In Mark 16:9-20, most translations have a note similar to this: "later manuscripts add vs. 9-20." Does that mean that it should not included as part of the Bible? This can be somewhat confusing for a young person, or an older person. Is it part or not? I thought I would take a few minutes and give it my best shot. Here is what I told my son.
We have all these manuscripts, but they are not complete. So, we start putting them together and come up with what the original manuscripts would have been like. For over 99% of the Bible there is no question. But in the 1%, like Mark 16, we have to ask some questions to determine whether it was part of the original text written by Mark. When there are any manuscripts that say different things, we need to favor these manuscripts.
Which Is The Oldest? The closer back to the original you can get, the better. Have you ever played the game "telephone" where one person starts a story and passes it down the line? The further from the original you get, the more the story changes. So, it is always best to favor the oldest manuscripts.
Which Is The Shortest? The people who copied the manuscripts would never have cut things out in order to make it shorter, but they would have added things to fill in the details. For instance, could it be possible that some Scribe added the last verses to Mark 16 because there was not a sufficient ending to the book?
Which Is The Hardest? Once again, the people who copied the Bible would never have made it more difficult to read. The tendency would have been to make the language flow smoother for people to read.
So, when there are parts of the Bible that might be in question, there might be a little comment in the margin of your Bible that says, "the earliest manuscripts do not contain these vs." So, what should we do with it? What do we do with the 1% of the Bible that might be in question?
- As it is confirmed with other Scriptures, Believe & Obey it! For instance, in Mark 16, vs. 9 talks about the resurrection (many other passages confirm this); vs. 12 talks about the appearance to the two as they walk along the road (Luke says this as well); vs. 14 talks about Jesus appearing to the eleven (Luke 24); vs. 15 is the Great Commission (Matthew 28); and vs. 19-20 is the heartbeat of the book of Acts.
- Never make any major doctrinal stances from these passages alone! I would be really leery of taking Mark 16:18 and saying that all those who believe should handle snakes & drink their poison. Let's make sure it is confirmed in other passages of the Bible that are not in question.
After this conversation, my son said, "oh, cool!" There you have it, from the mouth of an 11-year old. How would you respond?