Charismatic Ramifications on the “Long Ending” of Mark’s Gospel

Most modern Bible translations include a note expressing serious doubt about the authenticity of Mark 16:9-20.  Individuals who do accept these final verses as part of Mark’s Gospel, however, are committed to an extreme view of the signs listed in verses 17 and 18, to include the explicit ability to drink poison with no ill effects.  If the Greek text in this “long ending” is taken seriously, understood, and translated in proper context, then all five signs are for all those who believe – excepting those actively preaching the Gospel message – at the point of initial conversion and continuing on thereafter.  That is, upon hearing and believing in the Gospel message, newly regenerate believers, without exception, will exhibit all the signs listed in Mark 16:17-18, as accompaniment to the Gospel.  Moreover, these five should be evident among all believers, past, present and yet future, upon initial acceptance of the Gospel and thereafter – at the least, whenever the Gospel is being actively preached.

The Long and the Short of It

For quite some time, it has been the scholarly consensus that the “long ending” of the Gospel of Mark, i.e., the last 12 verses (16:9-20), is not original to the Gospel, even though there are many manuscripts that include this text.1  While there are those who assert that the long ending is indeed original, they are well within the minority among NT scholars and textual critics.  The vocabulary and style of the Greek in the long ending is substantially different than the remainder of Mark’s Gospel.2  In addition, the associated manuscript evidence points rather decisively to the inauthenticity of these verses.3

There is even a so-called “short ending” in one extant Old Latin manuscript.  This short ending consists of a small amount of text following verse 8, about the equivalent of one long Biblical verse or two shorter ones.  While this is found as the ending to Mark’s Gospel in only one manuscript, there is yet another variation in which the long ending is appended to the short ending.4  All three – the predominant long ending, the lone short ending, and the combination of short ending followed by long ending – are almost universally rejected, and identified as spurious.

Some are of the opinion that the Gospel of Mark simply concludes at verse 8.  However, in view of the fact that verse 8 ends rather abruptly with frightened women at the tomb, and, secondarily, that the very last word is a conjunction (the word γάρ, transliterated gar, meaning for, since, or because), others believe the original ending has been lost, or that the Gospel writer just did not finish the work for some unknown reason.5  These may well be factors that influenced the writer of the long ending (assumed to be one lone author by the internal consistency of the text).

Excluding the long ending from Scripture necessarily negates any need to discuss cessationism (the belief that the ‘sign gifts’ have ceased with the Apostolic era and the closing of the Biblical canon) or continuationism (the belief that all the spiritual gifts continue to this day) by appealing to these verses.  Dr. Rodney J. Decker, Th.D., has recently written a paper on this subject, titled Mark and Miracle (Mark 16:17-18), with an emphasis on what the longer ending means in its own context and how it relates to the rest of the New Testament, and posted it on his blog.  This particular work of Decker (see hyperlink at title above, pdf here) will be relied on for portions of the remainder of this article; general references and specific quotes from it will be followed by applicable page number in brackets, e.g.: {p 3}.

Interpreting the Text of the Long Ending

Decker notes that, in academic settings, those who argue for continuationism by and large do not do so by appealing to the Markan long ending.  On the other hand, it is used quite frequently as a basis for argumentation “in non-academic discussions and among poorly trained advocates.  That is perhaps not surprising since even in cessationist circles the authenticity of the Long Ending is commonly assumed since it is in the KJV without note or comment” {p 2, n 11}.  I’ll add that it seems many readers of modern Bible versions pay little mind to the notes, further contributing to ignorance about the legitimacy of the long ending.6  Philip Comfort provides a blanket caution against the lay or academic use of these verses:

…Christians need to be warned against using this text for Christian doctrine because it is not on the same par as verifiable New Testament Scripture.  Nothing in it should be used to establish Christian doctrine or practice.  Unfortunately, certain churches have used Mark 16:16 to affirm dogmatically that one must believe and be baptized to be saved, and other churches have used Mark 16:18 to promote the practice of snake-handling…The writer of the longer ending also emphasized what we would call charismatic experiences – speaking in tongues, performing healings, protection from snakes and poison.  Although the book of Acts affirms these experiences for certain believers, they are not necessarily the norm for all.7

Bill Johnson, Senior Pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, CA, is just one example (and there are many others within the so-called New Apostolic Reformation, aka NAR) of a hyper-charismatic (my term for those who go well beyond more conservative Pentecostal/charismatic theology and practice) who frequently cites Mark 16:15 and Mark 16:20 as base texts for the Great Commission, while selectively using only portions of verses 17-18 (healing the sick, casting out demons, and speaking in new tongues, yet omitting snake handling and drinking poison) for his continuationist stance.8  As but one example, here’s a selection in which Johnson specifically cites Mark 16:20 in the footnote reference to this passage:

…While healing is seldom the subject we teach on, it is one of the most common results.  As we proclaim the message of the Kingdom of God, people get well.  The Father seems to say Amen! to His own message by confirming the word with power….9

In reading Johnson’s quote, observe that the claim is that “people get well” as a result of the proclamation of “the message of the Kingdom of God”.  This passive “people get well” stands in stark contrast to the long ending’s explicitly active “they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover”.  In other words, according to verse 18, those who believe will actively lay on hands, resulting in the sick recovering; the sick don’t just “get well”.  We could give Johnson the benefit of the doubt and just assume he was imprecise with his wording, but what of the other signs that should accompany the message according to the context of the long ending of Mark?:

15 And He said to them [the Eleven], “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will follow [accompany] those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; 18 they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

19 So then, after the Lord had spoken to them [the Eleven], He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs [by those who believe]. Amen. [Mark 16:15-20, NKJV (emphasis and explanatory notes in brackets added)]

The text is book-ended with the preaching of the Gospel (vv 15, 20) by the Eleven (vv 14, 15, 19), but note that signs (σημεῖα, sēmeia) will follow/accompany those who believe (vv 16, 17), to exclude those preaching (the Eleven) {pp 3-5}.  The context specifies that it is regenerate believers – those receiving the preaching of the Gospel (by the Eleven; v 15) and reaching a saving faith (v 16) – who will cast out demons, speak with new languages, pick up snakes, etc.  Following are the five signs that will be exhibited by these believers:

  • Performing exorcisms
  • Speaking in new languages
  • Picking up snakes (presumably without harm)
  • Drinking poison without harm
  • Healing the sick by the laying on of hands

Note that, by the context, the snakes are not specifically identified as venomous (or not), and it’s not specified if those picking up the snakes will remain unharmed; it merely states “they will take up serpents” (some manuscripts add “with their hands”).  Some may appeal to the next point – “if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them” – but these two are not connected grammatically {p 3}.  Also, since all five, as Decker observes, “are listed in parallel with no indication otherwise, it would be precarious to suggest that one (or more) is to be taken metaphorically if the others are not” {pp 3-4, 4 n 15}.  By the context, the statement attributed to Jesus (vv 15-18), as well as the narration in verse 20 (“…the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs.”) is clearly meant in a literal sense; therefore, all five should be taken literally.

The text explicitly states that all five signs above will accompany the collective of those who believe {p 8}, as a sign of the Gospel, “whenever they believe” {p 4}.  Moreover, according to Decker, as indicated by the Greek grammar, each believer should perform all five {pp 4, 4 n 19-20}.  Further, this implies that each time the Eleven preached the Gospel there would always be demon-possessed individuals, snakes, poisonous drink, and persons afflicted with ailments in their midst.

Yet, by the context, this is not limited to the Apostolic era, the time period when the Eleven were still living {p 5}.  Since the function of these signs is in conjunction with the preaching of the Gospel – and, of course, the Great Commission is an ongoing command to all Christians (cf. Matthew 28:18-20) – these signs must continue as well {pp 4-5}.  Therefore, those who accept the long ending as part of the canonical Gospel of Mark are committed to the belief that all five signs above are applicable to every single believer, at the point of their conversion and forward.  The only limitation is imposed on those believers who are actively preaching the Gospel.  In other words, by the context provided by the author of the long ending, those who believe will perform the five signs above, which necessarily include all the regenerate – past, present, and yet future – except when they themselves are in the act of preaching the Gospel message {pp 4-5}.

It could be construed that one of the implicit points made by the author of the long ending regarding “confirming the word through the accompanying signs” is that others in the audience who may have been unpersuaded by the Gospel message itself may become convinced by the attendant display of signs.  In fact, there are three pieces of extra-Biblical, apocryphal literature depicting the Apostle John drinking poison for the express purpose of converting others.  These are: Virtutes Iohannis (Miracles of John, circa 5th or 6th century AD), Passio Iohannis (Passion of John, ca. late 6th c.) {p 10},10 and Acts of John in Rome (ca. 4th to 6th c.11), with the latter finding its writer portraying John as explicitly quoting the words of Mark 16:18b (“and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them”) {p. 10}.   With this in mind, would Bill Johnson, or any of the other self-appointed “Apostles” of the New Apostolic Reformation (or any follower of the NAR) who affirm Mark 16:9-20, like to drink from the poisoned cup, toward this same goal?

It seems one could understand this passage a bit more narrowly, interpreting “confirming the word through the accompanying signs” (v 20) as a limitation on those who believe.  That is, these signs will only accompany those who believe during the proclamation of the Gospel, thereby limiting the ‘shelf-life’ of these signs.  In other words, these five signs would be manifested each time the Gospel message is preached until Jesus Christ returns, but only for the duration of the preaching at each particular place and time.12

But note that even this more narrow view would only limit the time at which these signs are made manifest and not their actual expression.  With this limitation in mind, we’ll pose the question above a bit differently: With another actively preaching “the message of the Kingdom of God”, would Bill Johnson, or any of the other self-appointed “Apostles” of the New Apostolic Reformation (or any disciple of the NAR) who affirm Mark 16:9-20, like to drink from the poisoned chalice in order to win others to Christ?

Given his interpretation of Jesus’ promise in John 14:12, Johnson may even desire to identify such acts of ‘poison-bibbing’ {p 10} as manifest evidence of “greater works”, since it is not recorded in Scripture that Jesus Himself drank poison without harm:

Jesus’ prophecy of us doing greater works than He did has stirred the Church to look for some abstract meaning to this very simple statement…And, the works He referred to are signs and wonders.  It will not be a disservice to Him to have a generation obey Him, and go beyond His own high-water mark.  He showed us what one person could do who has the Spirit without measure.  What could millions do?  That was His point, and it became His prophecy.

This verse is often explained away by saying it refers to quantity of works, not quality…But that waters down the intent of His statement.  The word greater is mizon [sic] in the Greek…It is always used to describe “quality,” not quantity.13

But, I’m unpersuaded that even such a charismatic display of imbibing venomous drink without harm would be greater than Jesus’ dying on the Cross for the sins of the world and subsequently raising Himself from the dead (John 2:19-22, 10:17-18).

Nonetheless, as per the context provided by the author of the long ending, poison-bibbing is a requirement of all believers – at least those who accept Mark 16:9-20 as part of sacred Scripture.

Conclusion

Those who consider the long ending of Mark must understand that it’s an all or nothing proposition.  If one is inclined to accept it as authentic, then, in all intellectual honesty, one is forced to conform to a radical form of continuationism – one that must accept that all five signs enumerated in verses 17 and 18, without exception, will be exhibited by those who believe.  To explicitly or implicitly reject any of these five will not do.  On the other hand, to agree with the scholarly consensus that the long ending is not original to the Gospel of Mark means that no portion of it can be referenced for doctrine or practice.

 

Some facts and thoughts about the author of the above referenced article (see especially last paragraph):

Dr. Rodney J. Decker is on faculty at Baptist Bible Seminary in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania.  He is the author of Temporal Deixis of the Greek Verb in the Gospel of Mark with Reference to Verbal Aspect (New York: Peter Lang, 2001) and Koine Greek Reader: Selections from the New Testament, Septuagint, and Early Christian Writers (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2007), as well as other publications, with more material under contract, including his contribution to the Baylor Handbook on the Greek New Testament series (The Gospel of Mark).

I enjoy reading and being challenged by his works, most of which are a bit beyond my current level, some quite so.  However, it’s obvious he cares about his students’ learning, as he has even taken the time to place additional data, list errata, and translate the German and French text from the Peter Lang book mentioned above (this particular book series requires that all non-English language remain untranslated), onto his own website.  Here’s a portion of his remarks:

…Since, however, I have some hopes that students may find the work helpful, and even that some may be curious as to the content of those [untranslated] quotations (an idealistic notion, I suspect, but one which I hope to nurture for a bit longer!), I have thought it appropriate to provide a translation of many of those quotations here.

In addition, Decker has taken one of Dr. Stanley Porter’s difficult works and made it more comprehendible, providing a tremendous service to those wishing to become more conversant with Porter’s position on verbal aspect.  This is available as an online pdf (the title itself references Porter’s work): “The Poor Man’s Porter”: A condensation and summarization of Verbal Aspect in the Greek of the New Testament, with Reference to Tense and Mood by Stanley E. Porter (New York: Peter Lang, 1993).

While he’s very serious about his work, he occasionally injects a bit of lightheartedness in his material and on his blog (and presumably in the classroom).  Decker is currently battling stage 4 cancer.  He has recently begun chemotherapy.  He and his wife could use our prayers.

 

Endnotes:

     1 This merely illustrates that subsequent copyists faithfully reproduced (more or less) this long ending once it was introduced into the Gospel of Mark, though many manuscripts have markings suggesting its inauthenticity.
     2 Here I’m referring to what is known as the internal evidence of NT textual criticism: assessing authorial and scribal peculiarities such as style (vocabulary, grammar) and doctrine.
     3 This sentence refers primarily to what is termed external evidence in NT textual criticism: assessing all known variants of a given section of Scripture by focusing on such factors as age, similar readings among manuscripts, and geographic distribution, and then comparing with each other to determine which verbiage is likely original.
     4 The following English translation of the “short ending” is taken from Roger L. Omanson, A Textual Guide to the Greek New Testament: An Adaptation of Bruce M. Metzger’s Textual Commentary for the Needs of Translators (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft (German Bible Society), 2006), p 104.  Note that the first sentence is a continuation of 16:8, for the obvious purpose of not leaving the verse ending with the women fearful: But they reported briefly to Peter and those with him all that they had been told.  And after these things Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.  Amen.  Manuscripts which append the “long ending” to the “short ending” omit the final “Amen” of the “short ending” (Omanson, p 104).
     5 For more on the textual evidence consult Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (Stuttgart: United Bible Societies, 1994); Roger L. Omanson’s adaptation of Metzger noted above; Philip W. Comfort, New Testament Text and Translation Commentary (Carol Stream: Tyndale House, 2008); Craig A. Evans, Word Biblical Commentary: Mark 8:27 – 16:20 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2001); Joel Marcus, The Anchor Yale Bible: Mark 8 – 16 (New Haven: Yale, 2009), etc.
     6 This is based on my own admittedly very limited experience.
     7 Comfort, p 161.
     8 This is evident throughout his books, sermons and other materials.  Of the many works I’ve studied/surveyed, none promote snake handling or the drinking of poison.
     9 Bill Johnson, When Heaven Invades Earth: A Practical Guide to a Life of Miracles, (Shippensburg: Destiny Image, 2003 (first edition)), p 89; emphasis in original.   I’m giving Johnson the benefit of the doubt that he’s speaking of the true Gospel, and not the differentiated “Gospel of the Kingdom” of some New Order of the Latter Rain and/or New Apostolic Reformation teachers and adherents, though the context strongly implies the latter, and he specifically uses the latter term in many places throughout the book.  Probably the best place to find the delineation of the two terms is found in the glossary of Earl Paulk’s Ultimate Kingdom (Atlanta: K Dimension, 1984, p 335), in which “Gospel” is defined as [t]he good news of God’s redemption to man. [Luke 4:18, 9:6; Romans 1:16; Ephesians 6:15]; whereas, “Gospel of the Kingdom” is defined [t]he good news principles of daily life taught by Jesus that the Church must demonstrate as a witness to the world in order to return the rule of the earth to God.  [Matthew 4:23, 9:35, 24:14] – in other words: Dominionism.  Also, one must keep in mind that Johnson equates such signs as part of the “greater works” in John 14:12.  See below.
     10 Here Decker quotes from (as he cites quite a bit in his paper) James Kelhoffer (Miracle and Mission: The Authentication of Missionaries and Their Message in the Longer Ending of Mark, WUNT 2.112, Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2000, p 450); Decker notes (p  10 n 42) that dates of 3rd to 6th century have been proposed for these two works.  Claudio Moreschini and Enrico Norelli, (Early Christian Greek and Latin Literature, A Literary History, Volume Two: From the Council of Nicea to the Beginning of the Medieval Period, Peabody: Hendrickson, 2005; English transl. Matthew J. O’Connell), claim “perhaps” 5th or 6th c. for Passion of John (“by Pseudo-Melito”) and “end of 6th c.” for Miracles of John (“included in the collection of Pseudo-Abdias”) [pp 221-222].  Both of these works apparently draw from the 3rd c. apocryphal work Acts of John, as Knut Schäferdiek (“The Acts of John”) in Wilhelm Schneemelcher (transl. R. McL. Wilson New Testament Apocrypha: Volume One: Gospels and Related Writings. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1990, English transl. James Clarke & Co. Ltd, Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1991) notes, specifying that the Passio Iohannis “has taken up several narratives from the Acts of John in a considerably revised form” [p 154, cf. p 155].  Schäferdiek also largely agrees with Moreschini/Norelli regarding dates for Passion “which scarcely came into being before the middle of the 5th century” [p 154] and Miracles “which probably came into being in the late 6th century” [p 155].
     11 Schäferdiek in Schneemelcher, p 172.  The Acts of John in Rome is a recension of Acts of John.  The first 17 chapters of Acts of John are lost; the Acts of John in Rome has a total 14 chapters, in two recensions, written “not before the 4th century” [p 172].
     12 This further nuanced interpretation seems to be implied by Decker, but is not explicit – at least as I read him.  Therefore, I take full responsibility; any errors in understanding Decker or in my exegesis are fully my own!  But, note that the three apocryphal works referenced earlier do not seem to have another preaching the Gospel while John drank the poison.
     13 Johnson, When Heaven Invades Earth, p 185; all emphasis in original (for those with later editions with different pagination, this is found in the chapter titled “This Present Revival” under the bolded heading GREATER WORKS).   The Greek word is actually (transliterated) meizon, not mizon.  Johnson prefaces this statement with a direct citation of John 14:12. Decker notes that some are of the opinion that the long ending can be paralleled with John 14:12, but he opines differently {pp 10-11}.  For an in-depth look at Jesus’ words in this passage of Scripture, see CrossWise article Greater Works Shall You Do.

Biblical Inerrancy

Is the Bible, the Christian Holy Scriptures, infallible?  That is, is the Bible we take to church, read, and study free from all error?  Some claim it isn’t.

From my perspective, I believe that all Scripture is “God-breathed” [2 Tim 3:16] and is, hence, inerrant.  My Statement of Faith expounds on this:

The Holy Bible, in its original form, is the Holy Spirit-inspired [2 Tim 3:16], inerrant, and infallible Word of God [Prov 30:5; 2 Peter 1:20-21], complete unto itself. The Bible will never be superseded or supplemented by any other teaching [Prov 30:6] and nothing should be subtracted from it [Deut 4:2; Matt 5:17; Rev 22:18-19]. Its full counsel provides the way to live a complete Christian life [2 Tim 3:16-17]. [Emphasis added.]

However, I submit the following for consideration. Craig A. Evans’ book Fabricating Jesus [2006, InterVarsity, Downers Grove, IL] is an apologetic against those who would claim the Gnostic “Gospels” (so-called) are a (or THE) form of authentic Christianity. Evans notes that Bart Ehrman, a ‘former Christian’, became an agnostic and somewhat amenable to the Gnostic position, thinking Christianity merely won out over Gnosticism by political wrangling, in part because Ehrman lost faith in the inerrancy of Scripture by studying the text of Mark 2:25-26 (among others).

Here’s the passage in the NASB:

25 And He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions became hungry; 26 how he entered the house of God in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the consecrated bread, which is not lawful for anyone to eat except the priests, and he also gave it to those who were with him?”

While each translation/version of the Bible differs a bit (naturally, as some are more literal, such as the NASB and ESV, while others are more dynamic, such as the NIV), each one contains the essence of the above.  Evans comments:

Jesus has alluded to the story of David’s receiving consecrated bread…from Ahimelech the priest (1 Sam 21:1-10). David was fleeing from Saul, and when Saul learned that Ahimelech had assisted David and his men, he murdered Ahimelech and most of his family. Abiathar escaped and eventually succeeded his father as priest (1 Sam 22:1-10). Because Ahimelech – not his son Abiathar – was the priest when David and his men ate the consecrated bread, we have a mistake, technically speaking, either made by Jesus himself or by Mark (or perhaps by someone who passed on the story). [p 31]

Now let me state quite clearly that I don’t think for a nanosecond that Jesus made a mistake! And, I don’t think Evans does either. Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe [Making Sense of Bible Difficulties 2009 (1992), Baker, Grand Rapids, MI] explain how to understand this passage in the following:

First Samuel is correct in stating that the high priest was Ahimelech. On the other hand, neither was Jesus wrong. When we take a close look at Christ’s words, we notice that He used the phrase “in the days of Abiathar” (v. 26), which does not necessarily imply that Abiathar was high priest at the time David ate the bread. After David met Ahimelech and at the bread, King Saul had Ahimelech killed…Abiathar escaped and went to David (v. 20) and later took the place of high priest. So even though Abiathar was made high priest after David ate the bread, it is still correct to speak in this manner. After all, Abiathar was alive when David did this, and soon following he became the high priest after his father’s death. Thus, it was during the time of Abiathar, but not during his tenure in office. [Pp 175-176.  All emphasis in original.]

I don’t know about you dear reader, but this explanation does not seem satisfactory to me. This would be akin to saying “in the days of Herod Antipas” while referring to a particular time, say 10BC, which was actually during the reign of his father Herod the Great. Sure Antipas was alive, but he was not yet Herod.

In any case, this does not destroy my faith in Holy Writ as my faith is in Jesus Christ and His Atoning death, burial and Resurrection, which are verifiable historical facts (just ask former skeptic Lee Strobel). I can only guess why the Markan account is written as such. Perhaps it is a scribal error which was replicated in both the Textus Receptus (Latin for “received text”, the Greek text undergirding the KJV and the NKJV) and the Critical Text (the Greek text from which most, if not all, other modern Bible versions are largely based), which has been carried forth to this day?

We do not have any of the original NT documents.  We do not have any of Paul’s original letters from his pen (or the pen of any of those who acted as a scribe for Paul from his dictation) or any of the original Gospels from the Gospel writer’s own hand.  Consequently, we have copies – hand-scribed copies – of these precious documents.  Most likely we have copies of copies, thus increasing the likelihood of changes from the original texts due to copyist error or even by a scribe’s misguided attempts at “correcting” the original.  It is for all these reasons that my Statement of Faith has the qualifying phrase “…in its original form…” in the selected portion used above, referring to the inerrancy of Scripture.

However, rest assured; we have more copies and fragments of the New Testament than any other literary work from this period.  In fact, many more.  This is where the importance of the ongoing research known as NT Textual Criticism1 – an art as much as a science – comes into play.  These multitudes of NT documents enable the textual critic to arrive at what is most likely the original text in the large majority of cases.  However, there are differences of opinions as to just what is the original text among textual critics on some Biblical passages.  A basic overview of the process of textual criticism and its ramifications will be discussed in future articles here on CrossWise.

1 J. Harold Greenlee [Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism (Revised Edition). 2010, sixth prtng (© 1964 Eerdmans; © 1995 Hendrickson), Hendrickson Publishing, Peabody, MA] defines textual criticism as, “the study of copies of any written work of which the autograph (the original) is unknown, with the purpose of ascertaining the original text” [p 1].  An easier read as an introduction to NT Textual Criticism is Greenlee’s The Text of the New Testament: From Manuscript to Modern Edition [2008, Hendrickson Publishing, Peabody, MA].

Book Review: Roger Omanson’s ‘A Textual Guide to the Greek New Testament’

[Roger L. Omanson A Textual Guide to the Greek New Testament: An Adaptation of Bruce M. Metzger’s Textual Commentary for the Needs of Translators. 2006, German Bible Society, Stuttgart, Germany]

For those who’ve wondered about those footnotes in modern Bible versions and the reasons why some passages are shortened (e.g. Matthew 6:13) while others are omitted entirely (e.g. Acts 8:37), Roger Omanson’s work can provide assistance.  Ideally suited as a companion to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (Fourth Revised Edition) [yes, it’s all in Greek], better known as UBS4, Omanson’s work (like the Metzger version upon which his book is based) explains why some passages have been amended or taken out entirely based on the discipline known as textual criticism.

Textual criticism, as it pertains to the New Testament, is the ongoing process (more manuscripts are unearthed every year it seems) of assessing all known manuscripts containing Biblical material with the goal of determining the original text.  All the original autographs, as they are known, are no longer in existence.   Therefore, this is important work!

Omanson adapts Bruce Metzger’s A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament: Second Edition [1994 German Bible Society, Stuttgart], dispensing with some of the technical jargon while adding some more verbiage for clarification, with the goal of making it easier to read for those whom English is not their primary language and for the average layperson. The Greek words remain in Greek font yet they are also translated to the English (not transliterated). Omanson’s work still requires a bit of knowledge about textual criticism; however, a primer is included in the “Introduction” which retains some of the same info as Metzger’s edition but, again, with added information and more simplified verbiage.

Omanson uses most but not all the comments on variants contained in the Metzger. Yet, given that Koine Greek (the Greek of the NT) was limited in punctuation and that the manuscripts mostly do not contain punctuation, Omanson adds what he calls “Segmentation” on some verses illustrating additional exegetical considerations (such as the difficulty in ascertaining the point at which a quoted portion ends, as well as the possibility of phrasing some discourse as questions rather than statements and vice versa), providing an added bonus.  [See what is known as the Codex Sinaiticus here (designated as א - aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet) taking notice of how all the text runs together.]

It may be helpful to provide a direct comparison between the two versions using John 7:8 as one example. First is Metzger followed by Omanson

7:8 ουκ {C}

The reading ούπω was introduced at an early date (it is attested by p66,75) in order to alleviate the inconsistency between ver. 8 and ver. 10.

7:8 ουκ (not) {C}

The reading ούπω (not yet) was introduced at an early date in order to remove the inconsistency between v. 8, in which Jesus said that he was not going to the festival in Judea, and v. 10, where it is stated that he did go. Following the variant, NIV and Seg read, “I am not yet going up to this Feast.”

[ED: "Seg" is the designation for a modern French translation  (Louis Segond).]

The bracketed “C” above corresponds to a grading system (A, B, C, or D) by the UBS4 committee designating the relative certainty of the variant chosen (according to the committee) with A being “certain”, B “nearly certain”, while C “indicates that the committee had difficulty in deciding which variant to place in the text”, with D illustrating “great difficulty” [from Metzger p 14* and UBS4 p 3*]. Unfortunately, Omanson does not include this rating system in his volume. Omanson’s edition can work as a stand-alone, i.e. one does not necessarily need the UBS4 for comparison as the layperson could use Omanson in conjunction with an English (or other language) Bible translation; however, the inclusion of the rating system would have been most helpful.

Two more comparisons: 1) while Metzger’s book is `pocket-size’ (5 X 7.5 X .75 in. – the same h X w as the UBS4), Omanson’s is larger – about the size of an average textbook (6.25 X 9.375 X 1.375 in.); 2) Omanson’s is in larger font and on thicker, whiter paper making it easier to read – especially for those of us with aging eyes.

A minor criticism: the Greek font renders the kappa ( κ ) in such a way that it resembles the English letter x which causes me pause at times. My mind’s eye initially sees this as an English transliteration of xi ( ξ – which is transliterated as the English “x”). This is especially confusing with και which I initially see as (transliterated) xai. But, I note this font is similar to the BDAG.

Bottom line: this is a great reference for expounding on some of the reasons why one variant was chosen over another (or why the committee was unsure) in the UBS4. One can use this in lieu of the Metzger. Metzger is useful for those who are more versed in textual criticism and for those, like me, who have to strain to see the info in the UBS critical apparatus (“apparatus” is essentially the footnotes detailing the variances of the manuscripts) as this is sometimes replicated in Metzger’s edition in larger font (the UBS apparatus is not necessarily small in font but rather crammed with info, and with the thin paper there’s some bleed-through). However, for those who speak English as a second language, the Omanson will likely be the better choice. For the average layperson, Omanson’s work is more useful than Metzger’s in the way it translates all the Greek words into English and with the more simplified verbiage.

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