Formations lesson for April 27: Appearance and Commission
April 11 2003 by David Stratton , Mark 16:9-18

Formations lesson for April 27: Appearance and Commission | Friday, April 11, 2003

Friday, April 11, 2003

Formations lesson for April 27: Appearance and Commission

By David Stratton Mark 16:9-18

"The earliest manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20." So states a note above this text in the New International Version. The new Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), published by a division of LifeWay of the Southern Baptist Convention, puts brackets around Mark 16:9-20 and includes a note saying "other mss [i.e. manuscripts] omit bracketed text." More generally, in the introduction to the HCSB, it is acknowledged that "brackets are used to indicate texts that are omitted in some ancient Greek manuscripts."

The original reading Behind such statements found in virtually all English translations is a fact well known to students of the scriptures. We possess no original manuscripts of biblical texts. Instead we have ancient copies of the originals in which there are differences in wording. So the manuscripts are studied and a process known as "textual criticism" is utilized to determine as closely as possible the original reading of the text.

These facts are not cause for alarm. Just as surely as God works through the overall process of the translation of scripture, God also works through the process of textual criticism. The authority of the Bible is not undermined by the need for the Spirit-led work of the textual critic.

The text at hand Serious study of Mark 16:9-20 forces a discussion of textual criticism. One would be hard-pressed to find a responsible Bible scholar, liberal or conservative, who believes this text to be part of Mark's original writing. Since, in the words of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, "only the autographic text of the original documents was inspired" and, since the manuscript evidence indicates this text was not part of the autographic text, one is forced to conclude that these verses are not inspired scripture.

Snakes and poison This passage was probably written in the second or third century. In general, it contains brief statements based on the resurrection accounts of Matthew, Luke and John. One glaring exception to this rule is the affirmation of verse 18 that believers will pick up snakes with their hands and drink deadly poison with no ill effects. Small pockets of Christians in this country handle snakes and drink poison in worship based on this verse.

Please do not purposefully pick up vipers or drink toxins using such a questionable passage as a guide. There is no other legitimate portion of scripture advocating the drinking of poison. It is true that Jesus spoke of stomping snakes in Luke 10:19, but that was in the context of overcoming the power of Satan and stomping snakes and picking them up is not the same thing.

A viper in a woodpile bit Paul in Acts 28:3-6 but the apostle did not pick the snake up on purpose. True, Moses grabbed a snake by the tail in the burning bush account (Exodus 4:4), which is the only volitional snake handling in the Bible. So, unless there is a burning bush in sight and a voice from heaven telling me to do so, I have no plans to grab any snakes on purpose.

Lesson? While these verses were not part of the original manuscript of Mark's gospel there is, nonetheless, a lesson to be learned from this very early Christian writing. They remind us of the priority assigned to the teaching function of the early church.

William Lane noted that the passage may have been originally written as an early instructional "summary of post-resurrection events" (The Gospel of Mark, New International Commentary on the New Testament, 604). There can be no other explanation for the addition of these verses other than the desire to teach the events from the discovery of the empty tomb through the ascension of Jesus. They were added to the abrupt ending of Mark in order to be obedient to Jesus' command at the end of Matthew to "Go ... and make disciples of all ... teaching them ..." (Matt. 28:19-20).

This passage stands first and foremost as a testimony to the high priority assigned to the task of teaching and learning in the early church, a testimony the church of today desperately needs to take to heart.

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4/11/2003 12:00:00 AM by David Stratton , Mark 16:9-18 | with 0 comments
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