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IRENAEUS AND MARK’S GOSPEL

In this short post I will cite 2nd century church father and apologist Irenaeus in regards to Mark’s Gospel. Irenaeus was the bishop of Lyons, France, and a disciple of Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna and a disciple of the apostles including John. Like Polycarp, Irenaeus died as a martyr for his faith in the risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. As the disciple of a man who was personally taught and appointed by the Apostles, Irenaeus’ statements respecting the content and form of Mark’s Gospel become all the more crucial since his copy of Mark would have been based off of earlier copies, some of which may have been from the first century. In fact, it is quite likely that his copy would either have been handed down to him from Polycarp, who in turn would have received what he possessed from the Apostles and Disciples of the risen Lord, or based on the copies in the possession of the bishop of Smyrna.

With that in the background, note what the bishop of Lyons wrote concerning Mark’s Gospel:

  1. Wherefore also Mark, the interpreter and follower of Peter, does thus commence his Gospelnarrative: The beginning of the Gospelof Jesus Christthe Son of God; as it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, which shall prepare Your way. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare the way of the Lord, make the paths straight before our God. Plainly does the commencement of the Gospel quote the words of the holy prophets, and point out Him at once, whom they confessed as God and Lord; Him, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who had also made promise to Him, that He would send His messenger before His face, who was John, crying in the wilderness, in the spirit and power of Elias, Luke 1:17 Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight paths before our God. For the prophets did not announce one and another God, but one and the same; under various aspects, however, and many titles. For varied and rich in attribute is the Father, as I have already shown in the book preceding this; and I shall show [the same truth] from the prophets themselves in the further course of this work. Also, towards the conclusion of his Gospel, Mark says: So then, after the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sits on the right hand of GodMark 16:19 confirming what had been spoken by the prophet: The Lord said to my Lord, Sit on My right hand, until I make Your foes Your footstool. Thus God and the Father are truly one and the same; He who was announced by the prophets, and handed down by the true Gospel; whom we Christians worship and love with the whole heart, as the Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things therein. (Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 10 Proofs of the foregoing, drawn from the Gospels of Mark and Luke)

Irenaeus’ citation of Mark’s Gospel is important for several reasons. First, Irenaeus’ copy of Mark corresponds to the Byzantine or Majority Text (MT), which is the Greek manuscript tradition that gave rise to the Textus Receptus (TR).

Contrast the following versions:

“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the Prophets: ‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You.’ ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight.”’” Mark 1:1-3 New King James Version (NKJV)

“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Just as it is written in the prophet Isaiah, ‘Behold, I am sending my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths!’” Lexham English Bible (LEB)

The NKJV, which is based on the MT, has the words “the Son of God” and the reading “in the prophets,” in contrast to the LEB which omits the phrase “the Son of God” and has “in Isaiah the prophet” instead. Irenaeus’ citation provides early attestation for the MT readings, showing that they were part of the manuscript stream of Mark as far back as the 2nd century AD.(1)

Irenaeus further affirms that the longer ending of Mark 16, namely verses 9-20, was also a part of the manuscript stream in the 2nd century AD, and that Christians of that time believed they were written by Mark himself. Here are the verses in question:

“Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons. She went and told those who had been with Him, as they mourned and wept. And when they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe. After that, He appeared in another form to two of them as they walked and went into the country. And they went and told it to the rest, but they did not believe them either. Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen. And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.’ So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen.” Mark 16:9-20 NKJV

Hence, Irenaeus is an important witness to the textual veracity of Mark’s longer ending, and therefore Bible believing Christians should not hesitate to read and quote them as God-breathed Scripture.

FURTHE READING

In Defense of Mark 1:2’s “In the Prophets”

WHY THERE IS AN ERROR IN MARK 1:2 IN YOUR BIBLE

Endnotes

(1) There are two other places where Irenaeus cites Mark 1:2. One of those times that he does so agrees with what was cited above and conforms to the MT, being the reading of the majority of the extant Greek witnesses to Mark:

  1. Paul, when writing to the Romans, has explained this very point: Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christpredestinatedunto the Gospel of God, which He had promised by His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was made to Him of the seed of David according to the flesh, who was predestinated the Son of God with power through the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead of our Lord Jesus ChristRomans 1:1-4 And again, writing to the Romans about Israel, he says: Whose are the fathers, and from whom is Christ according to the flesh, who is God over all, blessed forever. Romans 9:5 And again, in his Epistle to the Galatians, he says: But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption; Galatians 4:4-5 plainly indicating one God, who did by the prophets make promise of the Son, and one Jesus Christ our Lord, who was of the seed of David according to His birth from Mary; and that Jesus Christ was appointed the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead, as being the first begotten in all the creation; Colossians 1:14-15 the Son of God being made the Son of man, that through Him we may receive the adoption, — humanity sustaining, and receiving, and embracing the Son of GodWherefore Mark also says: The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; as it is written in the prophetsMark 1:1 Knowing one and the same Son of GodJesus Christ, who was announced by the prophets, who from the fruit of David’s body was Emmanuel, the messenger of great counsel of the Father; through whom God caused the day-spring and the Just One to arise to the house of David, and raised up for him an horn of salvation, and established a testimony in Jacob; Luke 1:69 as David says when discoursing on the causes of His birth: And He appointed a law in Israel, that another generation might know [Him,] the children which should he born from these, and they arising shall themselves declare to their children, so that they might set their hope in God, and seek after His commandments. And again, the angel said, when bringing good tidings to Mary: He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord shall give unto Him the throne of His father David; Luke 1:32 acknowledging that He who is the Son of the Highest, the same is Himself also the Son of David. And David, knowing by the Spirit the dispensation of the advent of this Person, by which He is supreme over all the living and dead, confessed Him as Lord, sitting on the right hand of the Most High Father. (Ibid., Chapter 16 Proofs from the apostolic writings, that Jesus Christ was one and the same, the only begotten Son of God, perfect God and perfect man)

The other citation concurs with the minority of the Greek manuscripts:

  1. It is not possible that the Gospelscan be either more or fewer in number than they are. For, since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Churchis scattered throughout all the world, and the pillar and ground 1 Timothy 3:15 of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life; it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh. From which fact, it is evident that the Word, the Artificer of all, He that sits upon the cherubim, and contains all things, He who was manifested to men, has given us the Gospel under four aspects, but bound together by one Spirit. As also David says, when entreating His manifestation, You that sits between the cherubim, shine forth. For the cherubim, too, were four-faced, and their faces were images of the dispensation of the Son of God. For, [as the Scripture] says, The first living creature was like a lion, Revelation 4:7 symbolizing His effectual working, His leadership, and royal power; the second [living creature] was like a calf, signifying [His] sacrificial and sacerdotal order; but the third had, as it were, the face as of a man,— an evident description of His advent as a human being; the fourth was like a flying eagle, pointing out the gift of the Spirit hovering with His wings over the Church. And therefore the Gospels are in accord with these things, among which Christ Jesus is seated. For that according to John relates His original, effectual, and glorious generation from the Father, thus declaring, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1 Also, all things were made by Him, and without Him was nothing made. For this reason, too, is that Gospel full of all confidence, for such is His person. But that according to Luke, taking up [His] priestly character, commenced with Zacharias the priest offering sacrifice to God. For now was made ready the fatted calf, about to be immolated for the finding again of the younger son. Matthew, again, relates His generation as a man, saying, The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham; and also, The birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise. This, then, is the Gospel of His humanity; for which reason it is, too, that [the character of] a humble and meek man is kept up through the whole GospelMark, on the other hand, commences with [a reference to] the prophetical spirit coming down from on high to men, saying, The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christas it is written in Esaias the prophet,— pointing to the winged aspect of the Gospel; and on this account he made a compendious and cursory narrative, for such is the prophetical character. And the Word of God Himself used to converse with the ante-Mosaic patriarchs, in accordance with His divinity and glory; but for those under the law he instituted a sacerdotal and liturgical service. Afterwards, being made man for us, He sent the gift of the celestial Spirit over all the earth, protecting us with His wings. Such, then, as was the course followed by the Son of God, so was also the form of the living creatures; and such as was the form of the living creatures, so was also the character of the Gospel. For the living creatures are quadriform, and the Gospel is quadriform, as is also the course followed by the Lord. For this reason were four principal (καθολικαί) covenants given to the human race: one, prior to the deluge, under Adam; the second, that after the deluge, under Noah; the third, the giving of the law, under Moses; the fourth, that which renovates man, and sums up all things in itself by means of the Gospel, raising and bearing men upon its wings into the heavenly kingdom. (Ibid., Chapter 11 Proofs in continuation, extracted from St. John’s Gospel. The Gospels are four in number, neither more nor less. Mystic reasons for this)

Some textual scholars such as Daniel Wallace have taken this as supporting the minority reading “in Isaiah the prophet”.

Christian textual critic and apologist John Tors explains why this is not the case and shows how Irenaeus is actually a witness for the majority reading:

Two out of three times, then, Irenaeus quotes “in the prophets.”  Wallace tries to mitigate this evidence by asserting that

The difficulty of Ireneaus is that he wrote in Greek but has been preserved largely in Latin. His Greek remains have “in Isaiah the prophet.” Only the later Latin translation has “in the prophets.”[23]

However,

the original Greek text of Irenaeus’ Against Heresies is found only in fragmentary form.[24]

Another source avers that

The great work of Irenæus is unfortunately no longer extant in the original. It has come down to us only in an ancient Latin version, with the exception of the greater part of the first book, which has been preserved in the original Greekthrough means of copious quotations made by Hippolytus and Epiphanius.[25]

Yet another informs us that

The Greek text of the five books of Irenaeus Adversus Haereses is lost, aside from quotations.[26]

Now, if the Greek version of Irenaeus is available only via third-party quotes – and church fathers were often very imprecise in their quotations[27] – the Latin version, of which manuscripts do exist,[28] is more reliable, not less.

Moreover, while Wallace claims that “This evidence [for the reading ‘in Isaiah in prophet’] runs deep into the second century,” James Snapp correctly points out that “In terms of the actual pieces of evidence, that is not the case, with the exception of Irenaeus’ citations”[29] – two thirds of which support “in the prophets.”

In sum, then, it is beyond any reasonable dispute that the external evidence proves that the original reading of Mark 1:2 is “As it is written in the prophets.” (Tors, WHY THERE IS AN ERROR IN MARK 1:2 IN YOUR BIBLE)

[23] Wallace, “Mark 1:2 and New Testament Textual Criticism,” op.cit.

[24] Osborn, Eric. Irenaeus of Lyons. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004, p. 1

[25] “Irenaeus of Lyons.” ReligionFacts. Posted at http://www.religionfacts.com/irenaeus. (Bolding and underlining added.)

[26] Pearse, Roger. “Tables of contents and chapter divisions in Irenaeus’ ‘Adversus Haereses.” Posted on October 21, 2010. At https://www.roger-pearse.com/weblog/2010/10/21/tables-of-contents-and-chapter-divisions-in-irenaeus-adversus-haereses/

[27] The problems associated with the use of patristic evidence is outlined by Bruce Metzger in Metzger, Bruce. “Patristic Evidence and the Textual Criticism of the New Testament,” NTS 18 (1972), pp. 379-380

[28] Osborn, op.cit.

[29] Snapp, James jr. “A Defense of ‘In the Prophets’ in Mark 1:2.” Textual Variants in the Gospels. Posted on June 2, 2010. At http://reclaimingthemind.blogspot.com/2010/06/defense-of-in-prophets-in-mark-12.html (Ibid.)

Tors demonstrates how the textual data overwhelmingly favors the reading “in the prophets”:

Meanwhile, the ESV footnote states: “Mark 1:2 Some manuscripts in the prophets.”  Now, this is quite an understatement, however.  In fact, 96.7% of the manuscripts (a total of about 1,740) read “in the prophets” while 3.1% (a total of about 56) read “in Isaiah the prophet.”[19]  This by itself is already enough to settle the matter, as it is statistically impossible for a secondary reading (i.e. not the original one) ever to infect a majority of manuscripts, let alone to attain a dominance of 96.7%.[20]

Now, what constitutes “the earliest and best witnesses” to which Wallace refers?  He lists the following Greek manuscripts: Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Vaticanus, L, Δ, Θ, family1, 33, 205, 565, 700, 892, 1071, 1241, 1243, and 2427.[21]  Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus date from the 4th century, so they are the earliest of the Greek manuscripts, but as we have seen they cannot even be considered good, let alone “the best.”  Of the other manuscripts, L is from the 8th century; Δ, Θ, 33, 565, and 892 are from the 9th century; the oldest member of family1 is from the mid-10th century and others from the 12th-15th centuries; 700 and 1243 from the 11th century; 1071 and 1241 from the 12th century, 205 from the 15th century; and 2427 a forgery made no earlier than 1874.  It is indeed difficult to see how Wallace can present these as being among the “earliest” evidence![22]

On the other hand, “in the prophets” is found in Codex Washingtonianus, which dates as early as the late 4th century (and so is not much younger than Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus); Codex Alexandrinus, perhaps as early as ca. AD 400; Codex P and Codex Ʃ from the 6th century; Codex E from the 8th century, and F, G, and H from the 9th century.  So there are four manuscripts reading “in the prophets” from the 6th century and earlier, and three, all corrupt, reading “in Isaiah the prophet.”  It seems more accurate, in light of this, to say that the “earliest and best witnesses” read “in the prophets,” not “in Isaiah the prophet.” (Ibid.)

[19] Pickering, Wilbur N. The Greek New Testament According to Family 35. Lexington, KY, 2014, p. 57.  According to Pickering, 1.3% read εν τω ησαια τω προφητη and 1.8% read εν ησαια τω προφητη

[20] See Tors, “A Primer on New Testament Textual Criticism,” op.cit.

[21] Wallace, “Mark 1:2 and New Testament Textual Criticism,” op.cit.

[22] Strangely, he did not include Codex Bezae Cantabrigiensis (D), which dates to the 5th century.  It is also known as a very corrupt manuscript. (Ibid.)

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