16:9-20 & 666 – numbers that debunk the Bible

Dr. Richard Carrier recently published a comprehensive article on Mark 16:9-20.  If you’re not aware, these final verses in Mark are unquestionably a later interpolation, i.e., falsification or forgery.  This is a pretty devastating verdict on the Bible’s own claim of divine inspiration.

Some Christians, no doubt, will reject this verdict, so allow me to present an even more devastating proof.  If you tally up the number of verses in Mark, less the interpolation, what do you get? 666!  That number, of course, is the Mark of the Beast (no pun intended), aka, Satan!  Satan has provided an unmistakable sign of his influence on the New Testament!  Muslims were right all along; the Bible is corrupted, and not just be its authors, but by the Lord of the Underworld himself.

This second “proof” is made completely tongue-in-cheek, of course, but there are many Christians who take great stock in biblical numbers.  Christian end-times prophecy is particularly indebted to creative numerological exegesis, yet Mark’s verse count is certainly as clear-cut, if not more so, than anything they’ve come up with.  Will they thus renounce the Bible?  Don’t hold your breath.

Nonetheless, whether it’s damning evidence or evidence of damnation, many Christians will shrug their shoulders and ask, “So what?”  Inerrancy is of no great concern to them, and I gotta say, that confuses me a lot.  If the creator of the universe’s main way of getting you to know him was through a book – which by itself is fraught with problems – you’d think he’d take great care to ensure its integrity.  That he didn’t is a huge gimme point for Bible skepticism.  It opens the door to legitimate doubt about any Biblical claim.  Or, as one apologist website put it even more starkly:

The issue is not simply “Does the Bible have a mistake?” but “Can God make a mistake?” If the Bible contains factual errors, then God is not omniscient and is capable of making errors Himself. If the Bible contains misinformation, then God is not truthful but is instead a liar. If the Bible contains contradictions, then God is the author of confusion. In other words, if biblical inerrancy is not true, then God is not God.

Any Christian who denies inerrancy care to refute such logic? (Bonus question: What is your method for delineating between errant and inerrant scripture?)

10 thoughts on “16:9-20 & 666 – numbers that debunk the Bible

  1. I’m not a Christian who denies inerrancy, but would like to take a mild crack at answering your question. I’ve read a lot of progressive Christian literature the past couple years…

    If one views people (fallible people) as carrying God’s message, then the bible was written by those fallible people, and as such has mistakes, perspectives set in certain world views of certain eras, etc. The question then becomes, “Why would God use fallible people to communicate his message?”

    While it is valid to question *why* a supreme god would choose to communicate that way, I’m not quite sure it makes sense to insist that that god *must* choose to communicate perfectly clearly. Maybe he wants people to figure stuff out on their own, or something like that. At least there are logical possibilities.

    I don’t find your argument, playing off the apologist’s argument, as being the only logical solution to the problem. Certainly though if you take the fundamentalists view that those with the wrong beliefs are punished forever, then I think you almost have to believe in inerrant and clear scripture. I can see why they go hand in hand.

    Personally, when I saw the bible as fallible, as an artifact of people, not divine intervention, I saw no reason to believe it as special or as having special authority. But that wasn’t because I found it to be errant, just that there wasn’t evidence of God showing up one way or another, with or without the bible.

    Make sense? I’ve been round and round on this issue with people, I think I understand your argument, I don’t have any more belief in the divinity of the bible than you do, but somehow I have not been able to grasp the argument that progressive Christians are being less consistent that fundamentalist. Their beliefs seem more reasonable to me, more accepting of the world as we observe it, than fundamentalists. Which seems more rational, not less consistent. Is that comparing apples to oranges? :^)

  2. As far as I know, there aren’t any Christians who believe that our current Bible is inerrant. The belief that scripture is inerrant usually refers only to the original autographs. I’ve actually met quite a few inerrentists that think that the passage in Mark that you refer to should be removed from the Bible.

  3. First, Carrier’s essay is filled with mistakes.

    Second, if one takes away Mark 16:9-20 from the Gospel of Mark, that’s 678-12 = 666, but the textual critics who would argue against the inclusion of Mk. 16:9-20 would also advocate the non-inclusion of a few other verses in Mark (9:44, 9:46, 15:28) so your claim about 666 is a bit of an oversimplification.

    Third, Satan is not the Beast. This is basic eschatology. Are you sure you know what you are writing about? Or are you just mocking?

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  4. atimetorend wrote,

    I’m not quite sure it makes sense to insist that that god *must* choose to communicate perfectly clearly. Maybe he wants people to figure stuff out on their own, or something like that.

    That’s certainly a possibility, though the cost of doing it that way seems prohibitive to me. Not only can unbelivers legitimately question whether the Bible is a divine work, but there will inevitably arise dissension and confusion among believers. FUBAR seems the only way to describe the result.

    …but somehow I have not been able to grasp the argument that progressive Christians are being less consistent that fundamentalist. Their beliefs seem more reasonable to me, more accepting of the world as we observe it, than fundamentalists.

    That may be so, but can it really be said progressive Christians are equally consistent with inerrantists? If they’re constantly modifying their theology with the times, that seems to me the very epitome of inconsistency. On the other hand, if you regard change as the only constant, then perhaps you’ve got a point. 😉

  5. Eric wrote,

    As far as I know, there aren’t any Christians who believe that our current Bible is inerrant.

    The following comes from a 2007 Gallup poll:

    “About one-third of the American adult population believes the Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally word for word.”

    1. Yes, probably the same 1/3 that has never read the bible. I’m sure you don’t get your science from the lay people. Its probably best you don’t get your theology from them either.

  6. James, welcome. I think this is your first visit here. You wrote:

    First, Carrier’s essay is filled with mistakes.

    Do you have a source for this view? Somewhere we can understand what the mistakes are?

    …so your claim about 666 is a bit of an oversimplification

    My source for the number is Ezra Gould (as cited in Carrier’s article). See his work Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to St. Mark (1896).

    Third, Satan is not the Beast. This is basic eschatology. Are you sure you know what you are writing about? Or are you just mocking?

    “This second ‘proof’ is made completely tongue-in-cheek, of course…”

  7. Pick up nearly any Bible and you’ll see the footnotes of the passage in Mark 16 (and the woman caught in adultery in John 8) that those were not in the earliest manuscripts. Far from being a “gotcha” for non-Christians, that is evidence for our claim that we can be confident in what the originals said. It isn’t like those additions are some sort of secret.

    Our claim is that the original writings turned out exactly as God and the writers wanted them to, and we have ample support for that — at least for people who don’t think they’ve shocked us when bring up the “long ending” of Mark. (Oh noes!! I’ve never heard that before! Better recant my faith!)

  8. Uh, that should read “John 8” with a parenthesis after it and not “John” plus a smiley face. I could do without that auto-correct feature!

  9. Robert,
    Regarding your first question: yes; the source is me. Here are just a few mistakes made by Carrier:
    (1) He states that the Freer Logion replaces verse 15. However, verse 15 is still in the text after the Freer Logion, which follows verse 14 in Codex W. Only the opening phrase is missing. Anyone who has consulted pictures of Codex W could plainly see this. Carrier apparently has not read Codex W’s text at all, neither in a facsimile nor in a collation nor in even a textual apparatus.
    (2) He states that “the general view is that Vaticanus and Sinaiticus do not originate from the same scriptorium.” However, the consensus, upheld by Tischendorf, Kirsopp Lake, and Milne & Skeat, has been that they do originate from the same scriptorium.
    (3) He stated that copies “like uncial 274” have Mark “end with 16:8, and then append the LE, and then the SE is written in the margins.” This is problematic in three ways. First, 274 is the only Greek manuscript that has the SE in the margin. Second, in 274, the text of Mark does not end at the end of 16:8. 274 is a manuscript prepared for public use and it has an abundance of lectionary equipment, rubrics, etc. and after 16:8 there is an abbreviated lectionary-related note, followed by the beginning of 16:9, all in the same line. Third – and this is a very revealing error, it seems to me – 274 is not an uncial. It is a minuscule. Ordinarily, when a numeral is used to refer to an uncial, the first digit is a zero. When Carrier refers to 274 as an uncial, it is a bit grimacing, like watching someone who, aspiring to teach his readers an important chemistry lesson, writes an element’s chemical symbol using three letters.

    (4) He does not grasp the implications of the scholium that mentions Irenaeus’ quotation of Mark 16:19. In fact he does not seem to understand why Codex 1582 is especially significant at all. 1582 was made by Ephraim the Scribe, who replicated his exemplars; this scholium was not added later; copyists tended to include scholia up to and including the most recent generation of commentators, but the youngest commentators cited in the scholia in 1582 are from the 400’s. When it is also observed that the same scholium appears in 72, the implication is that the scholium is an echo of the ancestral copy of the family-1 manuscripts. Carrier’s claim that the scholium (which is alongside 16:19) does not cite Irenaeus’ statement in the third book of Against Heresies is simply ridiculous, and if he ever understands the evidence he will freely admit this to be the case.

    (5) He states that the evidence from Origen and Clement is “most telling,” inasmuch they each left us “a huge corpus erudite with discussions and quotations of the Gospels.” As far as the Gospel of Mark is concerned, Clement scarcely used it except for chapter 10, and Origen did not use most of the 12-verse sections of Mark; Carrier’s claim is unrealistic. (The blame probably does not rest exclusively with Carrier, but with his sources, for this kind of casual and vague reference to Clement and Origen is not uncommon.)

    There are many more errors but this should be enough to justify reading Carrier’s work cautiously.

    You stated that your source for the number 666 “is Ezra Gould (as cited in Carrier’s article). See his work Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to St. Mark (1896).” I have a digital copy of that book. As far as I can tell, nowhere does Gould state that the Gospel of Mark has 666 verses if 16:9-20 is removed, and there is no way to get that impression from Gould, inasmuch as he repeatedly advocates the excision of other verses (such as 9:44, 9:46, and 15:28).

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

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