The Long Ending of Mark and the Book of Mormon
As we’ve covered the Book of Mormon’s reliance on the King James Bible (KJV) in previous sections, we’ve noted where the Book of Mormon integrated material from the KJV including translation errors, italicized words, and even late additions.
In the last section on the Sermon on the Mount, we noted that the end of the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew is considered a late addition which scholars call a doxology. Another similar issue comes from the Gospel of Mark, where scholars are convinced that the ending that appears in the King James Bible is a late addition, but the material still makes its way into the Book of Mormon verbatim.
The long ending of Mark has become consensus among scholars to the point where some translations of the Bible actually provide a disclaimer to note that the earliest manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not include Mark 16:9-20. While there are some who dispute that the long ending was not originally included (and we will get to this below), there are many reasons that scholars are almost unanimous that this ending of Mark was a late addition.
This again points to the Book of Mormon being a 19th century text written by someone who owned the King James Bible and was familiar with 19th century ideas of Christian beliefs. In the case of the long ending of Mark, it shows that the author of the Book of Mormon included late material just as they did with the Deutero-Isaiah passages and the late addition to the Lord's Prayer in the Sermon on the Mount.
Problems with the Book of Mormon's Use of the Long Ending of Mark
Just as we highlighted the problems with the Book of Mormon’s reliance on the King James Bible, the Long Ending of Mark presents a lot of the same issues.
Historicity of the Long Ending of Mark
First we want to give a brief overview of why scholars are convinced that the ending of Mark in the King James Bible is a late addition. From New Testament scholar Dr. Bart Ehrman:
"The evidence that shows these verses were not original to Mark is similar in kind to that for the woman taken in adultery, and again I don’t need to go into all the details here. It is absent from our two oldest and best manuscripts of Mark’s Gospel, along with other important witnesses; the writing style varies from what we find elsewhere in Mark; the transition between this passage and the one preceding is hard to understand (e.g., Mary Magdalene is introduced in v. 9 as if she hadn’t been mentioned yet, even though she is discussed in the preceding verses; there is another problem with the Greek that makes the transition even more awkward); and there are a large number of words and phrases in the passage that are not elsewhere found in Mark. In short, the evidence is sufficient to convince virtually all textual scholars that these verses are an addition to Mark." (The Ending of Mark in the King James Bible)
This of course leads to many questions about the text of the Bible, and this issue is one that is studied by all Christian denominations. But the real problem with regards to the Book of Mormon is that language from these verses in Mark, which were attached to the gospel by an unidentified scribe likely hundreds of years after it happened, appears in the text:
Mark 16:17-18 (KJV): "17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;
18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover."
Now compare this to the Book of Mormon:
Mormon 9:24: "And these signs shall follow them that believe—in my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover."
Again, I know we've stated this too many times already, but it's anachronistic by definition for the Book of Mormon to have King James Bible wording within its text as the KJV was not produced until 1611. On top of the King James Bible being anachronistic for use in the Book of Mormon, the frequent reliance on New Testament text and Christology is a problem in that those books of the New Testament were not written until long after Lehi left, which means that no one in the Book of Mormon could have accessed this writing.
As we stated in the section on the King James Bible and the Book of Mormon, one common apologetic explanation is that Jesus could have taught the exact phrases in the Americas that he did to his followers, which is why the Sermon at the Temple is effectively a retelling of the Sermon on the Mount, errors and all. The idea is that Jesus would have taught the exact same phrases, ideas, and sayings to the Nephites, which sounds plausible in theory, but is just not backed up by textual criticism.
Not only would this language in Mark need to have been original to the text for its inclusion in the Book of Mormon to have authenticity even if we allow for that idea, but there's still the problem of the original text being in Greek. As we covered in the last section on the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke Aramaic, which means that the King James translation is at least two translations away from whatever words Jesus would have spoken.
So not only does the Book of Mormon contain these teachings, but they have them in the exact same wording as the King James Bible, which is a translation from Greek manuscripts which would be a translation from Aramaic that was not written down until the story was told for decades in oral tradition.
In other words, the odds that these words are exactly what Jesus taught are practically zero, which makes their inclusion in the Book of Mormon in a word-for-word, verbatim copy beyond problematic.
But in the case of the long ending of Mark, the anachronistic nature of the New Testament appearing in the Book of Mormon is compounded by the fact that these verses were not even written by the author of Mark, but added by a later scribe. Just as with Deutero-Isaiah, Joseph Smith was unaware that the ending of Mark had been added hundreds of years after the first manuscript, so when he integrated this material in the Book of Mormon, he made a massive mistake when looked at through Biblical scholarship.
In other words, Joseph Smith was already copying verses from the King James Bible into the Book of Mormon that could not have possibly been known to Book of Mormon people, but in many instances, including the long ending of Mark and the Lord’s Prayer, using material that was added well after the initial authors composed their Gospels.
Why It Matters
Just as we see with Deutero-Isaiah, this is an area where Joseph Smith is pulling text that simply would not have been available to the Book of Mormon people. When you take all of these instances together, it is undeniable that Joseph Smith’s fingerprints are everywhere in the Book of Mormon, and that will only continue as we get into the Book of Mormon itself in future sections.
When we look at the Book of Mormon, we can see very specific references to Columbus discovering America (1 Nephi 13:12) and the historical overview of the founding of the United States of America (1 Nephi 13:14-19), but once we get to Joseph Smith's timeline there is no specific prophecy from Book of Mormon people. We get no mention of a Civil War that would tear the country apart, World War I or II, or any of the massive advances we see as a society in technology, transportation, or globalization.
Critics of the Book of Mormon often cite that Joseph Smith leans heavily on the King James Bible to create the story, and we point that out repeatedly on this website. These are easy for apologists to brush away, as we mentioned earlier, by saying that Joseph Smith was given the Book of Mormon via revelation and as such was able to put it through his own filter.
However, that argument falls apart when we see Joseph Smith using both text and ideas that were not written at the time Lehi left, and, more importantly for the case of Mark, were not even written until hundreds of years after the first manuscripts of the Gospel were composed.
Apologetic Responses on the Long Ending of Mark in the Book of Mormon
We typically start with the Gospel Topics essays or FAIR Mormon for the most widely used apologetics, and in this case FAIR integrates an article written by Book of Mormon central, where they give a few reasons why this should not damage the testimony of members. From FAIR:
"In recent years, several scholars have argued that the text in Mark 16:9–20 is indeed an authentic part of the Gospel of Mark."
The problem with this kind of argument is that you can always find a few scholars who will argue for any position, especially in a situation where we want the Bible to be a literal history that cannot be tarnished by Biblical scholarship and textual criticism. If we look at the Book of Abraham, we can find a few scholars who will still contend that there was a "long scroll" with the correct writings of Abraham, but every other scholar can look at the manuscripts, papyri fragments, and overall evidence to know that the long/lost scroll theory is simply not possible.
I don't really know what more to say here. Book of Mormon Central continues by noting that "these scholars note that many other early New Testament manuscripts contain these verses," but that is not really making the case they think it is. If a later scribe wanted to make the long ending of Mark seem authentic, they would borrow from other early sources that would give credibility to the new text as well as using the material that they thought worked the best. To put another way, this would be like arguing that the Book of Mormon is authentic because it includes a lot of verses and ideas that are found in early Christianity and the King James Bible, when it fact it shows that a later author who already knew of those concepts and verses used them to create pseudepigrapha that resembles an authentic, ancient text.
More from FAIR/BMC:
"It is also significant that several scholars who reject Mark 16:9–20 as part of the original Gospel of Mark nonetheless believe that the long ending pre-existed its attachment to Mark"
Again, we're looking at the idea of "several scholars" in order to diminish the near unanimous consensus that the ending of Mark was later added. As Dr. Bart Ehrman notes:
"Some scholars agree with the scribes in thinking that 16:8 is too abrupt an ending for a Gospel. As I indicated, it is not that these scholars believe the final twelve verses in our later manuscripts were the original ending – they know that that’s not the case. But they think that possibly the last page of Mark’s Gospel, one in which Jesus actually did meet the disciples in Galilee, was somehow lost, and that all of our copies of the Gospel go back to this one truncated manuscript, without the last page."
To put another way, there isn't much backing to the idea that the long ending of Mark was originally in the first manuscript, was lost for hundreds of years, and then was inserted back into the text later on. If you think about how difficult that would be to happen in the time the Gospels were first being written and copied, where there is no library or internet archive to look for backup copies in, you would understand how unlikely that is.
So if Book of Mormon Central wants to argue that maybe there was another ending to Mark, they would still have to answer why Mormon chose to use the exact wording that is found in the King James Bible. Not only were these verses added hundreds of years later by a scribe, but then Joseph Smith is using a translation of it that would not have been known until 1611. In other words, having an original ending to Mark that was lost does not help the Book of Mormon because the material it uses would still have been attached in some form later on.
More from FAIR/BMC:
"Another important detail to keep in mind is that even among those who reject the authenticity of Mark 16:9–20, there is considerable debate about how the Gospel of Mark originally ended."
This is how the Book of Abraham essay was written by the church. You cite a few arguments that have no consensus whatsoever, and hope that the reader can settle on one of them, be reassured that there are answers, and stop worrying about it. As I just noted above, it doesn't matter if the ending of Mark was originally different, because Joseph Smith quotes the exact phrasing from an ending that scholars know was attached long after the Gospel of Mark was first written down.
To be clear, the argument about how the Gospel of Mark originally ended is of course important, but not with regards to the ancient claims of the Book of Mormon. Unless you believe that there was an original ending with that exact wording that was lost for hundreds of years and added back in without being changed, Joseph Smith made a massive error by inserting it in the Book of Mormon.
The last part I want to highlight from FAIR/Book of Mormon Central's article is this:
"It important to recognize, however, that even though the English translation of Mormon 9:22–24 was possibly influenced by the King James translation of Mark 16:15–18, Moroni’s source was not the Gospel of Mark.Rather, Moroni was drawing on the teachings of Christ recorded among the Nephites (Mormon 9:22). Thus, the authenticity of the words of Jesus in Mormon 9:22–25 is not ultimately dependent on the authenticity of the “long ending” of Mark. Indeed, belief in the authenticity of these words in the ending of Mark may, on the other hand, benefit from the testimony of the Book of Mormon."
This is simply just not true. For one, we know that the translation of the Book of Mormon was influenced by the King James Bible, so the use of the word "possibly" is what is otherwise known as a weasel word. It is similar to how the church noted that Emma "likely" did not know of all of Joseph Smith's polygamous wives in their essay on polygamy in Kirtland and Nauvoo, when the historical record says that she absolutely did not know of most (if any) of his polygamous and polyandrous wives outside of the few that she reluctantly approved of, which forced Joseph to create a sham wedding ceremony as he had already married the pair of sisters behind Emma’s back.
That might seem like a tangent, but I want to illustrate how apologetics work as we go through these sections. There is no “possibly” here when you can look above and see that the verse from Mormon is 100% identical to the verses from the long ending of Mark. There is no denying that the King James Bible influenced the Book of Mormon because the verbiage in the Book of Mormon is not a direct teaching of Jesus – it is the King James Bible's translation of what Jesus taught that was twice translated, only written down after decades of oral tradition, and from an ending that scholars believe was a late addition. This is what is so frustrating with apologetics – you are told not to believe what you can see with your own eyes and read with your own mind.
Second, one of the biggest problems with the Book of Mormon is how often Jesus taught the exact same things to the Nephites as he did in the Bible. As we covered in the last section on the Sermon at the Temple, many critics have noted this problem in the Book of Mormon when it comes to the Sermon at the Temple, because it uses the exact same words that Jesus used in the Sermon on the Mount with just small, superficial changes that stuck out to Joseph Smith. The bigger problem is that this sermon was almost certainly not a standalone sermon, and yet the teachings in 3 Nephi come only from the author of Matthew’s version of the sermon, and not from the additional teachings that the author of Luke included in their version.
The footnote (#13) from Book of Mormon Central after claiming that Moroni's source in writing this material was not the Gospel of Mark is not actually a source, but an editorial note:
"It is unreasonable to believe, and there is no evidence, that Joseph either opened a Bible to the ending of Mark and read these words, or had memorized them, and then wove them smoothly into the flow of the translation of Mormon 9."
This is just a really difficult argument that we’ve covered in these sections, because there are so many passages copied from the King James Bible into the Book of Mormon that to claim Joseph Smith did not use a Bible to pull the verses goes against all logic and common sense. By this reasoning we’re left with two viable options:
God preserved the gold plates for thousands of years only to give Joseph Smith a revelation from the stone in a hat that matched the King James Bible with translation errors, italics, and late additions included.
Joseph Smith would pull these long phrases and verses as he saw fit, which necessitates the use of the King James Bible during the composition of the Book of Mormon as many of these long passages are identical as we show above with Mark.
I don't meant to seem flippant here, but there's no reason to use a footnote to give the impression of a source when it's simply an opinion, let alone an opinion that goes against all of the evidence we have which is shown clearly with the use of the long ending of Mark. The church's narrartive is that the Book of Mormon is the 'most correct book on Earth' while the Bible is the word of God "as far as it is translated correctly."
If the Book of Mormon is supposed to be a direct, ancient translation, then why is it so reliant on the King James Bible translation which even the leaders of the church itself admitted was riddled with translation errrors? If you want to accept option 1 above, which Book of Mormon Centran implies, then you have to address why God then brought so many errors into the Book of Mormon during this revelation via Joseph Smith's stone in a hat.
The last part of this statement from Book of Mormon central is also very circular thinking. They are effectively saying that the long ending of Mark is correct because the Book of Mormon is correct, when the unquestionable reality is that the Book of Mormon relies on the King James Bible. By their own logic, if this part of the Bible was not authentic but used in the Book of Mormon, how could one then believe the Book of Mormon is an ancient record?
I feel like we’re beating a dead horse at this point, but the use of the New Testament in the Book of Mormon is highly problematic, and the use of the long ending of Mark is another clear illustration that the author of the Book of Mormon was someone with access to the King James Bible.
Sometimes with apologetics there is a “divide and conquer” strategy where you try to answer each problem in isolation, but the reality is that these problems all link together. When you look at how the Sermon at the Temple is a retelling of the Sermon on the Mount with italics, late additions, and phrasing that means nothing to the ancient Americas, and then look at how the long ending of Mark is an exact copy from the KJV, there’s no getting around the fingerprints being left by the author of the Book of Mormon.
These are problems that most Christian religions do not worry about, which is why the more widely used Bible translations now have footnotes to cite that the long ending of Mark was not in the original manuscripts or that the doxology from Matthew was a late addition.
But because the Book of Mormon takes them and places them directly in its text as an ancient record, it is not only a problem, but further proof that the book is not ancient and was written by someone with a 19th century milieu.
The last point I want to make is this: If any other religion or organization came to you and said they had an ancient text that was preserved by God and you went on Google and found out that much of it was lifted from modern translations of texts, would you believe their claims? I know it is incredibly difficult to research the church’s truth claims in the same way that we evaluate claims made by other churches, businesses, or politicians, but the reality is that these problems are impossible to ignore when you stop looking them in isolation, but realize how intertwined and pervasive they are throughout not just the Book of Mormon, but the Book of Abraham, Moses, and Doctrine and Covenants as well.
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Next Section: Deutero-Isaiah in the Book of Mormon