Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Narrative Reading of the Longer Ending of Mark's Gospel

Here is another paper I produced at Wheaton College, this time for a class on New Testament criticism under Professor Nick Perrin. It seems like an appropriate post for holy week.


I am not a King-James-only Christian (though I have a high regard for the King James Version). I embrace, by and large, the approach to textual criticism called “reasoned eclecticism.” And yet I shall argue that the long ending (LE) of Mark 16 is at least as likely the original ending to Mark’s Gospel as is the short ending (SE), and slightly to be favored, given the present evidence, on the grounds of external evidence and literary-critical analysis.[1] Delving into the literature on Mark’s ending, one immediately faces bewilderment, not unlike that of the disciples, not only over the complexity of the matter, but also over the varieties of opinions and, even more, over the lofty pontifications of many, all the while standing on a great deal of speculation, guesswork, and uncertainty. Possessing only fragments of the total evidence, dogmatic assertions of one view as solely plausible seem a bit much. We are dealing in probabilities. So I shall speak of probabilities, confessing the tentativeness of my own conclusions at this beginning point of entering the fray of Mark 16 debates. 

Text-Critical Considerations

Michael Holmes points up the problem of textual criticism by speaking to the copying process before the printing press: “All copying was done by hand . . . and this slow, laborious, and expensive process was subject to all the vagaries and corrupting influences and effects of the human mind and body.”[2] Mark 16, notoriously the greatest textual conundrum in the New Testament (NT), contains significant textual divergences among the manuscripts (MSS). Bruce Metzger outlines the four endings of Mark’s Gospel extant in the manuscript (MS) tradition.[3] First, the last twelve verses (vv. 9-20) are absent from two of the oldest and best Greek witnesses (א and B).[4] This is the SE. Second, a handful of MSS, including four uncials (L Ψ 099 0112) and Old Latin k continue after Mk. 16:8 with a brief conclusion and commission.[5] Then all these continue with vv. 9-20, except itk. The third grouping, the ending with vv. 9-20, comes to us in the KJV and other translations of the Textus Receptus. It includes the vast majority of MSS.[6] Iraneus, Tatian’s Diatessaron, and perhaps Justin Martyr bear witness to this ending. The fourth is one MS (W) that preserves the LE, but with an addition following v. 14 where the disciples excuse themselves after Jesus rebuked them.[7],[8]
Now before moving into discussion of the two most plausible endings,[9] it is worth noting that many argue for a lost ending of Mark.[10] This was the dominant view in the early twentieth century before narrative criticism came into vogue. This mass of conviction, along with the argumentation set forth[11] that there had to be more than vv. 1-8, points to the plausibility of the LE, though that is not what these scholars argue for. But the lost ending of which they speak is no part of the MSS evidence. So why not reconsider the evidence and the LE as the most likely ending?
In support of the SE, in addition to the strong MSS, both Clement and Origen betray no awareness of the LE, and Eusebius and Jerome testify that the passage was lacking in virtually all the MSS they knew.[12] How many they knew, we do not know. (In any case, it is not the more numerous MSS that are necessarily the most accurate!). Although Jerome says that vv. 9-20 are “found in only a few copies of the Gospel—almost all the Greek copies being without this final passage,” he nevertheless includes it in his translation of the Greek into Latin![13]What shall be made of this? At least that Jerome thought it was plausibly authentic! In any case, this testimony is fourth century, probably echoing Eusebius’ third century statement that almost all of the copies of Mark ended at 16:8. But we have earlier testimony. Holmes says: “Justin Martyr (d. c. 165) probably knew the longer ending.”[14] And Irenaeus writes this in his Against Heresies (written c. 175): “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 sitteth on the right hand of God. . . .’”[15] And he is not alone: Tatian cited the LE in his Diatessaron.[16] These are the earliest witnesses we have, earlier than א and B. After these come Eusebius and Jerome. Though a number of MSS with the LE include scribal notes that the older MSS lack it,[17] these notes do not move us beyond the evidence of Eusebius. The only other MS with the same form as א and B is twelfth-century MS 304. So there is a relative paucity of evidence for the SE (although quality ought generally to be regarded). Although the geographical distribution of the SE is broad, the same holds true for the LE. There is also a curious gap at the end of B. Although it is possible that this was to leave room for a known longer ending, we cannot be certain. Nevertheless, it is curious, since none of the other NT books have such a gap in the MSS.
Consideration of transcriptional probabilities supports the SE, since it is the more difficult and shorter reading. But this may be nullified since we know that there were both a LE and SE in circulation early. And it is difficult to believe that, despite a high regard in the Church for an authoritative four-fold Gospel,[18] someone could have added an ending that the Church, aware of the original MS, did not reject out of hand. Far easier is it to believe that amid the spread of the Gospel an authentic copy of one important MS lost the original LE. The SE proponents need to provide a plausible explanation for how the LE crept in so early. Many want to argue that the LE cropped up because Mark’s ending seemed unsatisfactory. But is it likely that an early copyist would have felt freedom to add text and that the early Church would not have noted and repudiated this?

Many who argue for the SE point to intrinsic probabilities, its strongest case. Wallace lays out three common arguments against an intentional SE, two of which address intrinsic probabilities: first, such an ending is a modern, not an ancient, convention; second, it is probable that the last leaf of Mark was lost before copies could be made; third, books do not end with a γάρ.[19] Regarding the SE, J. Lee Magness argues for examples of this convention in the ancient world, even giving the example of Acts.[20] However, even per Wallace, who holds to the SE, “such suspended endings were rare.”[21] It is also unlikely that the gospel genre allows it. Regarding the second objection, both sides must resort to speculation. We just do not have conclusive evidence either way. The MSS tradition leaves us with attestation of both a SE and LE fairly early.[22] Third, although some have argued the case that narrative texts do not end with γάρ,[23] others have tried to show that, even if rare, books did end with γάρ.[24] But even if some did, is it likely Mark ended this way? N. T. Wright says: “there is at least as good reason to think that Mark intended to write more as to think that gar was intended as his last word.”[25] He adds, “What counts is an understanding of the book Mark was writing, and a sense of what would have been an appropriate ending for this kind of book.”[26]

Source- and Form-Critical Considerations 
Consider this statement by James Crossley: “the idea that Mark was the earliest Gospel and the source of Matthew and Luke has gained widespread approval in biblical scholarship.”[27] But this view depends partly upon a questionable theory of source criticism, the Two-Source Hypothesis.[28] It posits hypothetical source Q as the basis for Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts.[29] But Q has been questioned, in part because there is no evidence it even existed, and “to this day the Minor Agreements have been the ‘Achilles’ heel’ of the Two-Source Hypotheis.”[30] Other theories include the Two-Gospel Hypothesis, the Augustinian Proposal, and the Farrer Hypothesis.
The Two-Gospel Hypothesis proposes that Matthew came first, Luke used Matthew, and then Mark used and edited both.[31] Proposed weaknesses include Mark’s brevity and the “improved” Greek of Matthew and Luke.[32] Regarding the Farrer Hypothesis, it is open to criticism for not sufficiently explaining why Luke would follow Mark’s order but not follow Matthew’s order where Matthew inserts material into Mark, and for scattering orderly Matthean material such as the Sermon on the Mount.[33] The Augustinian proposal has strong support in the early church, including the ordering of the Gospels in the MSS, and may explain why Mark would shorten Matthew. However, the standard arguments now set forth for Markan priority are slightly more satisfactory (e.g., Mark’s brevity, simple style, distinctive theology, as well as verbal agreements and order of events among the synoptics).[34] Accepting Markan priority, then, it is not hard to imagine how the other Gospels could have expanded elements found in Mk. 16:9-20.[35] Though form critics see the LE as a patchwork composed later, they are inconsistent with their two commonly accepted canons of multiple attestation and double dissimilarity.[36]
And though there is no doubt that ancient rhetoricians used devices such as aposiopesis for fuller effect and dramatic impact, drawing parallels as Magness does[37]  to instances of such in the Iliad, the Odyssey, or the Aeneid to support Mark’s use of the same seems precarious. After all, these three works are epics; Mark’s work is a gospel. And is using the device of suspended ending likely given what we do know of how Mark wrote? Wilfred Knox argues persuasively that there is insufficient evidence in ancient literature and, more to the point, in Mark’s Gospel for an abrupt ending like φοβοντο γάρ.[38] Mark does not end narrative pericopies without rounding off sections. So Knox asserts, “In no case do we have an ending to a Markan pericope which is intended to leave anything to our imagination.”[39] Most important, Mark does not end sentences with γάρ.
Moreover, it has not been established that Mark draws on the forms deployed in these ancient literatures as a matter of habit (though his genre has many similarities with ancient biographies). Far more likely is that Mark’s account spawned a genre after which the other Gospel accounts are patterned. Edwards says this: “An ending of the Gospel of Mark at 16:8 is thus not only an aberration among the canonical Gospels but also among the diverse and fluid Gospel genres of the early centuries of Christianity.”[40] Given Mark’s plausible place in shaping this genre, [41] is it likely that his account is the only one without a resurrection appearance? With great similarity within the passion narratives, which Dibelius says “is narrated by all four evangelists with a striking agreement never attained elsewhere,”[42] should one not expect an ending in Mark similar to the other Gospels? Is such an ending necessary for the genre? What genre one understands the Gospels to be shapes the interpretation.[43] If the four-fold Gospel has significant unique features (e.g., a kerygmatic function[44], resurrection appearances (!)), it seems more likely that Mark’s ending concludes as do the other Gospels. Each Gospel ends with recognition and commissioning scenes. Except Mark?

Redaction-Critical Considerations 
Mark’s interest in Galilee has been duly documented.[45] In view of his focus and Jesus’ repeated promise to meet his disciples in Galilee after rising (14:28; 16:7), the reader expects a narrative ending in Galilee. Yet many assert we do not have one. Now though the LE does not explicitly state where the they occurred, there seems to be no reason to doubt that appearances happened in Galilee. Why is this significant? Well, Galilee was the place of the disciples’ calling (e.g., 1:16-20; 2:13-14; 3:13-19). Meeting the disciples there provides the theological lesson that the disciples were being recommissioned (16:9-16). This recommissioning opposite the other bookend’s original calling of the disciples speaks to the continuation of that original calling to proclaim the kingdom of God.    Doing redaction-critical analysis on Mk. 16:1-8, Marxsen sees theological significance for the community of that day in Mark’s deployment of Galileen references.[46] Conflicting with 15:42-47, he suggests that 16:1-8 was appended to Mark’s account.[47] He also suggests that Mark’s source did not contain 16:7 but was added by Mark because there was no resurrection narrative following v. 8.[48] He then adds that “this redactional note cannot deal with an appearance of the Risen Lord awaited in Galilee; in Mark’s context this passage can only refer to the expected Parousia.”[49] But there is no reason to speculate like this; the literary flow holds together nicely. The commissioning emphasis points to a Markan subtheme of mission.[50] The connection between calling and Galilee, plus Jesus’ predictions of meeting his disciples there, supports the LE as authentic.
Although many comparisons with the other accounts could profitably be made, due to space limitations, only one will be discussed. The inclusion of distinctive material in vv. 9-20 concerning the disciples’ hardness and unbelief (vv. 9-14) comports well with Mark’s more negative portrayal of the disciples than the other Gospels and with the preceding periscope (vv. 1-8) where the same note is struck. Mark seems fond of linking fear and unbelief (e.g., 4:35-41); the LE completes this connection rather well. Mark’s inclusion of the material makes the anthropological point that he has been making through his account. Would a later scribe have added this negative connection?

Literary-Critical Considerations

Arguments based on internal evidence are the strongest against the authenticity of the LE. However, some have shown that it is not as inconsistent with Mark’s style as some have thought.[51] I shall provide an example from my own front-end thinking on this issue: Mark’s penchant for using εθς (42 times). Does the lack of εθς from 16:9-20 betray its inauthenticity? Twelve occurrences come in Mark 1; there are no uses in Mk. 11:3-14:43 (152 verses!). Is this section suspect? Mark 16:9-20 is twelve verses long! But regarding style, the SE veers from the anticipation of earlier texts (e.g., 14:28, 62; 16:7) in a book where Mark always shows fulfillment of earlier prophecies. That is Mark’s “style.” Still more, given sources were used (Lk. 1:1-4), why could Mark not have used a source with a different stylistic feel to his own? Many have also seen an awkward connection between 16:8 and 16:9. Metzger, for example, says that the subject of v. 8 is the women, but Jesus is the presumed subject of v. 9.[52] Well sure! He is the subject of vv. 1-8! “He is risen; he is not here!” Metzger also points out the repetition of Mary Magdalene in v. 9, when the other women are forgotten.[53] But on this point, the narrative analysis below discusses the function of this repetition.
The reader-response approach that argues for the SE for effect upon the reader seems flawed on a number of accounts. First, it requires a twenty-first century level of academic sophistication in Mark’s readership for what Hester calls “a highly sophisticated complex of narrative dynamics,”[54] which seems incredible to demand of them.[55] Hester says this of the “totally unexpected” ending at v. 8: “The ending is not an ending, and it comes completely at the expense of every narrative expectation, causing a breakdown of the story world which only the actual reader can rescue.”[56] That places huge demands on that initial readership.[57] More plausible is the LE, providing real closure. Second, it ignores the pattern in apostolic proclamation of including resurrection appearances as essential to the message (e.g., 1 Cor. 15:1ff). Third, it does not consider the blood-earnest heaven-and-hell-at-stake savor of apostolic proclamation. Set forth in its place are highly sophisticated, diverse theories of how readers are expected to respond, leaving the proclamation too open-ended for open-statement-of-the-truth apostolic proclamation aiming at unambiguous effect.
Interpreters such as Peterson and Hester want to see the “prediction-fulfillment device” used by the omniscient narrator as supporting the suspended ending by jolting the reader into an imaginative reading after the prediction of Mk. 16:7 is not fulfilled.[58] This seems plausible—in an age when narrative criticism is in vogue. But it is more likely that there really was a fulfillment to the prediction of Mk. 16:7 in the form of the LE at the climactic point in the narrative. Moreover, if the “narrative trap”[59] was so well constructed as to draw the reader into certain expectations and then imaginative responses, why did so many in the past (and many still) find the ending ineffectual? And why is there so great a diversity of responsive imaginative readings without anything like a monolithic effect? Mark seems to have done quite a poor job of effecting what he intended.[60]

A Narrative-Critical Reading of Mark 16  
In the analysis that follows, I shall attempt to show that Mark’s conclusion narrates the dawning of the new creation kingdom in the resurrection of the Son of God who rescues, restores, and re-commissions his backwards disciples to declare and display the gospel of the kingdom.
In the shadow of the cross, with Jesus breathing his last and the veil being rent in two, the Roman centurion declares—“Truly this man was the Son of God!” (15:39). The women are “looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene . . .” (15:40). Mary Magdalene saw what the centurion saw. At the tomb she then saw where he was laid (15:47). After the Sabbath she appears again at the tomb to anoint Jesus’ dead body (16:1-3). But she sees “that the stone had been rolled back” (v. 4). Entering the tomb, her eyes see a young man (v. 5) who announces of Jesus “who was crucified”—“He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him” (v. 6). But she is not alone in seeing something significant. They young man says to her to “tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you” (v. 7). But in fear (and unbelief?) she tells none (v. 8). But Jesus himself appears to her (v. 9). Seeing him (v. 11), she tells the disciples (v. 10). Later he appears to two others (v. 12). Seeing him, they tell the rest (v. 13). Finally, Jesus himself appears to “the eleven themselves” (v. 14). So they also see him.

Now before asking what ought to be made of these repetitions of Mary’s name and of seeing, the basic plot of Mk. 16:1-8 should be considered. It functions on two levels. The first involves the conflict of the cross of the protagonist, who “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil” (Acts 10:38). His death marks the depths of this comic plot that began its downturn with Jesus’ predictions concerning his impending death, after Peter had confessed that Jesus was the Christ (8:31; 9:31; 10:33). But the resolution comes with his rising from the tomb, as predicted (10:34; 16:6), and appearing to his disciples, as predicted (14:28; 16:7, 9, 12-14). The other level at which the plot functions involves the conflict of the disciples, particularly, the women. First there is a natural conflict, a large stone that cannot be moved (16:3). This corresponds with the depths of the comic plot at the other level, Jesus’ crucifixion. However, the conflict turns from external to internal as the plot begins to resolve at the first level, Jesus’ resurrection. The announcement of the young man in the tomb to the alarmed women that Jesus had arisen sparked not resolution but renewed conflict—internally—and they were alarmed (v. 6), saying nothing to anyone, “for trembling and astonishment had seized them” (v. 8). Momentarily, the readers (or hearers) are drawn inside the women’s point of view,[61] and we tremble, wondering with them without immediate resolution. But resolution is on the way, in Galilee in fact (v. 7). Full resolution comes with multiple appearances of Jesus to his disciples (vv. 9-13), with their restoration and recommissioning (vv. 14-16), with signs of the kingdom come (vv. 17-18), and with the Son of God on his throne (vv. 19-20). How the narrative teases out these two levels follows in the details.
In the previous pericope (15:42-47), the setting is the tomb on the day before the Sabbath. In 16:1ff, the setting is still the tomb (a prop signifying grimness and grief), but now it is after the Sabbath. This temporal setting of three days later would call to readers’ minds Jesus’ earlier predictions of his rising (8:31; 9:32; 10:34). That three-fold repetition emphasized the importance of the teaching for the disciples. Yet ironically the men are nowhere in sight, and the women come to the tomb to anoint a dead body! (16:1-3). This ideological-point-of-view irony gives the divine perspective. The misunderstanding of the disciples points up a problem right the way through Mark’s account: they do not perceive Jesus and his kingdom properly (the so-called messianic secret). The readers, who are meant to identify with the disciples, have the same problem.
The tomb, from the narrator’s point of view, functions symbolically of the reality of  Jesus’ death as a ransom in line with his predictions (e.g., 10:33, 45); from the point of view of the women and the disciples, however, the tomb signifies their grief in unbelief, for none expected him to rise from that grave. That they fully expected a dead entombed Jesus comes clear with this question: “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” (16:3). The spices to anoint Jesus’ dead body also serve as a prop that points not only to the disciples’ unbelief, but also no doubt to their genuine love for Jesus. We, too, the readers, identify with them, knowing how often we, though we love Jesus truly, do not believe what Jesus said about his rising and act as though Jesus were still entombed. These props, then, support the characterization of Jesus as the Son of God, whose traits of trustworthiness and faithfulness received from heaven the infinite affirmation—“My beloved Son! With you I am well-pleased” (Mk. 1:11). The props also support the characterization of the disciples as failing and faithless, whose traits necessitated that the “King of the Jews” (15:18) die as their substitute ransom (10:45)—forsaken by God for them! (15:34)—that their lameness might be forgiven (2:10), their sin-sickness healed (2:17), and their calling renewed (1:16-20; 2:13-14; 3:13-19; 16:7, 14-15).
The patient perseverance of Jesus in the place of his backwards disciples also comes to mind with the mention of “Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified” (16:6). The designation “of Nazareth” no doubt points to the Son’s spotless Spirit-produced service. It recalls Jesus’ baptism (1:9-11), where Jesus identified with sinners and was identified as the Spirit-endowed Son of God in whom Heaven is well-pleased. The designation also recalls that this was the one confessed as the “Holy One of God” by an unclean spirit (1:24), but disowned by Peter (14:67-68). The description “who was crucified” points to Jesus’ substitute suffering for sinners (10:45). The reader thus thinks not only of the passion narrative but again of the predictions as well (e.g., 10:33) and the significance of Jesus’ death (10:45). The entire second half of Mark, after Jesus’ identity as God’s Christ was confessed (8:29), moves unhaltingly toward the cross. So the tomb scene and the naming of the crucified Nazarene bring us back to the cross to consider its crucial significance. And something of its significance is made personal when the young man tells Mary to “go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee” (v. 7). Naming Peter singles him out, done, no doubt, because Peter, representative of the whole lot in so many ways, denied Jesus three times (14:66ff). Naming him shows that his defection has been dealt with—decisively in Jesus’ death and resurrection—and that Jesus welcomes him back into fellowship to proclaim the Gospel. Later, the Jesus’ appearance “at table” (16:14) provides a social setting that speaks of this acceptance.
The mention of the Sabbath’s passing provides the religious setting. Verse 2 repeats in parallel the time frame: “very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen. . . .” Why this repetition? Perhaps the mention of the passing of the Sabbath and the first day of the week point back to Gen.1:1-2:3, where we have the first day and a key Sabbath text. The Sabbath was the seventh day. But what happened on the first day of the week—in the beginning? (Gen. 1:1-5; cf. Mk. 1:1). Creation happened. Would these associations come to mind? Perhaps. A link with Mal. 4:2 would also perhaps come to mind in the use of νατέλλω and λιος together here (Mk. 16:2). It would come to mind in part due to this word collocation but also in part due to the Elijah motif at the other bookend of Mark (1:2-3; cf. Mal. 3:1). If so, it is probable that a double entendre was intended with “when the sun had risen.” The reader knows the messianic Son has risen. And the “sun of righteousness” rising in Malachi comes in a messianic context at the culmination of a stream of messianic predictions that include resurrection and new creation. Some commentators scoff at this suggestion. But with the rising of the sun, on the first day of the week, at the moment Jesus rose, with an Elijah motif linked with Isaiah at the other bookend, the religious setting is at least suggestive, a suggestion that is probable given the new exodus backdrop of Isaiah for Mark.
The stone’s being rolled back (16:4) probably points to divine intervention. The verb is passive (ποκεκύλισται). Earlier (15:46-47) Mary had watched Joseph roll the “stone against the entrance of the tomb.” That verb is active (προσεκύλισεν). The passive probably points to God’s role in this narrative. Now whether the young man mentioned in v. 5 was just a man, perhaps even Mark,[62] or an angelophany, is probably unimportant. Following the passive removal of the stone, surely the point, reinforced by the young man’s symbol-laden white robe, is that we are on holy ground. The point is supernatural. God has done this. And though it is speculation, in view of the prominent place of Jesus’ substitutionary perfection and punishment for his disciples in this Gospel (10:45), it seems natural for the use of νεανίσκος here to lead us back to the poor naked coward in 14:51-52. Perhaps this is the same man, standing now in the empty tomb of the courageous man who took his poor pitiable place, now clothed, not with shame, but with a white robe (cf. 9:3), the robe symbolizing in the Gospel tradition the Father’s free favor (Lk. 15:22), and the white robe symbolizing elsewhere in NT usage the righteous raiment of the saints washed by the Lamb’s blood (Rev. 6:11; 7:9, 13, 14). This would be an encouragement to failed, faithless disciples, with whom all of Jesus’ followers can identify, who are restored as the narrative is rounded off (16:14) and saved by belief in this substitute Savior (10:45; 16:15).
Now, finally, back to Mary, where the pericope starts (v. 1), for she is mentioned four times (15:40, 47; 16:1, 9); and back to the focus on seeing, for it crops up numerous times in various ways. Why the repetition? Well, simply stated, Mary’s prominence points out her importance. Mary, a social and moral outsider (a scandalously sinful Gentile woman who had been demon-possessed), becomes an insider with a privileged place at the dénouement of the narrative. Why? Surely to say something about the kind of kingdom King Jesus brings. For example, in the first century, a woman’s testimony would not have been accepted in Jewish courts, and Greco-Roman society placed women in a lowly place.[63] Mark turns this on its head. Would not all expect the king, if he really did rise from the dead, to show himself to the male religious and political elites of the day, the dominant characters? But he does not do that, for he came not for the righteous, but for sinners (Mk. 2:17); he came to plunder the strong man’s house (Mk. 3:27); he came for the leper, the lame, the loser (e.g., Mk. 1:40; 2:3, 14). He came for Mary. The epithet given to her—“who had had seven demons” (v. 9)—shows that she is not the woman she was. She is a redeemed, renewed woman in Christ’s kingdom—new creation! Her characterization as a round, dynamic character also contributes to the significance of the total picture of the Sabbath passing, the sun rising on the first day of the week, the Son rising on the first day of the week, all of which should probably be understood against the background of an Isaianic new exodus bound up with the new creation promised in the wake of the suffering of the ideal Servant.[64] Mary Magdalene even serves as something of a foil to the cowardly male disciples who are nowhere to be found.

Now, finally, why the repetition of various words for seeing? (e.g., θεωρέω, v. 4; ράω, vv. 5-7; θεάομαι, vv. 11, 14). It seems it would make the reader think of at least two things: first, these were eyewitnesses who would go out to proclaim the Gospel to all (16:15), and so their first-hand sensory experience of Jesus’ death and resurrection was paramount (cf. 1 Cor. 15:1ff); second, the seeing motif has occurred earlier, especially in 8:14-26, right before the turning point of the book (8:27-30). There, when there is no understanding, no sight, following Jesus’ feeding of 4000, Jesus heals a blind man who begins to see clearly. He illustrates the disciples’ need for seeing spiritually, and Jesus’ ability to remedy that need, through healing a blind man. Then Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ follows (8:27-30). The blind man sees; Peter also sees. But Peter does not see quite clearly yet (8:32), just as the blind man did not at first (8:24). So this verbal thread of seeing holds together an important Markan motif: not seeing, then seeing blurrily, then finally seeing clearly. In Mark 16 there is a progression as well, moving from blindness to mere physical sight on to spiritual insight. This happens through no insight of their own, for right the way through, despite Jesus’ predictions and the witness of they young man at the tomb and of the women to the men, their hardness and unbelief have to be rebuked by Jesus—with physical sight, words of correction, and a fresh calling (vv. 9-16). The alarm and fear in response to the young man’s appearance and speech (vv. 5-7) should probably be understood as bespeaking at least some unbelief, as fear and unbelief are so often connected in Mark’s Gospel. This progression was necessary for the disciples to fulfill their calling, one that began the book (1:16-20; 2:13-14; 3:13-19) and ends the book as the disciples are recommissioned (16:7, 14-16). Both commissionings come in Galilee (e.g., 1:16-20; 2:13-14; and 14:28; 16:7). Galilee is the place of calling disciples, where light shines on Gentiles (Isa. 9:1-2). So the initial calling and the recalling to gospel ministry in Galilee frame the whole account.
In v. 10 we see Mary getting on with telling the disciples, and in v. 20 we see the disciples getting on with the Gospel to the globe. They pick up, as it were, where Elijah left off (1:4-7; 9:4-7), performing the signs of the kingdom as they preach the Gospel (16:17-18, 20; cf. Isa. 35:5-6), just as Jesus had done (1:21-2:12), while Jesus continued to work through them (16:20). For this risen Jesus is the Son of God (1:11; 9:7; 16:19; cf. Ps. 2:7; 2 Sam. 7:14; Isa. 9:6-7). The calling narrative, the healing ministry, the preaching of the kingdom, Jesus’ sonship and kingship—all frame Mark’s account. The message then is unmistakable—the kingdom of God that was at hand (1:15) became the kingdom come with power (9:1; 16:6, 19). In Mark 16, as earlier, we see the disciples as developing round characters. First, they do not see at all. The men are nowhere to be found. The women, although they are at the tomb expressing their love, are also in the dark. But the supernatural breaks in (vv. 4-6). And slowly, little by little, requiring even stiff rebukes from Jesus, the disciples see the risen Son and the kingdom and get on with bringing the Gospel to the globe (vv. 9-20). And here we see full resolution and closure of the “beginning of the Gospel” (1:1).

(The footnote formating issues here are duly noted, but I'm simply going to leave the mess and ask your forbearance.)

[1] I know I am out on a limb here, almost all alone. Yet one hopes there are professorial mercies to be found even out on a limb.
[2] Michael W. Holmes, “Textual Criticism,” in New Testament Criticism & Interpretation (eds. David Aland Black & David S. Dockery; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), 101-134.
[3] Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft: D-Stuttgart, 2006), 102-106.
[4] The Old Latin codex Bobiensis (itk), the Sinaitic Syriac MS, about one hundred Armenian MSS, and the two oldest Georgian MSS also do not have vv. 9-20 of Mark 16.
[5] For which addition see Metzger’s Textual Commentary, 103. Also included here are the margin of the Harclean Syriac, several Sahidic and Bohairic MSS, and many Ethiopic MSS.
[6] Such as A C D K W X Δ Θ Π Ψ 099 0112 f13 28 33.
[7] For which addition see Metzger’s Textual Commentary, 104.
[8] There are also some late MSS that include variations of these variations together, for example, combining the second and third types above along with critical notes. But Metzger nicely gives us the four basic groupings.
[9] All are agreed that the fourth option cannot be original. The external witness is meager, the style differs widely from Mark’s, and in the words of Metzger, it has “an unmistakable apocryphal flavor” (Metzger, Textual Commentary, 104). Likewise, all agree that the second grouping is spurious, chiefly on internal grounds, where the rhetorical flourish is inconsistent with Mark’s plain style. Streeter, for example, just dismisses this shorter ending: “the Shorter Conclusion is obviously an attempt by some early editor to heal the gaping wound . . .” (Burnett Hillman Streeter, The Four Gospels: A Study of Origins (London: Macmillan, 1956), 336). 
[10] N. Clayton Croy provides a long list of scholars who take this position in Appendix A of The Mutilation of Mark’s Gospel (Nashville: Abingdon, 2003), 174-177. Included are Griesbach, Lachmann, Westcott, Hort, Streeter, Cranfield, Taylor, Hengel, Moule, Schweizer, Ladd, Bruce, Osborne, Marshall, Stein, Metzger, Wright, Gundry, Witherington, Edwards, and France.
[11] See, for example, the commentaries by Robert H. Gundry, Vincent Taylor, C. E. B. Cranfield, Robert H. Stein, R. T. France, Ben Witherington III, James R. Edwards, and Bruce M. Metzger.  
[12] Metzger, Textual Commentary, 103.
[13] Holmes, “To Be Continued,”19.
[14] Ibid., 19.
[15] Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds. Ante-Nicene Fathers (Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 1999), 426.
[16] Holmes, “To Be Continued,” 19..
[17] Twelve MSS contain a critical note, corresponding to which Holmes provides a typical example: “In some copies the evangelist finished here [that is, Mark 16:8]—which is also as far as Eusebius the student of Pamphilius canonized; but in many copies this also [16:9-20] is in circulation.” Michael W. Holmes, “To Be Continued . . . The Many Endings of the Gospel of Mark,” BR August (2001): 20. Still others, five medieval MSS mark vv. 9-20 with asterisks or obeli, traditionally indicating an inauthentic accretion.
[18] Craig Blomberg avers, in Jesus and the Gospel: An Introduction and Survey (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2009), 108, that “already by the mid-second century there was wide agreement that there were four and only four narratives that accurately portrayed the life of Jesus.” This fact weakens any argument that the LE was added in the second century. The LE must be earlier, increasing the likeliness of its authenticity. See also Streeter, The Four Gospels, 339.
[19]  David Alan Black, ed., Perspectives on the Ending of Mark (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2008), 33.
[20] J. Lee Magness, Marking the End: Sense and Absence in the Gospel of Mark (Atlanta: Scholars, 1986), 17.
[21] Wallace, Perspectives, 34.
[22] Wallace (Perspectives, 35) wants to point out that losing the last leaf is improbable because studies seem to indicate that codices were not used until the end of the first century, which is almost certainly later than when Mark wrote his account of the Gospel. But even if codices were not used until after Mark authored his work, there is still the possibility that a later codex copy of Mark lost its ending.
[23] N. Clayton Croy, The Mutilation of Mark’s Gospel (Nashville: Abingdon, 2003), 47-50.
[24] For example, Kelly R. Iverson, “A Further Word on Final Γάρ (Mark 16:8),”CBQ 68 (2006): 79-94.
[25] N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003), 619.
[26] Ibid., 620.
[27] James G. Crossley, Reading the New Testament: Contemporary Approaches (New York: Routledge, 2010), 16.
[28] D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 94.
[29] It should be duly noted that there are variations of this model.
[30] Mark Goodacre and Nicholas Perrin, eds., Questioning Q: A Multidimensional Critique (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 2004), 11.
[31] Crossley, Reading the New Testament, 17.
[32] Ibid., 17. It is more likely that Matthew and Luke would lengthen Mark, than that Mark would shorten either, just as it is more likely that Matthew and Luke would “improve” Mark’s Greek, than that Mark would degrade Matthew’s or Luke’s.
[33] Ibid., 19.
[34] See, for example, the standard stuff in Carson and Moo, An Introduction, 95-101.
[35] The correspondences may be readily seen in a synopsis such as Kurt Aland, ed., Synopsis of the Four Gospels (Stuttgart: German Bible Society, 2007), 235-332. One cannot be sure, but it makes more sense of Markan priority than does arguing that the other gospel accounts should write such different endings from Mark’s (assuming the SE), or that a hodgepodge of texts from Matthew, Luke, John, Acts, and Hebrews would have been abbreviated and added when the texts had already been secured as authoritative.
[36] Nicholas Perrin, Lost in Transmission? (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007), 86-87. On the first score of multiple attestation, it seems more likely that vv. 9-20 are authentic. It fits the genre and ends similarly to the other accounts of the Gospel. Regarding double dissimilarity, however, it assumes that what fits the needs of the early church theologically simply could never correspond with history. But, as N.T. Wright has shown, this separates what need not be separated (N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God  (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 1-144).
[37] J. Lee Magness, Sense and Absence: Structure and Suspension in the Ending of Mark’s Gospel (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1986), 28-36. Magness also draws parallels to Mark’s suspended ending in ancient Greek dramas, biographies, and romances.
[38] Wilfred Lawrence Knox, “The Ending of St. Mark’s Gospel,” HTR 35 (1942): 15.
[39] Ibid., 15.
[40] James R. Edwards, The Gospel according to Mark (Michigan: Eerdmans, 2002), 502.
[41] Carson and Moo say this of the genre designation: “It was probably Mark’s use of the word [gospel] in prominent places in his gospel (e.g., 1:1, 14) that led to its use as a literary designation.” Carson and Moo, An Introduction, 113.
[42] Martin Dibelius, From Tradition to Gospel (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1965), 179.
[43] Carson and Moo, An Introduction, 113.
[44] Mark 16:9-20 fits the kerygmatic function of a gospel and, as Dibelius points out, “every formulation of the message as preached mentions the facts of the Passion and the Easter story.” Dibelius, From Tradition to Gospel, 179.
[45] Willi Marxsen, Mark the Evangelist: Studies on the Redaction History of the Gospel (trans. James Boyce, Donald Juel, William Pochlmann, and Roy A. Harrisville. New York: Abingdon, 1969), passim.
[46] Ibid., 66.
[47] Ibid., 76.
[48] Ibid., 79.
[49] Ibid., 85.
[50] Andreas J. Köstenberger and Peter T. O’Brien, Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: A biblical theology of mission (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 2001), 73-86.
[51] Robinson, Perspectives, 59-79.
[52] Metzger, A Textual Commentary, 104-105.
[53] Ibid., 105.
[54] David J. Hester, “Dramatic Inclusion: Irony and the Narrative Rhetoric of the Ending of Mark,” JSNT 57 (1995): 62.
[55] See also, for example, Norman R. Peterson, “When is the End not the End? Literary Reflections on the Ending of Mark’s Narrative,” Int 34 (1980): 151-166. Peterson assumes the readership would be expected, for example, to see irony in Mk. 16:8 and then imaginatively fill in the spaces.
[56] Hester, “Dramatic inclusion,” 62.
[57] The level of sophistication required by an intentional ending at 16:8 seems unlikely given Mark’s unsophisticated style. It is not clear that the NT ever does the like. Even the ending of Acts cannot compare. And even Wallace, who argues for the SE, says, “I suspect that most readers would not have understood what he [Mark] was after.” Wallace, Perspectives, 33.               
[58] Peterson, “When is the End not the End,” 155-156; and Hester, “Dramatic Inclusion,” 62.
[59] Hester, “Dramatic Inclusion,” 63.
[60] But rounding off a story with a suitable conclusion complies “with what appears to [have been] the invariable practice of ancient biographies or quasi-biographical narratives.” Knox cites multiple Old Testament, apocryphal, and pseudepighraphal examples. Knox, The Ending of St. Mark’s Gospel, 17.
[61] This is invited by, e.g., the anonymity of the two disciples in vv. 12-13.
[62] Mark 14:51-52 and Christian tradition are suggestive, but remain speculative.
[63] James A. Brooks, Mark (Nashville: B & H Publishing, 1991), 271.
[64] See Rikk E. Watts, “Mark,” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (eds. G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007). 


All English citations, unless otherwise noted, are from the ESV. All Greek citations are from
Aland, Kurt ed. Synopsis of the Four Gospels. Stuttgart: German Bible Society, 2007.
Allen, O. Wesley. “Mark 16:1-8: A Case Study of Resurrection Revised.” Homiletic 28 (2003):
Black, David Alan, ed. Perspectives on the Ending of Mark. Nashville: Broadman and Holman,                            2008.
Blomberg, Craig L. Jesus and the Gospel: An Introduction and Survey. Nashville: B&H                
Publishing, 2009.
Bolt, Peter. “Mark 16:1-8: The Empty Tomb of a Hero?” Tyndale Bulletin 47 (1996): 27-37.
Boomershine, Thomas E. “Mark 16:8 and the Apostolic Commission.” Journal of Biblical
Literature 100 (1981): 225-239.
Boomershine, Thomas E., and Bartholomew, Gilbert L. “The Narrative Technique of Mark 16:8.” Journal of Biblical Literature 100 (1981): 213-223.
Brooks, James A. Mark. Nashville: B & H Publishing, 1991.
Bruns, J. Edgar. “A Note on Mark 16:9-20.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 9 (1947): 358-359.
Carson  D. A. and Moo, Douglas J. An Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids:            
Zondervan, 2005.
Cranfield, C. E. B. The Gospel According to St. Mark. Cambridge University Press, 1959.
Croy, N. Clayton. The Mutilation of Mark’s Gospel. Nashville: Abingdon, 2003.
Crossley, James G. Reading the New Testament: Contemporary Approaches. New York:  
Routledge, 2010
Dibelius, Martin. From Tradition to Gospel. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1965.
Edwards, James R. The Gospel according to Mark. The Pillar New Testament Commentary.        
Michigan: Eerdmans, 2002.
France, R. T. The Gospel of Mark. The New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand
Rapids: Paternoster, 2002.
Gedder, Timothy J. “Beginning Again (Mark 16:1-8).” Direction 33 (2004): 150-157.
Goodacre, Mark and Perrin, Nicholas, eds. Questioning Q: A Multidimensional Critique.  
Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 2004.
Gundry, Robert H. Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross. Grand Rapids:    
Eerdmans, 1993.
Hartman, Lars. “Mark 16:1-8: The Ending of Biography-Like Narrative and of a Gospel.”
Theology & Life 30 (2007): 31-47.
Hester, David J.  “Dramatic Inclusion: Irony and the Narrative Rhetoric of the Ending of Mark.”                         Journal for the Study of the New Testament 57 (1995): 61-86.
Holmes, Michael W. “Textual Criticism.” Pages 101-134 in New Testament Criticism &    
Interpretation. Edited by Aland Black & David S. Dockery. Grand Rapids: Zondervan,
Holmes, Michael W. “To Be Continued . . . The Many Endings of the Gospel of Mark.” Bible      
Review August (2001): 13-23, 48-49.
Horne, Mark. The Victory According to Mark. Moscow: Canon Press, 2003.
Iverson, Kelly R. “A Further Word on Final Γάρ (Mark 16:8).”Catholic Biblical Quarterly 68                                (2006): 79-94.
Knox, Wilfred Lawrence. “The Ending of St. Mark’s Gospel.” Harvard Theological Review 35   
(1942): 13-23.
Köstenberger, Andreas J. and O’Brien, Peter T. Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: A biblical
theology of mission. Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 2001.
Lane, William L. The Gospel According to Mark: the English Text with Introduction, Exposition,
and Notes. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974.
Leithart, Peter J. The Four: A Survey of the Gospels. Moscow: Canon Press, 2010.
Lincoln, Andrew T. “The Promise and the Failure: Mark 16:7,8.” Journal of Biblical Literature
108 (1989): 283-300.
Magness, J. Lee. Marking the End: Sense and Absence in the Gospel of Mark. Atlanta: Scholars,
Magness, J. Lee. Sense and Absence: Structure and Suspension in the Ending of Mark’s Gospel.   
Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1986.
Marxsen, Willi. Mark the Evangelist: Studies on the Redaction History of the Gospel. Translated
by James Boyce, Donald Juel, William Pochlmann, and Roy A. Harrisville. New York:
Abingdon, 1969.
Metzger, Bruce M. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. Deutsche           
Bibelgesellschaft: D-Stuttgart, 2006.
Metzger, Bruce M., and Ehrman, Bart D. “The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission,        
Corruption, and Restoration.” New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
Meye, Robert P. “Mark 16:8: The Ending of Mark’s Gospel.” Biblical Research 14 (1969): 33-
Perrin, Nicholas. Lost in Transmission? Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007.
Peterson, Norman R. “When is the End not the End? Literary Reflections on the Ending of          Mark’s Narrative.” Interpretation 34 (1980): 151-166.
Resseguie, James L.  Narrative Criticism of the New Testament: An Introduction. Grand Rapids:   
Baker, 2005.
Roberts, Alexander and Donaldson, James eds. Ante-Nicene Fathers. Massachusetts:        
Hendrickson, 1999.
Stein, Robert H. Mark. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids:      
Baker, 2008.
Streeter, Burnett Hillman. The Four Gospels: A Study of Origins. London: Macmillan, 1956.
Taylor, Vincent. The Gospel According to St. Mark. London: Macmillan, 1963.
Watts, Rikk E. “Mark.” Pages 111-249 in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old       
Testament. Edited by G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007.
Witherington, Ben III. The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids:       
Eerdmans, 2001.
Wright, N. T. The New Testament and the People of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992.
Wright, N. T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003.

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