Monday, April 16, 2007

The Last Twelve Verses of Mark: Original or Not? Symposium at SEBTS

It would be a waste of my time to re-type my notes on the plenary sessions since I can just direct you to Alan’s and Lew’s notes on the topic:
A L Daniel B. Wallace - shorter ending proponent
A L Maurice Robinson - longer ending proponent
A L Keith Elliott - lost ending proponent
A L David Black - longer ending proponent
A L Darrell Bock - shorter ending proponent
A L Question & Answer Session

First of all, to satisfy my wife’s need for staying on topic, let me state that my preference is to include the last twelve verses of Mark as original. I think the most palatable explanation of a shorter ending is the conjecture that when the reader comes to v. 8 of a shorter Mark, s/he is left in a position where s/he has to make a personal decision about Jesus. But, while this option is very tantalizing, it is a conjecture about authorial intent, and not really a solution which pays attention to all the evidence at hand. On the other hand, the most compelling argument about the authenticity of the last twelve verses is found in the patristic record. While there are some of the fathers who possibly shed some doubt on these verses, it would seem that early and late fathers considered them to be authentic. Their absence in two manuscripts (א and B) seems to indicate that the scribes had some uncertainty about these verses. But ultimately I have to agree with those who claim that the bulk of the discussion is probably happening nowadays only because these two manuscripts do not include the last twelve verses. Debate over authenticity in the first couple of centuries is not alien to other books of the New Testament (the authenticity of the book of Revelation and the letter to the Hebrews was questioned for quite some time in the patristic era) and therefore probably should not be used to justify this level of uncertainty over twelve verses.

There, enough said, … now I can digress …

To begin my digression, I would like to share some random thoughts that this conference has generated in my mind; I’ll do that by quoting some comments and ideas from the speakers.

While I might not have agreed with Dr. Elliott’s conclusion on the originality of the last twelve verses of Mark, I would like to share this quote, with which I do agree. While talking about the Biblical texts which we were discussing in quite a sterile, academic fashion, he reminded us that “these were texts that were constantly read, used, and lived” in the early church. That raised the question in my mind: these are texts that are read and used in modern Christendom, but are they lived? I pray they are.

While all the speakers presented very academic arguments, it seemed that they reminded us that the gospel is to be lived out. Dr. Black ended his talk with an appeal to the gospel and the need to proclaim it, no matter what our conclusions are on the longer ending of Mark. Dr. Bock reminded us to “live in such a way and engage in dialogue in such a way that” we honor the gospel of Jesus Christ (I’m sorry I only have part of the quote verbatim). The gospel needs to drive all we do: a reminder which we need never to stop heeding and giving.

Dr. Nelson (Senior Vice President for Academic Administration at SEBTS and moderator of the last session) reminded us of the practicality of such academic topics as textual criticism in everyday biblical teaching. To paraphrase Dr. Nelson, when preaching through the book of Mark, the preacher is going to have to deal with the text, decisions are going to have to be made about where the gospel stops, and questions will be asked by the hearers no matter what decision the speaker makes. Thus this is not a sterile, academic, ivory tower discussion, rather this is a practical and important discussion.

Dr. Robinson pointed out that all speakers (at least in the first three sessions) seemed to defend their arguments by the “cumulative strength of their evidence,” and yet they arrived at different conclusions. This presents us with a very sobering warning about how our presuppositions affect us in our study of Biblical texts.

I would also point out a couple of observations. First, I found out that to be a textual critic, you have to either grow a beard or speak with an English accent. I speak with a French/Italian accent, is that enough? I really don’t feel like growing a beard, but I could if I so desired. All jokes aside, I miss spending time looking at text critical questions and look forward to being done with my M Div, so that I can get back to it.

Second, women, with a few exceptions (6 to be exact), are not interested in the originality of the last twelve verses of Mark. While I am trying to be facetious, Cindy and I did wonder why more women did not attend this conference. Cindy knows no Greek and knows little to nothing about textual criticism, yet she thoroughly enjoyed this symposium. Maybe the explanation for the general lack of attendance of both men and women is the fear of the blah blah blah syndrome that plagues so many academicians. If so, don’t fear the blah blah blahs, for in-between them, there is much to be learned.

Overall, this was a great conference. The speakers need to be commended for their humility and the way they interacted. I believe they made Christ proud.

For more comments, pictures, etc. check the following sites:
Lew A. at The Pursuit
David B. at Dave Black Online - Saturday, April 14, 7:38 PM
Alan K. at The Assembling of the Church
Josh McM. at A New Testament Student
Steve S. at Theological Musings
Theron S. at Sharing in the Life who btw is slowly coming out of a long period of blog-bernation.


Cindy said...

I agree with Dr. Nelson that the topic of this symposium is not an ivory tower discussion; I think it is an important topic for anyone who reads the Bible, especially if you are reading through Mark chapter 16. ;)

As for your ability to be a textual critic ... your French/Italian accent has become too inconspicuous to the majority of people to allow you in the textual critic club based on the "accent criterion". However, you can definitley grow a full beard in a short length of time, so I'm thinking that you can get in the club based on the "beard criterion". At any rate, you could just not shave for three days before any meeting of the club.


Alan Knox said...


I liked Dr. Elliott's accent, so I think I'm going to change to his view. That way, I have a purely objective reason for my position.


christy said...

I concur with your thoughts on the lack of women present at this conference. I was so thrilled to turn around and see your lovely wife! I was beginning to think I was a bit outnumbered (well, actually, come to think of it, we still were...)
I agree with you that if more women would attend, they would be pleasantly surprised.

Steve Sensenig said...

Re: women attending

Perhaps it's for the same reason that I almost didn't even consider it. When the announcement came out about the conference, it said that it was for "pastors and seminary students".

I emailed Dr. Black to see if it would be permissible for us to come since we are vocationally not pastors, and I've not been in seminary in over a decade!

So, maybe if they advertised it in such a way that everyone knew they were welcome, it might make a difference.

As it is, I'm VERY glad we came. As Christy wrote in her post about it, she came in with little to no knowledge of the topic or of textual criticism itself, and came away excited and wanting to learn more. How cool is that?! :)

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