Against my better judgment; yet remaining spiritually unresolved in my soul concerning the question of the validity of the LE [longer ending] of Mark [16:9-20], I enter the back-and-forth current discussion/debate between Rev. Jack Cascione and Dr. James Voelz.
At the start, let me be fair in saying that I am a big fan of Cascione. In my biblical opinion, his discovery of numeric patterns in the book of Revelation possesses true insight given by the Holy Spirit. And Cascione’s writings that document patterns in the whole of the Torah/Pentateuch is irrefutable. It absolutely destroys any reason for a thinking person to endorse the J-E-D-P theory in opposition to Mosaic authorship, the latter being the view of Jesus in John 5:46, 47.
At the same time, there are a couple of Cascione’s conclusions that do not receive my wholehearted agreement—Mark 16:9-20 being one of them. I tend to believe that Jack has become too dogmatic over this knotty Scriptural issue. True, he seemingly has some very, very weighty textual argumentation in his favor, but to make this text an almost sedes doctrinae, as a true test of a person’s Christianity, goes way too far in my opinion. It seems to be on the brink of Cascione’s conclusion becoming a “Georg-Major-of-Lutheran-Reformation-fame” overstatement that can only lead to a distaste for Cascione’s overall superior work. (In defense of Jack, one needs to know him well as a friend, as I do; he is filled with true Christian zeal for God’s inerrant word, and his full-of-conviction personality often makes him like a “dog with a bone.”)
I say the above because of Cascione’s argumentation that the Lutheran Confessions suffer a fatal blow if Mark 16:9-20 are not part of the original Gospel, that is, if I understand him correctly. For me, this line of reasoning would make the norma normata (the Confessions) the controller of the norma normans (the Bible). A Lutheran “no-no” in terms of Sola Scriptura! I hope I am mistaken.
At this point, I also need to express my great respect for Voelz as a biblical scholar. Yet, being in the academic realm of professors, he obviously finds himself in an arena where it is verboten for fellow professors, as well as, seminary and official synodical hires to disagree with him [“don’t rock the boat”]. (Many pastors and laypersons in parishes know this to be true, especially when salaries and calls are in the balance.) With that said, I have just gone where wise persons should “fear to tread.” Consequently, I suspect that today’s “PC” culture originated in church circles before it entered the political realm.
As I also do not come down on either Voelz’s or Cascione’s side in this debate over Mark 16:9-20, I do have to say that Voelz’s response to Cascione in Christian News (CN, 12-23, 19, p. 5) left me somewhat flat, as I do not feel that he brought all the most important weaponry to the biblical battlefield concerning questions posed by Mark 16:9-20. But to be fair, Voelz probably sensed the futility of a continual and lengthy CN response. More importantly and more fairly would be the following: In Voelz’s two CPH volumes on Mark’s Gospel, both Voelz and Christopher W. Mitchell extensively state the pros and cons for the LE—with many fine points being expressed for ending Mark at 16:8 and for also going with the LE, though both lean in favor of ending Mark at 16:8. (For those interested, purchase or even borrow from your pastor, Voelz’s Mark 1:1—8:26 and 9:1—16:20 commentary volumes. In the initial volume, note pp. 54-61 (in particular, p. 55 and especially the comments on Mark 15:32 and 8:11-33 on pp. 59, 60. The Excursus by Mitchell in the second volume [pp. 1222-1237] has many enlightening and compelling remarks.)
In view of the above, let me enter the fray with a few thoughts. First, I doubt that any Christian, except the fool of the book of Proverbs, would be willing to place his eternal salvation totally upon his personal viewpoint of Mark 16:9-20, namely, that one should go to “hell” if his conclusion is wrong. Fact: It is still faith in Jesus Christ that saves, not faith in the authenticity of Mark 16:9-20.
Second, sound Christians have been on both sides of this question. G. Stoeckhardt, at one time known as the greatest exegete of the LCMS, contradicts the chronology of Mark 16:9 in his The Biblical History of the New Testament (S,BHNT, pp. 298, 299), placing the appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdala as secondary to Christ’s initial appearance to the other women who had first come to the tomb along with Mary Magdala. (This Mary had left the tomb, not entering or having heard the angelic “He has risen” proclamation. As a messenger, she had run back to the disciples, minus the true resurrection message.)
It is Mark 16:9 that presents the real problem concerning the chronological authenticity of Mark’s LE. The brilliant scholars, Alfred Edersheim and Wm. F. Beck, seek to find a feasible way around this problem, thus accepting Mark’s LE. Beck in his Bible translation, The New Testament in the Language of Today, is, however, extremely fair in pointing out that “The two oldest and best manuscripts do not have Mark 16:9-20 but end Mark’s Gospel with verse 8” (B,NTLT, p. 98). Thus also, the Concordia Self-Study Bible, page 1538.
So much for solving that difficult problem.
Third, Cascione’s argument that one needs “two” passages of Scripture “to establish a doctrine” is puzzling to me (CN, 12-9-19, p. 21). I had some of the same professors on the same faculty as did he. Yet, my recollection has me remembering that I was taught that just one passage, as in 1 Peter 3:19 (Christ’s descent into hell), was enough to establish a fundamental doctrine. (And if one were to say that Psalm 68:18 would be the substantiating verse to go with 1 Peter 3:19, well, that would be a misapplication of the passage. That messianic Psalm passage relates to Christ’s ascension into heaven, not His descent into hell.) Voelz concurs that two agreeing texts are not needed to confirm doctrine (CN, 12-23-19, p. 5).
Fourth, even though Cascione reveals a most insightful textual pattern in Mark 16:9-20, and I’m impressed, this does not seem foolproof. If Amos 3:7: “But the Lord GOD doesn’t do anything without revealing His secret plan to His servants the prophets” is applied, then why—in an extended form—would the writers of Scripture, who studied their own Spirit-given writings (1 Peter 1:10-12), not have seen biblical patterns given by inspiration. Thus, why could a writer, other than Mark, having possibly also known Old Testament Hebraic patterns, not have added them at Mark 16:9-20 to make it all look authentic? Remember, it is Luke who said that “many” had already recorded their recollections of the life, sayings, and deeds of Jesus (Luke 1:1, 2). And a number of those did not cut Scriptural muster for inclusion on the pages of the New Testament.
Cascione, it seems, advocates for the priority of Mark, which, if I remember from my seminary studies, is not a fact set in stone. In fact, do we not teach that the Gospel of John was written to set straight some of the misguided beliefs of early Christians (see John 21:20-23)? With that in mind, it seems that John in 20:2 is contradicting Mark 16:9. Stoeckhardt concludes, that Jesus first appeared to the other women who had accompanied Mary Magdala to the tomb (cp. Mark 16:1), that is, had appeared to them after Mary had left, Mary never having entered the tomb in the first place to hear the words of the angel, “He has risen.” To repeat, this is shown by the fact that Mary Magdala came to the disciples and reported the assumption that the body of a still dead Jesus had been moved for reburial to some other location. John reveals this in 20:2.
This separation of Mary Magdala from the other women who lingered at the tomb provides time for Jesus to physically appear to these women as they traveled from the tomb (Matthew 28:9; cp. Mark 16:8); and notice that this latter verse does not say that someone like Jesus did not talk to the women and they to Him, though those hastening women did not stop to talk to any other by-passers. And note that this appearance of Jesus would most likely have occurred before Mary Magdala was able to return to the tomb of Jesus, shortly after both Peter and John had come and gone (John 20:1-10). It is at this later time, it seems, that Jesus appeared to Mary Magdala outside His former tomb (John 20:11-18). (Cp. Matthew 28:1-10; Luke 24:1-12.)
Sidebar 1: Remember that no one accused Stoeckhardt of abandoning the Lutheran Confessions or Lutheran church tradition for his stand against the chronology of Mark 16:9—or humorously spoke of him in terms of “the Grinch who stole the Catechism” (CN, 12-9-19, p. 20).
Therefore, we ask: Is Mark 16:9 from the Holy Spirit or not? I am not convinced either way. Is Cascione correct or is it Voelz? Not enough evidence to say either way when all the evidence is presented from every side. And unless the original autograph of the Gospel of Mark is found before Judgment Day, the Mark 16:9-20 question will continue. And it appears dangerous to hold the feet of others to the fire to make a final decision one way or another. It just does not appear to me to be a “heaven” or “hell” issue.
Fifth, statements like “pick up snakes” and “drink deadly poison” in Mark 16:18 seem somewhat “iffy.” I suppose the “snakes” part could be fulfilled by Acts 28:1-6, but the “deadly poison” part remains a mystery since no example of this is mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament.
Sixth and seventh, and maybe most important, are Cascione’s contentions as to the absolute necessity of Mark 16:16, a most beloved passage for the doctrine of baptism, as well as his argument that “without” Mark 16:9 the attestation to the “physical” resurrection of Christ is missing in the Gospel of Mark.
As to Cascione’s baptismal argumentation, I would contend that Acts 2 presents the same baptismal info, as stated in Mark 16:16. Verses 38 and 39 state that baptism saves (also see 1 Peter 3:21) and that without repentance, damnation awaits the non-repentant, while the “gift of the Holy Spirit” absolutely implies the necessity of belief/faith for salvation (cp. 1 Corinthians 12:3).
Sidebar 2: One could argue that Mark already had noted the importance of baptism at the beginning of his Gospel by recording the fact that John the Baptizer baptized “for the forgiveness of sins” (1:4); likewise, this baptismal importance is reinforced by the Baptizer’s reporting of Christ’s own baptism (1:9), a necessary act, as stated in Matthew 3:13-15.
Cascione also states that “if the Gospel of Mark ends with verse 8 there are no witnesses to the risen Christ” in that Gospel (CN, 12-9-19, p. 20). Is this true? In terms of a direct visual of the Risen Christ being absent if Mark 16:9 is omitted, I would insist that the words of the angel in Mark 16:6 (“He has risen”) should be enough to make Mark qualify as a valid Gospel. (Holy angels are quite reliable, right?)
As Dr. A. Andrew Das says, “Whenever the New Testament speaks of Christ being ‘made alive,’ it is referring to his bodily resurrection (e.g., Romans 4:17; 8:11 and 1 Corinthians 15:22)” (from his treatise on “Baptism in the New Testament”; see online.) Who would contend that Mark himself—without the LE—would even think of the Risen Christ appearing without a body—and how could a bodyless Jesus be taken seriously by Satan when He descended into hell? Without a body, death would still be a victor. Besides, how would Job ever be able to see a bodyless Christ with his resurrected “eyes” (Job 19:25-27)?
Sidebar 3: Cascione’s comment: “There is no good news without eyewitnesses to the risen Christ” [in Mark] is suspect. The words of the angel (“He has risen”) sounds pretty “good newsy” to me. We do walk “by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).
With the possibility that Matthew was the first written Gospel, then chapter 28:9, 10 shows the reality of seeing the Risen Christ when the women are told to tell the disciples of Jesus that they would see Jesus in Galilee (cp. Mark 16:7).
Sidebar 4: God had his own reasons for first appearing to women as witnesses; it was so contrary to Jewish protocol since women could not testify in Jewish courts as valid witnesses. (God has a tendency to do His “own thing.”)
Finally, I question Cascione’s deduction: “You Preach the Gospel, the only plural imperative to preach in Mark, is also the only plural imperative to preach the Gospel in the entire New Testament,…” (CN, 12-16-19, p. 8). Yet, there is an implied preach the Gospel imperative in Matthew 28:19 when it commands: “disciple you (mathēteusate, an imperative) all nations, by baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and by teaching them…”—even though Matthew does not use Mark’s word for preach (kerusso). Obviously, in Matthew 28:19, Christ’s followers are commanded (by an imperative command) to preach/teach the Gospel. Analyze this fact as conveyed by Matthew. However, to Cascione’s point, this added “preach” in Mark 16:15 completes a “14” pattern he detects. (Possibly weighty argumentation against my observation.)
Still, my point comes down to this: There is nothing doctrinally fundamental in the Mark 16:9-20 that cannot be substantiated in other places of the New Testament.
Sidebar 5: Many other aspects of Mark 16:9-20, pro and con, could and probably should be covered. Cascione’s reference in his CN treatments (12-9-19, p. 20) to the work of Nicholas P. Lunn should certainly be investigated. Also, I have found Edersheim’s The Life and Times of Jesus (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.: Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1965), p. 633, n. 2 and C. E. Graham Swift’s section on “16:9-20 The epilogue” (The New Bible Commentary Revised, 3rd ed., eds. Guthrie, Motyer, Stibbs, Wiseman, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.: Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1970), pp. 885, 886 to add fascinating data to the whole discussion. Both seemingly come down on the side of the authenticity of Mark 16:9-20, but at the same time, they both warn against becoming dogmatic as to a final verdict of yea or nay.
In my recent book, SOLVING NEW TESTAMENT MYSTERIES with OLD TESTAMENT CLUES, I chose to remain neutral in terms of the originality of Mark 16:9-20 (contrary to my usual approach to Scriptural matters) (see pp. 190, 235, 266). And to now go on would continue an endless discussion that has been going on for years and which promises to remain unresolved until doomsday, unless (as already stated) the original manuscript of Mark is found, being preserved in some obscure place, as were the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Oh, to be afforded a personal Q&A with God; perish the thought! Ain’t gonna happen! So, let’s get on with it all; as the saying goes, “there are other fish to fry” with precious souls to be reached before we enter heaven to ask God about Mark 16:9-20. (Tongue -in-cheek!)