An Excursus

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email

Devotional Word for Tuesday, June 15, 2021

In the earlier devotion on the Heidelberg Catechism question and answer 71, I omitted any discussion on one part of the answer.  I did so because of a “problem” with it.  The explanation of the “problem” and its resolution go beyond the scope of the devotional but are important for us to think about.  For this reason, I am posting this excurses.  Just so that it is in our minds, Heidelberg Catechism question 71 asks, “Where has Christ promised that we are as certainly washed with His blood and Spirit as with the water of baptism?”  The answer responds, “In the institution of Baptism which runs thus: ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ ‘He who believes and is baptized will be save; but he who does not believe will be condemned.’ This promise is also repeated where the Scriptures call baptism ‘The water of rebirth’ and the washing away of sins.”  This answer is also contained in question 73 as it asks about the speech of the Holy Spirit.

In the answer to question 71 are two direct quotations from “Scripture.”  The first is from the Great Commission which is the part I referenced in the earlier devotion.  The second quotation is from Mark 16:16. As I say this, some of you will think or perhaps say, “Doesn’t Mark 16 have 8 verses?”  Whether you were thinking that or not, I encourage you to pull out your Bible and check.  My Bible, which is the NASB translation, has 20ish verses.  Let me explain the ish.  It has 8 verses which appear as you might normally expect.  Verses 9 through 20 appear in brackets.  After verse 20 I have another section of material that has no verse number but is bracketed.  The matter is slightly more complicated when I look at the footnotes.  The bracket for verses 9-20 has a footnote which says that these verses were an addition in later manuscripts (that means that they were not original to Mark’s text).  I have a second footnote which says a few late manuscripts have the extra paragraph stuck on the end of verse 8.

It appears then that chapter 16 has at least three possible lengths.  It is either a short chapter of 8 verses, a medium chapter of 8 verses plus a little, or a long chapter of 20 verses.  This raises two questions.  How are we to tell what Mark wrote and what if anything was added?  If something was added, how should we treat that material?  As in most areas of question, there has been significant disagreement down through the ages as to how to understand Mark’s intentions.  As we look back through the copies of the gospel of Mark that we have, we do not see any with the short little paragraph added on until very late.  It is highly unlikely that this was Mark’s writing.  Therefore, our primary choices are between the longer ending or the 8 verses.  There is no easy way to determine which it should be.  If we merely add up the number of copies that have the long ending over against the 8 verses, then we find that the overwhelming majority do in fact contain 20 verses.  However, if we also factor in the quality of the ancient sources, we find that the final 12 verses missing in some of the most important manuscripts.  They are also notably absent in the commentary from some of the early church fathers.  Again, how are we to determine the right view of these 12 verses?

Let’s take a quick look at the verses and see if we can ascertain their origin and meaning.  Let me read from Mark 16:9-11.  We see here that is a basic retelling of the fact that Mary Magdalene saw Jesus, reported her encounter, and faced some amount of opposition.  Look with me at a couple of verses from John’s gospel.  Specifically I want to look at 20:18,25.  Do you see how Mark is giving basically an expanded summary of the same thing that John presents?  This in fact is present throughout all of these 12 verses.  Roughly speaking they correspond to the endings of the other gospels.  Mark 16:16 seems to echo Matthew 28:19 and various other places in the gospels and the book of Acts.  How do I make up my own mind on these issues.  First, I recognize that there might not be enough evidence to know without reservation.  However, I note that these additional 12 verses are communicating ideas which are expressed directly in other portions of the Scripture.  Therefore, I am unconcerned when I hear someone (including the Heidelberg Catechism) quote from them.  If you have any ideas for a better way that these things hold together, please let me know.