Saturday, November 26, 2016

Word Magazine # 64: Jeff Purswell on the Ending of Mark: Merely "ancient faithful commentary"?

I just recorded and posted WM 64 (listen here).  It offers a review of a July 15, 2016 sermon titled “The Final Chapter” from Jeff Purswell at the Sovereign Grace Church in Louisville, Kentucky on the ending of Mark.  In addition to being an elder at this church, Purswell is also Dean of the Sovereign Grace Pastors’ College.

I review the section of the sermon (from c. 7:00-19:00 minute mark) in which Purswell addresses the text of the ending of Mark.  The sermon demonstrates how many evangelical and otherwise conservative evangelicals who have embraced the modern critical text are now openly rejecting the ending of Mark and teaching their congregations that the Longer Ending (LE) of Mark 16:9-20 is not part of inspired Scripture.

He defines text criticism as “the science of comparing all known copies of a document to discover what the original said.”  I point out that this “reconstructionist” definition is one that modern academic text criticism has largely abandoned.

When it comes to “external evidence” Purswell asserts that the “oldest and best” manuscripts do not support the LE.  He cites no manuscripts and does not mention that only two extant Greek manuscripts actually end Mark at 16:8 (Sinaiticus and Vaticanus).

He notes several Church Fathers typically cited in favor of omitting the LE (Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Cyprian, Eusebius, and Jerome).  After noting problems with these (arguments from silence, no pre-300 citations, Jerome includes the LE in his Vulgate), I point out that the biggest problem here is that he fails to list the church fathers who do support the LE, including Justin Martyr and Irenaeus.

Purswell also uses the “bandwagon” argument.  You should reject the LE, he says, because “virtually no Biblical scholars think it is original.”  This overlooks the more recent scholarly defenses of the LE by Dean John Burgon, William Farmer, Maurice Robinson, James Snapp, and Nicholas P. Lunn.

Purswell asserts it is “a virtually assured explanation” that the LE was written and added by a well-meaning but misguided scribe.  As I point out this explanation is hardly “assured” but based entirely on unsubstantiated speculation.

Turning to internal evidence, Purswell calls the LE a “patchwork” with non-Markan style.

In the end he calls the LE merely uninspired, “ancient faithful commentary.”

As I point out this creates a great dilemma for those who embrace this position.  If they hold that Mark 16:9-20 is not part of Scripture should they not contend that it be removed from their printed Bibles? Why do they not do this?  My guess is that they are not so bold to do this, because they fear the backlash of God’s people who intuitively hear in Mark 16:9-20 the voice of their Shepherd.

At the close of this discussion, Purswell makes a somewhat standard evangelical apologetic argument regarding the large number of NT manuscripts (c. 5,700).  He contrasts this with the relatively fewer and later manuscripts of works by Josephus and Tacitus.  I point out that this argument is rather misleading.  Most of the NT manuscripts cited are fragmentary and late.  In fact, we have very few complete copies of the NT. I cite Robert F. Hull, Jr. in The Story of the NT Text (SBL, 2010):  “In fact, only fifty-three manuscripts contain the complete NT, and only one of these is dated as early as the fourth century” (p. 24).  The irony is that Purswell appeals to the number of extant Greek witnesses to the NT but then rejects the fact that the vast majority of them, including many of the oldest, support the LE.

In the end the rejection of the LE creates a major theological problem for those evangelicals who have embraced the modern critical text.  Would a canonical Gospel end without any resurrection appearances?


1 comment:

James Snapp Jr said...

The "patchwork" theory popularized by France and then in much more detail by Kelhoffer is one of the most complicated theories ever introduced into the field of New Testament studies.

I hope Jeff Purswell will be willing to reopen the question, but, alas, in my experience, after someone has gone on public record about this subject, it is very rare for them to admit any mistake in their presentation of the evidence, even when the mistake is obvious and egregious.