Monday, August 22, 2011
J. W. McGarvey is widely regarded as the greatest scholar produced by the Stone Campbell Movement. As we continue to think about the ancestry and history of the King James Version I thought I would tie Stone Campbell history with that of the KJV. McGarvey was indeed a great scholar and one of his strengths was the ability to let fresh light change his mind on even important subjects. Briefly in this blog I will trace the "evolution" of his views on the ending of the Gospel of Mark. His "conclusion" of the matter in his commentary on Mark dating from 1875 (really became nothing but a point on the timeline), his visitation of the subject again in 1886 and then ten years later in 1896 (2x). Its should be fairly obvious that McGarvey softens and alters his original position in light of further evidence.
1875: Commentary on Matthew and Mark
McGarvey has an extended discussion on the ending of Mark in this commentary. He says "Our final conclusion, is that the passage in question is authentic in all its details, and that there is no reason to doubt that it was written by the same hand which indited [sic] the proceeding [sic] parts of this narrative. The objections which have been raised against it are better calculated to shake our confidence in Biblical Criticism than in the genuineness of this inestimable portion of the word of God." (p. 379).
McGarvey, in his Commentary, had made great efforts to disprove the work of British scholar Henry Alford (The Greek New Testament) who had made -- at the time -- the most persuasive arguments against Mark 16.9-20. At the end of his discussion McGarvey reveals that he had received John W. Burgon's The Last Twelve Verses of Mark. He cautiously recommends the book to his readers with this interesting caveat that Burgon tends to be "extravagant in many of his expressions, and often extreme in his conclusions." McGarvey’s endorsement of Burgon is hardly the wholesale or “over the top” like some of Burgon’s later fans. We will mention Burgon again below.
Also of interest is this interesting qualification that McGarvey make, especially in light of his rather confident "conclusion." He writes: "The authenticity of the passage being conceded, and the fact being apparent that it was written by some one who possessed of independent and correct sources of information, the question of its genuineness might be waived without detracting from its authority or credibility; for a true piece of history attached to Mark's book is not less valuable or authoritative because some other person than Mark may have been the author of it . . ."
Why make this qualification? Why separate authorship and authority?
1886: Evidences of Christianity
The eleven years after the publication of McGarvey's Commentary, were years filled with significant developments in the field of textual criticism. One of the most important was the publication of the 1881 Revised Version of the Bible and Westcott and Horts Greek New Testament and Introduction with the Appendix of variant readings. McGarvey briefly returned to the issue of the ending of Mark. He says, "The genuineness of these [Mk 16.9-20 & Jn 7.53-8.11] is doubted by some critics, though confidently defended, especially the former, by others. Further investigation will doubtless bring all to the same judgment concerning them" (Evidences, pp. 15-16).
In a lengthy footnote McGarvey pitted Hort's discussion against that of Frederick Scrivener (Introduction to the Critical Study of the New Testament). Scrivener, in McGarvey's view, has provided an "elaborate answer to all the arguments of Dr. Hort.” But McGarvey does not say anywhere where he comes down on the issue. Significantly, I think anyway, McGarvey makes no mention -- at all -- of Burgon's book that also tried to meet the arguments of Hort.
1896: Christian Standard
We are now twenty-one years after McGarvey's Commentary and his original conclusion. In the space of two months McGarvey visited the subject of Mark 16.9-20 two times (in his column "Biblical Criticism"). I quoted one of those in my earlier post that was questioned. By this time much more light had been shed on the subject than was available in 1875, and even in 1886. Significantly, McGarvey defers to Alford's opinion rather than his own (which recall he tried to refute in 1875):
"Yes, the statement is true; and it is true of more verses than the gentleman said; for the last twelve verses are absent from the Sinaitic and Vatican MSS., the two oldest now extant, both belonging to the fourth century. They are also absent from some later MSS., and in some others they appear in various forms. The question whether this negative evidence proves that the verses are not genuine, has excited much controversy among textual critics. Some contend that they have been accidentally lost from the few MSS. which have a gap here, while others contend that the original gospel did not contain them. I think the trend of opinion in recent years is in favor of the suggestion first made by Alford -- that the fragment was not originally part of Mark's Gospel but that it is an authentic piece of history appended by a contemporary writer. This would account for its absence from some MSS. and its presence in others." ("An Oft Repeated Question," Christian Standard 32 , p.1239).
Immediately one thinks of the "qualification" McGarvey made originally in 1875 in his Commentary -- the historicity and authorship do not depend on coming from Mark's hand. Why is it that McGarvey does not come out as strong as he did in his Commentary? One can see that he has moved in his position regarding the Ending of Mark.
One month later, McGarvey received a question from C.H. Thompson concerning Mark 16.9-20 and Vaticanus. I will quote his reply:
"The question of the genuineness of these verses is one of the most intricate with which textual critics of the New Testament have to deal. At the close of my commentary on Mark, I attempted to set forth the principal evidence, pro and con, as it was known at the time of publication. Since then new light has been thrown upon the question, and the most elaborate discussion of it, in the light of them recently gained information, can be found in the appendix to the Greek text of Westcott and Hort. I think that, after a candid study of the evidence as a whole, it must be conceded that the question is as yet unsettled. It would be reckless to say that the passage is spurious; and it would be hazardous to affirm that these verses are certainly genuine. At the same time, I think it safe to say, as I did before, that the statements contained in them are authentic, whether written by Mark or appended by another hand." (Ending of Mark, Christian Standard 32 , p. 1367).
This is certainly an "evolved" view from his "conclusion" at the end of his Commentary in 1875. He flatly states the question is unsettled and it is hazardous to affirm them as genuine. He returns to his position -- his "out" -- in his commentary. The information in 16.9-20 is accurate whether written by Mark or not. Why? Because the information is all paralleled in the other Gospels. Please note that Burgon is not even on the radar scope of McGarvey any more. In fact McGarvey says that the best discussion to be found is in Westcott and Hort commending that source. There is clear movement, by McGarvey, away from his confident conclusion of 1875.
One should note that the question has moved considerably since 1896. I would say two thirds of the info now available was not in 1896. The status of the versions has changed drastically since then, Burgon's claims about the Church Fathers has been disproved in study after study. Perhaps we can learn from McGarvey's willingness to amend his conclusion in light of further information.
A McGarvey Appendix from a letter I wrote several years ago:
Greetings Brother ... from the land of beer and cheese. Thank you for the copy of the article by Brother Wayne Jackson in the Carolina Christian about Baptism and Mark 16.9-20. I read the article. . . agreeing with some . . . disagreeing with some. My reply will be simply to a few short footnotes to the article.
Before I give my two footnotes on Jackson's article let me say that we should be able to present a biblically based, Christ-centered theology of both the form and function of baptism without recourse to Mark 16.9-20. Now just in case Brother Jackson sees this I confess that I do believe in baptism and Acts 2.38 (all of it). Now to the footnotes.
First the textual issue regarding Mark 16.9-20. Jackson cites J.W. McGarvey as a defender of the authenticity of the "Long Ending" of Mark. McGarvey's Commentary on Matthew and Mark was published in 1875 (if my memory serves) before the publication of Westcott and Hort's Greek NT. It was before the discovery of the Syriac MSS at St. Cathrine's in the Sinai Desert. It was before the discovery of many other evidences that suggest these verses are not authentic. McGarvey's commentary is about as out of date on textual issues as a book on the Solar System from the same period. That is not a put down just a simple fact.
However, McGarvey was an astute student of textual criticism and his views on the "long ending" of Mark went through considerable evolution after 1875. By 1896, writing in his column in the Christian Standard "Biblical Criticism," he indicates that Mark probably did not write verses 9-20. Today there are few scholars of any kind (including Churches of Christ) that accept the authenticity of these verses. There are actually four endings to this Gospel that are known. I would not base any "doctrine" on this text. We have nothing to fear from this. As Jackson says in his article (when he critiques A.T. Robertson) we should let "grammar" (i.e. the TEXT) determine our theology and not theology the text.
Second, it is most fascinating that Jackson uses McGarvey in the manner he did. Why? Because McGarvey did not believe that baptism (immersion) was absolutely, necessarily, essential to salvation on that glorious day of reckoning. He declared this very clearly in the Gospel Advocate in reaction to some he believed were taking extreme views on the issue,
Replying to yours of the 15th, I have no doubt there are pious persons who have never been immersed. It would be absurd and ridiculous to deny it in the face of what we see and know of thousands of persons living and dead who have exhibited self-sacrificing love of God and man, which puts to shame all common disciples. I have as little doubt that many unimmersed persons will be saved in the final day. It is not necessary in order to contend for scripture teaching on the subject of baptism to take the ground that God has tied his hands and put it out of his power to grant mercy to any who have been misled in regard to that ordinance. He has bound us, but he has not bound himself; except that he is bound to do what he has promised. He has not bound himself to do no more than he has promised. Don't injure the cause of truth by taking positions which rob God of the power to be merciful.
(Gospel Advocate [vol 37 [December 12, 1895], 790).
Now I wonder if McGarvey is one of those "apostate change agents" that Jackson was talking about “brother …” But I think McGarvey has some pretty wise words here. We do not have to become folks who rob God of mercy in order to present the biblical theology of baptism. Baptism is, after all, about God's mercy and grace -- to present it as otherwise is to present an untruth.
I want to recommend an outstanding resource by my friend Stan Helton. Stan has done a yeoman's task sifting through nearly all the articles published on the textual issue of Mark 16 in the Stone Campbell Movement. See his article "Churches of Christ and Mark 16:9-20" in Restoration Quarterly 36 (1994): 33-52. I give him credit for first calling my attention to McGarvey's maturing views.