As a believer in Christianity, I often get called upon to defend certain views and claims of my faith. In a recent conversation with one person who questioned the veracity of scripture in relation to claims made, I came to a subtle realization: what exactly is in question?
In this conversation, which was polite and very probative, we looked at two issues that seem to trouble a lot of people: the long ending of Mark (16:9-20) and what has been called “The Slaughter of the Innocents” in Matthew 2:16-18.
Let me preface this by saying that I am not a theologian or a biblical historian, but an observer, just looking at the ongoing conversation that ruffles the feathers of so many people and I want to bring my observation to the table, an that seconds and ascends to similar arguments.
As to the question of Mark’s long ending, it is pretty well certain, through the textual criticism of the passage, that the verses in question ARE late additions. That part is not in question. We don’t know where they came from or who wrote them but what we do know is that they were added VERY late, possibly 3rd or 4th century AD. So, what is the problem? The assertion of those who question the addition is that they introduce the doctrine of the resurrection, but what does the criticism of the passage really do? If Mark was the first gospel written, if it is as early as it is claimed to be, why was the passage added if not to further the claims of Christ’s resurrection? The problem is that the early church fathers, those who came immediately after the apostles note that Mark’s gospel ends at 16: 8. Guess what, the doctrine of the resurrection is presented BEFORE the end of Mark. It’s not hashed out, but it clearly ends with an angelic proclamation to the women, “He (that being Jesus) is risen.” That statement is not only affirmed by the church fathers, but shows that the argument is ultimately invalidated by what WAS acknowledged and accepted them. Are we wrong to question the obvious addition? No. Are we wrong to say it somehow negates any other claims made by the author? Possibly.
But what about the “Slaughter of the Innocents” in Matthew 2:16-18? Indeed, it is questionable, because historians, Josephus in particular, do not mention such a thing occurring. But I noticed something, a misconception of sorts, maybe even a confusion with other biblical passages. This one particular conversation, the person stated that Herod’s order was to kill “all the firstborn of Israel”, which the passage makes no such claim. The passage says specifically, “children two years and younger, in Bethlehem and its surrounding area.” Like I said, there is a definite confusion, but I noticed something else: Matthew never says they killed anyone. Indeed, he quotes from Jeremiah, but, and like I said, I noticed something by asking a question: if I, a parent myself, were to get wind of such an order from someone known to be as bloodthirsty and vicious as Herod the great, what would be my reaction? I would cry out, I would be weeping, but once I gathered my senses, what would I do? Would I let this happen? No! Hell no, in fact I would load my kids up and get out of Dodge. I think that sometimes we think that people were stupid or something back then.
Like I said, this are just cursory observations, based on plain reading of the texts in question, and a review of the commentaries and other information available.