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Does an Alleged Contradiction Between Mark 16 and Luke 24 Disprove the Authenticity of Mark 16:9-20? Examining an Idiosyncratic Apologetic Gambit

Introduction

Two 4th-century AD manuscripts of the New Testament came to scholarly attention in the mid-19th century, each of which is ambiguously missing the last twelve verses (16:9-20) of the Gospel According to Mark.  Ever since then, liberal scholars have been insisting that these last twelve verses are not authentic, i.e., not originally part of the Gospel According to Mark; after all, it is so much easier to undermine the historical veracity of the resurrection of Jesus if Mark did not record any post-resurrection appearances [1].

 

A list was developed of putative arguments against the authenticity of Mark 16:9-20, and this list is presented to seminarians, evangelical and otherwise, who accept them without any critical thinking brought to bear upon that.  Truly unfortunate, that, as none of the arguments is legitimate [2].

 

While there are occasional attempts to explain why Mark ended his Gospel account at 16:8 [3], there have not been new arguments adduced in a long time against the authenticity of Mark 16:9-20.  But now a new one has been put forth.  It is actually quite simple; in sum:

 

·      Mark 16:12-13 cannot be reconciled with Luke 24:13,33-35.

·      Therefore, if both passages are authentic, there is an error in Scripture.

·      Scripture is inerrant, so there cannot be an error in Scripture.

·      Therefore, one of the passages (Mark 16:9-20) cannot be authentic.


Is this a valid argument?  Let’s see.  Mark 16:12-13 says this:

 

¹² After that, He appeared in another form to two of them as they walked and went into the country. ¹³ And they went and told it to the rest, but they did not believe them either.

 

Luke 24:13, 33-35 says this:

 

¹³ Now behold, two of them were traveling that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was sixty stadia [seven miles] from Jerusalem. ….
³³ So they rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, ³⁴ saying, “The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” ³⁵ And they told about the things that had happened on the road, and how He was known to them in the breaking of bread.

 

According to the argument, in Luke 24 we read that the others responded to the account of the two travellers by saying, “The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon,” which indicates that they believed what the travellers told them, because Simon has already told them the same thing, viz. that Jesus had risen.  On the other hand, in Mark 16:13 we read that the others disbelieved what the travellers told them.  This discrepancy cannot be reconcilied – the chap adducing this argument avers that he has examined many attempts to reconcile these two passages and has found them all to be false or weak. Therefore, Scripture either contains an error, which is a nonstarter, or one of the passages is not Scripture – and that one is Mark 16:9-20.

 

Now, this argument against the authenticity of Mark 16:9-20 raises two issues we must examine.  First, is this a valid apologetic approach? And, second, is Mark 16:12-13 truly irreconcilable with Luke 24:13, 33-35?


Is This a Valid Apologetic Approach?

While I fully support the doctrine of inerrancy [4], the new argument against Mark 16:9-20 and the approach underlying it is not valid nor truly consistent with inerrancy. Psalm 119:160a says, “The entirety of Your word is truth,” so a proper approach to inerrancy requires us to respect both the truth of Scripture and its entirety, and attempting to deal with a supposed contradiction by discarding part of Scripture does not do this.

 

Think about it:

  • One alleged contradiction that skeptics bring up is the number of fighting men according to the census as reported in 2 Samuel 24:9 and 1 Chronicles 21:5. If attempts to reconcile this discrepancy are “weak” in the eyes of the apologist, should we discard one of the passages?  If so, which one? [5]

  • Another alleged contradiction bought up by skeptics is the question of how Judas Iscariot died.  Did he hang himself (Matthew 27:3-5) or did he fall headlong so that he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out (Acts 1:18)?  If attempts to reconcile this discrepancy are “weak” in the eyes of the apologist, should we discard one of the passages? If so, which one? [6]

  •  Was Jesus born when Herod was alive (Matthew 2:1ff) or when Quirinius was governing Syria (Luke 2:2)?  According to textual critic Dr. Daniel Wallace, 

This text [Luke 2:2] casts serious doubts on Luke’s accuracy for two reasons: (1) The earliest known Roman census in Palestine was taken in 6-7 CE, and (2) there is little, if any, evidence that Quirinius was governor of Syria before Herod’s death in 4 BCE. In light of this, many scholars believe that Luke was thinking about the census in 6-7 CE, when Quirinius was governor of Syria … In conclusion, facile solutions do not come naturally to Luke 2:2. [7]

Should we deal with this serious problem by proclaiming one of the texts inauthentic? Luke 2:2 would be the obvious choice, wouldn’t it? [8]


It should be obvious that this is not a valid apologetic approach, not in these cases nor in any other case, including the alleged contradiction between Mark 16:12-13 and Luke 24:13,33-35. Denying the authenticity of Mark 16:9-20 is not a legitimate way to deal with this alleged contradiction. We shall have to do better – assuming, that is, that there is actually a discrepancy here. That is what we shall consider next.


Is There a Contradiction Between Mark 16:12-13 and Luke 24:13,33-35?

Our apologist is quite insistent that there is, indeed, a contradiction between these two passages.  He avers that he has examined many attempts to harmonize this passages and they were all false or weak, and certainly they were not as thorough as the apologist’s own work on the topic.

 

Based on his attempted harmonization, our apologist tells us that, according to Mark 16:12-13, the “rest” did not believe the testimony of the two travellers who had met Jesus on the road, whereas according to Luke 24:33-35, they did believe them.  We know they believed them, because they agreed with what they said because Simon Peter had already told them that Jesus had appeared to him.


So there you have it: Mark says the rest did not believe and Luke says they did; that is an irreconcilable contradiction, isn’t it?  As our apologist points out, Mark says they did not believe, but Luke plainly tells us they did believe.

 

Or does he?  If he does, why do we read a mere six verses later, when Jesus had appeared to them all, that “they still did not believe” (Luke 24:41b)?  In that the verse says, “They still did not believe” (ἔτι δὲ ἀπιστούντων), it indicates that they had not believed to this point. ἔτι pertains to continuance [9], so this indicates that they are continuing in a state of disbelief, which means they hadn’t believed before, not in 24:33-35 or at any previous time.  What our apologist missed is that Luke 24:33-35 records that the claim was being advanced in the group that Jesus had risen and had appeared to Simon; there is, in fact, no indication that the apostles or anyone other than those who brought the claim believed that claim.  The supposed contradiction between Mark 16:12-13 and Luke 24:13,33-35, then, arises only from our apologist’s unwarranted assumption about the meaning of the latter.  And his assumption is wrong.

 

What is described in Luke 24:33-35 is diametrically different from what our apologist posited.  The text tells us that the two travellers who had met Jesus “found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, ³⁴ saying, “The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” ³⁵ And they told about the things that had happened on the road, and how He was known to them in the breaking of bread. 


εὗρον συνηθροισμένους τοὺς ἕνδεκα καὶ τοὺς σὺν αὐτοῖς λέγοντας ὅτι ἠγέρθη ὁ κύριος ὄντως καὶ ὤφθη Σίμωνι

 

Who was doing the “saying” here?  Our apologist mistakenly assumes that it was “the eleven and those who were with them gathered together,” all agreeing that Jesus had appeared to Simon, but the Greek requires no such thing.  It could just as readily be taken that it was “those who were with them” who were doing the saying, trying to convince the eleven that Jesus had risen, but they were not believed (as is shown by 24:41), just as the women who brought testimony of the risen Jesus were not believed, as Mark tells us (16:11) and so does Luke (24:11), just as Thomas wouldn’t believe even the testimony of his fellow apostles (John 20:25).  The apostles were very difficult to convince that Jesus had risen; why our apologist thinks that they believed Simon (16:33-35) when the unanimous testimony of the Gospel books is that they did not believe until Jesus appeared to them (with the possible exception of John, per John 20:28) is difficult to discern.


Conclusion


As we have seen, claiming that a passage of Scripture is not authentic because it includes a statement that, prime facie, seems to contradict another statement of Scripture is a nonstarter.  We must respect both the entirety of Scripture and its truth, and we cannot sacrifice the former for the latter, nor is there ever a need to do so.

 

Seeming contradictions in the Gospel books are often the result of the skeptic failing to understand how different accounts of the same event play out in real life.  In the matter of the alleged contradiction between Mark 16:12-13 and Luke 24:13,33-35, this is not the case.  There is no contradiction at all, and our apologist’s concern stems from a failure to read the entire text of Luke 24 carefully; in particular, he should have paid careful attention to the Greek wording.  His harmonization, it seems, have not been done nearly as carefully as he thinks it has.


 

Endnotes

[1] See Tors, John,“A Primer on New Testament Textual Criticism: Bite-Sized Chunks,” posted at https://www.truthinmydays.com/post/a-primer-on-new-testament-textual-criticism-bite-sized-chunks. q.v “The Sixth Bite.”


[2] ibid., q.v. “The Fifth Bite” and “The Eighth Bite” and Tors, John, “Mark 16:9-20: A Response to CMI,” posted at https://www.truthinmydays.com/post/mark-16-9-20-a-response-to-cmi


[3] Tors, John, “Absurd Explanations for the Supposed Abrupt Ending of the Gospel According to Mark,” posted at https://www.truthinmydays.com/post/absurd-explanations-for-the-supposed-abrupt-ending-of-the-gospel-according-to-mark


[4] See, e.g., Tors, John, “The Assault on Inerrancy and What Is at Stake: A Final Word to Nick Peters,” posted at https://www.truthinmydays.com/post/the-assault-on-inerrancy-and-what-is-at-stake-a-final-word-to-nick-peters


[5] Joab is counting the available militia.  The writer of 2 Samuel tells us that this came to 800,000 men in Israel and 500,000 in Judah.  The writer of Chronicles gives us the total number of fighting men available to David in all Israel, adding in the standing army of 288,000 (1 Chronicles 27:1-15) and the cavalry guard of 12,000 (2 Chronicles 1:14). In 1 Chonicles 21:5, only 470,000 are specified for Judah, but the writer tells us that this does not include the tribes of Levi and Benjamin, which presumably came to 30,000.


[6] Judas died by hanging.  Even a cursory reading of Acts 1 shows that 1:18 is not about how Judas died but about how his final resting place became polluted into a field of blood so that no one would dwell there, which Peter took to be the fulfillment of Psalm 69:25.  It seems Judas’ body hung from whatever branch he had hanged himself from, and after the body had rotted, the rope broke, perhaps during a strong wind, and his body fell headlong and burst open and made quite a mess.


[7] Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996, p. 304


[8] For a detailed explanation, see Tors, John, “Is Luke Wrong About the Date of Jesus’ Birth? A Study in How to Do Evangelical Apologetics Pt. 1,” posted at https://www.truthinmydays.com/post/is-luke-wrong-about-the-date-of-jesus-birth-a-study-in-how-to-do-evangelical-apologetics-pt-1 and Part 2 and Part 3.


[9] BDAG, p.400

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