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THE CASE OF THE LAST TWELVE VERSES OF S. MARK’S GOSPEL, STATED.
These Verses generally suspected at the present time. The popularity of this opinion accounted for.
IT has lately become the fashion to speak of the last Twelve Verses of the Gospel according to S. Mark, as if it were an ascertained fact that those verses constitute no integral part of the Gospel. It seems to be generally supposed, (1) That the evidence of MSS. is altogether fatal to their claims; (2) That “the early Fathers” witness plainly against their genuineness; (3) That, from considerations of “internal evidence” they must certainly be given up. It shall be my endeavour in the ensuing pages to show, on the contrary, That manuscript evidence is so overwhelmingly in their favour that no room is left for doubt or suspicion:—That there is not so much as one of the Fathers, early or late, who gives it as his opinion that these verses are spurious:—and, That the argument derived from internal considerations proves on inquiry to be baseless and unsubstantial as a dream.
But I hope that I shall succeed in doing more. It shall be my endeavour to show not only that there really is no reason whatever for calling in question the genuineness of this portion of Holy Writ, but also that there exist sufficient reasons for feeling confident that it must needs be genuine. This is clearly as much as it is possible for me 2to achieve. But when this has been done, I venture to hope that the verses in dispute will for the future be allowed to retain their place in the second Gospel unmolested.
It will of course be asked,—And yet, if all this be so, how does it happen that both in very ancient, and also in very modern times, this proposal to suppress twelve verses of the Gospel has enjoyed a certain amount of popularity? At the two different periods, (I answer,) for widely different reasons.
(1.) In the ancient days, when it was the universal belief of Christendom that the Word of God must needs be consistent with itself in every part, and prove in every part (like its Divine Author) perfectly “faithful and true,” the difficulty (which was deemed all but insuperable) of bringing certain statements in S. Mark’s last Twelve Verses into harmony with certain statements of the other Evangelists, is discovered to have troubled Divines exceedingly. “In fact,” (says Mr. Scrivener,) “it brought suspicion upon these verses, and caused their omission in some copies seen by Eusebius.” That the maiming process is indeed attributable to this cause and came about in this particular way, I am unable to persuade myself; but, if the desire to provide an escape from a serious critical difficulty did not actually occasion that copies of S. Mark’s Gospel were mutilated, it certainly was the reason why, in very early times, such mutilated copies were viewed without displeasure by some, and appealed to with complacency by others.
(2.) But times are changed. We have recently been assured on high authority that the Church has reversed her ancient convictions in this respect: that now, “most sound theologians have no dread whatever of acknowledging minute points of disagreement” (i.e. minute errors) “in the fourfold narrative even of the life of the Redeemer11 Abp. Tait’s Harmony of Revelation and the Sciences, (1864,) p. 21..” There has arisen in these last days a singular impatience of Dogmatic Truth, (especially Dogma of an unpalatable kind,) which has even rendered popular the pretext afforded by these same mutilated copies for the grave resuscitation of doubts, never as it would seem seriously entertained by any 3of the ancients; and which, at all events for 1300 years and upwards, have deservedly sunk into oblivion.
Whilst I write, that “most divine explication of the chiefest articles of our Christian belief,” the Athanasian Creed22 See by all means Hooker, E. P., v. xlii. 11-13., is made the object of incessant assaults33 Abp. Tait is of opinion that it “should not retain its place in the public Service of the Church:” and Dean Stanley gives sixteen reasons for the same opinion,—the fifteenth of which is that “many excellent laymen, including King George III., have declined to take part in the recitation.” (Final) Report of the Ritual Commission, 1870, p. viii. and p. xvii.. But then it is remembered that statements quite as “uncharitable” as any which this Creed contains are found in the 16th verse of S. Mark’s concluding chapter; are in fact the words of Him whose very Name is Love. The precious warning clause, I say, (miscalled “damnatory44 In the words of a thoughtful friend, (Rev. C. P. Eden),—“Condemnatory is just what these clauses are not. I understand myself, in uttering these words, not to condemn a fellow creature, but to acknowledge a truth of Scripture, God’s judgment namely on the sin of unbelief. The further question,—In whom the sin of unbelief is found; that awful question I leave entirely in His hands who is the alone Judge of hearts; who made us, and knows our infirmities, and whose tender mercies are over all His works.”,”) which an impertinent officiousness is for glossing with a rubric and weakening with an apology, proceeded from Divine lips,—at least if these concluding verses be genuine. How shall this inconvenient circumstance be more effectually dealt with than by accepting the suggestion of the most recent editors, that S. Mark’s concluding verses are an unauthorised addition to his Gospel? “If it be acknowledged that the passage has a harsh sound,” (remarks Dean Stanley,) “unlike the usual utterances of Him who came not to condemn but to save, the discoveries of later times have shown, almost beyond doubt, that it is not a part of S. Mark’s Gospel, but an addition by another hand; of which the weakness in the external evidence coincides with the internal evidence in proving its later origin55 “The Athanasian Creed,” by the Dean of Westminster (Contemporary Review, Aug., 1870, pp. 158, 159)..”
Modern prejudice, then,—added to a singularly exaggerated estimate of the critical importance of the testimony 4of our two oldest Codices, (another of the “discoveries of later times,” concerning which I shall have more to say by-and-by,)—must explain why the opinion is even popular that the last twelve verses of S. Mark are a spurious appendix to his Gospel.
Not that Biblical Critics would have us believe that the Evangelist left off at verse 8, intending that the words,—“neither said they anything to any man, for they were afraid,” should be the conclusion of his Gospel. “No one can imagine,” (writes Griesbach,) “that Mark cut short the thread of his narrative at that place66 Commentarius Criticus, ii. 197..” It is on all hands eagerly admitted, that so abrupt a termination must be held to mark an incomplete or else an uncompleted work. How, then, in the original autograph of the Evangelist, is it supposed that the narrative proceeded? This is what no one has even ventured so much as to conjecture. It is assumed, however, that the original termination of the Gospel, whatever it may have been, has perished. We appeal, of course, to its actual termination: and,—Of what nature then, (we ask,) is the supposed necessity for regarding the last twelve verses of S. Mark’s Gospel us a spurious substitute for what the Evangelist originally wrote? What, in other words, has been the history of these modern doubts; and by what steps have they established themselves in books, and won the public ear?
To explain this, shall be the object of the next ensuing chapters.5
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