Does Mark 16:9-20 Belong in the New Testament?

Achieving a consensus among scholars is always difficult. I would say there is close to a consensus among New Testament textual critics when it comes to the long ending of the Gospel of Mark. They would almost unanimously concur that it does not belong in the New Testament. The title of our post is also the title of a new book from Wipf and Stock Publishers. Does Mark 16:9-20 Belong in the New Testament is by David Hester and while I’ve just started it I think it’s going to challenge a lot of contemporary thinking on this issue. Could the tide be shifting? Here’s the catalog description:

“For almost fifty years, much has been written concerning Mark 16:9-20. During the same time period, evidence once counted against Mark 16:9-20 was shown to be otherwise. In this study, David W. Hester surveys modern scholarship (1965-2011) surrounding the passage. He examines the passage itself–the external evidence, with particular attention paid to the manuscripts and the patristics, especially those of the second and third centuries; and the internal evidence, featuring details that are problematic as well as those that favor Markan authorship. Finally, a proposal concerning the origin of the passage is presented. The first edition of Mark’s Gospel ended at 16:8, resulting in the manuscript tradition that omits the passage, but this was not his intended ending. Later, his associates attached Mark’s notes and published a second edition of the Gospel with the last twelve verses. This led to its inclusion. Given that the passage is cited by second- and third-century witnesses and attributed to Mark, along with the biblical prohibition against adding to or taking from Scripture, it is doubtful that an anonymous second-century author could have been successful in adding his own composition and it being widely accepted by the early church.”

Consider these two endorsements:

“Dr. Hester’s position on Mark 16:9-20 differs from the prevailing view that these twelve verses are not part of the original Gospel of Mark. After setting forth his arguments against their authenticity, he passionately presents the case for the other side–citing evidence he is convinced will persuade the open-minded critic that to omit these verses is to omit a part of Scripture.”
Rodney E. Cloud, Dean of the Turner School of Theology, Amridge University

“Though covering well-worn ground, Dr. Hester highlights historical clues often overlooked or even ignored. If Mark 16:9‒20 was added to the text, then why did no early Christian writer ever voice any opposition? Why did the early church tacitly accept these verses as canonical? This careful and thorough review of the ancient evidence and of modern scholarship helped me reexamine the whole question afresh.”
David H. Warren, Associate Professor of Biblical Studies, Faulkner University

David W. Hester is Lecturer for the V. P. Black College of Biblical Studies and the F. Furman Kearley Graduate School of Theology at Faulkner University in Montgomery, Alabama. He is the director of the Faulkner Bible Lectureship, and coeditor of the graduate journal, ΠΝΕΥΜΑΤΙΚΑ. He is the author of two books: Among the Scholars (1994) and Tampering With Truth (2007).

Does Mark 16:9-20 Belong in the New Testament is a paperback with 176 pages and sells for $23.00.

Does Mark 16:9-20 Belong in the New Testament? - By: David W. Hester

“Jesus Before the Gospels” by Bart Ehrman – First Impressions

Bart Ehrman is a scholar who knows how to write so the layperson can understand what scholars are talking about. In his newest book, Jesus Before the Gospels (HarperOne), Ehrman sets out to show what recent studies on memory demonstrate about the accounts of the life of Jesus. He says, “I’m interested in knowing which memories of Jesus are historically probable.” (p. 47) Take for example the commonly held view that many of the traditions in the Gospels were memorized. Ehrman cites the popular study by the Scandinavian specialist in New Testament and early Judaism Birger Gerhardsson, Memory and Manuscript (Eerdmans). This is a book is often cited in books that I’ve read. Ehrman quickly disarms this by saying “[u]nfortunately, very few scholars find Gerhardsson’s views convincing. In part that is because there is almost no evidence for them.” (p. 68)

Another scholar that is commonly cited by conservatives is Kenneth Bailey. Again, Ehrman is not impressed. “For one thing, on the very basic level, one might wonder what evidence Bailey cites to show that early Christians came together to recount their community tradition in the manner of the haflat samar. In fact, he doesn’t cite any at all. So far as I know there is no evidence.” (pp. 72-73) But what about eyewitness testimony? In particular what about the research done by British scholar Richard Bauckham in his book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (Eerdmans)? Ehrman says that ‘[o]utside the ranks of conservative evangelical Christians, very few if any biblical scholars have found Bauckham’s case persuasive. It founders on numerous grounds, not the least of which is its steadfast refusal to take seriously scholarship on eyewitness testimony undertaken for more than a century by such experts as legal scholars who see the real-life importance of the question.” (p. 101)

Ehrman says many of the things we’ve been taught about memory such as people from oral cultures have better memories, the early church memorized events from the life of Jesus and carefully and accurately passed them on, people have better memories when it is a very significant event in their life personally, and so on are all no true. Our memories simply don’t work that way. And they are notoriously unreliable. Eyewitness testimony is also no guarantee of accuracy. But it would be wrong to conclude that Ehrman thinks everything in the New Testament regarding Jesus is the result of a false or distorted memory. He clearly says, “I am decidedly not saying that all of our memories are faulty or wrong. Most of the time we remember pretty well, at least in broad outline. Presumably, so too did eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus.” (p. 143) The Gospels are probably fairly accurate when it comes to “gist memories of Jesus”. (p. 144) The challenge is how does one determine “if a memory of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels is accurate, by which I mean that it is something that in fact did not actually take place?” (p. 151) Ehrman offers two criteria: accounts that contradict each other can’t both be right so one of the accounts is a distorted memory and some things are just have “inherent plausibility.” (pp. 151-57)

The book is a tour de force and ought to be engaged in a serious fashion by those who will no doubt disagree with the implications of his thesis. Ehrman spent a couple of years studying the research surrounding the issues of memory. Any response to Ehrman will have to take that research into consideration.

Jesus Before the Gospels is a hardcover with 336 pages and sells for $27.99.

Bart D. Ehrman is one of the most renowned and controversial Bible scholars in the world today. He is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and is the author of more than twenty books, including the New York Times bestsellers How Jesus Became God; Misquoting Jesus; God’s Problem; Jesus, Interrupted; and Forged. He has appeared on Dateline NBC, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, CNN, History, and top NPR programs, as well as been featured in TIME, the New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, and other publications. He lives in Durham, North Carolina.

Jesus Before The Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior  -     By: Bart D. Ehrman


Were the Gospels Originally Anonymous?

In his most recent book, The Case for Jesus (Image Books), Brant Pitre tackles a long-held staple of New Testament scholarship: the anonymity of the Gospels.

Read any standard New Testament introduction and one of the first things it will tell you is that the Gospels are “technically” anonymous. We don’t really know who wrote them. Pitre says this conclusion is “so widespread that it was rarely discussed, much less questioned” when he was a student. The theory can be broken down into four basic claims:

  1. The four Gospels were originally published without any titles are headings identifying the authors.
  2. All four Gospels were circulated without any titles for almost a century before any attributed them to Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.
  3. Long after the disciples of Jesus were dead were the titles finally added to the manuscripts.
  4. Since the originals Gospels were anonymous it is reasonable to conclude that none of them were actually eyewitnesses.

Pitre responds with a number of points. I’ll only list three here:

  1. “No anonymous copies of Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John have ever been found. They do not exist. As far as we know, they never have.” (p. 15) All of the extant manuscripts we have include some kind of author. While some variation may exist (e.g., “Gospel according to Matthew,” “According to Matthew”) or the title may appear at the end of the document there is “absolute uniformity” in the authors to whom each book is attributed. (p. 17)
  2. The anonymous scenario is incredible. As the theory goes the gospels circulated anonymously for almost a hundred years but then somehow at some point they are “attributed to exactly the same author by scribes throughout the world and yet leave no trace of disagreement in any manuscripts.” (p. 19) Pitre asks “How did these unknown scribes who added the titles know whom to ascribe the books to? How did they communicate with one another so that all the copies ended up with the same titles?” (p. 19) Why weren’t some of the gospels attributed to someone else like Andrew or Peter? This is, in fact, what you see with manuscripts that are actually anonymous (i.e., the book of Hebrews which is attributed to all sorts of authors). (p. 20)
  3. Why attribute Mark and Luke to non-eyewitnesses? “If you wanted to give authority to your anonymous book, would you pick Luke, who was neither an eyewitness himself nor a follower of an eyewitness, but a companion of Paul, who never met Jesus during his earthly life?” (pp. 22-23) Notice that “none of the later apocryphal gospels are attributed to non-eyewitnesses like Mark or Luke. The later false gospels are attributed to people with firsthand access to Jesus: people like Peter, or the apostle Thomas, or Mary Magdalen, or Judas, or even Jesus himself. They are never attributed to mere followers or companions of the apostles. Why? Because it is the authors of the apocryphal gospels who wanted to give much-needed authority to their writings by falsely ascribing them to people with the closest possible connections to Jesus.” (p. 23)

Pitre spends the next chapter exploring each Gospel and its title. He examines the internal evidence to show it does not support an anonymous theory. In chapter four he looks at the early church fathers and demonstrates that “the earliest Christian writings outside the New Testament are completely unambiguous and totally unanimous about who wrote the four Gospels.” (p. 39)

Pitre’s case is a strong one and worthy of attention. He points to an important article by Simon Gathercole titled “The Titles of the Gospels in the Earliest New Testament Manuscripts.” Pitre interacts considerably with the work of Barth Ehrman. Ehrman’s most recent work, Jesus Before the Gospels (2106, HarperOne), was obviously too new to be included. It would have been nice to know how Pitre would have responded to this statement by Ehrman regarding the church fathers:

“In the various Apostolic Fathers there are numerous quotations of the Gospels of the New Testament, especially Matthew and Luke. What is striking about these quotations is that in none of them does any of the authors ascribe a name to the books they are quoting. Isn’t that a bit odd? If they wanted to assign ‘authority’ to the quotation, why wouldn’t they indicate who wrote it.” (Jesus Before the Gospels, p. 109)

The Case for Jesus is a hardback with 256 pages and sells for $23.00.

BRANT PITRE is a professor of sacred Scripture at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, Louisiana. He is the author of the bestselling book Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper (2011). Dr. Pitre is an extremely enthusiastic and highly sought-after speaker who lectures regularly across the United States. He has produced dozens of Bible studies on both CD and DVD, in which he explores the biblical roots of the Catholic faith. He has also appeared on a number of Catholic radio and television shows, such as Catholic Answers Live and EWTN. He currently lives in Louisiana with his wife, Elizabeth, and their five young children.

The Case for Jesus by Brant Pitre


What a Difference the Gospel of John Makes

I’m currently reading The Fourfold Gospel by Francis Watson. What an amazing book. Here’s a small excerpt which I hope will whet your appetite.

“In John, the “cleansing of the temple” takes place at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and follows an incident—water turned to wine at Cana of Galilee—that is not recorded elsewhere. In the synoptics, the temple incident takes place at the end of Jesus’ ministry and is a link in the chain of events that leads to his death.

In John, most of Jesus’ activity takes place in or around Jerusalem, which he visits for feasts such as Passover or Tabernacles on four occasions before the final Passover when he meets his death. References to Jesus in Galilee are limited to three passages. In the synoptics, Jesus’ main activity takes place in or around Galilee, and he visits Jerusalem only once.

In John, Jesus’ debates with opponents in Jerusalem focus mainly on the issue of who he claims to be. Even when he heals on the Sabbath, it is his identity that becomes the primary issue rather than Sabbath healing as such; the Jerusalem authorities seek to kill him because “he not only broke the Sabbath but also called God his own father, making himself equal to God.” In the synoptics, Jesus’ debates occur in Galilee as well as Jerusalem, and they are mainly concerned with the observance and interpretation of the law.

In John, the event that leads to Jesus’ death is the raising of Lazarus. In the opinion of Caiaphas the high priest, this miracle poses a threat to public order with potentially disastrous consequences; the only responsible course is to put Jesus to death. In the synoptics, Jesus performs no miracles in Jerusalem or its vicinity (apart from blighting a fig tree and restoring a severed ear). His death is unrelated to his activities as a miracle worker.

In John, Jesus speaks at length with his disciples about a future in which he will be absent and yet present to them in a new way, through the Paraclete, or Holy Spirit. In the synoptics, this period of absence is viewed as a time of tribulation for the world that will culminate in the coming of the Son of man on the clouds of heaven.

In John, Jesus prays for himself, his disciples, and future believers while still in the upper room following the Last Supper. Confident of his own destiny, he asks to be restored to the glory that he shared with his Father “before the foundation of the world.” In the synoptics, he is distressed at his forthcoming suffering and prays in Gethsemane that the cup of suffering be removed, while subjecting himself to his Father’s will.

In John, Jesus’ “glory” is manifested not only in his miracles but also and above all in his death. In death he is “exalted” or “glorified.” The cross is his throne, and the crucifixion is his enthronement. In the synoptics, the revelation of Jesus’ glory takes place not on Good Friday but on Easter Day.

While it is modern scholarship that has labeled Matthew, Mark, and Luke as the “synoptic gospels,” the distance that separates them from John is not a modern discovery. Its recognition is as old as the four-gospel collection itself; the very fact of John’s inclusion shows that the distance was felt to be a positive rather than a negative factor. The question is how and why that distance enhances the canonical collection rather than undermining it and making it incoherent.

The differences illustrated here may not all be of the same kind. It is unlikely that Jesus performed similar demonstrations in the temple at both the beginning and the end of his ministry. It is not unlikely that Jesus visited Jerusalem more than once in the course of his ministry. All the same, these differences show why it has proved so difficult—indeed, impossible—to construct out of the four gospels a credible account of Jesus’ ministry in its actual historical sequence.” (The Fourfold Gospel, Baker Academic pp. 86-88)

The Fourfold Gospel is available in hardcover with 224 pages and sells for $24.99.

Francis Watson (PhD, University of Oxford) is Research Chair in Biblical Interpretation at Durham University. He previously held the Kirby Laing Chair of New Testament Exegesis at the University of Aberdeen and taught at King’s College London. Among his numerous works are the critically acclaimed Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith; Paul, Judaism, and the Gentiles: Beyond the New Perspective; and Gospel Writing: A Canonical Perspective. He is also coauthor of Reading Scripture with the Church.

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New from IVP Academic – “The Acts of the Apostles”

When Craig Keener speaks I listen. When he recommends a book on Acts you can consider it sold. IVP Academic has released The Acts of the Apostles by Osvaldo Padilla. Here’s what Keener has to say about it:

“It is rare to find a work that blends epistemological, hermeneutical and historiographic sophistication with mature handling of the extensive primary and secondary literature, but this is such a work. Padilla’s introduction to questions of the authorship and genre of Acts and the character of its speeches is a superbly informed and trustworthy guide.”

Here’s the catalog description:

“The book of Acts is a remarkable fusion of the historical and theological, and its account of the early church has fascinated theologians and biblical scholars for centuries. Just who was the author of this work? And what kind of book did he write? How do we classify its genre?

The Acts of the Apostles provides an advanced introduction to the study of Acts, covering important questions about authorship, genre, history and theology. Osvaldo Padilla explores fresh avenues of understanding by examining the text in light of the most recent research on the book of Acts itself, philosophical hermeneutics, genre theory and historiography. In addition, Padilla opens a conversation between the text of Acts and postliberal theology, seeking a fully-orbed engagement with Acts that is equally attuned to questions of interpretation, history and theology.”

Osvaldo Padilla (PhD, University of Aberdeen) is associate professor of New Testament at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama. He is the author of The Speeches of Outsiders in Acts: Poetics, Theology, and Historiography and he has written articles and reviews for Themelios, Bulletin for Biblical Research, New Testament Studies and Ex Auditu. Previously, he taught New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and served as pastor of Jesus el Buen Pastor, a Hispanic congregation in the Chicago area. He is married to Kristen, and they have one son.

The Acts of the Apostles is a paperback with 288 pages and sells for $26.00.


How Does God “Give” Conversion?

There are two passages in Acts which use a peculiar phrase that has perplexed scholars: “give conversion.” What could this mean? Joel Green examines this phrase in his new book Conversion in Luke-Acts (Baker Academic). Here are the two passages:

God exalted this Jesus to his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give conversion to Israel, as well as forgiveness of sins. (Acts 5:31)

They praised God, saying, “So God has given even to the gentiles the conversion that leads to life.” (Acts 11:18)

Green notes that Calvin says the latter of the two passages can allow for two interpretations. God has either “given to the gentiles ‘the opportunity of repentance’ or that God has actually changed their hearts. Of these two options, Calvin chooses the latter.” (p. 136) The recent discussion, Green writes, “can be traced to the work of Hans Conzelmann (1915–89). In his view, the phrase ‘to give repentance’ ought to be understood in the context of Second Temple Jewish and early Christian literature, where it refers to the gift of ‘the opportunity for repentance.’” (p. 136)

As would be expected not everyone is persuaded. Green points to Christoph Stenschke who “devotes a section of his study of Lukan anthropology to a point-by-point refutation of Conzelmann’s case.” (p. 138 Christopher Stenschke, Luke’s Portrait of the Gentiles, Mohr Siebeck, 1999)

Green offers four arguments against Stenschke’s examination of the evidence. For brevity’s sake I offer only the first two of Green’s responses.

“First, Stenschke too easily brushes past Conzelmann’s understanding of how a native Greek speaker might have heard Luke’s language of ‘giving conversion.’ To take only one example, Plutarch reports that Alexander, ‘having arrived before Thebes, and wanting still to give the city an opportunity for repentance of its deeds, required . . .’ (Alexander 11.4),40 a report in which the phrase ‘an opportunity for’ simply must be introduced for purposes of clarity.” (p. 138)

Second, “[i]t simply makes no sense to take these two texts as referring to God’s active changing of the hearts and lives of everyone, both Israel and the gentiles (an interpretation that Stenschke’s reading seems to require), though it makes good sense of Luke’s theology to say that God has opened the way for everyone, both Israel and the gentiles, to convert (as Conzelmann’s reading would have it).” (p. 139)

The discussion is fascinating and well worth reading. See the full discussion on pages 132-42.

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Coming this December – “When in Romans” by Beverly Gaventa

One of the books I’m most excited about this Fall is from Beverly Gaventa called When in Romans (Baker Academic). Gaventa is a new author to me but the endorsements to her work have easily got me sitting on the edge of my seat awaiting its December release. Consider these words of advance praise:

“No one makes Romans come alive quite like Beverly Gaventa. In this highly accessible but provocative book–aimed at a wide Christian audience–she challenges our domesticated construals of Paul’s gospel with a vision of God’s comprehensive saving agency. If the starting point and the primary subject matter of the letter is not us but God, we are suddenly liberated from our excessive anxieties about ourselves, the church, and ‘ethics.’ Here are 3-D lenses to see Romans, the gospel, and the reality of God’s grace, power, and mystery in a new and exciting way.”

John M. G. Barclay, Lightfoot Professor of Divinity, Durham University

“From the beginning of the Christian era until the present day, Paul’s Letter to the Romans has been the source of revolutionary rethinking. Nowhere do we come closer to the radical heart of the gospel. The universal and cosmic notes of the Pauline symphony are sounded in this book by one of our most esteemed interpreters of the apostle’s letters. Beverly Gaventa has written a book for ordinary parish clergy and laypeople that is fun to read and full of spicy references to popular culture, and that will jolt readers into a new appreciation for the great apostle and his unique place in the history of Christian theology.”

Fleming Rutledge, author of Not Ashamed of the Gospel: Sermons on Romans and The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ

“Beverly Gaventa has produced that rarest of books, combining careful, exquisite scholarship with her eye for humanizing, delightful detail. Her writing is both sophisticated and accessible as she tackles Paul’s complex notions of individual and cosmic salvation. I am one of those Gaventa identifies who, more frequently than I like to admit, opted for the Gospel reading rather than grappling with Paul’s sometimes tortured logic. Looking back, I would have loved turning to When in Romans.”

John M. Buchanan, former editor and publisher, The Christian Century

“There are many books on Romans, but none quite like this one. Steeped in learning but accessible to a broad spectrum of readers, written with pastoral insight and welcome flashes of humor, here is a gift to Christians and inquirers alike. Gaventa invites us to enter the grand metropolis that is Romans, wander in its streets, relish its conversations, and be made new by its radical Lord.”

Susan Grove Eastman, associate research professor of New Testament, Duke Divinity School

“Anyone who has difficulty imagining that a book on Paul’s Epistle to the Romans could be a ‘page turner’ should read this one. Beverly Roberts Gaventa’s prose is compelling, her insights on Romans are startlingly original, and her ability to show us in Paul’s letter ‘the gospel in its vastness’ is simply breathtaking. This book is to be savored.”

Thomas G. Long, Bandy Professor of Preaching, Emeritus, Candler School of Theology, Emory University

She is a contributor to the recent release from Zonderan, I (Still) Believe. In her chapter in that volume she confesses she is “intoxicated with the Greek New Testament” (p. 84). She is surprisingly transparent in the book both as a mother and a scholar. For those unfamiliar with her I would suggest this as a good place to start.

When in Romans will be a hardcover with 160 pages and sell for $22.99.

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Beverly Roberts Gaventa (PhD, Duke University) is Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She is also Emerita Professor of New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary. Gaventa is president of the Society of Biblical Literature for 2016 and is the author or editor of more than a dozen books, including Our Mother Saint Paul, Seeking the Identity of Jesus, and commentaries on 1 and 2 Thessalonians and Acts.

I (Still) Believe is edited by John Byron and Joel Lohr. It is a paperback with 256 pages and sells for $24.99.

9780310515166, I (Still) Believe : Leading Bible Scholars Share Their Stories of Faith and Scholarship, John Byron