Go to Mk 16:8… And tell me what you see!.. And this is what I see:
[Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9–20.]
We lost the ending!
There are a few options to the ending of Mark: lost ending (16:8, but the rest was lost), short ending (intentional ending with 16:8), long ending (9-20), intermediate ending that reads:
“They quickly reported all these instructions to those around Peter. And after this Jesus himself also sent out through them from east to west the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation. Amen.”
and the so-called Freer Logion:
“And they excused themselves, saying, “This age of lawlessness and unbelief is under Satan, who does not allow the truth and power of God to prevail over the unclean things of the spirits. Therefore, reveal thy righteousness now”—thus they spoke to Christ. And Christ replied to them, “The term of years of Satan’s power has been fulfilled, but other terrible things draw near. And for those who have sinned I was delivered over to death, that they may return to the truth and sin no more, in order that they may inherit the spiritual and incorruptible glory of righteousness which is in heaven.”
And I tend to believe that the ending of Mark was lost or unfinished.
The intermediate ending and “Freer Logion” are too infrequent to be authentic. The Freer Logion exists in only one manuscript. As for the intermediate ending, it was found in a few minor and later manuscripts. Moreover, all of them except one continue with v9-20. Since this intermediate ending was an addition and that the long ending exists without this intermediate ending, it is most likely that it was not part of the original Gospel of Mark.
The long ending (vv9-20) is missing from two of the oldest Greek manuscripts and many other manuscripts. Some church fathers such as Clement of Alexandria and Origen do not refer to any of those verses, and Eusebius and Jerome indicated that those verses were absent from the manuscripts they knew (1). There are also internal pieces of evidence against this long ending. This passage uses non-Markan expressions and vocabulary (2). The tone is also different and the connection between v8 and 9 is strange. For example, v9 re-introduces Mary Magdalene (“from whom he had cast out seven demons”) while she was already present in the immediate context (15:40, 47; 16:1).
The short ending is definitely awkward which explains why some tried to finish it. Some scholars think that Mark left it open for the readers to respond to who Christ is, but according to James Edwards though Strauss does not entirely agree (3), this sort of conclusion is part of modern thinking and was unknown from first century readers. I have difficulty to believe that Mark would attempt to leave a mystery for the readers to decode if the purpose was to communicate the Gospel story in its entirety. Indeed, When I read this passage (Mk 16:1-8), I do not feel challenged to wonder who Jesus is from a personal perspective. The end is the narration of women saying “nothing to anyone for they were afraid.” If I am unfamiliar with the story of Jesus, my thoughts are:
- Did they tell the disciples about Jesus later?
- Did Jesus appear in Galilee?
- What did Jesus do after?
I am led to wonder about the end of the story rather than wondering who Jesus is for me. Therefore, I only have the lost or unfinished ending option.
Now this said, to say that the Gospel of Mark was unfinished or lost implies that God has completed His Word or that He left it lost. Would God really lose His Word? Also, is it possible to accept a different author completing the Word of God without refusing its inspiration? But that would make the Gospel of Mark complete only after the Apostle John wrote “if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book” (Rev 22:19).
There are questions to ponder, but I would simply conclude with the idea that this issue does not compromise the veracity of the Bible. vv9-20 do not contradict the rest of the Bible. The missing part may not be as crucial since the other Gospels give an account of what happened.
(1) Mark L. Strauss, Mark, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament ed. Clinton E. Arnold. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014. p728.
(2) Bruce Manning Metzger, United Bible Societies, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition a Companion Volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament. 4th Rev. Ed. London; New York: United Bible Societies, 1994. p105.
(3) Mark L. Strauss, Mark, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament ed. Clinton E. Arnold. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014. p721.