Mark 16:9-20 and Speaking in Tongues: Barnett & Jensen

© Anzea Publishers 1973
This article is an excerpt that was first published in The quest for power | neo-pentecostals and the New Testament by Paul Barnett and Peter Jensen (Sydney: Anzea Publishers, 1973, p. 81-82). It is reproduced here with permission.

This is the only passage in which Jesus is reported as having mentioned glossolalia. In verse 17 and 18 he predicts that:

Signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.
However the manuscript and other difficulties that surround this passage force most Biblical scholars to the opinion that Jesus did not say this, or at least that it is improbable in the extreme that he did.1

Some neo-pentecostal literature uses this verse in connection with tongues speaking, however,2 and without apology, so it is necessary to set out the reasons why the verses are regarded as non-authentic. Basically these are:

(a) After verse 8, at least four different suggested endings are found in early manuscripts. The verses numbered 9-20 and used by the Authorized Version as part of the text (though not by the RSV, NEB, or TEV) are only one of a number of possibilities.

(b) The variety of possible endings suggests that the gospel ended at verse 8, which is rather abrupt, and that later editors compiled various pieces of material to round it off.

(c) Verse 9 to 20 are written in Greek uncharacteristic of Mark’s style.

(d) Although a majority of manuscripts have the verses, several good and ancient manuscripts do not. In this branch of study it is not the number of witnesses that matter, but their age and independence from one another. By these tests, their absence is most significant.

(e) A number of important ancient writers either did not know or rejected these verses. Eusebius and Jerome, for example, reported their absence from almost all the Greek manuscripts known to them.
This adds up to a well-nigh unassailable case for rejection. However, even if they were found to be authentic, it ought to be noted (as does Schep3) that they do not support a neo-pentecostal position, since the baptism in the Holy Spirit is not mentioned. Furthermore the passage promises rather more than is wanted: note the handling of snakes. On this point Harper is silent.4

1. So, for example, commentaries by C. E. B. Cranfield (p. 470 f.) and R. A. Cole (p. 257 f.); note also B. M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament (Oxford, 1964, p. 226 f.); J. A. Schep, Spirit Baptism and Tongues Speaking (p. 99).
2. E.g., M. Harper, Power for the Body of Christ, pp. 33, 37.
3. Schep, op. cit., p. 99.
4. M. Harper, As at the Beginning (Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1971), p. 103. | joe towns: christian discussion on pentecost, charisma, pentecostal and charismatic beliefs, the Bible and Jesus; including the origin and history of pentecostalism, baptism in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, gifts and miracles, divine healing and word of faith, prosperity and wealth, praise and worship, guidance and hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit.