LCMS Commentary on Mark – the good and the horrible of it.

The last volume of the Concordia Commentary on the Gospel of Mark is out.  Some interesting things appear to have taken place to produce this volume.

First, the main author, Dr. Voelz, apparently would not finish out the Gospel, believing that the longer ending of Mark (16:9-16:20) “should not be adopted as the genuine ending to the Gospel according to Mark”.  It gets even more puzzling in that he states that this should cause no difficulty with regard to subscription to the Lutheran Confessions.

From the Small Catechism (one of the documents of the Lutheran Confessions):


What benefits does Baptism give?

It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.

Which are these words and promises of God?

Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Mark: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16)

Dr. Luther apparently didn’t agree with this Concordia Commentary author.  Neither should we.

Another interesting note – Concordia Seminary St. Louis, where Dr. Voelz taught for years until his recent retirement to the Fort Wayne area, does a dramatic reading/performing of the Gospel of Mark that apparently doesn’t include the ending either.  See the flyer for their performance.  It ends with Mark 16:8.

I will say that Concordia Publishing House did good by at least having Dr. Mitchell finish out the Gospel of Mark.  Thanks to Dr. Kintz and his folks for that.

Apparently LCMS doctrinal review had no problem with the above statement.






About Pastor Joshua Scheer

Pastor Joshua Scheer is the Senior Pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He is also the Editor-in-chief of Brothers of John the Steadfast. He oversees all of the work done by Steadfast Lutherans. He is a regular host of Concord Matters on KFUO. Pastor Scheer and his lovely wife Holly (who writes and manages the Katie Luther Sisters) have four children and enjoy living in Wyoming.


LCMS Commentary on Mark – the good and the horrible of it. — 33 Comments

  1. I guess the question would be, if, given what we know about the textual tradition regarding the long ending (that it’s not in the earliest manuscripts–Luther didn’t know this), and that there’s a second shorter ending (between the short and long endings), if Mark 16:16 is not original to the autograph, does it at all invalidate the truth of the statement made in the Catechism? I think we could safely say no because the rest of Scripture confesses that fact anyway, that whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.

  2. Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Mark… makes it pretty clear how we are to regard it.

    Also the pronouncement at the beginning and end of the Gospel lesson for Ascension Day.

  3. Taking the available information into consideration, Dr. Voelz’s reasoning is certainly understandable. The majority of scholars on all sides of the spectrum are in agreement that the long ending is not original to Mark. Manuscripts with the long ending do not appear until quite late; of course, oldest does not always mean best. What needs to be looked at then, is if the long ending contains information contrary to the solar fide, which it does not.

    I believe that Dr. Voelz is correct in saying this does not create difficulties for Lutherans who subscribe to the Book of Concord, as it does not change any doctrine which we hold. Is the long ending original to Mark? Most likely not. Was it penned by later scribes of Mark? Possibly, but that is nearly impossible to tell. Did Christ actually say these words? I would argue yes, this section is in accordance with the sola fide, does not contradict any of Christ’s teachings, and although probably not written by Mark, should be considered Scripture.

  4. “Dr. Luther apparently didn’t agree with this Concordia Commentary author. Neither should we.”

    Luther also didn’t have nearly the information that we have regarding the textual transmission of the Gospel of Mark that we have today. Quite frankly, Dr. Voelz, from a textual standpoint is completely accurate in his assessment of the long ending of Mark. That being said, nothing that we hold to be doctrinal regarding baptism for example rests solely on the long ending of Mark. Also, the addition of the long ending of Mark appears to defeat the rhetorical tool that Mark appears to be using with his shorter ending, which is to compel the listener to the need for proclaiming the gospel. We don’t have to hold Luther or Melancthon as infallible to uphold our confessions.

  5. It’s seminex all over again. “It’s not God’s Word but that doesn’t mean we can’t use it..”

    Yes. And how did the Church ever do anything without the information and scholarship we have today? Perhaps the scholarship today should take on a humble spirit rather than a haughty one.

  6. @Pastor Joshua Scheer #4

    By no means am I calling for that. This is not higher criticism or anything of that nature. We have a great wealth of manuscripts which we should disregard (by no means am I implying this to anybody on this site). Our oldest and most reliable manuscripts do not include this ending, does that means we should tear it out or renounce of faith or the inerrancy of Scripture? Of course not! The long ending was preserved throughout the history of the Church Catholic because it was in accordance with the regula fide. We have a great deal of material that displays: ” hey, this section most likely was not intentional he original Markan document.” That reality does not alter the authenticity of the textual story.

  7. Luther preaches that the common people should trust Mark 16:16 against all the fathers and councils of the church wherever they contradict this verse. He preached:

    “Guard yourself against this poison and error [that children are baptized without their own faith], even if it were the explicit opinion of all the fathers and councils, for it does not last, there is no basis in Scripture for it, but only the human opinions and dreams. Moreover, it is directly and openly against the chief passage, where Christ says, “Whoever believes and is baptized,” etc.”

    Martin Luther on Holy Baptism: Sermons to the People (1525-39) (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2018), p. 5.

    In his sermons, Luther addresses errors of many schools of thought about Baptism and faith (Papists. Sophists, Anabaptists, Jerome, and on and on and on), and he continually comes back to Mark 16:16, saying, let these words of Scripture stand and assure you against all those errors.

    Someone might make the off-the-cuff assertion that the whole Lutheran teaching and Luther’s preaching could be reconstructed without Mark 16:16. But when we leave off the sloth of off-the-cuff notions and start plowing through the actual sermons and the actual theological writings to try to do the actual reconstructing, pulling March 16:16 out of them is like pulling a knitted sweater apart by pulling on the end of one thread of its yarn. The sweater does not hang together without the thread. The whole sweater comes unraveled.

  8. This is not seminex all over again. You are overreacting Pr. Scheer. If you study the issue for yourself, you will see that there are good reasons why there can be some doubt about the “longer ending.” We don’t all have to come to the same conclusions, but if someone says that we are required to stop with the textual criticism that was current in the 16th century, then they are making a requirement that God’s Word doesn’t place on us. That is sectarian, not catholic.

  9. Please excuse my first post, “sola fide” was supposed to be “regula fide,” oh the joys of typing on a phone that loves to predict words. I can assure you that this is certainly not seminex all over again. The long ending of Mark is absolutely the inerrant Word of God. The inclusion of Mark’s long ending is absolutely not an error of the Church. The writing we have is inspired by the Holy Spirit, agrees to the regula fide, and was preserved by the Church. All I–and I believe Dr. Voelz–is saying, is that it was not original to Mark’s hand. It is still inspired and inerrant Scripture. Conservative scholarship on this topic is not trying to tear out this passage from Scripture, but to look at all the materials and conclude: the long ending probably is not original; but, what does that mean for us today?

  10. We are not bound to the exegesis of the Christian Book of Concord, only its doctrinal statements. Luther’s explanation there is exegesis. We can get the same doctrinal conclusions elsewhere as Mark 16:16 is clearly scriptural.

  11. Tertullian’sTurtle, in some details that is fine, but let’s not lose sight of the big picture. The big picture is: He refused to include commentary on those verses.

    Imagine the volume shipping in that condition, that is, without commentary on those verses. We would not be presenting what you are saying. We would be rejecting the verses in toto, leaving the readers, especially lay people, without those verses. If he were saying only what you are saying, then why didn’t he include commentary with the explanation you are giving?

    To my mind, there is a gap between what you are saying and what he did.

  12. With the inclusion of the Small Catechism in the Book of Concord we should have difficulty with what Dr. Voelz is suggesting here. Any time we start to play God with the Word of God we are in trouble. For we are not the ones who gave the Word and we should be careful not to allow our reason to become lord over the Word of God. If Dr. Voelz had simply stated the difficulty with the textual tradition and then finished the commentary that would be one thing. To refuse to finish the commentary makes a confession that Dr. Voelz does not believe that to be really scripture. He then tries to smooth things over by telling us this should not be a problem for Confessional Lutherans because he said. No explanation as to why that is not a problem. No supporting evidence for how this does not have an impact just his word. This to me seems to be the road which leads to the ELCA and other church bodies that are now refusing to hear the Word of God speak to them or are denying it is the Word of God when it speaks contrary to the culture.

    I temper all of this with saying I have not received my copy yet and have not had a chance to review all of what was written. However what was posted above is concerning. Is it Seminex all over again maybe or maybe not. But we would be foolish not to take note of it and realize the implications are those of Seminex and the fight for the Bible which has not ended but continues on.

  13. @T. R. Halvorson #15

    Act 2:38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
    Act 22:16 And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’
    Mar 1:4 John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
    Mat 28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
    1Pe 3:21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
    Heb 10:22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

  14. @Michael Holmen #10

    Michael, I owe you an apology. I had you mistaken with someone else. I am sorry for my harsh words. I deleted my comment.

    As to your words about this not being seminex, I still think this is all related. The same love of the world is involved. After the Kloha stuff I don’t think its too much to say we are experiencing something similar.

  15. @T. R. Halvorson #15

    I agree with your statement, it is certainly possible that I made a jump in my reasoning. From my interactions with Dr. Voelz and other’s at the St. Louis Seminary, I would still firmly assure that that is their stance on passages that might not have been in original documents. I absolutely agree that a more drawn out explanation would have been quite helpful for clergy and laymen.

  16. “Perhaps the scholarship today should take on a humble spirit rather than a haughty one.”

    Not really seeing a haughty attitude on this score, just an acknowledgement that the textual evidence seems to demonstrate that Mark’s ending is problematic, having at least four different major variants in the textual history. The fact of the matter is that the humanists of the 16th Century were primarily examining late Byzantine texts 10th Century or later, and only about a half dozen to a dozen, which provided an outsized influence on the scholarship of the day. I think it is an odd statement to call someone haughty to engage in the same types of textual criticism used from Origen forward when the evidence seems to support the fact that verses 9-20 (if you go with the long version rather than the two shorter versions or even the longer ending of Mark) were likely not original to the manuscript.

  17. @T. R. Halvorson #23

    That would be right here: “ You just chucked the explanation of the First Article. God provides for me right down to my shoes, but for centuries neglected his providence over the Scripture He gave us.” Completely agree your statement was an exaggeration that escalated the disagreement.

  18. From A Textual Guide to the Greek New Testament by Roger L. Omanson (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2006):

    (1) The last twelve verses of the commonly received text of Mark are absent from the two oldest Greek manuscripts (א and B), from the Old Latin manuscript Bobiensis (itk), the Sinaitic Syriac manuscript, about one hundred Armenian manuscripts, and the two oldest Georgian manuscripts. Clement of Alexandria and Origen (2nd and 3rd centuries) show no knowledge of the existence of these verses; furthermore, Eusebius and Jerome (4th and 5th centuries) claim that these verses were absent from almost all Greek copies of Mark known to them. A number of manuscripts that contain these verses have scribal notes stating that older Greek copies lack them, and in other manuscripts the passage is marked with signs used by copyists to indicate an addition to the document.

    (2) Several manuscripts, including four uncial Greek manuscripts, have a shorter ending before vv. 9–20. See the comments below on The Shorter Ending of Mark.

    (3) The traditional ending of Mark, so familiar through the AV and other translations of the Textus Receptus, is present in the vast number of manuscripts. The earliest Church Fathers who witness to part or all of the long ending are Irenaeus and the Diatessaron of Tatian (2nd century). It is not certain whether Justin Martyr (2nd century) was acquainted with this passage. In his Apology (I.45) he includes five words that occur, in a different order, in v. 20.

    The vocabulary and style of this longer ending are different from the rest of the Gospel and this suggests that vv. 9–20 are not original. There are inconsistencies between vv. 1–8 and 9–20, such as the express identification of Mary Magdalene in v. 9, even though she has just been mentioned in 15:47 and 16:1, and the omission of mention of the other women of vv. 1–8. It is likely that this longer ending was taken from another document, dating perhaps from the first half of the second century, and added to vv. 1–8 in order to supply a more appropriate conclusion.

    (4) In the fourth century, the traditional ending (16:9–20) also circulated, according to testimony preserved by Jerome, in an expanded form, preserved today in Codex Washingtonianus (W). See the discussion below of vv. 14–15.

    Since the longer ending of Mark is important in the textual tradition of the Gospel, it has been included as part of the text, but it has been put in double brackets to indicate that it is not original.

  19. Additionally, there is a scholion in minuscule 1 between verses 8 and 9 which states in Greek:

    ‘In some of the copies, the evangelist finishes here, up to which (point) also Eusebius of Pamphilus made canon sections. But in many the following is also contained.’

  20. When Erasmus produced the first published Greek NT, the half-dozen Greek manuscripts available to him all contained verses 9 through 20, and consequently, the users of his text, including Luther and the Reformers, all assumed that the text ended with 16:9–20. Now, it is almost the unanimous opinion of all textual critics that Mark 16:9–20 is not an original part of Mark’s text. Manuscript evidence, transcriptional evidence and intrinsic evidence combine together to point to conclusion that these verses were not original. The reason why this need not concern us from a Confessional side of things is that it is the doctrinal position of the LCMS stated by Walther, is that it is not the exegetical conclusions to which we subscribe but the doctrinal positions taken therein.

  21. The question is whether the longer ending of Mark is apostolic. Mark is not an apostle. His Gospel is Scripture because it has the apostolic authority of Peter. The question, then, is not really whether Mark wrote the longer ending of Mark. It’s whether the longer ending of Mark is apostolic, like the rest of Mark. It is obviously an addition. There’s simply no denying that. But an addition, an epilogue, as we see in John 21, can be added by the author himself, or by the apostolic authority under whom Mark wrote. There is absolutely no reason to suppose that the longer ending of Mark derives from some time later than the apostolic age. There is sure evidence it was accepted in whatever parts of the church it was received, even in the early second century (which gives us reason to believe it was accepted in the first century also, in the apostolic age). The question is therefore a moot point. Mark is accepted only because of its apostolic imprimatur, NOT because Mark wrote it. He’s not an apostle. If a guy named Rufus wrote the ending of Mark and Peter or the other apostles approved, it is Scripture.

    Dr. Voelz should have finished his commentary on the Book of Mark.

  22. That is pure laziness. The “earlier” Scripture copies that did not include the longer ending were written -after- earlier works that cited the longer ending.

  23. In one sense it is a moot point, since every aspect of Mark 16:9-20 is either found elsewhere in the Gospels or, in the case of Mark 16:17-18, finds fulfillment in Acts.

    Lenski’s measured judgment seems more worthy of a Lutheran commentary: “Some important scholars have, however, always held the opposite conviction, namely that Mark wrote the entire chapter as it now appears in our Bibles. . . the textual evidence for the genuineness of v. 9–20 preponderates somewhat. . . The hypothesis of a Mark that closes with 16:8 is supported by the critical canon that, where two mutually exclusive longer texts are opposed to a shorter text from which their origin can be explained, the shorter reading is to be preferred, especially if it has good witnesses. One is surprised to find this appeal to a critical canon which applies to incidental readings such as single words, phrases, other short expressions, at most the addition of some sentence in the text. But it is another matter whether a question like this, that involves twelve entire verses, and these the proper conclusion of a whole book which would otherwise be markedly incomplete, can be settled by means of this critical canon. . .

    In other words, it is untenable to have Mark stop at v. 8 and allow publication; but it is not untenable that after he completed his Gospel, in some way that is now wholly unknown to us abbreviated copies should have been published. As far as the situation regarding the texts is concerned, this is the correct finding.

    Turning now to the internal evidence, the question is this: ‘Do these last verses betray the fact that Mark did not write them, or are their language and their character such as show that Mark could not have written them?’ We unhesitatingly answer in the negative. Already the general admission of the critics is significant that the conclusion of the Gospel shows careful consideration and harmonizes well with its beginning, especially in this that the apostles are ordered to go and preach the gospel in all the world, and that they indeed did this. But this is rather strong evidence for Mark’s composition of this so fitting conclusion. The better the conclusion fits, the more likely it is that it stems from Mark; the reverse cannot be held.”

  24. What I find disappointing is Dr. Voelz’s assumption that his pious opinion “should occasion no difficulties for Lutherans who have committed themselves to the Confessional documents of the Book of Concord”.
    Why not simply make the arguments and conclusions and let them stand on their own? This passive/aggressive method of the academy really tires me out. Pastors who are actually serving in a parish better understand the ramifications of making such assertions.

  25. @Jon C. Olson #28

    “What I find disappointing is Dr. Voelz’s assumption that his pious opinion “should occasion no difficulties for Lutherans who have committed themselves to the Confessional documents of the Book of Concord”.
    Why not simply make the arguments and conclusions and let them stand on their own? This passive/aggressive method of the academy really tires me out. Pastors who are actually serving in a parish better understand the ramifications of making such assertions.”

    My guess is that Dr. Voelz is not writing in a vacuum and is addressing already existing attacks on his position. We in fact saw those very same attacks posted on this site last week, essentially accusing others of abandoning the First Article of the Creed for agreeing with Dr. Voelz that the authenticity of the passage is questionable from a textual critical standpoint.

  26. An interesting, nuanced perspective:

    Notice that Walther’s description, like the confessions themselves, (Tr. Conclusion; FC SD Rule and Norm, 10ff; FC SD Introduction,3), makes the object of our subscription the doctrinal content of the confessions. That is what we pledge.ourselves to, and that is all. To my knowledge no Lutheran ever required any more. Walther makes this clear, and so do the Lutheran Fathers before him. It should be unnecessary therefore constantly to repeat this obvious fact, unless theologians are deliberately beclouding the issue.
    We do not pledge ourselves and subscribe to the Latin or German grammar of the confessions, or to the logic or illustrations used there, or to what they might say about historical or scientific matters, or liturgical usages of vest- ments, or the numbering of the sacraments, or to the mode of baptism (which seemed to be immersion. See SC IV,ll. Latin: quid autem si.gnificat ista in aqttam immersio?), or to non-doctrinal “pious” phraseology like the “semper virgo” which we find in Selnecker’s translation of the Smalcald Articles.19

    We are bound however to the exegesis of the Confessions. This assertion requires just a bit of explanation. Obviously, as Walther points out, we are not bound to every choice of passages our confessions make in supporting their doctrine, or to every precise detail in their exegesis of Scripture passages. But we cannot reject the exegetical conclusions (many of which are only implicit in our creeds and symbols) of our confessions without rejection of the confessions themselves as being statements of doctrine drawn from the Scriptures. It is clear that a rejection one by one of the passages used to support Lutheran doctrine or a rejection of the exegetical methodology of our confessions is tantamount to a repudiation of the confessions themselves. It is not correct to say that it is un-Lutheran to require agreement in exegetical conclusions. Consensus, for instance, on the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar is contingent upon agreement on the exegetical conclusions drawn from the words of institution (FC VII). And the same could be said for any number of articles of faith which the confessions defend exegetically.

    Robert D Preus.

    Essay: Confessional Subscription

    No dogma ought therefore to be drawn out of these books which does not have reliable and clear foundations and testimonies in other canonical books. Nothing controversial can be proved out of these books, unless there are other proofs and confirmations in the canonical books. But what is said in these books must be explained and understood according to the analogy of those things which are clearly taught in the canonical books. There is no doubt that this is the opinion of antiquity.

    Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent, Part I, trans. Fred Kramer (St. Louis: Concordia, 1971), 189.

    Where therefore reliable testimonies of the primitive and most ancient church cannot be produced from the testimonies of ancient men who lived not long after the times of the apostles that the books concerning which there is controversy were
    without contradiction and doubt received by and commended to the church as legitimate and reliable, any and all human decrees are of no avail. For what insolent presumption it is to assert: Although the primitive church and the oldest subsequent church had doubts concerning these books on account of the
    contradictions of many churchmen because not sufficiently certain and firm testimonies of their authenticity were found, in spite of all this, we decree that they must be received as altogether certain and of equal authority with those which have
    always been judged to be legitimate.

    Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent, Part I, trans. Fred Kramer (St. Louis: Concordia, 1971). 190.

  27. Thanks to Chris Preus for comment #25 and to Pastor Vogts for comment #28. (Also helpful is #31 from Pastor Frahm.)

    The manuscript witnesses give conflicting testimony. There are two groups, both pointing back to copies of Mark from early in the second century. One group shows the longer ending, while the other group does not. Nobody knows what the original autograph contained.
    We do know that some orthodox Fathers used copies of Mark without those verses. Other orthodox Fathers received them and used them.
    Because they were received by knowledgeable men of faith, who were well-instructed and acquainted with the traditions handed down, we may believe that the sources that handed these verses off were trusted to be faithfully transmitting the record that would be appropriate to complete the Gospel of Mark. In just a couple of centuries, copies of Mark that contain these verses came to dominate the manuscript witness record.
    (The verses are clearly orthodox and clearly came from such an early point that the anti-Christian argument that they were written late in order to counter some particular heresy is not credible and should be dismissed.)

    The reception of these verses seems to date from approximately the same time as the reception of Revelation. If we agree with the Fathers who received Revelation, why would we not agree with the Fathers who received the final verses of Mark?
    We cannot know whether the second-century Fathers who received the Gospel of Mark, complete with the long ending, were aware of copies of Mark without those verses. We do know that fourth-century Fathers were aware of the difference and adopted the longer version.
    Would they have accepted the longer version if they thought it was not Apostolic in origin? It clearly met the other criteria for adoption as canonical.

    I am entirely comfortable to retain those verses, remind myself of the issue by using a Bible with a suitable footnote, and go forward, celebrating the Gift of the Scriptures as we have been blessed by the Word from the witnesses to our Risen Lord.

  28. Just to clarify: I believe it is not true that Dr Voelz “would not” provide a commentary on the long ending. CPH made that decision.
    There is much good and helpful dicussion here. Makes me curious why no one seemed much interested when Dr Martin Franzman said much the same thing about the LE in the Self-Study Commentary and his “Word of the Lord Grows” (maybe others before him)- though of course that makes no difference to the issue itself.

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