Original Ending of Mark

Title of Work:

The Original Ending of Mark: A New Case for the Authenticity of Mark 16: 9–20

Author of Work:

Nicholas P. Lunn


Pastor Dan Witte

Page Number:


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the-original-mark-resize-coverYou may not question whether Jesus said— and Mark wrote— “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). Luther certainly regarded it as worthy of inclusion in his Small Catechism.

The phrase from Mark 16:15 “preach the gospel,” κηρύξατε τὸ εὐαγγέλιον, serves as the motto of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, but could these words be un-canonical? Despite cautionary notes in the New International Version and other major translations and the absence of this section from the Sunday lectionary in Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal, many readers of this review may never have wrestled with whether or not Mark 16:9–20 is canonical.

A little background is in order. After the discoveries of Codices Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, Brooke F. Wescott and F. J. A. Hort argued in 1881 that Mark 16:9–20 is not original. Bruce Metzger and other editors of recent NA/UBS Greek New Testament editions have agreed. Metzger (1977) has highlighted seeming anomalies in vocabulary and style in Mark 16:9–20.

  1. E. B. Cranfield in his 1959 commentary (part of The Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary) called the long ending “obviously non-Markan,” and no recent prominent U.S. commentaries on Mark disagree with Metzger or Cranfield. James R. Edwards’ 2002 Pillar New Testament commentary on Mark does not consider Mark 16:9–20 original, nor does Craig A. Evans’ 2001 Word commentary on Mark 8:27–16:20, nor will James W. Voelz’s forthcoming Concordia Commentary volume on the same section. Mark 16:9–20 receives no comments or exposition in the major commentaries of “Lane, France, Garland, Marcus, Harrington and Donahue, Boring, as well as those of Gundry and Witherington,” points out Nicholas P. Lunn (page 2, footnote 3).

Lunn, swimming against the scholarly tide, believes Mark 16:9–20 is both canonical and Markan, and he has marshaled much evidence. After a chapter of introduction, Lunn offers two chapters on external evidence (2, Bible manuscripts; 3, patristic citations) and two more on internal evidence (4, vocabulary and style; 5, parts of speech proportions, ways in which prominent participants are referred to, pet phrases— what linguists call “collocations”— and characteristic syntactic constructions). Chapter 6 gives literary evidence, such as Mark’s use of inclusio, that is, “envelope structure”; Mark’s penchant for intercalation (telling a story, interrupting it with a second account, then returning to the first); parallelism; macro-structure in the Gospel; Markan foreshadowing and more.

Then Lunn treats thematic evidence in chapter 7: “(1) the prediction of the passion and resurrection; (2) the new exodus; (3) Elijah; (4) the movement from fear to faith; and (5) the proclamation of the gospel message” (241).    In chapter 8 Lunn examines the claim that Mark 16:9–20 depends on materials found in the other three Gospels. This claim could render those twelve verses inauthentic, if one joins Lunn and others in presupposing Markan priority (this reviewer disagrees— see B. Ward Powers’ The Progressive Publication of Matthew: An Explanation of the Writing of the Synoptic Gospels).

Lunn takes up “miscellaneous issues” in chapter 9, such as the awkward linkage between Mark 16:8 and 16:9; the lack of explicit reference to Galilee in 16:9–20; and some supposed non-Markan elements, such as the necessity of baptism and the signs relating to snakes and poison (16:18). With Chapter 10 Lunn attempts to answer, if 16:9–20 are inauthentic, whether the original ending was accidentally lost or deliberately removed. Chapter 11 summarizes Lunn’s conclusions and rationale. While confident in the last twelve verses of Mark, Lunn has modest expectations: “At the very least, the thesis advanced here, in all its various elements, will hopefully succeed in proving that the case against the longer Markan ending cannot by any means be regarded as closed. There are sufficient arguments presented here to fuel a continuing debate on the matter in hand. If the discussion is re-opened and given fresh impetus, then that in itself will be a worthwhile outcome” (360).

It seems that Lunn did change the mind of one scholar. In 2001 Craig A. Evans wrote in the second volume of his Word Biblical Commentary, “The parallels with Acts and the other Gospels, the high concentration of vocabulary found nowhere else in Mark, the absence of these verses in our oldest copies of Mark (e.g., א and B) and in the earliest fathers (e.g., Clement of Alexandria and Origen), and the awkward connection between vv. 8 and 9 have led most scholars to conclude that the Long Ending of Mark was not part of the original Gospel” (547). By contrast, as a blurb for Lunn’s 2014 book, Evans stated, “Nicholas Lunn has thoroughly shaken my views concerning the ending of the Gospel of Mark. As in the case of most gospel scholars, I have for my whole career held that Mark 16:9-20, the so-called ‘Long Ending,’ was not original. But in his well-researched and carefully argued book, Lunn succeeds in showing just how flimsy that position really is. The evidence for the early existence of this ending, if not for its originality, is extensive and quite credible. I will not be surprised if Lunn reverses scholarly opinion on this important question. I urge scholars not to dismiss his arguments without carefully considering this excellent book. The Original Ending of Mark is must reading for all concerned with the gospels and early tradition concerned with the resurrection story.”

Evans is right about “carefully argued,” at least in volume: Lunn has over 1100 footnotes. “Well-researched” fits too, with 400 works in Lunn’s bibliography. More than that— Lunn’s book may be the most thorough, organized defense ever of the authenticity of Mark 16:9–20. A brief review can hardly do it justice. Lunn offers textual evidence, syntactical and vocabulary studies, discourse analysis and more. He covers his opponents’ arguments and refutes them, usually solidly.

Sometimes Lunn stumbles. For instance, in his study of whether words in 16:9–20 are non-Markan or not, or whether the ratio of such words to words which Mark uses in other places is high, Lunn examines various Markan pericopes for “words used only once,” wuoo. He borrows the acronym from Bruce Terry (127), but it confuses. Both Terry and Lunn mean “lexemes” (dictionary forms, such as ἀνίστημι, as opposed to the first word in 16:9, the participle Ἀναστὰς). Sometimes such lexemes show up more than once in the chapter or pericope under analysis.

With such slips rare in this book and with so much evidence for his case, will Lunn reverse scholarly opinion, as Evans predicts? As much as he admires the book, this reviewer would be surprised. A critical review and rebuttal can be found online. One’s view of Mark 16:9–20, as Daniel Wallace points out in Perspectives on the Ending of Mark: Four Views, relate to one’s presuppositions about a) the synoptic problem, b) textual criticism of the Gospels, and c) to what degree God’s promise to preserve his Word applies to manuscripts collectively. Wallace and most of the other prominent authors in that volume are unlikely ever to see things Lunn’s way— and you will do well to compare their arguments with Lunn’s. The other thorough recent work contending that Mark 16:9–20 is inauthentic is online: Travis B. Williams’ “Bringing Method to the Madness: Examining the Style of the Longer Ending of Mark,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 20.3 (2010) 397–418.

No one this side of eternity will permanently solve for all interpreters the puzzle of the so-called “Long Ending” of Mark. But Lunn has notably re-framed and updated the debate. Lutheran pastors would do well to ponder this with thoughtful diligence.