This raises the question: were the copies imperfect due to _deliberate_ changes? This is a charge which is sometimes made. However, most discrepancies are very small - the odd word missing or inserted here or there, making little or no change to the meaning of the passage.
However, there are a couple of longer passages which have turned out not to be genuine. One in particular is Mark 16:9-20, which describes some appearances of Jesus after he rose from the dead. If this passage is a later addition, does this mean that the Christian doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus is in question?
The answer is a firm "NO". No Christian doctrine rests on the genuineness or otherwise of Mark 16:9-20. The reason is simple: it appears that Mark 16:9-20 was compliled using the endings of the other three gospels (Matthew, Luke, John) as sources.
This article will show that everything in Mark 16:9-20 (except for one insignificant detail) can be found elsewhere in the New Testament. Therefore, no Christian doctrine is in any way affected by the fact that Mark 16:9-20 is probably not original.
The event in Mark is given in normal font, while the parallel from elsewhere in the New Testament (1) is in strong font and (2) begins with the word PARALLEL
MARK 16:9: Jesus had formerly driven 7 demons out of Mary Magdalene.
PARALLEL: Luke 8:2
MARK 16:9: Jesus appeared to Mary Magdelene
PARALLEL: John 20:11-17
MARK 16:10: Mary told the disciples
PARALLEL: John 20:18, Luke 24:9-10
MARK 16:11: The disciples did not believe Mary
PARALLEL: Luke 24:11
MARK 16:12-13: Jesus appeared to two disciples while they were walking in the country.
PARALLEL: Luke 24:13-35
MARK 16:14 Jesus appeared to the Eleven
PARALLEL: Luke 24:36-43 is probably the instance intended. Appearances to the Eleven are also described in Matthew 28:16-20, John 20:19-23, John 20:26-29 and 1 Corinthians 15:5
MARK 16:14 Jesus rebuked the Eleven for not believing
PARALLEL: Luke 24:36-43 is probably the instance intended. There was also the rebuke of Thomas in John 20:26-29.
MARK 16:15 Jesus comissioned them to preach the gospel.
PARALLEL: Luke 24:46-49, Matthew 28:19-20, John 20:21, Acts 1:8
MARK 16:15 The comission included a command to baptise.
PARALLEL: Matthew 28:19
MARK 16:16 Those who believe and are baptised will be saved, those who do not believe will be condemned
PARALLEL: There is no other record of Jesus saying this after his resurrection, although it is surely part of what he spoke of in Acts 1:3. However the doctrine itself is made clear in many passages, e.g. John 3:18, 5:24, 6:29; Acts 2:38, 4:12, 10:43, 16:31.
MARK 16:17-18 Jesus lists five signs which will accompany believers.
PARALLEL: There is no direct parallel of Jesus foretelling this. However he did promise he would be with them (Matthew 28:20) and they would have power (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:8). Earlier, he had promised they would do greater miracles than him (John 14:12).
MARK 16:20 These signs will in fact accompany the disciples [NOTE: This means some disciples, not every single individual disciple. For more on this, see endnote *].
PARALLEL: We will deal with these as they are mentioned in verses 17-18. As can be seen, 4 of the 5 are recorded in Acts.
MARK 16:17 Believers will cast out demons
PARALLEL: Acts 5:16, 8:7, 16:16-18, 19:12
MARK 16:17 Believers will speak in other tongues
PARALLEL: Acts 2:1-4, 10:46, 19:6
MARK 16:18 Believers will pick up snakes (without being harmed)
PARALLEL: Acts 28:3-6
MARK 16:18 If believers drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all
PARALLEL: There is no instance of this recorded in the New Testament. Perhaps that is why this prophecy is preceded by an "if", i.e. "IF they drink deadly poison" - implying it may not happen.
MARK 16:18 Believers will heal sick people
PARALLEL: Acts 3:1-10, 5:16, 8:7, 19:12
MARK 16:19 Jesus ascended into heaven
PARALLEL: Luke 24:51, Acts 1:9. Jesus' ascension is also referred to numerous other times in the New Testament: John 6:62, Acts 2:33-34, Acts 3:21, Ephesians 4:8-10, 1 Thessalonians 1:10, Hebrews 4:14, Hebrews 9:24, 1 Peter 3:22, Revelation 5:6. While there is a small amount of doubt over the genuineness of Luke 24:51, the other references are undisputed. There is therefore no basis for the claim (which is sometimes made) that the ascension of Jesus was only a later addition to the New Testament.
* Endnote: It is perhaps just worth mentioning that these signs will accompany believers in general, not every individual believer. This is both the meaning of the Greek, and what happened in the book of Acts. For more detail click here.
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