About the Author(s)

Marius Nel Email symbol
Unit for Reformational Theology and the Development of the SA Society, Faculty of Theology, North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa


Nel, M., 2020, ‘Pentecostal hermeneutical reconsideration of the longer ending of Mark 16:9–20’, Verbum et Ecclesia 41(1), a2089. https://doi.org/10.4102/ve.v41i1.2089

Original Research

Pentecostal hermeneutical reconsideration of the longer ending of Mark 16:9–20

Marius Nel

Received: 04 Mar. 2020; Accepted: 16 July 2020; Published: 28 Sept. 2020

Copyright: © 2020. The Author(s). Licensee: AOSIS.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Many scholars accept that Mark 16:9–20 is a late addition to the gospel of Mark based on the testimony of the manuscript tradition and internal evidence. Within early Pentecostalism, Mark 16:9–20 influenced pentecostal practice and proclamation to an inordinate extent, with ‘these signs shall follow’ (v. 17) serving at the same time as a wake-up call to worldwide mission and a litmus test for the authenticity of early pentecostal experience. Most early Pentecostals used Mark 16:9–20 without giving any consideration to its originality; however, some reacted to the scholarly debate about the longer ending by discussing its relevance in terms of its canonical inclusion and value. The article discusses these canonical considerations to answer the question: If it is accepted that the passage was not part of the original manuscript, what are the implications of it being used extensively throughout the history of the church as a part of the canon, and specifically in terms of its value and prevalent use in pentecostal practice?

Intradisciplinary and/or interdisciplinary implications: This article is intradisciplinary by touching issues concerning New Testament studies, hermeneutics and church history. Mark 16:9–20 is by scholarly consensus seen as a late addition to the gospel; however, Pentecostal churches have been and still are influenced by the text. If it is viewed as canonical, it calls for another way of thinking about Scripture.

Keywords: traditional ending; longer ending; pentecostal hermeneutics; manuscript evidence; internal evidence; Mark 16:9–20; canonical considerations.


John G. Lake, American missionary and healing evangelist, visited South Africa with the pentecostal gospel in partnership with Thomas Hezmalhalch. Their work led to the establishment of the Apostolic Faith Mission of South Africa and, by extension, many of the numerous ‘Apostolic’ indigenous churches. Lake (in Robinson 2014:48) states adamantly that the signs specified in Mark 16:9–20 – exorcism, glossolalia, serpent handling, poison-drinking and the laying of hands on the sick leading to their healing – were ‘God’s eternal trademark, issued by the Son of God, and sealed in His own blood’. The experiences in Mark 16 served for him and most other early Pentecostals as an authentication of ‘a distinctively pentecostal catalogue of religious practices’ (Wall 2003:180). At the same time, it also provided a missionary calculus by which these practices were viewed as concrete signs that can be used to measure a community’s continuity with the earthly mission of the ascended Jesus.

It is still axiomatic for many scholars to view Mark 16:8 as the traditional ending, the last remaining verse from Mark’s gospel (see Henderson 2012:108; Metzger 1992:228).1 For the sake of the argument in this article, it is accepted that the longer ending was not a part of the original gospel, although it is not the accepted general scholarly consensus any more.2 If it is accepted, it poses the question, how should the widespread use of Mark 16:9–20 in the theology and missiological practice of Pentecostalism be evaluated? Firstly, some historical critical considerations of the longer ending are discussed in terms of its occurrence in the manuscript tradition as well as internal evidence within the gospel. Then Pentecostals’ use of the longer ending is discussed in terms of their argument of its inclusion in the canon. The discussion is closed by some hermeneutical and canonical considerations.

Historical critical consideration of Mark 16:9–20

Mark 16:9–20 is accepted by many scholars as a late addition to the Markan gospel for two reasons, which are related to the testimony of the manuscript tradition and the nature of the internal evidence. The most ancient extant versions of the gospel end at 16:8.

Review of manuscript tradition

The manuscript tradition offers different endings. The most important manuscripts end at 16:8, including the two most respected manuscripts (the 4th-century codex Sinaiticus or א and B that admittedly contains a large space following 16:8, presumably to leave room for an addition, with the possibility that there is enough room that 16:9–20 could have been added). Other manuscripts that end at 16:8 is the Old Latin codex Bobiensis (itk), the Siniaite Syriac manuscript, about a hundred Armenian manuscripts and the two oldest Georgian manuscripts of the 10th century.3 Clement of Alexandria and Origen presumably did not know of the existence of 16:9–20, whilst Eusebius and Jerome did know of its existence but testified that the passage was absent from almost all of the Greek copies of Mark known to them.4 Some older Greek copies that do contain the passage have scribal notes that state that it is not original, or mark it with asterisks or obeli, the conventional signs that copyists used to indicate a spurious addition to the manuscript (Metzger 1971:123).

There is also an intermediate or shorter ending found in some manuscripts after Mark 16:

And all that had been commanded them (i.e., Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome; 16:1), they told briefly to those around Peter. And afterward Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation. (v. 8)

(Some manuscripts add: ‘Amen’).5 In most cases, the intermediate ending is combined with the longer ending (16:9–20).6 One manuscript (Latin, vt. k) ends at this point without adding anything more.7

The longer ending (16:9–20) is included in most of existing manuscripts and it is placed immediately after 16:8.8 Because of the influence of the Textus Receptus, the traditional ending of Mark became well known to Western Bible readers. Irenaeus in c. 175 and the Diatessaron, the earliest gospel harmony created by Tatian around 160–175 C, provide the earliest patristic evidence to the longer ending, or at least parts of it. Lunn (2018:92) detects in his survey from the end of the 1st to the 5th centuries clear allusions to the longer ending also in Clement’s Epistle to the Corinthians, the Shepherd of Hermas and a possible reference in Barnabas. Only Eusebius in the early 4th century, at the same time as the Codices Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, provides overt evidence and arguments of any kind against the genuineness of Mark 16:9–20.9

Then there are also a group of manuscripts that notes in marginal comments that earlier Greek manuscripts lacked the verses. Since the 1980s, the rise of narrative criticism solidified a consensus that 16:8 is the intended ending of the gospel (Shively 2018:274).

Since the 4th century, the traditional ending also existed in an expanded form, according to Jerome, and one Greek manuscript preserved it. The Codex Washingtonianus (W or Freer Logion) includes after verse 14 (Codex Washingtonianus): And they excused themselves, saying, ‘This age of lawlessness and unbelief is under Satan, who does not allow the truth and power of God to prevail over the unclean things of the spirits (or, does not allow what lies under the unclean spirits to understand the truth and power of God). Therefore, reveal thy righteousness now’ – thus they spoke to Christ. And Christ replied to them (alternative to Mark 16),

The term of years of Satan’s power has been fulfilled, but other terrible things draw near. And for those who have sinned I was delivered over to death, that they may return to the truth and sin no more, in order that they may inherit the spiritual and incorruptible glory of righteousness which is in heaven. (v. 8)

A reasonable consensus prevails amongst scholars that the expanded form of the long ending, as found in the Codex Washingtonianus, is not original and represents the work of a 2nd- or 3rd-century scribe who softened the severe condemnation of the 11 disciples in 16:14 (Metzger 1971:123–124). It is also characterised by a pervasive apocalyptic flavour and should be dismissed as a secondary accretion, in Metzger’s (1968:227) opinion.

Review of internal evidence

The argument is that the longer ending reflected in the Textus Receptus is secondary, also when judged by internal evidence. The vocabulary and style of 16:9–20 are non-Markan, the connection between 16:8 and 16:9–20 is awkward, with a duplication of the identification of Mary Magdalene in 15:47 and 16:1, as well as the observation that the other women in 16:1–8 are forgotten in verses 9–20. It indicates that the section was added by someone, probably intending to ‘rectify’ the abrupt and unsatisfying ending at 16:8 with a more appropriate conclusion, and including a reference to the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus found in Matthew and Luke (Bock 2015:384).

It has been agreed that the vocabulary, syntax and style of Mark 16:9–20 differ in several significant respects from the rest of the gospel. The last 12 verses are decorated with scholia, asterisks or obeli that signify ancient scribal devices used to denote the passage’s secondary status (Henderson 2012:109). At the same time, one finds majorly words in these verses that do not occur anywhere else in Mark, or in some cases, not even in the whole of the New Testament (see Elliott 1993:206–211; Thomas 1983:409–412 for detailed examples). Several rather strange syntactical constructions are also used in comparison with Mark. There is also the abrupt transition between verses 8 and 9, with verse 8 ending with the remark that the women went out of the tomb and fled from the tomb, without telling anyone about what they had experienced because they were afraid, whilst verse 9 starts with the narrative of the resurrected Jesus appearing first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons.10 This is the same person as verse 1 refers to, as one of the three women who went to the tomb the moment the Sabbath was over, in order to anoint Jesus’ body for his funeral. Verse 9 continues that Mary went out and told those who had been with Jesus, whilst they were mourning and weeping, which contradicts the remark in verse 8 that the women said nothing to anyone because of their fear. Verse 11 then adds that the disciples did not believe what Mary told them. MacArthur (2015:411) provides a further reason as internal evidence, that the inclusion of the signs does not fit the way the other three gospels conclude their accounts of the resurrection and ascension narratives.

Given the syntactic and stylistic differences between 16:1–8 and 9–20, it can be argued that any Marcan peculiarities found in 16:9–20 are either coincidental of the result of the compiler’s attempt to imitate the Markan style (Thomas & Alexander 2003:163). Most narrative critics interpreted the ending as it stands in Mark in 16:8 without asking, How can a book end with γάρ? but they rather ask, Why does this book end with γάρ? (Shively 2018:275).

Reasons for Mark ending at 16:8, and the addition of 16:9–20

There are several possible explanations for the gospel ending at 16:8. It might be that the author intentionally ended the gospel here in an open-ended fashion because it supported the message he wanted to convey to his audience, a message that contemporary readers do not necessarily comprehend because of the inaccessibility of information about the original context of the first readers (Juel 2011:52). Another reason may be that the gospel was not finished for an unknown reason. Perhaps, the original author fell ill or was persecuted for the faith. This is rather improbably, especially given the fact that the gospel s early became common property in various groups of believers. Another reason may be that the last page of the original manuscripts got lost at a very early date prior to copying. However, it is most probable that the original manuscript was written on a scroll rather than a codex. Only in the case of a codex could a page get lost, although the last (or first) page has a greater probability to get lost than other pages bound in a codex (Metzger 1971:126, fn. 7). The addition might have dated from the first half of the 2nd century CE.11

By intentionally ending the gospel in such a puzzling and controversial manner, as supposed by the first reason, without providing any further information that readers might be interested in, might be a good literary trick to ‘draw’ readers into the gospel narrative. They are compelled to ask, How will I respond to the challenge posed by Jesus? Will I stand with him in his suffering? Or will I react in the same way as the disciples, with unbelief?

The ending explains the validity of reading the believing community, in the early church as well as in our day, into the narrative role of the disciples, an impulse that according to Henderson (2012:123) is widely shared in critical scholarship today.12

Why would scribes have added the longer ending? It might have to do with the abruptness with which 16:8 ends (‘So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid’).13 Another reason may be that the richness of tradition surrounding the resurrection and ascension of Jesus motivated some scribes to ‘finish off’ the gospel with additional information that accords with the other gospels (in this regard, Bock 2015:382 calls 16:9–20 a summary of the ends of the other gospels). They filled the text with what seemed to be an appropriate conclusion to a gospel that creates the impression that its ending hangs in the air. A last reason may also have to do with the way the Markan gospel starts, stating that this is about the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ (the first words are, ‘Ἀρχὴ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου Ἰησοῦ χριστοῦ’). The longer ending then suggests how the gospel is continuing to be proclaimed now that Jesus is seated at God’s right hand. He continues with his ministry, as illustrated when his disciples’ ministry of proclamation also testifies to its truth by the signs following. The signs serve in pentecostal interpretation and praxis as a hermeneutical key that informs its missionary impetus and catalogue of religious practices, testifying also to the truth of its proclamation.

The fact that all manuscripts that end in the same manner at 16:8 have some of them adding an intermediate and/or a longer ending, in various forms, might imply that early scribes used a copy of Mark that ended at 16:8. In that sense then, the various alternative endings indirectly confirm that the gospel originally ended at verse 8 (ed. Averbeck et al. 2019:1894).

An interesting and provocative proposal by Henderson (2012:110) is that the longer ending not only rounds out Mark’s abrupt ending by appropriating the post-resurrection narratives supplied by the other evangelists, but that it also echoes and develops important claims in Mark about discipleship. The narrative encourages the reader to act in a certain way, whether by imitating the unfaithful women in discipleship or undoing their disobedience through obedience (Ferda 2019:36). Mark portrays the disciples as spectacularly untrusting despite Jesus’ insistence that they would ultimately play a crucial role in the establishment of the reign of God (in Mark 1:16–20; 3:13–19). Ferda (2019:51–52) describes the dialectic between the disciples’ unfaithfulness, illustrated by the fear and flight of the women from the empty tomb, and God’s faithfulness in the midst of human failure, reminding the church, specifically in times of malaise or crisis, that it belongs to the God of Israel who raised Jesus from the dead. Their witness to the gospel continues within, outside and even in spite of the church, because it is carried by God. Mark 16:9–20 then engages the discourse, not as ‘discontinuous corrective’ but in continuity between Jesus’ first ‘unfaithful’ followers and those of later generations, in Henderson’s opinion. It also emphasises the disciples’ continuous dependence on the living Lord. The dialectic found in the gospel between the disciples’ unfaithfulness and Jesus’ trust in their abilities is illustrated in the tension between Mark 16:14 and 15–18, with verse 20 confirming the validity of Jesus’ belief in their abilities. These ‘points of contact’ expose the complex reception history of the gospel when scribes appropriated the Markan story for its readers.

Whilst a growing number of scholars argue that Mark’s true ending probably is lost (Shively 2018:274), it is accepted here, for the sake of the argument, that the gospel originally ended at 16:8. It must also be acknowledged that 16:9–20 (but not the intermediate ending) played a significant role in the history of the transmission of the text, and in the theological formation of the Christian church through the centuries. The text including 16:9–20 was probably accepted on a wide basis within the Eastern and Western churches since the time of Irenaeus and the Diatessaron, already in the 2nd century CE (Metzger1971:124). A text-generated explanation indicates that the intended ending of Mark’s gospel existed in a supposed manuscript fragment that we do not possess or that was never written (Shively 2018:276). However, a reader-response explanation accepts that the gospel could not have ended at 16:8. For instance, Witherington (2001:43) argues that the gospel is an example of Greco-Roman biography. Because its focus is the subject or person about which the biographer writes, Mark’s narrative is about the identity of Jesus. If 16:8 is the end of the gospel, he (Witherington 2001:43) asks, ‘where is the final key Christological moment where the central character one final time appears on the stage confirming the main theme of the work?’. In ancient biographies, authors provided suitable closure, implying that 16:8 is likely not the intended ending (Witherington 2001:44). Mark’s main character ends with a cry of dereliction, with his disciples pictured as failures, implying that the biography ended with an unacceptable characterisation of Jesus.

Shively (2018:279) argues correctly that the way Witherington sees ancient biography, as a class with fixed features, and then reasons that all the features of Mark must conform to this model, results in the narrative ending up serving genre, rather than genre serving the narrative. She (2018:283) rather utilises cognitive theory to argue that a 1st-century audience would have understood the gospel as bearing a resemblance to Greco-Roman biography according to agreed upon compulsory and default (or typical) values, even when it violates default values. She (2018:292) concludes that 16:8 represents an open ending to highlight Jesus’ character and actions that the author wishes his audience to emulate. However, by using a reader-generated explanation, like Witherington and Shively did, can lead in another direction, to accept that 16:9–20 was needed for a 2nd-century audience to make sense of Mark in the light of other existing Greco-Roman biographies.

Pentecostal hermeneutical considerations of Mark 16:9–20

If one accepts that the most ancient extant version of Mark ends at 16:8, what are the implications for the widespread pentecostal use of the text in their proclamation and theology? If 16:9–20 is non-Markan, does it imply that it is inauthentic and that believers are not supposed to tend to and use these verses? And what does their status within the canonical text of the New Testament accepted by most believers imply? Does this pericope have any authority? In this section, the early pentecostal use of Mark 16:9–20 is discussed. However, it is necessary to first explain historical shifts within pentecostal hermeneutics very shortly.

Historical shifts within pentecostal hermeneutics

The pentecostal movement is diverse, consisting of various parts that are historically related. Because of its diversity, it also consists of a diversity of hermeneutics and it is difficult to generalise a ‘pentecostal hermeneutics’. Three broad streams can be distinguished. Early Pentecostals read and interpreted the Bible in a specific way that was rediscovered and reemployed since the 1970s with academic pentecostal scholarship reformulating a pentecostal hermeneutic. Since the 1940s, however, in order to obtain the approval of the community and earn some respectability from its sectarian status, alliances with Evangelicals were formed that led to the acceptance of a biblicist–fundamentalist hermeneutic, influencing most of the classical Pentecostal movement.

When Mark 16:9–20 is interpreted by Pentecostals representative of the second grouping that associated with Evangelicals and who accepted the more conservative hermeneutical position amongst Evangelicals, represented by fundamentalist, biblicist and literalist streams, any proposal of a longer ending that is not original is rejected summarily. Such debate is viewed as a violation of and threat to the authority of the Bible as the Word of God. These Pentecostals accept that the biblical text presents believers with unalterable absolutes, changeless commands, immutable doctrines and timeless truths, in the words of Waltke (2013:224), implying that the (KJV) text of the Bible is changeless, flawless and infallible.

Since the 1970s, with the development of pentecostal scholarship, a new hermeneutic was formulated in accordance with some of the values and practices of early pentecostal bible interpretation. The new pentecostal hermeneutic describes the ‘interrelationship between the Holy Spirit as the one animating Scriptures and empowering the believing community’ as characteristic of this hermeneutic (Archer 2009:199). Its presupposition and premise is that the Holy Spirit still speaks today, and when the Spirit speaks, the Spirit has more to say than just Scripture. However, it is emphasised that the Spirit will always echo, confirm and cite Scripture. The purpose in reading the Bible is to equip believers for their personal ministry and witness in the ways that are culturally appropriate, rather than for mere academic reasons or for extracting information from the text. This approach to Scripture is characterised by four aspects (McQueen 2009:2). Firstly, the Bible does not only serve as a document which Pentecostals interpret but as a living word, Jesus Christ, that interprets them. Secondly, in their pentecostal experience of the Spirit, they meet God directly in an embodied manner that leads to knowledge based on this relationship, and their experience and knowledge perpetually inform and depend on one another. The word of God is primarily Jesus Christ who revealed God in his incarnation. Thirdly, it is assumed that it is each believer’s responsibility to witness God because each believer is a priest and prophet. The implication is clear that each believer is qualified to interpret the Bible with the help and inspiration of the Spirit. And fourthly, Pentecostals read the Bible when they gather in the Spirit as believers with the expectation to hear what God may say to them. Now the text is read with the purpose to encounter and know God, and moves in the direction from religious experience of encounters with the Spirit to Scripture and back again, leading to a hermeneutical cycle of practice being informed by Scripture, Scripture informing practice and Scripture providing the vocabulary to describe the encounter of God’s Spirit and an epistemology with a distinct pneumatological flavour.

In the following section, early pentecostal use of Mark 16:9–20 is discussed, showing a preference for the passage, before some remarks are made about some early pentecostal opinions about the scholarly debate concerning the longer ending. When the passage is discussed in terms of its canonical value, reference shall be made to early pentecostal and current hermeneutical considerations amongst Pentecostals to develop a canonical view of the further use of Mark 16:9–20.

Early Pentecostalism and Mark 16:9–20

In thorough studies, Alexander (2002:150) and Thomas and Alexander (2003:149–157) discuss the role played by Mark 16:9–20 in Pentecostalism during its infancy. Proponents from the 19th-century divine healing (and holiness) movements, who were predecessors for the Pentecostalism that originated around the turn of the 20th century, cited Mark 16:9–20 disproportionately regularly, as warrant for their teaching on healing. Their main thesis was that divine healing was provided for in the act of atonement on the cross of Golgotha, along with forgiveness of sins. They viewed the salvation earned by Christ in a holistic sense, as including soul and body, and with benefits for the well-being of human race at present and in the expected eschatological future. These benefits were guaranteed by what Christ had accomplished on the cross, including healing. Prominent figures like South African Dutch Reformed minister Andrew Murray, A.B. Simpson, A.J. Gordon, Charles Cullis and Carrie Judd Montgomery substantiated their holistic soteriology by referring to Isaiah 53, Matthew 8, Psalm 103, Exodus 15, the miracle ministry of Jesus as described in the gospels and Mark 16:9–20, with its clear references to a salvific, deliverance and healing ministry in the church that grew from the apostle’s work. Jesus’ death did not result only in the forgiveness of sins but also in healing of all sicknesses, without any exception.

Amongst early Pentecostals, one would expect many references to Acts because the movement was driven by a strong restorationist and primitivist urge referring back to the early church. It is true that pentecostal theological endeavours relied to a large (and perhaps inordinate) extent on the narrative accounts of Luke and Acts, as demonstrated by Mittelstadt (2005, 2009, 2010). However, in its early literature, it is abundantly clear that they preferred Mark 16:9–20 even more than the narratives about Jesus’ and the apostles’ ministry. These references can be described in terms of ‘the signs following’ (v. 17), used repeatedly and seen in terms of a restoration of the faith and practice of the New Testament church. Even though the Markan evangelist does not refer to the Holy Spirit in terms of these signs that would follow the proclamation of the gospel, leading to salvation for all who believe, early Pentecostals did not understand the signs apart from the baptism in the Spirit, with accompanying signs such as glossolalia, prophecy and effective witnessing to the gospel message. They believed that their initiation into Spirit baptism introduced them to the experience of manifestations and phenomena as delineated by Mark 16:9–20. In particular, they connected these signs (along with Spirit baptism) with the missionary task, seen as critically important by early Pentecostals and driven by an urgent eschatological expectation of the second coming of Christ, requiring that all attention should be given to spreading the pentecostal message. In comparison to references in the early editions of The Apostolic Faith, distributed by the Azusa Street Apostolic Faith Gospel Mission and The Church of God Evangel, magazine of the Church of God that is still published (as Evangel) to Matthew 28:20 and Acts 1:8 as contrasted to Mark 16:9–20, the last text was decidedly favoured.14 This leads Thomas and Alexander (2003:150) to conclude that the Mark 16 text was treated as a kind of a litmus test for the authenticity of early pentecostal experience, and more specifically in a missional context. Early Pentecostals emphasised that all the signs had been fulfilled, as testified by many testimonies published in the early years, except the raising of the dead, and the expectation was expressed many times that it would happen in a short while and would prove God true. The signs were also interpreted as signs of the imminent return of Christ on the clouds to rapture his church, introducing the hard times that would end with the second coming of Christ and the judgement of all people.

Pentecostals emphasised that the apostles had already received the ability to cast out demons and heal the sick during Jesus’ ministry but it would only occur on the day of Pentecost that they would speak in other tongues (Ac 2:17–21 that interprets the events in terms of Joel’s prophecy; Jl 2:28–32). It should also be noted that the earliest Pentecostals expected that glossolalia would permit them to address all people in their own languages because the tongues were interpreted in terms of existing languages (xenolalia; Galli 1998:1), an expectation that did not realise.

The hermeneutics applied by early Pentecostals can be described as a ‘this is that’ hermeneutic (in Stibbe’s [1998] terms), as a comprehensive analogical hermeneutic. This implies that Pentecostals interpreted their present in terms of the past, their Christian life in terms of the narratives found in the Bible and their experience in terms of what happened on the day of Pentecost and in the earliest church. They viewed their experiences as analogous to those described in the Bible. They did not accept present perceptions of reality but designed a perceived reality of God in terms of what they found in biblical narratives. Pentecostal ethos emphasise the experiential and lived reality.

What is distinctive is their emphasis that each believer should be able to testify the experience of conviction of sin as a function of the Spirit, leading to a personal encounter with God and the forgiveness of sins, described in terms of being born again of the Spirit. This experience then compels them to tell about their experience of the good news of Jesus Christ at every opportunity. They are also sanctified and baptised in the Spirit, experiencing the same empowerment that changed the original group of disciples characterised by unfaithfulness into a missionary fellowship that boldly preached the gospel. It is rounded off by an eschatological expectation of the imminent second coming of Christ.15 They acknowledged that Pentecost actually belongs to the next dispensation, a new world where children will play on the hole of the snake whilst we only pick up snakes in our hands,16 where thorns and weeds will no more infest the ground whilst we only drink poison without hurt,17 and where no illness will ever occur whilst we heal the sick in prayer. The curse of Babel will be lifted, already exemplified in Spirit baptism, and inhabitants of the earth will no more be divided (Barnhouse 1970; Stott 1994). The signs of Mark 16 were interpreted as a continuation of Jesus’ earthly ministry, and that will be concluded in the final establishment of the kingdom of God on the new earth. At the same time, the tongues were seen as a confirmation of the gospel preached by ‘them that believe’ (Mark 16:17; KJV).

This viewpoint opposes the cessationism that characterises a part of Reformed theology and that argues for the cessation of the ‘supernatural’ gifts, admittedly at times motivated by a fear of charismatic excesses (Keener 2016:5, 9). Reformed theologians refer to the ‘already’ and ‘not yet’ that characterise the promised coming of the kingdom, with forgiveness of sins viewed in terms of present reality and (ultimate) healing of all illness and suspension of death in terms of the coming world.

Early Pentecostalism and considerations of the critical problems with Mark 16:9–20

The impression might exist that early Pentecostals, of which most were without any theological training, would not know about the text-critical problems presented by the omission of Mark 16:9–20 from most of the older manuscripts and would be unable to respond to the debate. However, several instances are found in its early literature where pentecostal leaders discussed the matter. It was realised that the absence of the passage from codices Sinaiticus (א), B and other prominent manuscripts led to the academic observation that the text was not part of the original manuscript. However, they argued that the reality of the events as manifested in the Azusa Street Revival and repeated at other places around the world demonstrated the validity of the text for the Christian church. Mark 16:9–20 was vindicated by God in the outpouring of the Spirit since 1906. At the same time, some argued for regarding it as a part of the canonical text and representing words spoken by Jesus, using several arguments such as that all translations of the text include these verses and referring to the antiquity of the tradition found in these verses, the fact that its content was in line with the other gospels, the problematic nature of a book ending with ‘for’ (γάρ), the bulk of the manuscript tradition that includes these verses, the inspiration of Scripture by the Holy Spirit and the discovery of the codex Washingtonianus that ‘prove’ that it was part of the original, because W was supposed to be as old or older than codices Vaticanus, Sinaiticus and Alexandrinus (discussed extensively in Thomas & Alexander 2003:157–160). The same arguments were heard from other more conservative quarters in the Christian tradition as well.

Canonical considerations

If the longer ending was written by a different author and added to the original manuscript by Mark or was added to a later edition of Mark by the same author, then it belongs to the canon because both possibilities would retain the passage’s apostolicity (McDill 2004:35). However, many scholars argue that if Mark 16:9–20 was not in the original manuscript or if it was not written by the original author, then it does not belong in the canon. So, preachers should avoid using the text in their sermons.

For the sake of the argument, it is accepted that Mark 16:9–20 represents a non-Markan addition to the gospel, as stated by Metzger (1971:24): ‘It is obvious that the expanded form of the long ending (…) has no claim to be original’. Metzger (1987), however, also states in a later publication:

[T]he question of the canonicity of a document apparently did not arise in connection with discussion of such variant readings, even though they might involve quite considerable sections of text. (pp. 269–270)

Because the longer ending was known to Justin Martyr and Tatian (Diatessaron) as early as the 2nd century, Metzger argues that canonicity was not necessarily connected to variant readings.

There seems to be good reason, therefore, to conclude that, though external and internal evidence is conclusive against the authenticity of the last twelve verses as coming from the same pen as the rest of the Gospel, the passage ought to be accepted as a part of the canonical text of Mark. (Metzger 1987:270)

The conclusion is that the apostolic and early church fathers regarded it as canonical, implying that the present-day church should also regard it as canonical (McDill 2004:42).

Before the 19th century, the passage enjoyed almost universal acceptance. It was known already by Justin Martyr and Irenaeus of Lyon and it was also part of the earliest Greek uncial manuscripts of Mark, especially Beza, Alexandrinus and Ephraemi Rescriptus (Riddle 2018:53). Although the ending of Mark was disputed at times, in the end, an organic consensus was affirmed that it was the fitting and proper canonical conclusion to Mark. Moreover, for the vast majority of its history, the church pronounced in favour of this passage. The Byzantine, Vulgate and Peshitta texts that served the church for more than a millennium all included it. The traditional ending was declared canonical by the Council of Trent and it is still read as part of the Roman Catholic lectionary as canonical (Healy 2008:331). The 16th-century Reformers viewed it as authentic and it was published in Erasmus, Stephanus, Elzivir and Beza’s Greek editions. All the early Bible translations included it, including the King James Bible that the English-speaking church used for several centuries. It was only in the latter half of the 19th century that Mark 16:9–20 was challenged by some biblical scholars after Codices Vaticanus and Sinaiticus were rediscovered. Historically speaking, Mark 16:9–20 enjoyed canonical approval for the better part of the church’s existence (Lunn 2014:115).

Because of the antiquity of the longer ending, its agreement with the resurrection narratives in the other gospels, the large amount of manuscripts that contain it (Metzger 1971:124)18 and its frequent use by a variety of early Christian writers, indicating a wide and early acceptance of Mark 16:9–20 as a part of the canon of the church, the question should be asked: What are the implications for Pentecostals when ‘canon’ is defined as the church’s rule of faith, even if it includes a passage that may not have been in the original manuscript?

As stated, rejection of the longer ending by some scholars is viewed with suspicion by many Pentecostals, illustrating the tension generated when modern biblical criticism clashes with the church’s concept of Scripture, and its (biblicist–fundamentalist) notion of the divine inspiration of the Bible and its authority and value to form Christian faith and practice (Wall 2003:172).

Thomas and Alexander (2003:166) compare the passage with an analogous text, the ‘Adulterous Woman’ pericope that is absent in most of the earliest manuscripts of John’s gospel, and located at various places where it does occur, after John 7:36; 7:44; 7:52 and 21:44. It is also clearly non-Johannine because it departs in important respects from Johannine style and interrupts the flow of the argument wherever it is located. However, it has become an authentic piece of Jesus tradition in terms of its acceptance by the church from early times. It was even accepted as a part of the canon by various church councils. The same is true for the ‘Johannine comma’ in 1 John 5:7, which enjoys almost no early Greek manuscript support but the verse influenced the church’s thinking at vital historical transition points in terms of its formulation of a Trinitarian theology.

On the other hand, it should also be kept in mind that there are other documents that came from the same period as Mark 16:9–20 and that might have claimed ‘canonical authority’ because the early church used it widely and some of the manuscript tradition even supports their inclusion in the canon. Books such as 1 Clement, the Shepherd of Hermas and the Epistle of Barnabas are found in Codex Siniaticus or א, which omits the longer ending of Mark. Although it might seem as if these documents enjoyed canonical status in the early church, in time they were not regarded as canonical, contra the status of the Markan ending that received wide acceptance and use in the church.

It should be kept in mind that only in the case of Matthew, do the resurrection narratives not show evidence of having circulated within the early church with different endings. Both for Luke and John, different endings exist in available manuscript evidence, and for probably the same reasons why it also existed in the case of Mark. That Mark’s gospel is characterised by different endings is hence not exceptional or unique.

Is canonical status of a specific text based upon the age of a manuscript and its originality? Did the New Testament reach its canonical status already in the period of its writing during the 1st century? Wall (2003:174–175) calls it a fallacy that a text’s continuing authority for the church is necessarily predicated upon who wrote it and when, rather on what is written. Originality, authorship and relatedness to the earliest period of scripture writing do not necessarily serve as indicators of canonical status. ‘It would be helpful for those who work on the LE (longer ending) to distinguish between questions of originality, authenticity, and canonicity’ (McDill 2004:42). As a matter of fact, Mark’s gospel is most probably an anonymous document (like many other New Testament writings) and the actual identity of the author is historically indeterminate. It is most improbable that the author was an eyewitness to Jesus’ ministry (for that reason, early tradition linked Mark to Peter’s preaching). When the the church preferred and utilised some manuscripts above others, it accorded to them the authority as its inspired writings. In this way, it linked canonical authority to redactional and hermeneutical processes. This probably happened in the case of Mark 16:9–20 as an addition to the Markan gospel in the middle of the 2nd century, when the gospel reached its canonical form.

Although room should be left for critical analysis of texts, it should not be confused with the canonical text that the church over time started to use as its canon. The meta-theological presupposition of critical analysis of texts based on textual histories and internal evidence is the authorisation of what is viewed as original texts. However, a distinction should be made between the original text and the canonical text that reflects the proclamation of the church, most probably from the 2nd century onwards. For the church, the text has authority because in its experience, it was inspired by God and used by the Spirit in the proclamation to reach people with the message of the gospel. The canonical authority of a biblical text is discerned by the church by its performance in Christian proclamation and formation and not in consideration of its originality as appraised in text-critical terms. If believers feel threatened by what they perceive to be ‘an addition’ to the original text, they should keep in mind that the early church used the text with the addition as their base text for formulating and evaluating doctrine and practice.

To state that a specific passage is non-Markan and hence inauthentic is to ignore the consideration that the early church did not necessarily use the ‘original’ text but a text with specific additions for reasons that are unknown to us. To restate the matter in terms of a pentecostal hermeneutical response to typical New Testament introduction issues, the correct question to ask about the text of the New Testament is where and how the Spirit moved in the history of the church and what the Spirit is doing with the passage in contemporary times, rather than concern oneself exclusively with critical issues concerning historicity and originality of ancient manuscripts of the passage. In this sense, the move in the direction from experience to Scripture and back, functioning within pentecostal hermeneutics (as explained above), is typical of the way the early church also regarded the Bible. In other words, in cases of contested passages in the Bible, the Wirkungsgeschichte of the different passages was (and should be) consulted to settle its canonicity. What does the history of the interpretation of the passage by the church indicate about its canonical use?

In terms of its Wirkungsgeschichte, describing the effect of Mark 16:9–20 on early pentecostal practice, it was shown what impact the passage had on Pentecostalism. Combined with its antiquity, integration into the tradition of the other gospels and its near acceptance by the church through the ages as a part of the Church’s canon of Scripture, what is important is to establish the theological implications of Mark 16:9–20 for pentecostal theology. On the one hand, the literalist–biblicist reading of the text does not create room for any consideration of the passage as non-Markan and hence inauthentic, indicative of its preference for the King James or Authorised Version (and 1933/1953 Afrikaans translation) that accepted the Western maximalist text tradition. However, on the other hand, the new pentecostal hermeneutic leaves room for scholarly evaluations of the textual tradition, accepting that Mark 16:9–20 might be a later addition. At the same time, it accepts the canonical value of the passage.

Some of the most significant implications if Mark 16:9–20 is treated as part of the canon of the church are discussed. Mark 16:9–20 is structured around three resurrection appearances of Jesus, to Mary Magdalene (vv. 9–11), two disciples walking in the country (vv. 12–13) and the 11 (v. 14). The first two appearances are characterised by disciples’ unbelief (‘they did not believe’; vv. 11, 13, 14), leading to Jesus’ rebuke for their lack of faith and stubbornness or hardness of heart (v. 14). The last appearance is linked to Jesus’ commissioning the disciples to proclaim the good news to all the world (vv. 15–18), followed by his ascension into heaven, to sit at the right hand of God (vv. 19–20). The commissioning is followed by a description of signs that is promised to follow believers’ obedience to the assignment, with in each case the noun followed by the verb, emphasising the noun, reading literally: ‘demons they will cast out,19 tongues they will speak, serpents they will take up,20 deadly poison they will drink without any hurt’. Verses 19 and 20 are structured around μὲν in verse 19 and δὲ in verse 20, requiring a translation, ‘On the one hand, Jesus was taken up into heaven; on the other hand, the disciples went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, with the message confirmed by the signs that accompanied it. The implication is clear that the commission with accompanying signs is viewed as being fulfilled, whilst the physically absent Jesus continues to be present with his disciples, working through them despite their former unfaithfulness.

Mary Magdalene plays a surprising role in Mark 16:9–20, with source criticism showing a reference to Luke 8:2 that seven demons were cast out of her in 16:9. Healy (2008:332) suggests that the reference to her demon possession implies that Mary would be considered the least reliable witness by human standards. A woman disciple plays an important part in Jesus’ resurrection, serving as a correction of the patriarchal narratological customs of the day that delegate women to submissive positions. The narrative of the two disciples that met Jesus reminds of the Emmaus narrative in Luke 24:13–35 that extensively relates the same or a similar episode. The reference to baptism in Mark 16:16 does not contain any reference to a baptismal formula, as happens in Matthew 28:19 and Acts 2:38, perhaps because the sentence construction does not allow for a further extension.21 The signs described in Mark 16:17–18 remind of Matthew 10:7–8 with Jesus’ assignment to the disciples to proclaim the good news of the coming of the kingdom to Jews, and to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers and cast out demons. The same signs are also described in Luke and Acts, and formed part of the explanation of Pentecostals’ preference for these narratives. The speaking in tongues anticipates the phenomenon described in Acts 2; 10; 11; 19 and 1 Corinthians 12; 14, whilst the casting out of demons anticipates Paul’s practice in Acts 19:11–20. Taking up serpents reminds of the 70 returning after successfully completing their assignment in Luke 10:19, rejoicing in the submission of demons to their power, and Jesus stating that he has given them authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, as well as Acts 28:1–6 describing Paul’s experience on Malta. Henderson (2012:123) reminds that the signs invite later readers to read the gospel ‘through the lens of early Christian experience’. The lens affirms the tradition whilst at the same time, it applies it to changing circumstances. Thomas and Alexander (2003:170) observe that the canonical Mark 16:17–18 also serves as a transition from the negative view of signs found in Matthew 16:1–6 and Mark 8:11–12 in response to the Pharisees’ request to show them a sign from heaven, and the positive role that signs perform in Luke-Acts and John. Like the signs, the physical absence and presence of Jesus, without any mentioning of the Spirit in Mark 16:19–20, also anticipates what follows in Acts. The reference to ‘signs’ in Mark 16 links it to the existence of the early church, at least in the perception of Pentecostals, as Thomas and Alexander argue. Moreover, it also links to the other gospels, complying with Eusebius’ requirement that if a problematic text can be construed as agreeing with other gospel accounts, it must not be dispensed at all (see footnote 10).

Other conclusions concerning the canonicity of Mark16:9–20 are that the study of Mark will be hindered if scholars continue to neglect the longer ending, with a negative effect for preachers who need exegetical help in exegeting Mark 16:9–20 (McDill 2004:37). Moreover, it will hold implications for the discourse analysis of the gospel should the passage have been added later or composed by a different author.

The challenge to the inclusion of Mark 16:9–20 in the gospel has created a canonical crisis. However, it was argued that a new consensus is possible which reaffirms the longer ending as an authoritative, fitting and canonical conclusion to Mark and that translations containing it may be used confidently by the church as the Word of God for personal devotional purposes and preaching (Kelhoffer 2000:54).


Pentecostals place a large emphasis in their proclamation and practice on Luke–Acts because they justify their existence in restorationist terms. However, it was shown that Mark 16:9–20 played a significant role in early pentecostal proclamation, serving as a litmus test for the fulfilling of the apostolic mandate given by Jesus and ‘proven’ by the accompaniment of certain signs. It was argued that even when pentecostal hermeneutic accepts the argument that the passage is non-Markan, its canonical value through the church era and within Pentecostalism requires that the passage should receive ongoing attention. It is not inauthentic if Mark 16:9–20 can be proven to be the canonical choice of the 2nd-century church. It might play an important role in identity forming for Pentecostals, as it did in the past, because it serves to integrate the negative view of signs found in Matthew and Mark with the positive role that signs performed in the early church, demonstrating the power of the gospel message to save and deliver people. Mark 16:9–20 still has a significant part to play in the articulation of pentecostal theology.


Competing interests

The author has declared that no competing interest exists.

Author’s contributions

I declare that I am the sole author of this research article.

Ethical consideration

This article followed all ethical standards for carrying out research without direct contact with human or animal subjects.

Funding information

The author would like to thank the National Research Foundation of South Africa (NRF) for providing funding for this study. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the view of the NRF.

Data availability statement

Data sharing is not applicable to this article as no new data were created or analysed in this study.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any affiliated agency of the author.


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1. See, for example, McLellan’s (2016:381) remark that Mark 16:8 represents a circular ending of the gospel, using a Derridean hauntological method that views the woman’s meeting with the ghost of Jesus in terms of the gospel’s messianic potential.

2. Textual critics argue on the basis of supposed differences of style between the longer ending and the rest of the gospel that Mark could not be the author. For example, Croy (2003:14) states that ‘the secondary nature of these verses has been established to the satisfaction of virtually all scholars’. Not all agree, and many arguments can be made that almost all the stylistic features in the longer ending can be found elsewhere in Mark (Terry 1976). See also Lunn (2018:21) who finds that there is nothing in the evidence provided by biblical manuscripts or early church writings that suggest that the ending of Mark’s gospel should not include Mark 16:9–20. Although one cannot agree with all of Lunn’s arguments, it is difficult to disagree with his conclusion for the inclusion of the longer ending in the original manuscript.

3. Other translations: sams Arm.8MSS Geo.1, A; other references: Eusebius, MSS. according to Eusebius, MSS. according to Jerome2 (Elliott 1993:203–204).

4. Helton (2016:124) does not agree that Origen did not know the existence of 16:9–20. He argues that the longer and shorter ending of the gospel was available to Origen, whilst he also knew the existence of a text that ended at 16:8. Whilst he probably preferred the text ending at 16:8, his expertise implies that he was well informed about the challenge of the gospel’s ending. Helton emphasises correctly that Origen should not be cited in critical apparatuses as evidence for the various endings of Mark without further qualification.

5. Translation of NRSV.

6. Such as in L Ψ 083 099 579 pc.

7. This reading is not original, when the scanty manuscript support is taken into consideration.

8. In A C D (Codex Vaticanus omits vv. 9–20 although it leaves a blank space of one and one-fourth columns after 16:8, implying that its evidence for 16:8 as the final ending is somewhat ambiguous because it might suggest that the scribe knew about a longer ending, with 16:9–20 that could easily be fitted into the space), E H K M Q S U W X Y Γ Δ Θ Σ Φ Ψ Π Ω 099 047 055 0112 0211 F13 28 33 274 565 700 892 1009 1010 1071 1079 1195 1230 1241 1253 1344 1365 1546 1646 2148 2174 f13 lat syc,p,h bo.

9. An interesting discussion is found in a fragmental manuscript, Ad Marinus. Some scholars ascribe it to Eusebius. It is found in a codex preserved in the Vatican Library and edited and published in 1825 by Cardinal Angelo Mai (Riddle 2018:48). The context of the discussion is that Matthew places the women’s visit to Jesus’ grave on Saturday evening (Matt 28:1), whilst Mark describes it as occurring only on Sunday morning (Mk 16:2; see Jn 20:1). To resolve this difficulty, Eusebius explains that Mark 16:9–20 ‘occurs only in a few, less reliable manuscripts’. It seems that in patristic text-critical discussions, if a problematic text can be construed as agreeing with other gospel accounts, it must not be dispensed at all. The implication of this criterion is that John 7:53–8:11 should be included, whilst Mark 16:9–20 be excluded (Kelhoffer 2001:109–110). However, although patristic authors are aware of the text-critical problem concerning Mark 16:9–20, it does not necessarily imply that they refrain from making use of this passage (Kelhoffer 2001:111).

10. Terry (1976) argues that although the transition from verse 8 to verse 9 seems awkward because of the use of the participle (γάρ), the stylistic features of this section are also found in other places in Mark. He concludes that it indicates that it is Markan in style.

11. Kelhoffer (2000:171) bases the dating prior to mid-2nd century CE to an apparent three-word citation in Justin’s Apology (1.45.5). A firmer terminus ante quem can probably be argued before the end of the 2nd century, based on its citation by Titan (c. 170) and Irenaeus (c. 180).

12. McDill (2004:43) relates the believing audience to three concepts – Jesus’ resurrection, (un)belief and preaching – in the longer ending and argues that their reappearance in other parts of the gospel implies a thematic unity between the gospel and the longer ending. These themes are held together by the sub-theme of the demonstration of supernatural power that unifies all the concepts.

13. Witherington (2001:415) is one of several commentators who thinks that it is unlikely that 16:8 is the original ending of the gospel; an ancient biography of one’s hero is most unlikely to end in this fashion. Beavis (2011:247), on the other hand, reminds that the Deuteronomistic History (Jos – 2 Ki), the book of Jonah (4:6–11) and Acts (28:30–31) also end unexpectedly.

14. Scriptural indexes of both magazines are available from the web page for the Dixon Pentecostal Research Center (www.leeuniversity.edu/library/dixon/Resources/Scripture_Index/scripture_index.html).

15. Ma (2009:97) calls its imminent eschatological expectation Pentecostalism’s backbone of early pentecostal spirituality.

16. There is a small pentecostal tradition (Church of God Holiness) related to Appalachian religious snake handling, introduced around 1910 by George Went Hensley. Snake handling was seen as evidence of salvation. It was required of Spirit-filled believers to handle rattlesnakes and other venomous serpents, drink poison and suffer no harm whatsoever. Hensley died in July 1955 following a snakebite received during a service (McVicar 2013).

17. Beavis (2011:248) relates several traditions in the early church referring to the ability of believers to drink poison without being harmed, referring to Justus Barsabbas as related by Eusebius, the testing of Jesus’ parents in the Protevangelium of James, the eucharist as a preventive measure for poison in Hippolytus, the apostle Matthias surviving a potion administered by cannibals in Acts of Andrew and Matthias and John’s encounters with poisoners in several apocalyptic writings.

18. Henderson (2012:109) states that some 99% of manuscripts known today include these verses.

19. In 16:9–20, there are two references to ‘demons’ (δαιμόνια), in v. 9 that states that Jesus had cast out seven demons from Mary Magdalene, and v. 17 that states that in Jesus’ name the disciples will cast out demons.

20. The Greek says only that they will pick up snakes, without any further comment. The promise is implied that no harm will result (Bratcher 1981:222).

21. During the South African baptism debates of the 1980s, some Pentecostals asserted that Mark 16:9–20 was left out of modern translations because of some Reformed churches’ embarrassment with the statement in verse 16, ‘The one who believes and is baptized will be saved’, implying that infant baptism may be invalid.

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