Among the extensive evidence from early Christianity for the longer ending of Mark, perhaps the most important is that from before 150 A.D., for scholars generally conclude that the longer ending of Mark dates from the late second century, though some put it even later. If there is evidence that the longer ending existed before the last half of the second century, that would be particularly important. While the Apostolic Fathers do not directly refer to Mark 16:9-20 or quote from it, an important issue that many have missed is the possibility of allusions to the longer ending.
First Clement, the book authored by Clement of Rome, is one of the earliest Christian writings we have after the New Testament. Nicholas P. Lunn's The Original Ending of Mark: A New Case for the Authenticity of Mark 16:9-20 (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2014) illustrates Clement's awareness and use of the Gospels in several ways, with language and teachings drawn from Mark, Matthew, and Luke. Words and phrases unique to Mark are used in several cases, such as in Clement's allusion to the parable of the sower (First Clement, 24.4-5, discussed in Lunn, pp. 65-66).
In First Clement 42.3-4, right after a discussion of the apostles having received the Gospel from Jesus Christ, who was sent by God (42.1-2), Clement uses language with striking parallels to the longer ending of Mark, compared below:
Having therefore received their orders, and being fully assured by the resurrection [ ἀναστάσεως ] of our Lord Jesus [ κύριος Ἰησοῦς ] Christ, and full of faith in the word [ τῷ λόγῳ ] of God, with full assurance of the Holy Spirit they went out [ ἐξῆλθον ] proclaiming the good news [ εὐαγγελιζόμενοι ] that the kingdom of God was about to come . . . preaching [ κηρύσσοντες ] in the country and in the towns . . . (1 Clem. 42.3–4)Lunn notes that the setting in both passages is similar, dealing with the commissioning of the apostles and their going forth to preach the gospel. There is also "obvious thematic coherence" and in some cases "words unique to that ending among all the Gospel accounts." Lunn explains (footnotes omitted):
Having been raised [ ἀναστὰς ] . . . he appeared to the Eleven . . . and he said to them, “Go into all the world and preach [ κηρύξατε ] the gospel [ τὸ εὐαγγέλιον ] to all creation . . . .” So then, after the Lord Jesus [ κύριος Ἰησοῦς ] had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And going out [ ἐξελθόντες ] they preached [ ἐκήρυξαν ] everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word [ τὸν λόγον ] through the accompanying signs. (Mark 16:9, 14 –15, 19 –20) (Lunn, pp. 6-67)
Regarding the apostles going out to preach, the particular verb chosen by Clement to describe that event ( ἐξελθεῖν ) is the same as that occurring in Mark 16:20 of precisely the same action. None of the other Gospel writers uses this verb in this context. This uniqueness with respect to the verb found in the Markan ending makes a strong connection between Clement and that intertext. The verb “preach” in the active voice with the apostles as grammatical subject appears in both Clement ( κηρύσσοντες ) and the disputed verses of Mark ( κηρύξατε , ἐκήρυξαν ), yet not in this particular way in any of the other Gospel endings. Luke is the only one here to employ the same verb, though evidently in quite a different manner. Luke makes no explicit mention of the apostles as the agents of preaching, while his use of the verb is passive with the abstract noun “repentance” as the grammatical subject. Moreover, Clement and Mark are further united in using “preach” absolutely, that is, without an explicit grammatical object. The former has the phrase “preaching [ κηρύσσοντες ] in the country and in the towns,” and the latter “they preached [ ἐκήρυξαν ] everywhere.” In each instance the absolute verb is qualified by a locative expression. Undoubtedly there is much semantic overlap between “in the country and in the towns” and “everywhere.” Indeed, it may be the case that, for stylistic reasons, Clement here consciously avoided using “everywhere” ( πανταχοῦ ) since he had used this very term just a few sentences before in 41 . 2 . Whether this is so or not, there is a specific semantic and structural correspondence at this point between the two phrases which is unparalleled in the other Gospels. Also found in both writers is the definite noun “the word” referring to the message preached. This sense of λόγος is another uniquely Markan feature in the Gospel endings. The presence of all these elements together in a passage relating an identical setting, plus the fact that the other Gospel endings do not contain such usages, makes not merely a good case but an extremely forceful one for Clement’s familiarity with the questioned ending of Mark. If so, the significance of this cannot be overestimated since Clement’s letter is generally dated to the late first century.
Lunn also considers the possibility that another document from the Apostolic Fathers alludes to the longer ending of Mark as he examines the Shepherd of Hermas, a document often mentioned by LDS apologists for its vivid reference to early Christian baptism for the dead. Like First Clement, the Shepherd of Hermas was also written in Rome, where by tradition Mark was said to have written his Gospel. Since the Shepherd of Hermas was mentioned by Irenaeus and the author of the Muratorian Canon, both dating to around 175 –190 AD, it was likely written around 150 AD or earlier, and some authorities give much earlier dates. While it does not directly quote from Mark or any other scriptural source, it has apparent allusions to scripture. Lunn says, "It is certain that the author was familiar with the Gospel of Mark seeing that in 97.2 –3 unmistakable reference is made to Mark 10 : 23 –24" (Lunn, p. 68). The passage in question is part of a parable involving twelve figurative mountains, compared with a part of the longer ending of Mark below:
And from the eighth mountain, where there were many springs and all the creation [ πᾶσα ἡ κτίσις ] of the Lord drank from the springs, are believers [ οἱ πιστεύσαντες ] such as these: apostles and teachers who preached [ κηρύξαντες ] to the whole world [ εἰς ὅλον τὸν κόσμον ], and who taught the word [ τὸν λόγον ] of the Lord [ τοῦ κυρίου ] soberly and purely, and who misappropriated nothing for evil desire, but always walked [ πορευθέντες ] in righteousness and truth . . . . ( Herm. 102 . 1 –2 ) .
. . and he said to them, “Go [ πορευθέντες ] into all the world [ εἰς τὸν κόσμον ἅπαντα ] and preach [ κηρύξατε ] the gospel to all creation [ πάσῃ τῇ κτίσει ]. Whoever believes [ ὁ πιστεύσας ] and is baptized will be saved . . . .” And going out they preached [ ἐκήρυξαν ] everywhere, the Lord [ τοῦ κυρίου ] working with them and confirming the word [ τὸν λόγον ] through the accompanying signs. (Mark 16:15 –16 , 20)
Lunn offers this analysis:
Here the mountain with its springs that give water to all creation represents those who preach the gospel to the world. Obviously there are several NT texts that deal with a similar subject. Yet of these, the phraseology of one in particular is traceable in the Hermas passage significantly more than any other, and that is the commissioning and preaching of the apostles recorded in Mark 16:15 –20. The most conspicuous link between the two texts is the occurrence in each of not just one but both of the semantically related phrases “all creation” and “the whole world.” The former phrase, apart from grammatical case, is identical in words and order ( πᾶσα ἡ κτίσις / πάσῃ τῇ κτίσει ), while the latter in both instances consists of the basic prepositional phrase εἰς τὸν κόσμον with a synonymous quantifying adjective adjoining the noun. Mark 16:15 is, it should be stressed, the only verse in the entire NT where both these ideas are expressed together. Elsewhere in the NT the phrase “all creation” also appears in Romans 8 :22; Colossians 1:15, 23. The first two of these three texts do not concern the subject of preaching. Though Colossians 1 :23 does relate to preaching, the use of the verb “preach” in this text differs from that found in Hermas in three ways: the subject is not the third person plural referring to the apostles but the third person singular of the gospel, the verb is passive not active, and the context lacks any equivalent phrase “to the whole world.” Hermas and Mark 16, on the other hand, agree in all these specifics. Speaking of the apostles each employs the aorist active of the verb κηρύξαι which, as explained earlier, is a form particular to Mark among the four Gospel endings. Additionally, both Hermas and the Markan passage contain the noun “the word” of the gospel message, which in each case is associated with “the Lord.” Both passages also refer to believers by means of an aorist participle. These several verbal connections, some quite specific, and especially the co-occurrence of the two phrases relating to κτίσις and κόσμος, lead to the conclusion that the author of the Shepherd of Hermas was in fact familiar with the final verses of Mark. (Lunn, p. 68.)
Lunn also points to the early Epistle of Barnabas which has some specific parallels to the longer ending, though the evidence is not as strong as the two cases considered above. Lunn also explores a variety of non-canonical or apocryphal sources which provide early allusions to the longer ending of Mark (pp. 71-76), before delving into evidence from 150 AD to 300 AD (p. 76 ff) and later sources.
The evidence in favor of the longer evidence is not limited to Greek writings. James Snapp, Jr., in Authentic: The Case for Mark 16:9-20: 2016 Edition (Kindle edition) weaves together numerous threads from other parts of early Christianity. Among the Armenian evidence, for example, we have this:
Eznik of Golb (440) was one of the Armenian scholars who took part in the revision of the Armenian translation of the Bible in the 400’s. Eznik quoted Mark 16:17-18 in part 112 of his composition “ Against the Sects ” (also known as “De Deo” ) 1:25 : “And again, ‘Here are signs of believers: they will dislodge demons, and they will take serpents into their hand, and they will drink a deadly poison and it will not cause harm.’” This evidence is over 400 years earlier than the earliest Armenian manuscript of Mark which does not contain Mark 16:9-20.The wide variety of early Christian sources pointing to the authenticity of the longer ending of Mark strike me as compelling and impressive evidence. But for Lunn, it's just the beginning of the extensive analysis and evidence to be considered. We'll survey a few highlights of the internal evidence in upcoming posts, and will find that there may even be some lines of analysis that can help us better appreciate some details in the Book of Mormon.