Let me give you a mini lesson this morning on the authenticity of Scripture and how we know it is the Word of God that we can trust and build our lives upon. Look at Mark 16:8. Do you see the script after verse 8 that says, “Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9-20”? You see the same at the end of John 7, because the story of the woman caught in the act of adultery is not in the oldest manuscripts of John’s gospel. What does that mean, “earliest or oldest” manuscripts? The Gospel writers just wrote one manuscript each, right? That’s right, but we do not have any of the original manuscripts. We only have copies. There are more than 25,000 copies of the New Testament, complete or fragmented, some within 20 years of the originals, more than any other ancient writing. Homer’s Iliad is a distant second with a mere 643 manuscript copies, and with the oldest copy dated at 500 years after the original.
Some copies differ in a word here, or a sentence there, or even a whole section, as we see in this text. Why is that? If you lived in Israel in A.D. 60 and you wanted a copy of Mark’s Gospel, how would you get it? You couldn’t run down to Straight Street in Damascus and pop into the Office Depot with Mark’s original manuscript. You had to sit down with it and painstakingly write it out, one word at a time. And what if you made a copy error, as many did? Well, you had a copy, but it was not a perfect copy, and if others made copies from your copy, they would not be perfect either, and they may make other errors in transcribing your copy! How do we know that we have the genuine text, or at least one that we can trust to be accurate in all things that matter? An article by Craig Blomberg in the Gospel Coalition states that there were an average of 16 variations per manuscript, and “the vast majority of these involved variations in the spelling of words; the use or non-use of an article, conjunction or particle; or slight variations in syntax. The only two that involve more than one or two verses are Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53-8:11. Most importantly, no doctrine or ethical teaching of Christianity depends solely on one or more disputed texts.”
The first 6 verses in the “disputed section” form a mosaic of three resurrection appearances of Jesus, built around the theme of calling the disciples from unbelief to belief. The first reflects John’s account of Mary Magdalene weeping outside the tomb, telling the angels, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” She then turned around and saw Jesus, but thought he was the gardener. Until he called her by name: “Mary.” She went and told the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.” Mark’s gospel says they heard her, but “they would not believe it.”
The second story reflects Luke’s gospel account, where two followers of Jesus, not two of the eleven apostles, meet Jesus on a country road. Luke tells us they were on the road to Emmaus. I love that story. They didn’t recognize the risen Savior, and they couldn’t believe that this guy walking with them didn’t know what had happened. One of them, Cleopas, said to Jesus, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know these things that have happened…?” Ha! Jesus is the only one who truly knows what happened. He reveals himself to them in the breaking of bread and then vanishes. They raced back to Jerusalem and told the eleven, “The Lord has risen indeed.” Mark says, “but they did not believe them.”
In the third story, Jesus appears to his eleven disciples and rebukes them for their “unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.” Three stories, three witnesses to the risen Savior, in ascending order of reliability, according to Jewish culture: a woman, two men, and Jesus Himself. The message is clear. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. Believe it. But not only that.
Go tell it on the mountain. And, everywhere else.