is Mark’s usual style to expand upon material, yet this section quickly passes over the resurrection accounts (i.e. His appearance to the two disciples on the road to Emmaeus, which occupies considerable space in Luke’s Gospel).

Rebuttal: It is also Mark’s style to condense material as well. Notice how he completely omits the birth narrative of Jesus, and how comparatively little is said concerning the ministry of John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus. Also notice that the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, so expounded upon in Matthew and Luke’s accounts, is described in only 2 verses by Mark.

  1. f) The post-resurrection appearances mentioned in 16:9-20 parallel those contained in Luke’s Gospel. Therefore, the author of this section must have used Luke (the last of the synoptics to be written) as a source.

Rebuttal: Mark 16:9-20 also gives addition information not seen in the other Gospels:

  • 10-Disciples were “mourning and weeping”
  • 12-Jesus had appeared in “a different form”
  • 18-The promise that followers of Jesus would be protected form deadly drinks

What is particularly interesting is the inclusion of 16:9-20 in the critical editions of the New Testament by men who state categorically that the passage does not belong there. Why has it not been removed outright, like the apocryphal books? The strange staying power of the passage, supposedly proven fallacious, makes one wonder. In Psalm 12:6-7 we read, “The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation forever.” Maybe this portion of Scripture has been retained, despite the opinions of the so-called “experts”, because God wants it there. It’s something to think about anyway.

Again, even if we toss 16:9-20, we still have no good reason to reject the rest of Mark’s Gospel as inauthentic. On the other hand, we have plenty of evidence supporting the traditional view, namely, that none other than John Mark, interpreter of the Apostle Peter, penned the Gospel that bears his name.

By: John Feakes


  1. “Martin Hengel of Tubingen University noticed that the following well-documented technique customary in the making of scrolls at the time ensured the very early preservation of authors’ names: Scrolls with literary texts had tags glued to them…They fulfilled the same purpose as the spine of a modern book: One does not have to open a book in order to find out who wrote it and what its title is.” Carsten Peter Thiede and Matthew D’Ancona, “Eyewitness to Jesus”, Doubleday, 1996, p.15
  2. “If, as is usually argued today, the earliest Gospels were anonymous or lacked titles, because of the pressing need to distinguish them in community libraries, a variation of titles would have inevitably arisen, whereas in the case of the canonical Gospels (in contrast to that of countless apocryphal writings) we can detect nothing of this.” Martin Hengel, “Studies in the Gospel of Mark”, London, 1985, pp. 81-82
  3. “A…list of great importance was the Muratorian Cannon, named for the Italian historian and librarian who first found it in the Ambrosian Library at Milan. The manuscript itself is not older than the seventh century, but its content probably belongs to the last third of the second century, about A.D. 170. Since the manuscript is only a fragment of a larger work, it is not complete. It begins in the middle of a sentence, and the first book mentioned us Luke, which the fragment calls the third Gospel. Matthew and Mark almost certainly preceded Luke in this list; John follows with an unmistakable reference to the first epistle.” Merrill C. Tenney, “New Testament Survey, Revised Ed., Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Inter-Varsity Press, 1985, p.408
  4. The translation of Eusebius that I am working from was done by Paul Maier, “Eusebius, The Church History, A New Translation with Commentary”, Kregel Publications, 1999, pp.73, 129-130.
  5. Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I, The Apostolic Father, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus”, Edited by Alexander Roberts D.D. and James Donaldson, LL.D., Hendrickson Publishers, fourth printing 2004, p.414. Originally published by The Christian Literature Publishing Company, 1885
  6. “Among those flourishing in the church at this time were Hegesippus, whom we met earlier, Bishop Dionysius of Corinth, Bishop Pinytus of Crete, Philip, Apolinarius, Melito, Musanus, Modestus, and above all Irenaeus. Their orthodoxy and ardour for the apostolic tradition have reached us in written form. Hegesippus has left a full record of his beliefs in five books that have come down to us. In them he tells of travelling to Rome and finding the same doctrine among all bishops there. After some comments about Clement’s letter to the Corinthians, he writes, ‘The Corinthian Church remained in the true doctrine until Primus became bishop. I conversed with the Corinthians on the voyage to Rome, and we were refreshed by the true doctrine. After arriving in Rome, I compiled the succession down to Anicetus, whose deacon was Eleutherus. In each succession and in every city, preaching corresponds with the Law, the Prophets, and the Lord.” Eusebius, “The Church History”, 4.21-22
  7. See my on-line book, “100 Reasons to Believe the New Testament”; points 28-52. Professor Craig S. Hawkins has written concise article outlining the main arguments that Acts is indeed a first century document. This may be found on line at Also see J.A. Thompson, “The Bible and Archaeology”, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1962, pp. 378-403, Colin J. Hemer, “The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History” lists 17 reasons why the book of Acts must be a first century work. His arguments are summarized in Norman L. Geisler’s “Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics”, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1999, pp 5-6
  8. Eusebius, “The Church History”, Book 3.39
  9. William Lane Craig, PH.D., D.TH., interview with Lee Strobel, “The Case for Christ”, Zondervan, 1998, pp. 217-218
  10. Fredrick Henry Ambrose Scrivener (1813-1891) was a leading figure in the field of textual criticism during the nineteenth century. He donated his life primarily to collating numerous manuscripts and producing written works pertinent to the study of textual criticism. His name stands equally with those of Griesnach, Lachmann, Tischendorf, Tregelles, Westcott and Hort.
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