Mark 16: 9-20 The Church finishes John Mark’s “incomplete” ending
The last time we looked at John Mark’s original ending to his gospel (Mark 16: 1-8) was his account of the empty tomb. But now here’s the problem! The modern / postmodern scientific consensus is almost unanimous that verses 9-20 are not from Mark’s pen – they are a later insertion. Most current translations even contain a corresponding text note. The NIV puts it this way:
“[The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have verses 9–20.]”
The Holy Bible, New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Mk 16: 8.
It is not my intention to go into textual criticism here and overwhelm you with a highly technical explanation of why you have to accept the current scientific consensus (you can read all about it Here). Of course, Mark’s original ending can feel unsatisfactory, especially to us as modern / postmodern readers and / or longtime, good people who go to church and may never have spent much time thinking about the question we are examining here today . There are no appearances of Jesus after the resurrection, “no great commission and no ascension account” (Geddert, BCBC) – how awkward is that – especially after you’ve read the endings of the other 3 Gospels! But the bottom line is that the verses of Mark 16: 9-20 were added in the 3rd or 4th century, likely by a well-meaning writer (who had similar feelings that the original ending seemed “incomplete”). They do not appear in the best early manuscripts (Codex Sinaiticus & Codex Vaticanus), and even many of the early Church Fathers (Eusebuis & Jerome – also note that Clement of Alexandria and Origen have no knowledge of the existence of verses 9-20) do not recognize them as from John Mark (again following) to Geddert).
Then what does a student have to do with this information? Let’s look at the options (after Geddert):
1. We can ignore it! Assuming that “It wasn’t Mark’s pen and therefore not canonical!” [Remember: one of the criteria for admission to the canon of the New Testament was that the book in question had to be written by an Apostle or someone closely associated with an Apostle]. While it is important to interpret verses 1-8 as the original ending of Mark (as we did last time), and this may be the answer from a die-hard Protestant perspective, it may not be our best option.
2. We can speculate on Mark’s intended unfinished or lost ending. There is another view that Mark either a) intended to end his story (after verse 8) but for some reason never got around to it, or b) the last page of the Code was damaged and fell off (that would be the abrupt and strange ending of his last sentence with the Greek conjunction at all) and is now probably lost to us forever (see RT France, NIGTC). However, it is obviously problematic to base our “exegesis” on the lack of a text about which we have no record.
3. We can let the Church finish Mark’s story. After all, verses 9-20 were received by the Church and continued in most of the manuscripts since centuries! To Protestants, we may not read it the way we would inspired Scripture (correct), but it’s still as valuable (if nothing more than history) as we might read it the apocryphal writings. It may be a little easier for our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters to read this as a scripture that comes from church tradition. It is also worth noting that there is almost nothing in verses 9-20 that has not been “lifted” from any of the other gospels (the scribes in question essentially cobbled together a “suitable” ending for Mark by borrowing from him Mathew, Luke and John). While this might skew our interpretation of verses 1-8, there is very little new “non-biblical” data here (with the exception of Mark 16:18 – but hey, a bit of dealing with snakes didn’t hurt anyone – did it?) That would lead us into heresy. If you choose this route, R. Alan Cole (TNTC) provides some helpful commentary on these verses.
4th We can consider other endings. The so-called shorter end of Mark (“And everything they had been commanded they briefly told those around Peter. And afterwards Jesus himself sent the holy and immortal proclamation of eternal redemption through them from east to west.” – NRSV]appears both instead of the longer end as well in addition to Prove it in the manuscript (variants).
5. We can respond to the invitation from Mark’s original ending and continue the story. “The resurrection of Jesus marks … the beginning of that period in which Jesus’ followers” carry out missions in the context of persecution “(13: 9-13). It is the time to observe and wait, recognize and serve (chap. 13) until an unknown future time when the appearance of the Son of Man signals the arrival of the end (13: 24-27) ”(Geddert, p . 401) – Kindle Edition). Which leads well to our last option …
6th We can continue the loop back Mark 1: 1 (“The Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ” – ESV), while the disciples are invited to Galilee (Mark 16: 7) to follow Jesus again, where it all began! Reread it in a spiral rather than a circle:
“Every time we follow Jesus in a different reading to Galilee, the power of the cross and the hope for the resurrection that is conveyed by the text we have just read have changed us.” – Tim Geddert
Geddert, Timothy J. Mark (Bible Commentary by the Believing Church) (P. 402). Herald Press. Kindle Edition.
It is not my intention to involve you too much in any of the above options on how to approach this final text in our series on discipleship in the good news According to Mark. If nothing else, Option 6 invites us to reconsider the question: What does it mean for us to be followers of Jesus today?
Will you join me there on the Sea of Galilee with Peter and Andrew and James and John (Mark 1: 16-20)? And maybe we too will catch the gaze of Jesus, look into our eyes and hear him say:
“Come follow me”
Mark 1:17, NIV
Thank you for joining me on this trip! May Jesus through the work of the Holy Spirit reveal more and more of himself to you in a continual way, pull you into an ever deeper “spiral”, to know him and to proclaim and bring into force the kingdom of God. You go through the “ordinary” “Of your everyday life. What an adventure…
With a lot of love and gratitude
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