The Preservation of Scripture

When [Jesus] rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept. But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.”

- Mark 16:9–11

Living in the twenty-first century, we take for granted technologies that allow us to make precise copies of original documents. Scanners, printers, copying machines—these allow us to duplicate texts with little effort and at a low cost. Yet these technologies—and the printing press that predates them—are quite new, relatively speaking. The printing press has only been around for five hundred years, and the other technologies are even newer.

Fifteen hundred years passed between the writing of the New Testament by the Apostles and the introduction of the printing press. Thus, for fifteen hundred years, the only way to get a copy of the New Testament was to have a scribe copy one for you by hand. And hand copying means that manuscripts of the New Testament produced between the first and sixteenth centuries frequently differed. Today, we possess many thousands of manuscripts of the New Testament in part or in full, and there are often discrepancies between them.

If the Bible is the Word of God, we need to know the words that the Apostles actually wrote. The science of textual criticism is the means by which we discover the original text. Employing this science, we see that the vast majority of these differences are insignificant, consisting of such things as easily recognized spelling errors, words appearing in different order (word order is not as significant in Greek as it is in English), and so on. Of the more significant differences, none of them affect any significant Christian doctrine. But there are notable differences that remain, and they are generally noted in any good English translation of the Bible. Turning to today’s passage, we find that most scholars believe Mark 16:9–20 was not written by the same Mark who wrote the rest of the gospel that bears his name. Some argue that the section was written by the same author, but there are strong reasons to believe it was not.

Nevertheless, given that there is an ancient tradition that this section is part of Mark’s gospel, and because Mark 16:9–20 includes information from Matthew and Luke that we know for certain is original to those books, we believe it is wise to include this section in our study of Mark’s gospel. To understand the work of Christ, we must consider not only the empty tomb but also our Lord’s post-resurrection appearances to His disciples. These details, which are critical to proclaiming the gospel are preserved for us, for God will not allow any part of His revelation to disappear (Matt. 24:35).

Coram Deo

The New Testament is better preserved than any other ancient book. We can be confident that we have the message God revealed to the Apostles because of the number and quality of the New Testament manuscripts. New discoveries always confirm that we have the text of the Apostles. That should be expected, for our faithful God will preserve His Word. We can trust it for sure guidance in all areas of faith and life.

Passages for Further Study

2 Kings 22:8–20
Psalm 12:6–7
Isaiah 40:8
Matthew 5:18

For permissions, please see our Copyright Policy.