If the resurrection really was the central teaching of the New Testament, wouldn't we expect to find it in the oldest Gospel accounts? Click To TweetThis was a question I was asked on Twitter a few days ago. It included a bunch of other stuff, but that was the main gist. I very rarely answer critiques on Twitter. People on Twitter are seldom interested in an answer. Usually, they just want someone with whom to spar. I’m not really the intellectual “sparring type,” or at least I don’t get pleasure out of it like some people. I’ll have people throw out statements like the one above, coupled with things like “Christianity is 100% speculation!” (That’s how I know it isn’t a “serious” question.) Like I said, I usually ignore it. I’m rarely in the mood to spar. BUT, sometimes I am. 🙂
Usually, it’ll be around a topic where I think, “I know that question has an answer. . . I’ve HEARD the answer to that question. . . I just can’t crank it out on demand.” So, I take the opportunity to brush off my research skills and engage in a few rounds. If it looks like it’s getting ugly, I’ll excuse myself. Usually, it’s just a person accusing me of proof-texting or using evading techniques. This one seemed to think that my appeal to historical textual criticism was an evasive and vague “analogy.” Analogy? The process of historical textual criticism applied to the Bible, a historical document? Sigh. . . There are some misunderstandings that you can’t fix over Twitter.
Nevertheless, I kept it civil and thanked them for the respectful conversation when I was ready for it to end. And I wasn’t just blowing smoke. This person was more civil than others who only throw insults. He bid me a good day, and I think he really meant it, and I wished him well too. So, why not share my studies with you for the day? It would seem a waste not to!
If you haven’t noticed, take a look at the very end of Mark. In most Bibles, verses 9-20 are in brackets because the end of Mark is mostly nonexistent in the earliest copies. (Check for footnotes as well.) So, what do we do with this? Isn’t the Bible supposed to be inerrant? Is this proof that the Bible can’t be trusted?!
If this is your fear, I would like to first point you to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. It goes through the orthodox definition of “inerrant” which leaves room for discrepancies in the transmission that don’t affect doctrine. But beyond that, here are a few things that I told my atheist twitter friend:
1) You don’t need Mark 16:9-20 to get the resurrection
Contrary to my twitter friend’s impression, the resurrection is recorded before verse 9. Chapter 16 recounts the women visiting the tomb to put spices on Jesus’ corpse. However, when they get there, a man announces to them that Jesus had risen, and to go and tell “the disciples and Peter” that Jesus would meet them in Galilee. The paragraph ends with the women “saying nothing out of fear.”
Obviously that can’t be the actual ending. If the women actually said nothing, then we wouldn’t have a record of them saying nothing. We just wouldn’t have a record. Clearly, something is missing here. True, we don’t have the ascension of Jesus, but that has no bearing on the resurrection. And (to play devil’s advocate) if someone were trying to create a legendary “and they lived happily ever after” kind of ending, I don’t think the man/angel’s/resurrected Jesus’ last words would be telling the disciples where to meet him.
If it were all made up, it would more likely end with, “Tell the disciples Jesus has risen! Just have faith! Can’t you feel it in your heart that he is alive?!?! Go and proclaim this strong feeling!” No. He’s like, “Tell them I’ll see them in Galilee. Bring fish.” Okay, so I added that last part. But you get the point.If it were all made up, it would more likely end with, “Tell the disciples Jesus has risen! Just have faith! Can’t you feel it in your heart that he is alive?!?!” Click To Tweet
2) We still have Matthew, Luke, and John
Why camp out on Mark? (That’s easy: because Mark is the oldest book according to most scholars.) However, if someone wants to doubt what Scripture teaches about the resurrection of Christ, they can’t just cite one problem passage and call it quits. They would have to show that the whole of Scripture is vague on the resurrection account. Matthew 28, Luke 24, John 20-21, and Acts 1, all attest to the resurrection of Jesus. 1 Corinthians 15, and a ton of other New Testament verses elevate it to being the central teaching of the New Testament. Jesus’ resurrection is literally what the New Testament writers are “testifying” to be true. No resurrection = no “testament.”If someone wants to doubt what Scripture teaches about the resurrection of Christ, they can’t just cite one problem passage and call it quits. They would have to show that the whole of Scripture is vague on the resurrection. Click To Tweet
Sure, people recalled seeing different numbers of angels at the tomb, but they all agree that he was resurrected. Let’s remember the difference between core themes and peripheral details. Eyewitnesses vary in peripheral details all the time. You know why? Because we get tunnel vision when something hugely important is happening before our eyes. As humans, we tend to focus on the big event, and peripheral details get lost. A bunch of people who all have identical peripheral details is a bunch of people who have rehearsed a story. (Don’t take my word for it. Go ask a detective.) The New Testament reads like eyewitness testimony, and the core teaching is that there was a man named Jesus who lived, died, rose again, and was seen by a bunch of people.
3) We have early references to longer versions of Mark
If the person is intent on camping out on the missing end of Mark, here’s one name you should know: Irenaeus. Irenaeus was a student of Polycarp, who was a student of John. That would be like getting information about the O.J. trial from Robert Shapiro’s protégé. John taught all he knew to Polycarp, who then taught all he knew to Irenaeus. This isn’t a game of telephone. This is how all history was passed on in the ancient world.
In Irenaeus’ book Against Ancient Heresies (composed around 177 AD), we see a quote from Mark 16:19, “So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God” (Ancient Heresies, Chapter 10, section 5). In another of Irenaeus’ books, he records a certain group shortening a gospel. (This might be what one would call an “undesigned coincidence”) In the Ante-Nicene Fathers, volume 1, chapter 12, section 12, page 721, Irenaeus says, “Wherefore also Marcion and his followers have betaken themselves to mutilating the Scriptures. . . and curtailing the Gospel according to Luke and the Epistles of Paul, they assert that these are alone authentic, which they have themselves thus shortened.” (emphasis mine)
So, was there a longer version of Mark? Probably. The second-century writer Irenaeus cites it, and even a non-educated reader can attest that ending at verse 8 feels rather abrupt and unnatural. Was the end of Mark destroyed by Marcionites at some point? Who knows. We know one guy who accused them of it. Either way, we don’t need verses 9-20 to support a resurrected Jesus.
4) You still have to deal with the martyrdom of the disciples and other followers
Yes, adherents to every religion have martyrs. However, the difference between Christianity and other religions is that Christianity alone has people dying for what they claim was their own experience. Buddhists willingly die for what they believe Buddha experienced. Mormons willingly die for what they believe Joseph Smith experienced. Muslims willingly die for what they believe Muhammed experienced. You will very rarely find someone dying for something that they know for a fact didn’t happen. A person who has experienced something first-hand, KNOWS if it happened or not. They are not taking anyone else’s word for it. And yet we have a record of all the disciples (except John) dying martyr’s deaths. I’m not saying that proves what they were saying was true. However, it is a very difficult piece of evidence to discount. If they died, knowing it was a lie, it goes against everything we know about human nature.
In conclusion, you will always have people who come at you with random factoids that you didn’t know about Scripture. Are there discrepancies in scripture? Yes. Most of them have to do with spelling or syntax. (But really, who cares if it is spelled Jon, Jonn, or John?) This passage (Mark 16:9-20) is one of the few that actually deals with doctrine. And even among this small portion that deals with doctrine, none of them are the only witnesses to said doctrine (as if nowhere else in scripture records this.) We could take Mark 16:9-20 out of our Bibles completely, and still have the exact same doctrine about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. All in all, I’m thankful that I engaged in my brief Twitter debate. It helped me organize my thoughts and gave me an excuse to fact-check the Irenaeus sources for myself, which I have now provided for you! And it reminded me of an important lesson that I dare not forget: Don’t fear the questions or accusations. The word of God stands to scrutiny.Never fear questions or accusations. If the word of God is true, it will stand to scrutiny. Click To Tweet
Hillary Morgan Ferrer is the founder of Mama Bear Apologetics. She is the chief author and editor of Mama Bear Apologetics: Empowering Your Kids to Challenge Cultural Lies and Mama Bear Apologetics Guide to Sexuality: Empowering Your Kids to Understand and Live Out God’s Design. Hillary has her masters in Biology and has been married to her husband, Dr. John D. Ferrer, for 15 years. Don’t let her cook for you. She’ll burn your house straight to the ground.
A couple of typos: “undersigned” should be “undesigned,” and “Mark 6:” should be “Mark 16:”
Fixed! Thanks Bob. 🙂
Excellent article thank you
Is the oldest manuscript of Mark from codex Sinaiticus? If it is then, the “missing” verses in Mark is not really missing. The Sinaiticus is so notorious for “in page corrections” and deletion by its writer plus it is now doubted if it is really the oldest and best( even containing extra biblical accounts such as the book of enoch etc). There are a few websites dealing with this fraudulent face of the Sinaiticus and we must look at this manuscript with a grain of salt.
Even assuming Mark’s original resurrection story had an appearance narrative that became lost…wouldn’t the requesting church know the value of Mark’s original, and thus set about making copies of it (i.e., loss of the ending from the autograph would not be sufficiently severe as to leave later copyists unsure of how it ended?)
And if Mark’s original contained a resurrection appearance narrative, must not apologists, who constantly extol the early church’s oral tradition capabilities, admit that this part of Mark’s ending would have survived intact within that church’s oral traditions?
So that we end up with the original ending of Mark being preserved not only in some of the earliest copies bu also in the oral tradition?
Seems to me that the historical probabilities favor the hypothesis that Mark intended to end at v. 8. And this is not a sour note, the angel has just proclaimed the good news, and the women’s “fear” is more likely reverential awe instead of genuinely upsetting fright. So Mark ends on a positive note, leaving N.T. Wright and others without a reasonable motive to think the gospel must be missing the happy ending.
Almost every conservative Christian argument for the historicity of the bodily resurrection of Jesus begins with a big assumption: that the Gospels are primary source documents written by eyewitnesses or the associates of eyewitnesses. The problem for conservative Christians is that the majority of Bible scholars say that this assumption is FALSE. Here is a link to a list of scholars, including conservative Christian scholar Richard Bauckham, confirming this majority consensus position:
Without confirmed eyewitness testimony, the alleged detailed appearance stories of a resurrected Jesus as found in the Gospels are nothing more than unconfirmed hearsay. The strength of the evidence for this supernatural event is indeed very, very weak.
Agreed. The truth is that the authors of the biblical texts are unknown. There is no evidence that the gospels were written by the people who are credited as the authors. There is no proof that the texts were written at the time of Jesus’ life or shortly after. No one knows for certain the origin of the bible or where the stories come from.
Tacitus the Roman historian and Josephus the Jewish historian mention Jesus as the Christ. No matter how we scrutinise historical documents it does not change the fact that God so loved the world that he sent his only son to save it. It is through him that the scales are removed from our eyes to see the true meanings of scripture and without him it is impossible to understand the treasures set out for us. If you really want to understand scripture go to him in prayer, ask and you shall receive, knock and it shall be opened unto you for everyone that asks receives and to them that knock it shall be opened.
“No matter how we scrutinise historical documents it does not change the fact that God so loved the world that he sent his only son to save it.”
If the Gospels are not eyewitness sources, there is no way one can claim that Jesus was sent by God to save it. For all we know, all the detailed stories in the Gospels about Jesus are theological fiction.
Just how historically reliable are the Gospels and Acts if even prominent conservative Protestant and evangelical Bible scholars believe that fictional accounts may exist in these books? I have put together a list of statements from such scholars and historians as Richard Bauckham, William Lane Craig, Michael Licona, Craig Blomberg, and NT Wright on this issue here:
I’ve seen your post, and it really doesn’t do much in all honesty. Enough people on your own blog have argued against the points you made, so I’ll just put mine here. Firstly, all the people you quote are still convinced by the historicity of the accounts for reasons that are not limited by ‘fictional accounts’, such as the numerous references by extra biblical sources, the extreme closeness of the writing of the gospels to the actual events themselves to the point of having eyewitnesses, both for and against Christianity, still very much alive and well at the spreading of the gospels and easily able to deny anything written in them (while other ancient texts are far less prolific and much further from their original source relatively speaking), the incidental details matching the other gospels and extra biblical evidence such as archeology and additional secular historical sources, and much more. And even going by the people of the Jesus Seminar, who we all know have no reason to believe anything at all in the Bible, we know at least that Jesus thought he actually was God, and that he existed and was crucified. Additionally, its really not that difficult to say that they could be wrong in their analysis. You seem to already hold them in some sort of contempt, so why take them at their word here and not when they point out the other various reasons for believing the gospel accounts? Rather disingenuous, if I say so myself. Also, you and your other supporter seem to just put out the phrase ‘nobody knows when the accounts were written when in fact, even the most liberal scholars place the writing of the gospels within the lifetimes of eyewitnesses, and that the writings of Paul are much earlier, with a creed in his writings even potentially sourced to around 3-6 years after Christ’s death. Even if you made it 10 years, that really isn’t enough time in the slightest for legendary accounts to begin surfacing.
Every story should always and exclaiming that all men of bells a Bob return back as a golden bear dancing on the tip top of a mountain and if any stories should have or not have that conclusion at the end it should be added on because Rome wants it that way.
And what wrong once it gets!
Every story should always endexclaiming that all men of bells a Bob return back as a golden bear dancing on the tip top of a mountain and if any stories do not have that conclusion at the end it should be added on, because Rome wants it that way.
And what Rome wants it gets!
Every story should always end that all men of bells a Bob return back as a golden bear dancing on the tip top of a mountain and if any stories do not have that conclusion at the end it should be added on, because Rome wants it that way.
And what Rome wants it gets!
“Sure, people recalled seeing different numbers of angels at the tomb, but they all agree that he was resurrected.”
I think this is a great example of people looking at exactly the same thing and coming away with radically different impressions. For me, the differences between the appearances of risen Jesus in Matthew, Luke, and John are not merely details. Unless you consider most everything Jesus said to be details. The only consistency is Jesus saying “Spread the word.” Beyond that his comments never agree between gospel writers. Luke’s Jesus wants to do a review of scripture and show how it was fulfilled in his life, death, and resurrection. In other gospels, Jesus don’t refer to scripture at all. John’s Jesus seems to be endowing the disciples with the Holy Spirit while he’s standing there with them. Luke’s Jesus says power from on high will arrive later. Matthew’s Jesus mentions baptism but no other gospel writer does. John’s Jesus authorizes the disciples to forgive sins, but no other writer recalls that. Doubting Thomas gets scolded for his unbelief, but only in John. Peter gets a chance to redeem himself during a stressful conversation with Jesus in John 21. No other writer records this. Is it unreasonable to expect gospel writers to agree on what their resurrected leader had to say?
Why is paul the only storyteller who claims that 500 people witnessed the resurrected Jesus? And, out of 500 people, why is he the only one to have documented it or (told somebody who could read, who could then document it)?
Anyway, here is someone who didn’t “camp out” on one inconsistency on this topic, in a book that is full of them to any rational mind who doesn’t use circular reasoning and wild speculation to support their vapid arguments: https://thechurchoftruth.org/the-bible-is-wrong-about-the-resurrection/