DEAN BURGON AND THE TRADITIONAL
NEW TESTAMENT TEXT
Since 1881 many, perhaps most, orthodox Christian scholars have agreed with Westcott and Hort that textual criticism is a strictly neutral science that must be applied in the same way to any document whatever, including the Bible. Yet there have been some orthodox theologians who have dissented from this neutral point of view. One of them was Abraham Kuyper (1894), who pointed out that the publication of the Textus Receptus was "no accident," affirming that the Textus Receptus, "as a foundation from which to begin critical operations, can, in a certain sense, even deserve preference.'' (1) Another was Francis Pieper (1924), who emphasized the fact that "in the Bible which is in our hands we have the word of Christ which is to be taught by and in the Church until the last day." (2)
It was John W. Burgon (1813-1888), however, who most effectively combated the neutralism of naturalistic Bible study. This famous scholar spent most of his adult life at Oxford, as Fellow of Oriel College and then as vicar of St. Mary's (the University Church) and Gresham Professor of Divinity. During his last twelve years he was Dean of Chichester. In theology he was a high-church Anglican but opposed to the ritualism into which even in his day the high church movement had begun to decline. Throughout his career he was steadfast in his defense of the Scriptures as the infallible Word of God and strove with all his power to arrest the modernistic currents which during his lifetime had begun to flow within the Church of England. Because of his learned defense of the Traditional New Testament text he has been held up to ridicule in most of the handbooks on New Testament textual criticism; but his arguments have never been refuted.
Although he lived one hundred years ago, Dean Burgon has the message which we need today in our new Space Age. Since his books have now become difficult to acquire, they should all be reprinted and made available to new generations of believing Bible students. His published works on textual criticism include: The Last Twelve Verses of Mark (1871), The Revision Revised (1883), and The Traditional Text of the Holy Gospels and The Causes of the Corruption of the Traditional Text, two volumes which were published in 1896 after Burgon's death.
In his Revision Revised Burgon gives us his reconstruction of the history of the New Testament text in the vivid style that was habitual to him. "Vanquished by THE WORD Incarnate, Satan next directed his subtle malice against the Word written. Hence, as I think,—hence the extraordinary fate which befell certain early transcripts of the Gospel. First, heretical assailants of Christianity, —then, orthodox defenders of the Truth,—lastly and above all, self constituted Critics . . . such were the corrupting influences which were actively at work throughout the first hundred years after the death of S. John the Divine. Profane literature has never known anything approaching to it—can show nothing at all like it. Satan's arts were defeated indeed through the Church's faithfulness, because, — (the good Providence of God has so willed it,) —the perpetual multiplication in every quarter of copies required for Ecclesiastical use—not to say the solicitude of faithful men in diverse regions of ancient Christendom to retain for themselves unadulterated specimens of the inspired Text,—proved a sufficient safeguard against the grosser forms of corruption. But this was not all.
"The Church, remember, hath been from the beginning the 'Witness and Keeper of Holy Writ.' Did not her Divine Author pour out upon her in largest measure, 'the SPIRIT of truth,' and pledge Himself that it should be that SPIRIT'S special function to 'guide' her children 'into all the Truth' ? .... That, by a perpetual miracle, Sacred Manuscripts would be protected all down the ages against depraving influences of whatever sort,—was not to have been expected; certainly, was never promised. But the Church, in her collective capacity, hath nevertheless — as a matter of fact — been perpetually purging herself of those shamefully depraved copies which once everywhere abounded within her pale: retaining only such an amount of discrepancy in her Text as might serve to remind her children that they carry their 'treasure in earthen vessels,'—as well as to stimulate them to perpetual watchfulness and solicitude for the purity and integrity of the Deposit. Never, however, up to the present hour, hath there been any complete eradication of all traces of the attempted mischief,—any absolute getting rid of every depraved copy extant. These are found to have lingered on anciently in many quarters. A few such copies linger on to the present day. The wounds were healed, but the scars remained, — nay, the scars are discernible still.
"What, in the meantime, is to be thought of those blind guides —those deluded ones — who would now, if they could, persuade us to go back to those same codices of which the Church hath already purged herself?" (3)
Burgon's reconstruction of the history of the New Testament text is not only vividly expressed but eminently biblical and therefore true. For if the true New Testament text came from God, whence came the false texts ultimately save from the evil one? And how could the true text have been preserved save through the providence of God working through His Church?
No doubt most Bible-believing Christians, not being high-church Anglicans, will place less emphasis than Burgon did on the organized Church. Certainly they will not agree with him that the Church must be governed by bishops or that it was through the bishops mainly that the New Testament text was preserved. For this would be confusing the Old Testament dispensation with the New Testament dispensation. During the Old Testament dispensation the Church was governed by a divinely appointed priesthood, and it was through that priesthood that the Old Testament Scriptures were preserved. Now, however, in the New Testament dispensation all believers are priests before God, and each congregation of believers has the right to elect its own pastors, elders, and deacons. Hence the New Testament Scriptures were preserved in the New Testament way through the universal priesthood of believers, that is to say, through the God-guided usage of the common people, the rank and file of the true believers.
But these defects in Burgon's presentation do not in any essential way affect the eternal validity of his views concerning the New Testament text. They are eternally valid because they are consistently Christian. In this present chapter, therefore, we will follow Burgon in his defense of the Traditional Text in five passages in which it is commonly thought to be altogether indefensible. If in these five instances the Traditional Text wins a favorable verdict, its general trustworthiness may well be regarded as established.
1. Christ's Reply To The Rich Young Man (Matt. 19:16-17)
As Tregelles (1854) observed long ago, (4) we have in Matt. 19:16-17 a test passage in which the relative merits of the Traditional Text on the one side and the Western and Alexandrian texts on the other can be evaluated. Here, according to the Traditional Text. Matthew agrees with Mark and Luke in stating that Jesus answered the rich man's question, What good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life, with the counter-question, Why callest thou Me good. But according to Western and Alexandrian texts, Matthew disagrees here with Mark and Luke, affirming that Jesus' counter-question was, Why askest thou Me concerning the good. It is this latter reading that is found in Aleph B D and eight other Greek manuscripts, in the Old Latin and Old Syriac versions and in Origen, Eusebius, and Augustine.
The earliest extant evidence, however, favors the Traditional reading, why callest thou Me good. It is found in the following 2nd-century Fathers: Justin Martyr (c. 150), He answered to one who addressed Him as Good Master, Why callest thou Me good? (5) Irenaeus (c. 180), And to the person who said to Him Good Master, He confessed that God who is truly good, saying, Why callest thou Me good? (6) Hippolytus (c. 200), Why callest thou Me good? One is good, My Father who is in heaven. (7) Modern critics attempt to evade this ancient evidence for the Traditional reading. Why callest thou Me good, by claiming that these early Fathers took this reading from Mark and Luke and not from Matthew. But this is a very unnatural supposition. It is very improbable that all three of these 2nd-century Fathers were quoting from Mark and Luke rather than from Matthew, for Matthew was the dominant Gospel and therefore much more likely to be quoted from than the other two.
The internal evidence also clearly favors the Traditional reading, Why callest thou Me good. The Western and Alexandrian reading, Why askest thou Me concerning the good, has a curiously unbiblical ring. It does not savor of God but of men. It smacks of the philosophy or pseudo-philosophy which was common among the Hellenized gentiles but was probably little known in the strictly Jewish circles in which these words are represented as having been spoken. In short, the Western and Alexandrian reading, Why askest thou Me concerning the good, reminds us strongly of the interminable discussions of the philosophers concerning the summum bonum (the highest good). How could Jesus have reproved the young man for inviting Him to such a discussion, when it was clear that the youth had in no wise done this but had come to Him concerning an entirely different matter, namely, the obtaining of eternal life?
Modern critics agree that the Western and Alexandrian reading, Why askest thou Me concerning the good, does not fit the context and is not what Jesus really said. What Jesus really said, critics admit, was, Why callest thou Me good, the reading recorded in Mark. Matthew altered this reading, critics believe, to avoid theological difficulties. W. C. Allen (1907), for example, conjectures, "Matthew's changes are probably intentional to avoid the rejection by Christ of the title 'good', and the apparent distinction made between Himself and God." (8) B. C. Butler (1951), however, has punctured this critical theory with the following well placed objection. "If Matthew had wanted to change the Marcan version, he could have found an easier way of doing so (by simple omission of our Lord's comment on the man's mode of speech)." (9) This remark is very true, and to it we may add that if Matthew had found difficulty with this word of Jesus it would hardly have occurred to him to seek to solve the problem by bringing in considerations taken from Greek philosophy.
Rendel Harris (1891) had this comment to make on the reading, Why askest thou Me concerning the good. "A text of which we should certainly say a priori that it was a Gnostic depravation. Most assuredly this is a Western reading, for it is given by D a b c e ff g h. But it will be said that we have also to deal with Aleph B L and certain versions. Well, according to Westcott and Hort, Aleph and B were both written in the West, probably at Rome. Did Roman texts never influence one another?" (10) The unbiased student will agree with Harris' diagnosis of the case. It is surely very likely that this reading, redolent as it is of Greek wisdom, originated among Gnostic heretics of a pseudo-philosophic sort. The 2nd-century Gnostic teacher Valentinus and his disciples Heracleon and Ptolemaeus are known to have philosophized much on Matt. 19:17, (11) and it could easily have been one of these three who made this alteration in the sacred text. Whoever it was, he no doubt devised this reading in order to give the passage a more philosophical appearance. Evidently he attemptedto model the conversation of Jesus with the rich young man into a Socratic dialogue. The fact that this change made Matthew disagree with Mark and Luke did not bother him much, for, being a heretic, he was not particularly interested in the harmony of the Gospels with each other.
Orthodox Christians, we may well believe, would scarcely have made so drastic a change in the text of Matthew, but when once this new reading had been invented by heretics, they would accept it very readily, for theologically it would be quite agreeable to them. Christ's question, Why callest thou Me good, had troubled them, for it seemed to imply that He was not perfectly good. (Not that it actually does imply this when rightly interpreted, but it seemed to.) What a relief to reject this reading and receive in its place the easier one, Why askest thou Me concerning the good. It is no wonder, therefore, that this false reading had a wide circulation among orthodox Christians of the 3rd century and later. But the true reading, Why callest thou Me good, continued to be read and copied. It is found today in the Sahidic version, in the Peshitta, and in the vast majority of the Greek manuscripts, including W. which is probably the third oldest uncial manuscript of the New Testament in existence.
Thus when the Traditional Text stands trial in a test passage such as Matt. 19 17, it not only clears itself of the charge of being spurious but even secures the conviction of its Western and Alexandrian rivals. The reading found in these latter two texts, Why askest thou Me concerning the good, is seen to possess all the earmarks of a "Gnostic depravation." The R.V., A.S.V., R.S.V., N.E.B. and other modern versions, therefore, are to be censured for serving up to their readers this stale crumb of Greek philosophy in place of the bread of life.
In his comment on this passage Origen gives us a specimen of the New Testament textual criticism which was carried on at Alexandria about 225 A.D. Origen reasons that Jesus could not have concluded his list of God's commandments with the comprehensive requirement, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. For the reply of the young man was, All these things have I kept from my youth up, and Jesus evidently accepted this statement as true. But if the young man had loved his neighbor as himself, he would have been perfect, for Paul says that the whole law is summed up in this saying, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. But Jesus answered, If thou wilt be perfect, etc., implying that the young man was not yet perfect. Therefore, Origen argued, the commandment, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, could not have been spoken by Jesus on this occasion and was not part of the original text of Matthew. This clause, he believed, was added by some tasteless scribe. (12)
Thus it is clear that this renowned Father was not content to abide by the text which he had received but freely engaged in the boldest sort of conjectural emendation. And there were other critics at Alexandria even less restrained than he who deleted many readings of the original New Testament text and thus produced the abbreviated text found in the papyri and in the manuscripts Aleph and B.
2. The Angel At The Pool (John 5:3b-4)
The next test passage in which the Traditional reading ought to be examined is John 5:3b-4, the account of the descent of the angel into the pool of Bethesda. For the benefit of the reader this disputed reading is here given in its context.
2 Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. 3 In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. 4 For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had. 5 And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, He saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole? 7 The impotent man answered Him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me. 8 Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk. 9 And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed and walked.
The words in italics (vss. 3b-4) are omitted by Papyri 66 and 75, Aleph B C, a few minuscules, the Curetonian Syriac, the Sahidic, the Bodmer Bohairic, and a few Old Latin manuscripts. This disputed reading, however, has been defended not only by conservatives such as Hengstenberg (1861) (13) but also by radicals such as A. Hilgenfeld (1875) (14) and R. Steck (1893). (15) Hengstenberg contends that "the words are necessarily required by the connection," quoting with approval the remark of von Hofmann (an earlier commentator) that it is highly improbable "that the narrator, who has stated the site of the pool and the number of the porches, should be so sparing of his words precisely with regard to that which it is necessary to know in order to understand the occurrence, and should leave the character of the pool and its healing virtue to be guessed from the complaint of the sick man, which presupposes a knowledge of it." Hilgenfeld and Steck also rightly insist that the account of the descent of the angel into the pool in verse 4 is presupposed in the reply which the impotent man makes to Jesus in verse 7.
Certain of the Church Fathers attached great importance to this reference to the angel's descent into the pool (John 5:3b-4), attributing to it the highest theological significance. The pool they regarded as a type of baptism and the angel as the precursor of the Holy Spirit. Such was the interpretation which Tertullian (c. 200) gave to this passage. "Having been washed," he writes, "in the water by the angel, we are prepared for the Holy Spirit.'' (16) Similarly, Didymus (c 379) states that the pool was "confessedly an image of baptism" and the angel troubling the water "a forerunner of the Holy Spirit.'' (17) And the remarks of Chrysostom (c. 390) are to the same effect. (18) These writers, at least, appear firmly convinced that John 5:3b-4 was a genuine portion of the New Testament text. And the fact that Tatian (c. 175) included this reading in his Diatessaron also strengthens the evidence for its genuineness by attesting its antiquity. (19)
Thus both internal and external evidence favor the authenticity of the allusion to the angel's descent into the pool. Hilgenfeld (20) and Steck (21) suggest a very good explanation for the absence of this reading from the documents mentioned above as omitting it. These scholars point out that there was evidently some discussion in the Church during the 2nd century concerning the existence of this miracle working pool. Certain early Christians seem to have been disturbed over the fact that such a pool was no longer to be found at Jerusalem. Tertullian explained the absence of this pool by supposing that God had put an end to its curative powers in order to punish the Jews for their unbelief. (22) However, this answer did not satisfy everyone, and so various attempts were made to remove the difficulty through conjectural emendation. In addition to those documents which omit the whole reading there are others which merely mark it for omission with asterisks and obels. Some scribes, such as those that produced A and L, omitted John 5:3b, waiting for the moving of the water, but did not have the courage to omit John 5:4, For an angel . . . whatever disease he had. Other scribes, like those that copied out D and W omitted John 5:4 but did not see the necessity of omitting John 5:3b. A and L and about 30 other manuscripts add the genitive of the Lord after angel, and various other small variations were introduced. That the whole passage has been tampered with by rationalistic scribes is shown by the various spellings of the name of the pool, Bethesda, Bethsaida, Bethzatha, etc. In spite of this, however, John 5:3b-4 has been preserved virtually intact in the vast majority of the Greek manuscripts (Traditional Text).
3. The Conclusion Of The Lord's Prayer (Matt. 6:13b)
Modern English versions are "rich in omissions," (to borrow a phrase from Rendel Harris). (23) Time and again the reader searches in them for a familiar verse only to find that it has been banished to the footnotes. And one of the most familiar of the verses to be so treated is Matt. 6:13b, the doxology with which the Lord's Prayer concludes.
(a) External Evidence in Favor of Matt. 6:13b
For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever, Amen (Matt. 6:13b). This conclusion of the Lord's Prayer is found in almost all the Greek New Testament manuscripts (according to Legg, (24) in all but ten), including W (4th or 5th century) and Sigma and Phi (both 6th century). It is also found in the Apostolic Constitutions, (25) a 4th century document, and receives further support from Chrysostom (345- 407) (26) who comments on it and quotes it frequently, and from Isidore of Pelusiurn (370 - 440), (27) who quotes it. But, in spite of this indisputable testimony in its favor, it is universally rejected by modern critics. Is this unanimous disapproval in accord with the evidence?
(b) Is the Conclusion of the Lord's Prayer a Jewish Formula?
Matt. 6: 13b is usually regarded as a Jewish prayer-formula that the early Christians took up and used to provide a more fitting termination for the Lord's Prayer, which originally, it is said, ended abruptly with but deliver us from evil. According to W. Michaelis (1948), for example, "It (Matt. 6:13b) is obviously modeled after Jewish prayer-formulas, cf. 1 Chron 29:11." (28)
This seems, however a most improbable way to account for the conclusion of the Lord's Prayer. For if the early Christians had felt the need of something which would provide a smoother ending to this familiar prayer, would they deliberately have selected for that purpose a Jewish prayer-formula in which the name of Jesus does not appear? Even a slight study of the New Testament reveals the difficulty of this hypothesis, for if there was one thing in which the early Christians were united it was in their emphasis on the name of Jesus. Converts were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38); miracles were performed in this name (Acts 4:10); by this name alone was salvation possible (Acts 4:12); early Christians were known as those who "called upon this name" (Acts 9:21). Paul received his apostleship "for the sake of His name" (Rom. 1:5), and John wrote his Gospel in order that the readers "might have life through His name" (John 20:31). Is it probable then, (is it at all possible) that these primitive Christians, who on all other occasions were ever mindful of their Saviour's name, should have forgotten it so strangely when selecting a conclusion for a prayer which they regarded as having fallen from His lips? Can it be that they deliberately decided to end the Lord's Prayer with a Jewish formula which makes no mention of Christ?
It is a fact, however, that the Lord's Prayer concludes with a doxology in which the name of Christ is not mentioned. Can this surprising fact be explained? Not, we repeat, on the supposition that this conclusion is spurious. For if the early Christians had invented this doxology or had adopted it from contemporary non-Christian usage, they would surely have included in it or inserted into it their Saviour's name. There is therefore only one explanation of the absence of that adorable name from the concluding doxology of the Lord's Prayer, and this is that this doxology is not spurious but a genuine saying of Christ, uttered before He had revealed unto His disciples His deity and so containing no mention of Himself. At the time He gave this model prayer He deemed it sufficient to direct the praises of His followers toward the Father, knowing that as they grew in their comprehension of the mysteries of their faith their enlightened minds would prompt them so to adore Him also. And the similarity of this doxology to 1 Chron. 29:11 is quite understandable. Might not the words which David used in praise of God be fittingly adapted to the same purpose by One who knew Himself to be the messianic Son of David?
(c) The Testimony of the Ancient Versions and of the Didache
The concluding doxology of the Lord's Prayer is not without considerable testimony in its favor of a very ancient sort. It is found in three Syriac versions, the Peshitta, the Harclean, and the Palestinian. Whether the doxology occurred in the Sinaitic Syriac also is not certain, for the last part of the Lord's Prayer is missing from this manuscript. It is found, however, in the Curetonian manuscript, the other representative of the Old Syriac in the following form, Because Thine is the kingdom and the glory, for ever and ever, Amen. The Sahidic also has the doxology of the Lord's Prayer, and so do some manuscripts of the slightly younger Bohairic. In the Sahidic it runs like this, Because Thine is the power and the glory, unto the ages, Amen. And in the Old Latin manuscript k (which is generally thought to contain the version in its oldest form) the Lord's Prayer ends thus, Because to Thee is the power for ever and ever. And the doxology is also found in its customary form in four other Old Latin manuscripts.
Thus the doxology of the Lord's Prayer occurs in five manuscripts of the Old Latin (including the best one), in the Sahidic, and in all the extant Syriac versions. Normally the agreement of three such groups of ancient witnesses from three separate regions would be regarded as an indication of the genuineness of the reading on which they thus agreed. Hort ( 1881 ), (29) however, endeavored to escape the force of this evidence by suggesting that the doxologies found (1) in k, (2) in the Sahidic version, (3) in the Syriac versions and the vast majority of the Greek manuscripts were three independent developments which had no connection with each other. But by this suggestion Hort multiplied three-fold the difficulty mentioned above. If it is difficult to believe that the early Christians chose for their most familiar prayer a conclusion which made no mention of Christ it is thrice as difficult to believe that they did this three times independently in three separate regions. Surely it is easier to suppose that these three doxologies are all derived from an original doxology uttered by Christ and that the variations in wording are due to the liturgical use of the Lord's Prayer, which will be described presently.
The Didache (Teaching) of the Twelve Apostles, a work generally regarded as having been written in the first half of the 2nd century, also bears important witness to the doxology of the Lord's Prayer. This ancient document was not known until 1883, when Bryennios, a Greek Catholic bishop, published it from a copy which he had discovered at Constantinople in 1875. It is a manual of Church instruction in two parts, the first being a statement of Christian conduct to be taught to converts before baptism, and the second a series of directions for Christian worship. Here the following commandment is given concerning prayer. And do not pray as the hypocrites, but as the Lord commanded in His Gospel, pray thus: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name, Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, as in heaven so also upon earth; give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debt as we forgive our debtors, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for Thine is the power and the glory for ever. (30)
Here this early-2nd-century writer claims to have taken this model prayer from the Gospel (of Matthew). Is it not reasonable to believe that he took the whole prayer from Matthew, doxology and all? Who would ever have guessed that this ancient author took the preceding portions of the prayer from Matthew but the doxology from contemporary ecclesiastical usage? Yet this is the strange hypothesis of Michaelis and others who have come to the Didache with their minds firmly made up beforehand to reject the doxology of the Lord's Prayer. In support of his view Michaelis appeals to the absence of the words kingdom and Amen from the Didache, but surely these minor verbal differences are not sufficient to justify his contention that the doxology of the Didache was not taken from Matthew. And perhaps it is permissible to point out once more that if the doxology had been taken from contemporary ecclesiastical usage it would have contained the name of Christ, because the other prayers in the Didache, which were taken from contemporary ecclesiastical usage, all end with a reference to the Saviour.
(d) The Liturgical Use of the Lord's Prayer
But someone may ask why the doxology of the Lord's Prayer is absent from certain New Testament documents if it was actually a portion of the original Gospel of Matthew. An inspection of Legg's critical edition of this Gospel (1940) discloses that the doxology is omitted by Aleph B D S and by six minuscule manuscripts. It is also omitted by all the manuscripts of the Vulgate and by nine manuscripts of the Old Latin. And certain Greek and Latin Fathers omit it in their expositions of the Lord's Prayer. Thus Origen, Tertullian, Cyprian, and Augustine make no mention of it. But these omissions find their explanation in the manner in which the Lord's Prayer was used in the worship services of the early Church.
From very early times the Lord's Prayer was used liturgically in the Church service. This fact is brought home to us by an inspection of C. A. Swainson's volume, The Greek Liturgies (1884). (31) Here the learned author published the most ancient Greek liturgies from the oldest manuscripts available. In the 8th-century Liturgy of St. Basil, after the worshiping people had repeated the body of the Lord's Prayer, the priest concluded it with these words, for Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory of the Father, and the people responded, Amen. In two other 8th-century liturgies the wording is the same, except that the doxology repeated by the priest is merely, for Thine is the kingdom. Later the doxologies which the priests were directed to pronounce became more and more elaborate. In the 11th-century Liturgy of St. Chrysostom, after the people had repeated the Lord's Prayer down to the doxology, the priest was to conclude as follows: for Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, now and always, and for ever and ever.
Thus we see that from very earliest times in the worship services of the Church the conclusion of the Lord's Prayer was separated from the preceding portions of it. The body of the Prayer was repeated by the people, the conclusion by the priest. Moreover, due to this liturgical use, the conclusion of the Lord's Prayer was altered in various ways in the effort to make it more effective. This, no doubt, was the cause of the minor variations in the doxology which we find in the Didache, the Curetonian Syriac, and the Old Latin manuscript k. And furthermore, a distinction soon grew up between the body of the Lord's Prayer and the conclusion of it, a distinction which was made more sharp by the occurrence of the Lord's Prayer in Luke (given by Christ for the second time, on a different occasion) without the concluding doxology. Because the doxology was always separated from the rest of the Lord's Prayer, it began to be regarded by some Christians as a man-made response and not part of the original prayer as it fell from the lips of Christ. Doubtless for this reason it is absent from the ten Greek manuscripts mentioned above and from most of the manuscripts of the Latin versions. And it may also be for this reason that some of the Fathers do not mention it when commenting on the Lord's Prayer.
4. The Woman Taken In Adultery (John 7:53-8:11)
The story of the woman taken in adultery (called the pericope de adultera) has been rather harshly treated by the modern English versions. The R.V. and the A.S.V. put it in brackets; the R.S.V. relegates it to the footnotes; the N.E.B. follows Westcott and Hort in removing it from its customary place altogether and printing it at the end of the Gospel of John as an independent fragment of unknown origin. The N.E.B. even gives this familiar narrative a new name, to wit, An Incident In the Temple. But as Burgon has reminded us long ago, this general rejection of these precious verses is unjustifiable.
(a) Ancient Testimony Concerning the Pericope de Adultera (John 7:53-8:11)
The story of the woman taken in adultery was a problem also in ancient times. Early Christians had trouble with this passage. The forgiveness which Christ vouchsafed to the adulteress was contrary to their conviction that the punishment for adultery ought to be very severe. As late as the time of Ambrose (c. 374), bishop of Milan, there were still many Christians who felt such scruples against this portion of John's Gospel. This is clear from the remarks which Ambrose makes in a sermon on David's sin. "In the same way also the Gospel lesson which has been read, may have caused no small offense to the unskilled, in which you have noticed that an adulteress was brought to Christ and dismissed without condemnation . . . Did Christ err that He did not judge righteously? It is not right that such a thought should come to our minds etc." (32)
According to Augustine (c. 400), it was this moralistic objection to the pericope de adultera which was responsible for its omission in some of the New Testament manuscripts known to him. "Certain persons of little faith," he wrote, "or rather enemies of the true faith, fearing, I suppose, lest their wives should be given impunity in sinning, removed from their manuscripts the Lord's act of forgiveness toward the adulteress, as if He who had said 'sin no more' had granted permission to sin." (33) Also, in the 10th century a Greek named Nikon accused the Armenians of "casting out the account which teaches us how the adulteress was taken to Jesus . . . saying that it was harmful for most persons to listen to such things." (34)
That early Greek manuscripts contained this pericope de adultera is proved by the presence of it in the 5th-century Greek manuscript D. That early Latin manuscripts also contained it is indicated by its actual appearance in the Old Latin codices b and e. And both these conclusions are confirmed by the statement of Jerome (c. 415) that "in the Gospel according to John in many manuscripts, both Greek and Latin, is found the story of the adulterous woman who was accused before the Lord." (35) There is no reason to question the accuracy of Jerome's statement, especially since another statement of his concerning an addition made to the ending of Mark has been proved to have been correct by the actual discovery of the additional material in W. And that Jerome personally accepted the pericope de adultera as genuine is shown by the fact that he included it in the Latin Vulgate.
Another evidence of the presence of the pericope de adultera in early Greek manuscripts of John is the citation of it in the Didascalia (Teaching) of the Apostles and in the Apostolic Constitutions, which are based on the Didascalia.
. . . to do as He also did with her that had sinned, whom the elders set before Him, and leaving the judgment in His hands departed. But He, the Searcher of Hearts, asked her and said to her, 'Have the elders condemned thee, my daughter?" She saith to Him, 'Nay, Lord.' And He said unto her, 'Go thy way: Neither do I condemn thee.' (36)
In these two documents (from the 3rd and 4th centuries respectively) bishops are urged to extend forgiveness to penitent sinners. After many passages of Scripture have been cited to enforce this plea, the climax is reached in the supreme example of divine mercy, namely, the compassion which Christ showed to the woman taken in adultery. Tischendorf admitted that this citation was taken from the Gospel of John. "Although," he wrote, "the Apostolic Constitutions do not actually name John as the author of this story of the adulteress, in vain would anyone claim that they could have derived this story from any other source." (37) It is true that R. H. Connolly (1929) (38) and other more recent critics insist that the citation was not taken from the canonical Gospel of John but from the apocryphal Gospel according to the Hebrews, but this seems hardly credible. During the whole course of the argument only passages from the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are adduced. Can we suppose that when the authors of these two works reached the climax of their plea for clemency toward the penitent they would abandon the Scriptures at last and fall back on an apocryphal book?
Another important testimony concerning the pericope de adultera is that of Eusebius (c. 324). In his Ecclesiastical History Eusebius gives extracts from an ancient treatise written by Papias (d. 150), bishop of Hierapolis, entitled Interpretation of the Oracles of the Lord. Eusebius concludes his discussion of Papias' writings with the following statement: "The same writer used quotations from the first Epistle of John, and likewise also from that of Peter, and has expounded another story about a woman who was accused before the Lord of many sins, which the Gospel according to the Hebrews contains." (39)
From this statement of Eusebius naturalistic critics have inferred that Eusebius knew the pericope de adultera only as a story occurring in the writings of Papias and in the Gospel according to the Hebrews and not as a part of the canonical Gospel of John. This conclusion, however, by no means follows necessarily. Eusebius may have been hostile to the story of the woman taken in adultery not only because of moralistic objections but also because it was related by Papias. For Eusebius had a low opinion of Papias and his writings. "He was a man of very little intelligence," Eusebius declared, "as is clear from his books." (40) It may very well be that the disdain which Eusebius felt for Papias made him reluctant to mention the fact that Papias' story occurred also in some of the manuscripts of the Gospel of John. At any rate, an argument against the genuineness of John 7:53-8:11 based on Eusebius is purely an argument from silence, and arguments from silence are always weak. Instead of stressing Eusebius' silence it is more reasonable to lay the emphasis upon his positive testimony, which is that the story of the woman taken in adultery is a very ancient one, reaching back to the days of the Apostles.
Also the Spanish Father Pacian (c. 370) appealed to the pericope de adultera when protesting against excessive severity in discipline. "Are you not willing," he asked, "to read in the Gospel that the Lord also spared the adulteress who confessed, whom no man had condemned?" (41)
(b) What the Facts of History Indicate
The facts of history indicate that during the early Christian centuries throughout the Church adultery was commonly regarded as such a serious sin that it could be forgiven, if at all, only after severe penance. For example, Cyprian (c. 250) says that certain bishops who preceded him in the province of North Africa "thought that reconciliation ought not to be given to adulterers and allowed to conjugal infidelity no place at all for repentance." (42) Hence offence was taken at the story of the adulterous woman brought to Christ, because she seemed to have received pardon too easily. Such being the case, it is surely more reasonable to believe that this story was deleted from John's Gospel by over-zealous disciplinarians than to suppose that a narrative so contrary to the ascetic outlook of the early Christian Church was added to John's Gospel from some extra-canonical source. There would be a strong motive for deleting it but no motive at all for adding it, and the prejudice against it would make its insertion into the Gospel text very difficult.
Not only conservatives but also clear thinking radical scholars have perceived that the historical evidence favors the belief that the pericope de adultera was deleted from the text of the fourth Gospel rather than added to it. "The bold presentation of the evangelist," Hilgenfeld (1875) observed, "must at an early date, especially in the Orient have seemed very offensive." (43) Hence Hilgenfeld regarded Augustine's statement that the passage had been deleted by overscrupulous scribes "as altogether not improbable." And Steck (1893) suggested that the story of the adulteress was incorporated in the Gospel of John before it was first published. "That it later," concluded Steck, "was set aside out of moral prudery is easily understandable." (44)
Rendel Harris (1891) was convinced that the Montanists, an ascetic Christian sect which flourished during the 2nd century, were acquainted with the pericope de adultera. "The Montanist Churches," he wrote, "either did not receive this addition to the text, or else they are responsible for its omission; but at the same time it can be shown that they knew of the passage perfectly well in the West; for the Latin glossator of the Acts has borrowed a few words from the section in Acts 5:18. (45) In Acts 5:18 we are told that the rulers laid their hands on the apostles and put them in the common prison. To this verse the Latin portion of D adds, and they went away each one to his house. As Harris observes, this addition is obviously taken from the description of the breaking up of the council meeting in John 7:53. If the Montanists were the ones who added these words to Acts 5:18, then the pericope de adultera must have been part of John's Gospel at a very early date.
Naturalistic scholars who insist that John 7:53-8:11 is an addition to the Gospel text can maintain their position only by ignoring the facts, by disregarding what the ancient writers say about this pericope de adultera and emphasizing the silence of other ancient writers who say nothing about it at all. This is what Hort did in his Introduction (1881). Here the testimony of Ambrose and Augustine is barely mentioned, and the statement of Nikon concerning the Armenians is dismissed as mere abuse. (46) Contrary to the evidence Hort insisted that the pericope de adultera was not offensive to the early Church. "Few in ancient times, there is reason to think, would have found the section a stumbling block except Montanists and Novatians." (47) With the implications of this sweeping statement, however, Rendel Harris could not agree. "Evidently," he observed, "Dr. Hort did not think that the tampering of the Montanists with the text amounted to much; we, on the contrary, have reason to believe that it was a very far reaching influence." (48)
Today most naturalistic scholars feel so certain that John 7:53-8:11 is not genuine that they regard further discussion of the matter as unprofitable. When they do deal with the question (for the benefit of laymen who are still interested in it) they follow the line of Westcott and Hort. They dismiss the ancient testimony concerning this passage as absurd and rely on the "argument from silence." Thus Colwell (1952) ridicules the reason which Augustine gives for the deletion of the pericope de adultera. "The generality," he declares, "of the 'omission' in early Greek sources can hardly be explained this way. Some of those Greek scribes must have been unmarried! Nor is Augustine's argument supported by the evidence from Luke's Gospel, where even greater acts of compassion are left untouched by the scribes who lack this story in John." (49)
There is no validity, however, in this point which Colwell tries to score against Augustine. For there is a big difference between the story of the adulteress in John 8 and the story in Luke 7 of the sinful woman who anointed the feet of Jesus and was forgiven. In Luke the penitence and faith of the woman are stressed; in John these factors are not mentioned explicitly. In Luke the law of God is not called in question; in John it, seemingly, is set aside. And in Luke the sinful woman was a harlot; in John the woman was an adulteress. Thus there are good reasons why the objections raised against the story of the adulteress in John would not apply to the story of the harlot in Luke and why Tertullian, for example, refers to Luke's story but is silent about John's.
(c) Misleading Notes in the Modem Versions
The notes printed in the modern versions regarding John 7:53 - 8:11 are completely misleading. For example, the R.S.V. states that most of the ancient authorities either omit 7:53-8:11 or insert it with variations of text after John 7:52 or at the end of John's Gospel or after Luke 21:38. And the N.E.B. says the same thing and adds that the pericope de adultera has no fixed place in the ancient New Testament manuscripts. These notes imply that originally the story of the adulteress circulated as an independent narrative in many forms and that later, when scribes began to add it to the New Testament, they couldn't agree on where to put it, some inserting it at one place and others at another.
Von Soden (1902) showed long ago that the view implied by these notes is entirely erroneous. Although this scholar denied the genuineness of John 7:53 - 8:11, nevertheless, in his monumental study of this passage he was eminently fair in his presentation of the facts. After mentioning that this section is sometimes found at the end of the Gospel of John and sometimes in the margin near John 7:52 and that in one group of manuscripts (the Ferrar group) the section is inserted after Luke 21:38, von Soden continues as follows: "But in the great majority of the manuscripts it stands in the text between 7:52 and 8:12 except that in at least half of these manuscripts it is provided with deletion marks in the margin." (50) Thus the usual location of the pericope de adultera is in John between 7:52 and 8:12. The manuscripts which have it in any other place are exceptions to the rule.
"The pericope," says Metzger (1964), "is obviously a piece of floating tradition which circulated in certain parts of the Western Church. It was subsequently inserted into various manuscripts at various places." (51) But Metzger's interpretation of the facts is incorrect, as von Soden demonstrated long ago by his careful scholarship. Von Soden showed that the usual location of the pericope de adultera was also its original location in the New Testament text. The other positions which it sometimes occupies and the unusually large number of variant readings which it contains were later developments which took place after it became part of the New Testament. "In spite of the abundance of the variant readings," he declared, "it has been established with certainty that the pericope was not intruded into the Four Gospels, perhaps in various forms, in various places. This hypothesis is already contradicted by the fixed place which the section has, against which the well known, solitary exception of the common ancestor of the so-called Ferrar group can prove nothing. On the contrary, when the pericope, at a definite time and at a definite place was first incorporated into the Four Gospels, in order then to defend its place with varying success against all attacks, it had the following wording." (52) And then von Soden goes on to give his reconstruction of the original form of the pericope de adultera. This does not differ materially from the form printed in the Textus Receptus and the King James Version.
Also the opening verses (John 7:53-8:2) of the pericope de adultera indicate clearly that its original position in the New Testament was in John between 7:52 and 8:12, for this is the only location in which these introductory verses fit the context. The first of them (John 7:53) describes the breaking up of the stormy council meeting which immediately precedes. The next two verses (John 8:1-2) tell us what Jesus did in the meantime and thereafter. And thus a transition is made to the story of the woman taken in adultery. But in those other locations mentioned by N.E.B., which the pericope de adultera occupies in a relatively few manuscripts, these introductory verses make no sense and thus prove conclusively that the pericope has been misplaced.
Long ago Burgon pointed out how untrustworthy some of those manuscripts are which misplace the pericope de adultera. "The Critics eagerly remind us that in four cursive copies (the Ferrar group) the verses in question are found tacked on to the end of Luke 21. But have they forgotten that 'these four codexes are derived from a common archetype,' and therefore represent one and the same ancient and, I may add, corrupt copy? The same Critics are reminded that in the same four Codexes 'the agony and bloody sweat' (St. Luke 22:43-44) is found thrust into St. Matthew's Gospel between ch. 26:39 and 40. Such licentiousness on the part of a solitary exemplar of the Gospels no more affects the proper place of these or of those verses than the superfluous digits of a certain man of Gath avail to disturb the induction that to either hand of a human being appertain but five fingers and to either foot but five toes." (53)
(d) The Silence of the Greek Fathers Explained
The arguments of naturalistic critics against the genuineness of John 7:53-8:11 are largely arguments from silence, and the strongest of these silences is generally thought to be that of the Greek Church Fathers. Metzger (1964) speaks of it as follows: "Even more significant is the fact that no Greek Church Father for a thousand years after Christ refers to the pericope, including even those who, like Origen, Chrysostom, and Nonnus (in his metrical paraphrase) dealt with the entire Gospel verse by verse. Euthymius Zigabenus, who lived in the first part of the twelfth century, is the first Greek writer to comment on the passage, and even he declares that the accurate copies of the Gospel do not contain it." (54)
This argument, however, is not nearly so strong as Metzger makes it seem. In the first place, as Burgon pointed out long ago, we must knock off at least three centuries from this thousand-year period of which Metzger speaks so ominously. For Tischendorf lists 9 manuscripts of the 9th century which contain the pericope de adultera in its usual place and also one which may be of the 8th century. And so the silence of the Greek Church Fathers during the last third of this thousand year period couldn't have been because they didn't know of manuscripts which contained John 7:53-8:11 in the position which it now occupies in the great majority of the New Testament manuscripts. The later Greek Fathers didn't comment on these verses mainly because the earlier Greek Fathers hadn't done so.
But neither does the silence of the earlier Greek Fathers, such as Origen (c. 230), Chrysostom (c. 400), and Nonnus (c. 400), necessarily imply that these ancient Bible scholars did not know of the pericope de adultera as part of the Gospel of John. For they may have been influenced against it by the moralistic prejudice of which we have spoken and also by the fact that some of the manuscripts known to them omitted it. And Burgon mentions another very good reason why these early Fathers failed to comment on this section. Their commenting was in connection with their preaching, and their preaching would be affected by the fact that the pericope de adultera was omitted from the ancient Pentecostal lesson of the Church.
"Now for the first time, it becomes abundantly plain, why Chrysostom and Cyril, in publicly commenting on St. John's Gospel, pass straight from ch. 7:52 to ch. 8:12. Of course they do. Why should they,—how could they,—comment on what was not publicly read before the congregation? The same thing is related (in a well-known 'scholium') to have been done by Apolinarius and Theodore of Mopsuestia. Origen also, for aught I care, —though the adverse critics have no right to claim him, seeing that his commentary on all that part of St. John's Gospel is lost,—but Origen's name, as I was saying, for aught I care, may be added to those who did the same thing." (55)
At a very early date it had become customary throughout the Church to read John 7:37-8:12 on the day of Pentecost. This lesson began with John 7:37-39, verses very appropriate to the great Christian feast day in which the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is commemorated: In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink . . . But this spake He of the Spirit which they that believe on Him should receive. Then the lesson continued through John 7:52, omitted John 7:53-8:11, and concluded with John 8:12, Again therefore Jesus spake unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. Thus the fact that the pericope de adultera was not publicly read at Pentecost was an additional reason why the early Greek Church Fathers did not comment on it.
Why was the story of the adulteress omitted from the Pentecostal lesson? Obviously because it was inappropriate to the central idea of Pentecost. But critics have another explanation. According to them, the passage was not part of the Gospel of John at the time that the Pentecostal lesson was selected. But, as Burgon pointed out, this makes it more difficult than ever to explain how this passage came to be placed after John 7:52. Why would a scribe introduce this story about an adulteress into the midst of the ancient lesson for Pentecost? How would it occur to anyone to do this?
Moreover, although the Greek Fathers were silent about the pericope de adultera, the Church was not silent. This is shown by the fact that John 8:3-11 was chosen as the lesson to be read publicly each year on St. Pelagia's day, October 8. Burgon points out the significance of this historical circumstance. "The great Eastern Church speaks out on this subject in a voice of thunder. In all her Patriarchates, as far back as the written records of her practice reach, —and they reach back to the time of those very Fathers whose silence was felt to be embarrassing,—the Eastern Church has selected nine out of these twelve verses to be the special lesson for October 8." (56)
(e) The Internal Evidence
Naturalistic critics have tried to argue against the genuineness of John 7:53-8:11 on the basis of the internal evidence. Colwell (1952), for example, claims that the story of the woman taken in adultery does not fit its context and that it differs in its vocabulary and general tone from the rest of John's Gospel. (57) But by these arguments the critics only create new difficulties for themselves. For if the pericope de adultera is an interpolation and if it is so markedly out of harmony with its context and with the rest of the Gospel of John, why was it ever placed in the position which it now occupies? This is the question which Steck (1893) (58) asked long ago, and it has never been answered.
Actually, however, there is little substance to these charges. Arguments from literary style are notoriously weak. They have been used to prove all sorts of things. And Burgon long ago pointed out expressions in this passage which are characteristic of John's Gospel. "We note how entirely in St. John's manner is the little explanatory clause in ver. 6, —'This they said, tempting Him that they might have to accuse Him.' We are struck besides by the prominence given in verses 6 and 8 to the act of writing, — allusions to which, are met with in every work of the last Evangelist." (59)
As for not fitting the context, Burgon shows that the actual situation is just the reverse. When the pericope de adultera is omitted, it leaves a hole, a gaping wound that cannot be healed. "Note that in the oracular Codexes B and Aleph immediate transition is made from the words 'out of Galilee ariseth no prophet,' in ch. 7:52, to the words 'Again therefore JESUS spake unto them, saying,' in ch. 8:12. And we are invited by all the adverse Critics alike to believe that so the place stood in the inspired autograph of the Evangelist.
"But the thing is incredible. Look back at what is contained between ch. 7:37 and 52, and note— (a) That two hostile parties crowded the Temple courts (ver. 40-42); (b) That some were for laying violent hands on our LORD (ver. 44); (c) That the Sanhedrin, being assembled in debate, were reproaching their servants for not having brought Him prisoner, and disputing one against another (ver. 45-52). How can the Evangelist have proceeded,—'Again therefore JESUS spake unto them, saying, I am the light of the world'? What is it supposed then that St. John meant when he wrote such words?" (60)
Surely the Dean's point is well taken. Who can deny that when John 7:53-8:11 is rejected, the want of connection between the seventh and eighth chapters is exceedingly strange? The reader is snatched from the midst of a dispute in the council chamber of the Sanhedrin back to Jesus in the Temple without a single word of explanation. Such impressionistic writing might possibly be looked for in some sophisticated modern book but not in a book of the sacred Scriptures.
(f) The Negative Evidence of the Manuscripts and Versions Explained
It is not surprising that the pericope de adultera is omitted in Papyri 66 and 75, Aleph B W and L. For all these manuscripts are connected with the Alexandrian tradition which habitually favored omissions. When once the Montanists or some other extreme group had begun to leave the story of the adulteress out of their copies of John's Gospel, the ascetic tendencies of the early Church were such that the practice would spread rapidly, especially in Egypt, and produce just the situation which we find among the Greek manuscripts. For the same reason many manuscripts of the Coptic (Egyptian) versions, including the recently discovered Bodmer Papyrus III, omit this passage, as do also the Syriac and Armenian versions. All these versions reflect the tendency to omit a passage which had become offensive. And the fact that the section had been so widely omitted encouraged later scribes to play the critic, and thus were produced the unusually large number of variant readings which appear in this passage in the extant manuscripts. And for the same cause many scribes placed deletion marks on the margin opposite this section.
None of these phenomena proves that the pericope de adultera is not genuine but merely that there was a widespread prejudice against it in the early Church. The existence of this prejudice makes it more reasonable to suppose that the story of the adulteress was omitted from the text of John than to insist that in the face of this prejudice it was added to the text of John. There would be a motive for omitting it but no motive for adding it.
5. The Last Twelve Verses Of Mark
Burgon's best known work in the field of textual criticism was his treatise on The Last Twelve Verses of Mark, which he published in 1871 after years of preliminary study. (61) For over a century this volume has deservedly been held in high esteem by believing Bible students, and its basic arguments all this while have remained irrefutable. In the following paragraphs, therefore, an effort will be made to summarize Burgon's discussion of this disputed passage and to bring his work up to date by the inclusion of new material which has been discovered since Burgon's day.
(a) The Critics Unable to Develop a Satisfactory Theory
And they went out quickly and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid. All the naturalistic critics agree that with this verse (Mark 16:8) the genuine portion of Mark's Gospel ends. But this negative conclusion is the only thing upon which critics are able to agree in regard to the conclusion of Mark. When we ask how it came about that Mark's Gospel ends here without any mention of the post-resurrection appearances of Christ, immediately the critics begin to argue among themselves. For over one hundred years (since the publication of Burgon's book) they have been discussing this question and have been unable to come up with a theory which is acceptable to all or even to most of them.
According to some critics, Mark intentionally ended his Gospel with the words for they were afraid. J. M. Creed (1930), (62) for example, and R. H. Lightfoot (1950) (63) have argued that all other attempts to explain why the Gospel of Mark ends here have failed, and that therefore we must believe that Mark purposely concluded his Gospel at this point. The scholars who hold this view have advanced various theories to explain why Mark would have done so strange a thing. According to Creed, the story of the empty tomb was new when Mark wrote his Gospel, and by ending with the silence of the women Mark was explaining why this story had never been told before. (64) According to Lohmeyer (1936), the purpose of Mark in ending his Gospel at 16:8 was to hint at a glorious second coming of Christ which was to take place in Galilee. (65) Lightfoot (1937) had a Barthian theory of this passage. He thought that Mark's purpose in concluding with 16:8 was to leave the reader in a state of reverent awe which anticipated an "event" or "crisis" which was "found to have the quality of absolute finality" (66) (whatever that means).
But the theory that Mark purposely ended his Gospel at 16:8 has never been widely held, in spite of Creed's and Lightfoot's arguments that this is the only possible view. As Beach (1959) rightly observes, "It seems unlikely that Mark would end the Gospel on a note of fear, for the whole purpose and import of the Gospel is that men should not be afraid." (67) And it is even less likely that Mark concluded his Gospel without any reference to the appearance of the risen Christ to His disciples. For this, as W. L. Knox (1942) reminds us, would be to leave unmentioned "the main point of his Gospel, and the real 'happy ending' on which the whole faith of the Church depended." (68)
Many of those who hold that the Gospel of Mark ends at 16:8 endeavor to account for this alleged fact by supposing that Mark intended to finish his Gospel but was prevented from doing so, perhaps by death. "At Rome," remarks Streeter (1924), "in Nero's reign this might easily happen." (69) But to suppose that Mark died thus prematurely is to contradict the express statements of Papias, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen that Mark lived to publish his Gospel. And even if all these ancient writers were wrong and Mark did die before he had finished his Gospel, would his associates have published it in this incomplete state? Would they not have added something from their recollections of Mark's teaching to fill in the obvious gap in the narrative? Only by doing thus could they show their regard for their deceased friend.
Hence the only remaining alternative open to the critics is that the original ending of Mark's Gospel has completely disappeared. Juelicher (1894) (70) and C. S. C. Williams (1951) (71) suggest that it was intentionally removed by certain of those who disapproved of its teaching concerning Christ's resurrection. Other scholars believe that the original conclusion of Mark's Gospel was lost accidentally. Since it was the last page, they argue, it might easily have been torn off. But although these theories explain the absence of this hypothetical "lost ending" from some of the manuscripts, it can hardly account for its complete disappearance from all the known copies of Mark. Creed (1930) pointed this out some years ago. "Once the book was in circuration, the conclusion would be known and a defective copy could be completed without difficulty. And there would be an overwhelming interest in a restoration of the complete text at this crucial point. It would seem better, therefore, to push back the supposed mutilation to the very beginning of the book's history. But the earlier we suppose the mutilation to have taken place, the greater the likelihood that the author was himself within reach to supply what was wanting." (72)
(b) Ancient Evidence Favorable to Mark 16:9-20
Thus it is an easy thing to say that the genuine portion of the Gospel of Mark ends at 16:8, but it is a difficult task to support this statement with a satisfactory explanation as to how the Gospel came to end there, a task so difficult that it has not yet been adequately accomplished. But the last twelve verses of Mark cannot be disowned on the strength of an unsupported statement, even when it is made by the most eminent of modern scholars. For these verses have an enormous weight of testimony in their favor which cannot be lightly set aside. They are found in all the Greek manuscripts except Aleph and B and in all the Latin manuscripts except k. All the Syriac versions contain these verses, with the exception of the Sinaitic Syriac, and so also does the Bohairic version. And, even more important, they were quoted as Scripture by early Church Fathers who lived one hundred and fifty years before B and Aleph were written, namely, Justin Martyr (c. 150), (73) Tatian (c. 175), (74) Irenaeus (c. 180), (75) and Hippolytus (c. 200), (76) Thus the earliest extant testimony is on the side of these last twelve verses. Surely the critical objections against them must be exceedingly strong to overcome this evidence for their genuineness.
(c) Documents That Omit Mark 16:9-20
No doubt the strongest argument that can be brought against the last twelve verses of Mark is that there are extant documents that omit them. In Legg's apparatus these are listed as follows: the Greek manuscripts Aleph and B. the Sinaitic Syriac manuscript, the Adysh and Opiza manuscripts of the Old Georgian version, and 8 manuscripts of the Armenian version. Colwell (1937), however, has enlarged this list of Armenian manuscripts to 62. (77)
In place of Mark 16:9-20 the Old Latin manuscript k has the so called "short ending" of Mark, which reads as follows:
And all things whatsoever that had been commanded they explained briefly to those who were with Peter; after these things also Jesus Himself appeared and from the east unto the west sent out through them the holy and uncorrupted preaching of eternal salvation. Amen.
L, Psi, and a few other Greek manuscripts have this "short ending" placed between 16:8 and 16:9. P. Kahle (1951) reports that 5 Sahidic manuscripts also contain both this "short ending" and Mark 16:9-20. (78) The "short ending" is also found in the margins of 2 Bohairic manuscripts and in 7 Ethiopic ones.
(d) The Negative Evidence of the Documents Inconclusive
Long ago Burgon demonstrated that this negative evidence of the documents is inconclusive. In the first place, he pointed out that in the early Church there were those who had difficulty in reconciling Mark 16:9 with Matthew 28:1. For, at first sight, these two passages seem to contradict each other. Mark says that Christ rose "early the first day of the week," that is, Sunday morning; while Matthew seems to say that Christ rose "in the end of the Sabbath," which, strictly interpreted, means Saturday evening. It is true that Matthew's expression can be more loosely construed to mean the end of Saturday night, and thus the conflict with Mark can be avoided, but there were some early Christians, it seems, who did not realize this and were seriously troubled by the apparent disagreement. Eusebius (c. 325), in his Epistle to Marinus, discusses this problem at considerable length. His solution was to place a comma after the word risen in Mark 16:9 and to regard the phrase early the first day of the week as referring to the time at which Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene rather than as indicating the hour in which He rose from the dead. (79)
In the second place, Burgon called attention to the fact that in many ancient manuscripts of the Four Gospels the Western order was followed. Matthew was placed first, then John, then Luke, and finally Mark. Thus Mark 16:9-20 was often, no doubt, written on the very last page of the manuscript and could easily be torn off. (80) Suppose some early Christian, who was already wrestling with the problem of harmonizing Mark 16:9 with Matthew 28:1, should find a manuscript which had thus lost its last page containing Mark 16:9-20. Would not such a person see in this omission an easy solution of his difficulties? He would argue as modern critics do that the genuine text of Mark ended at 16:8 and that verses 16:9-20 were a later addition to the Gospel narrative. Thus a tendency on the part of certain ancient scribes to omit the last twelve verses of Mark could easily develop, especially at Alexandria where the scribes were accustomed to favor the shorter reading and reject the longer as an interpolation.
(e) The Alleged Difference in Literary Style
One of the negative arguments employed by the critics is the alleged difference in literary style which distinguishes these last twelve verses from the rest of Mark's Gospel. This argument is still used by critics today. Thus Metzger (1964) claims that "seventeen non-Marcan words or words used in a non-Marcan sense" are present in these verses. (81) Long ago, however, Tregelles (1854) admitted "that arguments on style are often very fallacious, and that by themselves they prove very little." (82) And Burgon (1871) demonstrated this to be true. In a brilliant chapter of his treatise on Mark he showed that the alleged differences of style were mere nothings. For example, Meyer (1847) and other critics had made much of the fact that two typically Marcan words, namely, euthus (straightway) and palin (again) were not found in Mark 16:9-20. Burgon showed that euthus did not occur in chapters 12 and 13 of Mark and palin did not occur in chapters 1, 6, 9, and 13 of Mark. Thus the fact that these words did not occur in Mark 16:9-20 proved nothing in regard to the genuineness of this section. (83)
(f) The Alleged Discrepancy Between Mark 16:9-20 and Mark 16:1-8
For over one hundred years also it has been said that there is a discrepancy, a remarkable lack of continuity, between the last twelve verses of Mark and the preceding eight verses. Mark 16:9-20, we are told, differs so radically from Mark 16:1-8 that it could not have been written by the Evangelist himself but must have been added by a later hand. Why, the critics ask, are we not told what happened to the women, and why is no account given of the appearance of the risen Christ to Peter and the other disciples in Galilee, a meeting which is promised in Mark 16:7? These objections, however, are not as serious as at first they seem to be. For it was evidently not Mark's intention to satisfy our curiosity about the women or to report that meeting of Christ and His disciples which is promised in Mark 16:7. His purpose was to emphasize the importance of faith in the risen Christ. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe (Mark 16:16-17). Thus he passes over everything else and concentrates on those appearances of the risen Christ in which belief (or unbelief) is especially involved.
Thus there is nothing in these arguments from internal evidence which need give the defender of Mark 16:9-20 any real cause for concern. On the contrary, the critics themselves are the ones who must bear the sting of these objections. They are caught in their own trap. For if the last twelve verses of Mark are in such obvious disagreement with what immediately precedes, how could they ever have been added by a later hand? Why didn't the person who added them remove such glaring contradictions?
Hort answered this question by supposing that Mark 16:9-20 was taken by some scribe from a lost document and added to Mark's Gospel without change. (84) Similarly, Streeter suggested that Mark 16:9-20 was originally "a summary intended for catechetical purposes; later on the bright idea occurred to some one of adding it as a sort of appendix to his copy of Mark." (85) This theory of Hort and Streeter, however, is far from a satisfactory explanation of the facts. For if Mark 16:9-20 was taken from an independent document and if the discontinuity between this section and the preceding verses is as great as these scholars say it is, then why were no efforts made to smooth over the discrepancy? The manuscripts reveal no signs of any such attempts.
(g) Eusebius' Epistle to Marinus
Eusebius (c. 325) did not include Mark 16:9-20 in his canons, a cross reference system which he had devised for the purpose of making it easier to look up parallel passages in the Four Gospels. This does not necessarily mean, however, that Eusebius rejected these last twelve verses of Mark. Burgon demonstrated this long ago in his study of Eusebius' Epistle to Marinus. The relevant portions of this Epistle are translated by Burgon as follows
"He who is for getting rid of the entire passage will say that it is not met with in all the copies of Mark's Gospel: the accurate copies at all events circumscribe the end of Mark's narrative at the words of the young man who appeared to the women and said, 'Fear not ye! Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth,' etc.: to which the Evangelist adds,—'And when they heard it, they fled, and said nothing to any man, for they were afraid.' For at these words, in almost all copies of the Gospel according to Mark, the end has been circumscribed. What follows, (which is met with seldom, and only in some copies, certainly not in all,) might be dispensed with.
"But another, on no account daring to reject anything whatever which is, under whatever circumstance, met with in the text of the Gospels, will say that here are two readings (as is so often the case elsewhere;) and that both are to be received,— inasmuch as by the faithful and pious, this reading is not held to be genuine rather than that nor that than this." (86)
This passage from Eusebius was repeated by Jerome (c. 400), Hesychius of Jerusalem (c. 430), and Victor of Antioch (c. 550). On the basis of it modern critics claim that Eusebius rejected the last twelve verses of Mark, but this is plainly an exaggeration. The second paragraph of this passage shows that Eusebius regarded Mark 16:9-20 as at least possibly genuine. Critics also have interpreted Eusebius as stating that "the accurate copies" and "almost all copies" end Mark's Gospel at 16:8. But Burgon pointed out that Eusebius doesn't say this. Eusebius says that the accurate copies cicumscribe the end at 16:8 and that in almost all copies the end has been circumscribed at this point. What did Eusebius mean by this unusual expression? Burgon's explanation seems to be the only possible one.
Burgon reminded his readers that it was customary, at least in the later manuscript period, to indicate in the New Testament manuscripts the beginning and the end of the Scripture lesson appointed to be read in the worship services of the Church. The beginning of the Scripture lesson was marked by the word beginning (Greek arche), written in the margin of the manuscript, and the end of the reading by the word end (Greek telos), written in the text. Burgon argued that this practice began very early and that it was this to which Eusebius was referring when he said that the most accurate copies and almost all copies circumscribe the end at Mark 16:8. Eusebius was not talking about the end of the Gospel of Mark but about the liturgical sign indicating the end of a Scripture lesson. He is simply saying that this liturgical sign end (telos) was present after Mark 16:8 in many of the manuscripts known to him. (87)
This may explain why some of the New Testament documents omit Mark 16:9-20. It may be that some scribe saw the liturgical sign end (telos) after Mark 16:8 and, misinterpreting it to mean that Mark's Gospel ended at this point, laid down his pen. And this would be especially likely to happen if the last page, containing Mark 16:9-20 had accidentally been torn off. "Of course," Burgon argued, "it will have sometimes happened that S. Mark 16:8 came to be written at the bottom of the left hand page of a manuscript. And we have but to suppose that in the case of one such Codex the next leaf, which should have been the last, was missing, — (the very thing which has happened in respect of one of the Codices at Moscow) — and what else could result when a copyist reached the words, FOR THEY WERE AFRAID. THE END, but the very phenomenon which has exercised critics so sorely and which gives rise to the whole of the present discussion? The copyist will have brought S. Mark's Gospel to an end there, of course. What else could he possibly do?" (88)
When once this omission of Mark 16:9-20 was made, it would be readily adopted by early Christians who were having difficulty harmonizing Mark 16:9 with Matthew 28:1. "That some," Burgon observes, "were found in very early times eagerly to acquiesce in this omission; to sanction it, even to multiply copies of the Gospel so mutilated; (critics or commentators intent on nothing so much as reconciling the apparent discrepancies in the Evangelical narratives;) —appears to me not at all unlikely." (89)
Burgon also suggested that just as Jerome and other later writers copied Eusebius' Epistle to Marinus so in this Epistle Eusebius himself was merely copying some lost treatise of Origen (c. 230), (90) and this was one of the very few points on which Westcott and Hort were inclined to agree with Burgon. (91) If this suggestion is correct and Origen was the original author of the Epistle to Marinus, then the consequences for textual criticism are very important. For all documents that omit Mark 16:9-20 are in some way connected with Alexandria or Caesarea, the two localities in which Origen, the great textual critic of antiquity, lived and labored. The absence of Mark 16:9-20 from these documents and the doubts which Eusebius seems to have felt about them may all be due to an error of judgment on the part of Origen.
(h) Were Heretics Responsible for the Omission of Mark 16:9-20?
Burgon died in 1888, too soon to give us the benefit of his comment on a development which had taken place shortly before his death, namely, the discovery in 1884 of the apocryphal Gospel of Peter in a tomb at Akhmim in Egypt. (92) Had Burgon lived longer, he would not have failed to point out the true significance of the agreement of this Gospel of Peter with the Old Latin New Testament manuscript k in the last chapter of the Gospel of Mark..
According to modern scholars, the original Gospel of Peter was written about 150 A.D. by docetic heretics who denied the reality of Christ's sufferings and consequently the reality of His human body. This false view is seen in the account which this apocryphal writing gives of Christ's crucifixion. In it we are told that when our Lord hung upon the cross, the divine Christ departed to heaven and left only the human Jesus to suffer and die.
And the Lord cried out aloud saying: My power, my power, thou hast forsaken me. And when he had so said, he was taken up. (93)
Also the account which the Gospel of Peter gives of the resurrection of Christ is uniquely docetic.
… and they saw the heavens opened and two men descend thence having a great light, and drawing near unto the sepulchre… and the sepulchre was opened, and both of the young men entered in . . . and while they were yet telling them the things which they had seen, they saw again three men come out of the sepulchre, and two of them sustaining the other, and a cross following after them. And of the two they saw that their heads reached unto heaven, but of him that was led by them that it overpassed the heavens. And they heard a voice out of the heavens saying, Hast thou preached unto them that sleep? And an answer was heard from the cross, saying: Yea. (94)
In the Gospel of Mark the Old Latin New Testament manuscript k gives a heretical, docetic account of the resurrection of Christ similar to that found in the apocryphal Gospel of Peter. In Mark 16:4 manuscript k reads as follows:
Suddenly, moreover, at the third hour of the day, darkness fell upon the whole world, and angels descended from heaven, and as the Son of God was rising in brightness, they ascended at the same time with him, and straightway it was light. (95)
It is generally believed by scholars that k represents an early form of the Old Latin version, which, like the Gospel of Peter, dates from the 2nd century. If this is so, the fact that k agrees with the Gospel of Peter in giving a docetic account of the resurrection of Christ indicates that Irenaeus (c. 180) was correct in pointing out a special connection between the Gospel of Mark and docetism. This ancient Father observed that docetic heretics "who separate Jesus from Christ, alleging that Christ remained incapable of suffering, but that it was Jesus who suffered," preferred the Gospel of Mark. (96)
In chapter 16 of Mark, then, the Old Latin k contains a text which has been tampered with by docetic heretics who, like the author of the apocryphal Gospel of Peter, denied the reality of Christ's sufferings and of His human body. And this same k also omits the last twelve verses of Mark and substitutes in their place the so-called "short ending," which omits the post-resurrection appearances of Christ.
And all things whatsoever that had been commanded they explained briefly to those who were with Peter; after these things also Jesus Himself appeared and from the east unto the west sent out through them the holy and uncorrupted preaching of eternal salvation. Amen. (97)
Do not these facts fit together perfectly and explain each other? The same docetic heretics who tampered with the first half of Mark 16 in k also abbreviated the second half of Mark 16 in this same manuscript. They evidently thought that in the last twelve verses of Mark too great emphasis was placed on the bodily appearances of Christ to His disciples. They therefore rejected these concluding verses of Mark's Gospel and substituted a "short ending" of their own devising, a docetic conclusion in which Christ's post-resurrection appearances are almost entirely eliminated.
In addition to these docetists who abbreviated the conclusion of Mark's Gospel there were also other heretics, probably Gnostics, who expanded it by adding after Mark 16:14 a reading which was known to Jerome (415) (98) and which appears as follows in Codex W
And they answered and said, 'This age of lawlessness and unbelief is under Satan, who doth not allow the truth of God to prevail over the unclean things of the spirits. Therefore reveal thy righteousness now.' So spake they to Christ. And Christ answered them, 'The term of the years of Satan's dominion hath been fulfilled, but other terrible things draw near. And for those who have sinned I was delivered over unto death, that they may return to the truth and sin no more, that they may inherit the spiritual and incorruptible glory of righteousness which is in heaven.' (99)
Hence, in addition to the causes which Dean Burgon discussed so ably, the tampering of heretics must have been one of the factors which brought about the omission of Mark 16:9-20 in the few New Testament documents which do omit this passage.
We see, then, that believing scholars who receive the last twelve verses of Mark as genuine are more reasonable than naturalistic scholars who reject them. For there are many reasons why these verses might have been omitted by the few New Testament documents which do omit them, but no reason has yet been invented which can explain satisfactorily either how a hypothetical "lost ending" of Mark could have disappeared from all the extant New Testament documents or how the author of Mark's Gospel could have left it incomplete without any ending at all.
It is sometimes said that the last twelve verses of Mark are not really important, so that it makes little difference whether they are accepted or rejected. This, however, is hardly the case. For Mark 16:9-20 is the only passage in the Gospels which refers specifically to the subject which is attracting so much attention today, namely, tongues, healings, and other spiritual gifts. The last verse of this passage is particularly decisive (Mark 16 :20). Here we see that the purpose of the miracles promised by our Lord was to confirm the preaching of the divine Word by the Apostles. Of course, then, these signs ceased after the Apostles' death. Today we have no need of them. The Bible is the all-sufficient miracle. And if we take this high view of the Bible, we cannot possibly suppose that the ending of one of the Gospels has been completely lost.