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Inconvenient histories

It’s a good idea to take some things with a grain of salt, or so the farmer said. I don’t think a little old fashioned skepticism hurts a thing, if it is applied judiciously. Science based on models might deserve a little more than a pinch of salt, as would theories on who was an ancestor. You may think of some other categories worth modest scrutiny.

One of my favorite religious accommodations was put in play by a generation of Biblical scholars. Beginning about a century ago, pretty much every scholar made it known that the last half of the sixteenth chapter of the book of Mark ought to be omitted from new translations or updates of the Bible. And some publishers followed through on that.

Verse 9 through 20 of chapter 16 wasn’t found in the two oldest manuscripts (called Vaticanus and Siniaticus). As the end of Mark’s writing had been omitted in both of these ancient versions, it seemed that had settled things for a whole bunch of credentialed folks. They had notes placed in many versions, stating things like, “not in the earliest ancient manuscripts.” While other publishers left this part of the epistle out altogether. This has continued up through today.

I suspect that some of the scholarly angst was particularly aimed at eliminating verse 16. He that believes and is baptized shall be saved, but the one that does not believe shall be condemned. That is a pretty unpopular statement to many. Verse seventeen is also unpopular, but more because modern readers (and scholars too?) can’t seem to distinguish between the persons directly addressed and the wider general audience of readers throughout time.

But, back to Mark 16:16 — what an unkind sentiment: that you must be immersed into Christ or be condemned if not. So leaving this one out was taking the low road. In other places, either Jesus or someone else had said or recorded the same things but using a little different language. So, in reality, it didn’t change much by editing this out of Mark.

However, it meant a lot to the anti-baptism champions; the people who want nothing at all to do with immersion in water; and who generally want the Holy Spirit to do all of the work of salvation. I have talked to many folks over the years who were quick to mention that Mark 16:16 wasn’t in the oldest manuscripts. Away with that, they would say.

Isn’t it interesting that a fellow appealed to for other reasons by these same folks, turns out to quote a portion of Mark’s alleged spurious book ending. His name was Irenaeus (he lived from 120 – 202 AD); and he mostly wrote prior to the beginning of the third century, a full 100 to 150 years minimum before the date of those two earliest manuscripts. He directly quoted Mark 16:19. The entry reads, And, also towards the conclusion of his gospel, Mark says, “So then, after the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was received up in to heaven, and sits at the right hand of God;” confirming what had been spoken by the prophets: The Lord said to my Lord, Sit you on my right hand, until I make your foes your footstool.

I wonder where Mr. Irenaeus found this nonexistent stuff to have included it in his writing? You know it must have come from a collection of the NT, or at the very least, a copy of the gospel of Mark, so that the old boy could have had it available to use in the first place.

So much for the value of “not found in the earliest manuscripts.” Those earliest manuscripts, as concerns accuracy, are apparently suspect themselves, aren’t they?

Pass the salt, please.

For the Word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword.