William Seymour, textual critic?

Throughout the last century or so of church history, there have been continual debates about various issues to textual criticism and whether or not a few passages (namely John 7:53-8:11 and Mark 16:9-20) have been rightly included in English translations of the Bible.  For all the ink that’s been spilled on the issue, there’s still no resolution in sight.  People disagree about the facts (though most simply don’t know and don’t really care) and therefore also disagree wildly about the right understanding of the facts.  Beyond that, most people lack the skill set to evaluate the arguments so they either have no opinion or arbitrarily choose an expert and trust them (hoping for the best).

The reason this is important is because of the nature and implications of the two passages in question.  For example, some folks take 16:17 as suggesting that all believers should speak in tongues and cast out demons.  If that’s supposed to be a normative part of Christian experience, that seems rather significant.  Some take 16:18 as saying the same thing about drinking poison and handling snakes.  Again, the same thing can be said, though it may seem rather dumb to some folks.  Still, the longer ending of mark is also important to people who aren’t in any danger of handling snakes.  Did you ever notice the verse that is in a rather well-known logo?


If Mark 16:15 isn’t part of canonical scripture, the folks who take that passage as the great commission are building their ideas about evangelism around a passage of scripture that isn’t Scripture.

Sobering thought.

But how can a person know for certain whether or not those verses that are included in the Bible are canonical or not?

Well, one could study textual criticism and learn about the issues enough to have an educated position on the issue…but that’s a lot of work, right?

It would sure be convenient if God would simply tell us the scoop on those verses, right?

This is a job for…


Woah! No!  We don’t need fictional super heroes to authoritatively settle issues of textual criticism!

I was going to say “This is a job for a prophet!”

How about some volunteers from the audience?  How about someone from Azusa?


Sorry Christine.  Why are you here?




What’s going on?  What are you doing here Brian? What in the…


…er…I’m not sure Russell even heard the question.

Why in the world did…


I said Asuza, not Australia.

The “prophet” I was thinking of was William Seymour, of Azusa street fame.


Now can I get back to what I was saying?

Thank you!

I’ve discovered a whole lot of things as I’ve been preparing for the upcoming conference.  I’ve probably read 40 books and hundreds of old newpapers/articles/tracts/pamphlets so far, seeing that the historical side of Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movement is the weakest link in my personal study by far.  I have around 90 pages of notes that will be refined into a talk on the history of the movement.  I’m guessing that I’ll have another 20 pages of notes by the time my research is complete and I’ve connected all the dots I’m trying to connect (finding specific facts is difficult though).

Still, you never know what you’re going to run into when you’re reading.

Apparently there were some questions at Azusa Street regarding Jesus’ promises about tongues and casting out demons in Mark 16:9-20.  The Azusa Street folk thought that they were experiencing those promises, therefore questions about the authenticity of that text arose.  Educated clergy in the city who opposed the Azusa Street revival didn’t recognize those verses as canonical (due to things like textual criticism and the facts of history and stuff) and thus used the non-canonical nature of Mark 16:9-20 to fuel skepticism regarding the claims of the folks at Azusa Street.

One of my reading projects has been the issues of the various papers like The Apostolic Faith, the newsletter of the church at 312 Azusa Street.  In the second issue of that magazine, I ran across a little gem that talks about Mark 16:9-20 and addresses the authenticity of the longer ending of Mark.  Here’s the article in full:


 Many of the dear holiness people are rejecting the last words of Jesus in the last chapter of Mark, beginning at the fifteenth verse :

 “And He said unto them: Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature. Re that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; in my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpent. and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover.”

 Why do they reject these verses? Because Dr. Godbey, in his commentary and translation, has left them out. Why did he leave them out? Because they were not in the Sianitic manuscript from which he translated. It was a manuscript found in later years in a mission on Mount Sinai. The man who found the manuscript, a German by the name of Tischendorf said that some sheets of it had already been thrown into a receptacle for kindling wood. In this or some other way, a part may have been lost from that manuscript.

However this may be, we feel sure that these are the words of Jesus. The writer herself, being a great admirer of Bro. Godbey, was for some time influenced by his views in regard to the last words of our Lord as given above. But since being in these Holy Ghost meetings, and hearing these same words given again and again by the Spirit in unknown tongues and interpreted, all doubt has been swept away in regard to them. Besides they are proved true before our eyes. We have thrown all doubts to the winds and taken to our hearts the whole word of Jesus. Dear friends, do not let any man riddle your Bible for you or cut out any part of it. You need the whole. Hallelujah for the Word.

Isn’t that convenient?

William Seymour didn’t really know why learned people didn’t recognize Mark 16:9-20 as canonical scripture, but he knew it was canonical scripture because God confirmed it…by prophetic revelation via tongues.  Beyond that, he knew that Mark 6:19-20 was canonical because they saw those things occurring “before our eyes?”

That’s interesting.  Apparently the divine confirmation they received covered every verse in the passage except verse 18: “they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.

It’s not surprising that a few years later, some folks would recognize that the Azusa Street revival wasn’t experiencing Mark 16:18 and would take the necessary steps to experience the full manifestations of the Spirit.

W. R. Tinker

From the worldview of William Seymour, I wonder how he justified his inconsistency?

Maybe I’ll encounter the answer to that question later in my study.

If I find out, I’ll let you all know!

Until Next Time,

Lyndon “I don’t drink poison, but I once tried Starbucks coffee” Unger


14 thoughts on “William Seymour, textual critic?

  1. It is very hard to leave reply as I get kicked out if I write more than three sentences.
    I want to say that I enjoy your commentary, but you seem to be a little “whiny”, and self-absorbed. I believe the Christians must remove personality from the word of God. You can just call me an old fogey. But thank you

  2. If you look closely at that sign it looks like it was re-painted again around the lettering. The white around the lettering is a little weathered. And judging by the placement of ‘WR Tinker’ it looks to me like there could have been another preacher listed just below him at one point, and that was painted over and no longer there. Maybe a snake handled him?

    Just a thought…

  3. Good read, Lyndon. Thanks.
    May I offer to point out a few typos?
    Once you have “I said Asuza, not Australia.” when you mean “I said Azusa, not Australia.”.
    Once you have “Re that believeth”. Should be “He that believeth”.
    And once you have “Still, the longer ending of mark…” where Mark should be capitalized.

    Don’t worry, I’ll send you the bill later. I accept payment in pierogies. 🙂

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