I sat down today and recorded WM # 44: Hendriksen and the Ending of Mark. Here are some notes I used for this episode:
A friend in Hong Kong recently emailed me to say that he had been reading William Hendriksen’s commentary on Mark and was puzzled by his comments on the ending of the Gospel. He wrote: “Since Hendricksen is a much respected commentator for reformed Christians, do you think you could comment on his writing concerning Mark's ending soon?” This WM is in response to his request.
Who is William Hendriksen?
See his bio from the Banner of Truth website. Hendriksen (1900-1982) was a Christian Reformed minister and Bible scholar, born in the Netherlands, whose family immigrated to the US when he was 11 years of age. He went to Calvin College, Calvin Seminary, and got a ThD from Princeton.
His book More than Conquerors on the interpretation of Revelation was the first book published by Baker Books in 1940.
Hendriksen is perhaps best known for his New Testament Commentary series. He wrote the commentaries covering Matthew through Titus, and the remainder was completed by Simon Kistemaker. These commentaries have become a favorite of Reformed ministers and laymen for their generally conservative and Reformed perspective on the NT.
The issue: If such a respected scholar did not accept the traditional ending of Mark, why should we?
Hendriksen on the Ending of Mark:
The Mark commentary was completed in 1975. After 16:8 we find an excursus titled, “The Problem with Respect to Mark 16:9-20” (pp. 682-687), which begins with the question, “Did Mark write verses 9-20?”
After this discussion, the author provides notes on Mark 16:9-20 (pp. 687-693).
We will focus on his comments in the excurses (pp. 682-687). After an initial survey of opinions, he notes two key points. First, did Mark write Mark 16:9-20? Second, if the answer to the first question is NO, does this mean that Mark was meant to end at Mark 16:8?
The answer to the first question is NO, as WH states, “I do not believe that Mark wrote Mark 16:9-20” (p. 682).
He provides two reasons, based on (1) External Evidence; and (2) Internal Evidence.
Let’s look at each and provide a brief response:
(1) WH on External Evidence:
WH notes that Mark 16:9-20 is missing in Codices Vaticanus and Sinaiticus. It is also missing in the Old Latin Codex k, the Sinaitic Syriac, “and other very early manuscripts” (p. 683).
He adds that Clement of Alexandria and Origen “seem not to have known these verses” (p. 683).
He also cited Eusebius and Jerome as saying that the traditional ending was missing in early manuscripts.
WH fails to discuss positive evidence for the traditional ending. It appears in codices A, C, D, and the vast majority.
It is also cited by the church Father Justin and Irenaeus. The latter explicitly cites Mark 16:19 and identifies it as coming from the end of Mark.
Another respected Reformed Dutch scholar reached a very different conclusion given the same evidence:
Jakob Van Bruggen, The Future of the Bible (Thomas Nelson, 1978): p. 131:
There are only three known Greek manuscripts that end at 16:8, and one of them has a large open space after verse 8. All the remaining Greek manuscripts contain verses 9-20 after Mark 16:1-8, and most of them do not have a single note or insertion of other data. Mark 16:1-20 has both the authority of the Majority Text, as well as the authority of oldest text. If it still remains uncertain whether Mark 16:9-20 is well attested textually, then very little of any of the text of the New Testament is well attested.
As for the Eusebius and Jerome comments, see Dean John Burgon’s book The Last Twelve Verses of Mark (reprinted by Sovereign Grace Printers, 2000), chapter five “The Alleged hostile witness of certain early Church Fathers proved to be an imagination of the critics” (pp. 116-147).
Among other things, Burgon notes that Clement of Alexandria also never quotes from the ending of Matthew but no one has argued that Matthew 28 is not original to the first Gospel (p. 117).
He challenges both the Eusebius reference (pp. 119-129) and the Jerome citation (pp. 129-135).
(2) WH on Internal Evidence:
He gives three arguments:
He compares vv. 1-8 with vv. 9-20 and notes:
vv. 1-8 4 unique words
vv. 9-20 14 unique words
He focuses on the conjunction kai:
vv. 1-8 8 times (once per verse)
vv. 9-20 6-7 times (c. once per two verses)
He focuses on the fact that in v. 7 the young man tells the women to tell the disciples Jesus will appear to them in Galilee and in vv. 9-20 there is no explicit mention of an appearance in Galilee.
Arguments based on style are notoriously difficult because they usually involve subjective judgments based on limited evidence.
WH’s arguments are particularly weak because he only compares vv. 1-8 and vv. 9-20. He makes no comparison with passages of similar length in other sections of Mark.
Mark 16:9-20 exhibits the normal variety found in other passages of similar length in Mark.
See especially Maurice Robinson’s analysis in “The Long Ending of Mark as Canonical Verity” in David Alan Black, Ed. Perspectives on the Ending of Mark (B & H, 2008): pp. 40-79 (especially pp. 65-66).
For the use of the conjunction kai and the conjunction de in Mark 16:9-20, see the discussion in Lunn, The Original Ending of Mark (Pickwick, 2014): 159-160.
The Galilee argument is weak. No reference to Galilee does not mean that this was not the setting for some of the appearances recorded in vv. 9-20.
Having rejected the authenticity of Mark 16:9-20, Hendriksen turns to his second question. If 16:9-20 is not original, does this mean Mark was meant to end at 16:8?
Unlike many modern interpreters (like John MacArthur or Dan Wallace) Hendriksen concludes an original ending at 16:8 as improbable, but he offers no explanation for how Mark ended or what happened to the “real” ending, noting instead, “I have no desire to add to the confusion” (p. 687).
He concludes that “no sermon, doctrine, or practice should be based solely upon its contents” (p. 687).
For a response to this kind of viewpoint see past Word Magazines:
Return to the original issue: If such a respected scholar did not accept the traditional ending of Mark, why should we?
I would respectfully say that WH was wrong on the matter of text. This does not mean that his commentaries are not useful, but they should be read with discernment and caution.
Hendriksen, like many other Reformed and conversative evangelicals, was deeply influenced by the currents of the modern historical critical method.
For the influence of the academy on conservative scholars, see especially Ian H. Murray’s Evangelicalism Divided: A Record of Crucial Change in the Years 1950-2000 (Banner of Truth, 2000), particularly chapter seven “‘Intellectual Respectability’ and Scripture” (pp. 173-214). Look here for my review of the book. Note: Murray does not critique Hendriksen but he does review men like F. F. Bruce, Alistair McGrath, and others. But his comments in this chapter are relevant to this discussion, as when he observes:
The academic approach to Scripture treats the divine element—for all practical purposes—as non-existent. History shows that when evangelicals allow that approach their teaching will sooner or later begin to look little different from that of liberals (p. 185).
In general, we might conclude it is safer to rely on older commentators (like Calvin, Henry, Poole, Spurgeon, etc.).
We should not be dispirited. Quite the contrary, it is clear that many are beginning to question the embrace of the modern critical text. As one example of that see Keith Mathison’s recent blog post on Nicholas Lunn’s book defending the traditional ending of Mark:
This may have been the most surprising book I read in 2015. My thoughts on the ending of Mark have been basically settled for over 20 years. I have long been convinced that the original ending of Mark was at 16:8. Lunn’s book has caused me to go back and take another look at the evidence and seriously reconsider my position. He provides a very thorough and helpful examination of the external and internal evidence. His consideration of the linguistic argument is particularly good. In my opinion, Lunn’s book demonstrates that the case for the longer ending of Mark is a lot stronger than many of us have been led to believe, and he certainly demonstrates that the case for the shorter ending is a lot weaker. It will be interesting to see whether his work re-opens the debate and changes any minds.
We can only hope that this trend will continue.