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Mark's gospel may or may not end at 16:8. The earliest manuscripts do not contain 16:9-20.

As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. ”Don’t be alarmed,” he said. ”You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him just as he told you.’” Trembling and bewildered, the women went and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

Is that the end?

What hermenutical case can be made for Mark intentionally ending his gospel at 16:8?

Note that this is not the place to answer the question, Is the ending of the Gospel of Mark (16:9-20) original?, which is already a question asked elsewhere.

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This is not really a good question to ask. The better approach is to ask whether it is original or not. How do we know what Mark's intention was at any point at all? How do we know whether Moses did not perhaps want to stop the Book of Genesis after chapter 11 or even 15 or 36? Or Isaiah perhaps felt like stopping at chapter 53. In the end it is not about their Intentions but about God's Inspiration compelling them to write absolutely what God wanted to preserve for the future readers. –  McGafter Jun 19 '14 at 8:37
I disagree. This is not simply a textual issue but a hermeneutical one as well. If Mark ended at 16:8, as the textual evidence indicates, then the whole of Mark's gospel makes sense in light of this ending. Narratives are not simply a series of disjointed events but deliberately structured wholes. –  Matthew Miller Jul 14 '14 at 18:57
As this floats to the surface: see now also Nick Lunn, The Original Ending of Mark: A New Case for the Authenticity of Mark 16:9-20 (Wipf & Stock, 2014) + a brief reflection from the book's W&S editor. –  Davïd 2 hours ago
@soldarnal - it looks like you've been interested in this question. I've added my answer below. –  Matthew Miller 35 mins ago

4 Answers 4

Short Answer: After weighing all of the evidence (both internal and external), it would seem that Mark 16:9-20 was indeed originally part of Mark's Gospel.

The ending of Mark's Gospel is one of the major textual problems in the New Testament.1

As noted by the OP, the "problem" is whether the end of Mark (16:9-20) was originally part of Mark's Gospel. Essentially the matter comes down to three factors.

1. External evidence

Dr. Constable summarizes the external evidence concerning verses 9-20:

The two oldest Greek uncial manuscripts of the New Testament . . . plus many other old manuscripts, do not contain them. Moreover, the writings of some church fathers reflect no knowledge of these verses. On the other hand, verses 9-20 do appear in the majority of the old manuscripts, and other church fathers do refer to them.1

DETAILS AGAINST: absent from א, B, itk, Sinaitic Syriac, ~100 Armenian mss, the two oldest Georgian mss. Some mss that do include it mark it with asterisks or obeli. Clement of Alexandria and Origen show no knowledge of the existence of these verses.3
DETAILS FOR: too many to list!!4... 99% of Greek manuscripts contain it.5 present in the vast number of witnesses, including A C D K W X Δ Θ Π Ψ 099 0112 f 13 28 33 al. Numerous patristic witness beginning with Irenaeus and the Diatessaron.3 Found in many early versions: Vulgate, Syriac, Peshitta, Coptic, Sahidic, Bohairic, Fay­yumic, Gothic, Armenian, Georgian, and Slavonic.6

Despite the absence of these verses in some old manuscripts, and the silence on these verses in the teachings of some church fathers (which could be said for any verse in the New Testament), the fact remains that most old manuscripts do contain these verses, and many church fathers do refer to them. Dr. Constable concludes well that:

[these verses] appear to have been regarded as inspired and therefore authoritative early in the history of the church.1

Thus, while external evidence in this case is far from conclusive, the evidence does weigh in favor of these verses originally being part of Mark's Gospel.

2. Internal evidence: structural coherence

Dr. Constable mentions an important structural consideration in this debate:

Throughout this Gospel, we have noted many unique features that appeal to disciples to serve God by bearing bold witness to Jesus, even in spite of persecution and suffering.1

This makes sense in light of Mark's target audience. Mark wrote his Gospel to disciples in Rome who faced a serious decision:

They faced the choice of whether to take a public stand as Christians—and suffer the loss of real estate, personal property, employment, and even their lives—or to lay low. They were required by law to offer a pinch of incense in worship of "divine" Caesar, as Roman citizens. Doing so compromised their exclusive commitment to Jesus as Lord. To fail to worship Caesar cost them dearly.1

Mark's Gospel served as an exhortation to these Roman disciples to lay down their lives and preach the gospel with boldness. In light of this, it is hard to imagine Mark ending his Gospel "with an example of disciples too fearful and amazed to bear witness to the resurrected Jesus."1 Yet this is exactly what we would have if Mark 16:8 were the end of the Gospel. Thus, structural coherence also weighs in favor of Mark 16:9-20 originally being part of Mark's Gospel.

3. Internal evidence: stylistic clues

Some interpreters believe the vocabulary, style, and content of these verses argue against Mark's authorship of them.1 (E.g. Walter Wessel and Robert G. Bratcher and Eugene A. Nida.)

Bruce Metzger elaborates on the two main considerations:

(a) The vocabulary and style of verses 9-20 are non-Markan. (e.g. απιστεω, βλαπτω, βεβαιοω, επακολουθεω, θεαομαι, μετα ταυτα, πορευομαι, συνεργεω, υστερον are found nowhere else in Mark; and θανασιμον and τοις μετ αυτου γενομενοις, as designations of the disciples, occur only here in the New Testament).
(b) The connection between ver. 8 and verses 9-20 is so awkward that it is difficult to believe that the evangelist intended the section to be a continuation of the Gospel. Thus, the subject of ver. 8 is the women, whereas Jesus is the presumed subject in ver. 9; in ver. 9 Mary Magdalene is identified even though she has been mentioned only a few lines before (15.47 and 16.1); the other women of verses 1-8 are now forgotten; the use of αναστας δε and the position of πρωτον are appropriate at the beginning of a comprehensive narrative, but they are ill-suited in a continuation of verses 1-8.3

Commentator J.R. Dummelow adds a few more:

(1) the true conclusion certainly contained a Galilean appearance (Mark 16:7, cp. 14:28), and this does not.
(2) The style is that of a bare catalogue of facts, and quite unlike St. Mark's usual wealth of graphic detail. . . .
(6) The section seems to represent not a primary tradition, such as Peter's, but quite a secondary one, and in particular to be dependent upon the conclusion of St. Matthew, and upon Luke 24:23f.2

In favor of Mark 16:9-20 being authentic, Scrivener responds to these arguments with the following dismissal:

With regard to the . . . alleged difference in style from the rest of the Gospel, I must say that the same process might be applied — and has been applied — to prove that St. Paul was not the writer of the Pastoral Epistles . . . St. John of the Apocalypse, Isaiah and Zechariah of portions of those prophecies that bear their names. Every one used to literary composition may detect, if he will, such minute variations . . . either in his own writings, or in those of the authors he is most familiar with[!]4

Scrivener is highlighting a major weakness in "stylistic clues": they tend to be easily bent to the will of the interpreter! This has been my experience as well, and so I tend to place less weight on such arguments (though they can be very telling in some cases.) But for example:

  • Metzger argues that it is strange for Mark to mention Mary Magdalene by name in 16:9 since she had already been named in 16:1, yet note that she is also explicitly named in 15:40 and 15:47 (one verse prior to 16:1)! With all due respect, this is a silly argument, and reflects a haste to justify a preconceived notion.

  • There are 17 words in Mark 16:9-20 that are not previously used in Mark's Gospel, which Metzger and others use as proof that Mark didn't write it. Yet, if you take the previous 12 verses in Mark (15:44-16:8) and apply the same criteria you find that this section also uses 17 new words that did not previously appear in Mark!7


The arguments against authenticity seem to be rooted in the writings of Eusebius,4 who, ironically, seems to have favored the inclusion of these verses.5 Regardless, both external evidence and internal structural evidence weigh in favor of the authenticity of Mark 16:9-20. Some have argued that internal stylistic evidence points to the contrary, but upon closer examination, these claims seem to be weak at best. Stylistic clues should be considered, but only with the utmost caution, given the nature and track-record of this method of analysis.

Thus, the evidence -- both internal and external -- seems to indicate that Mark 16:9-20 was, in fact, originally part of Mark's Gospel.

1: http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/mark.pdf, pp. 206-207

2: http://www.bible-researcher.com/endmark.html citing A Commentary on the Holy Bible, edited by J.R. Dummelow (New York: MacMillan, 1927), pages 732-33

3: http://www.bible-researcher.com/endmark.html citing Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (Stuttgart, 1971), pages 122-126

4: http://www.bible-researcher.com/endmark.html citing F.H.A. Scrivener, A Plain Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testament, fourth ed. (London: George Bell and Sons, 1894), volume 2, pp. 337-344

5: https://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=13&article=704 citing Aland, Kurt and Barbara Aland (1987), The Text of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerd­mans), page 287

6: https://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=13&article=704

7: https://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=13&article=704 citing Broadus, John A. (1869), “Exegetical Studies,” The Baptist Quarterly, 3:355-362, July.

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This is moreso an answer to Is the ending of the Gospel of Mark (16:9-20) original?. You might consider posting it there as well. –  Dan Jun 16 '14 at 20:07

Though certainly enigmatic and perhaps a bit troubling, Mark’s original ending at 16:8 does indeed make good sense of Mark. (For the textual evidence, see this answer.)

Yes, this ending is hard to understand! But in and of itself, an abrupt, seemingly unresolved ending should not rule out the fact that Mark ends at 16:8. Apparently unresolved endings appear elsewhere in scripture. For instance, the book of Jonah. While the audience may want to know if Jonah repents, it's entirely beside the point of the book. The same is also true for Acts. The point of Acts is not the fate of Paul, left waiting in chains for a trial before caesar, but the expansion of the Gospel, which is unhindered and reaching the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).

I don’t think Mark's abrupt ending is the real problem for most readers though. Rather it's Mark's decision not to record an eyewitness meeting with the risen Jesus. That issue is far more significant than questions about the fate of Jonah or Paul. Why would Mark choose not to record an eyewitness meeting with Jesus? The answer is the same reason why Jonah and Acts end as they do. The desires of the reader is not the point of the author. Mark is not writing a book for unbelievers or for us for that matter. All indications suggest that Mark was writing a book for wavering disciples under the threat of persecution. And the details he mentions were particularly poignant for them.

By not recording an eyewitness meeting with Jesus, Mark places more interpretive weight on the few details leading up to his ending. Among the details he chooses to focus on are

  1. The Stone.
  2. The Young Man at the Tomb
  3. The Disciples Invitation to Meet Jesus in Galilee.

These details reveal far more than what we typically hear them say.

Before we discuss the significance of these details, however, its important to point out Mark’s special enigmatic nature. Its typical of Mark not to explain his meaning but instead leave a trail of bread-crumb clues for his readers to follow. Mark shows. He doesn’t usually tell! Here's an example: Mark never identifies John the Baptist as Elijah. What Mark does is describe John as dressed in a leather belt (Mark 1:6), which if you know the OT will point you to Elijah (2 Kings 1:8). Mark also presents John’s death through the machinations of a royal couple who, if you know the OT, will seem surprisingly reminiscent of Elijah enemies, Ahab and Jezebel (Mark 6, 1 Kings). Mark even quotes from Malachi and alludes to the promise of Elijah’s coming at the end of that book (Mark 1:3, Mark 9:9-13). But not once does Mark explicitly say that John the Baptist was Elijah or an Elijah figure. That explicit connection is found only in the other gospels. Matthew, for instance, adapting Mark, makes this identification plain (Matthew 11:14). Mark, on the other hand, is not plain. He leaves his readers to follow a trail of clues to arrive at this conclusion. From this example and other like it, its clear that Mark expected a great deal of knowledge and sensitivity on the part of his readers.

We now turn to the details mentioned above. Each of these concluding details is extremely significant and bear further reflection in light of Mark’s narrative. Let me start with the third point, the invitation to meet Jesus in Galilee, and work back towards the first.

The Invitation to Meet Jesus in Galilee

Though Jesus could have met the disciples in Jerusalem, as both Luke and John record, Mark points to an appearance of Jesus outside the environs of the empty tomb, Jerusalem and even Judea. Does that seem odd? It should. Why does Jesus, in Mark, not appear to the disciples at the empty tomb? Why does Mark not even give the impression that an appearance of Jesus in Jerusalem is imminent (as we know from the other gospels)? Why does the young man at the tomb point the disciples instead in the direction of Galilee?

It appears from a reading of Mark’s narrative that this is a riff on the command to follow. Its the promise of a restoration for the disciples after their failure to follow Jesus in the crucifixion.

The Gospel of Mark is divided into three sections: Jesus’ ministry in Galilee (Ch. 1-8): a central journey to Jerusalem (Ch. 8-10), and finally Jesus ministry in Jerusalem (11-16). The central motif of Mark’s gospel is a journey. Over and over again Mark stresses the disciples call to “follow” Jesus. Peter, Andrew, James, and John left their boats and nets (Mark 1). Levi left his tax collectors booth (Mark 2)

But in the central journey (8-10), Mark hammers home what Jesus means by his call to follow. Jesus says in 8:34-35,

Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.

Jesus call to follow is a call to come and die with Him. The disciples, however, in Mark fail again to again to understand this crucial point. Peter does, however, remind Jesus that, “We have left everything to follow you!” (Mark 10:28)

But in the end the disciples do not follow Jesus in his death. They abandon their call and run away.

The invitation to meet Jesus in Galilee at the end of Mark’s gospel is once again Jesus call to follow. And not surprisingly its a call to meet Jesus at the very place where they were first called: Galilee. The reason Mark does not show his readers a meeting with the risen Jesus is that the invitation is left open for them. The abrupt ending leaves the invitation ringing in the readers ears. The question Mark leaves his readers with is “will you follow? Will you see Jesus? Even if it means going to your death.”

The Young Man Dressed in White.

The appearance of the young man is another indicator that Mark’s ending is about the restoration of the disciples. Surprisingly, Mark never calls this person an angel. This is important. The only other time we read about a “young man” in Mark’s gospel is the “young man” who flees naked from Gethsemane. Mark has established a literary connection between these two figures. The connection suggests that together they are representative figures of the disciples. For instance the “young man” mentioned in Mark 14 appears immediately after the disciples run away. Like the disciples he is following Jesus and has left everything to follow Him. Mark notes that he’s wearing only a linen sheet. That a linen sheet only appears elsewhere wrapped around the dead body of Jesus (Mark 15) also suggests this “young man” has left everything to embrace the call to come and die with Jesus. But when that opportunity finally comes, he like the disciples abandons his call, and runs away naked, a clear scriptural reference to shame.

All these details makes it all the more significant that the “young man” who appears to the women at the tomb is also described by what he’s wearing. He’s dressed in a white robe. Elsewhere in scripture we find that a white robe is a symbol for the saints and their purity. Again, all this suggests that Mark records and describes these two “young men” as symbols of the disciples abandonment and restoration. I am not saying that these two men are not historical figures or that the young man at the tomb is not an angel. I’m saying that Mark is using this historical material and presenting in such a way that we see this deeper meaning.

The Rolled Stone

Given the fact that Mark does not record an eyewitness meeting with the risen Jesus, its interesting that Mark spends much of his ending returning to the movement of the stone - three times in fact. In 15:46, Mark informs reader that Jesus’ tomb “had been cut out of the rock” and it was sealed by rolling a stone against the entrance. And when the women arrive in 16:3, three verses later, they wonder, “who will roll away the stone?” The answer comes in the following verse when they discover the “stone had been rolled back.” Mark further adds “that it was very large.” Why such stress on this detail?

Interestingly, the only other place in Mark we read about stones is in the section dealing with Jesus’ judgment of Jerusalem and the temple (Mark 11-13). There we find two scenes referring to stones. The first occurs at the end of Jesus’ parable of the tenants and deals with the reversal of fortune for the rejected stone (jesus and or the “others”) in the coming destruction of the temple. The next appears less than a chapter later at the introduction of the Olivet Discourse. The disciples admiration for the stones of the temple, prompts Jesus to remark that they will all be thrown down. Again the readers are pointed to a reversal of fortune for stones brought about by the coming destruction of the temple. For these two references, at least, stones are clearly connected with Jerusalem’s destruction.

Is it possible then that the rolled stone from the tomb’s entrance points to the same meaning? In the Olivet Discourse, Jesus explicitly connects the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the temple with the coming of the Son of Man, which is a clear reference to Daniel 7. In Daniel, that event brings about an end to the four beastly kingdoms and the establishment of a kingdom without end, represented in the coming of the Son of Man. But readers familiar with Daniel should in this reference should also be thinking about Daniel 2 and its related prediction. There, we find an idol/image with four different metals, also representing four kingdoms, which are likewise destroyed and supplanted by an everlasting kingdom. Instead of the Son of Man, however, the image in Daniel 2 is destroyed by a stone cut out from the mountain without human hands.

Daniel 2’s description of the stone matches in several ways Mark’s depiction of the tomb and its entrance. Daniel says it was a stone cut out from a mountain (Daniel 2:34, 45) while Mark tells his reader of the apparently otherwise-needless detail that the tomb had been cut out of the rock (Mark 15:46). Daniel also points to the divine origin of the stone which was “cut out by no human hands” just as Mark seems to point to some invisible hand which has rolled the “large” stone. All this appears to suggest that the destruction of the temple and the establishment of Jesus’ eternal kingdom are assured in Jesus’ resurrection.

In these three details, Mark has left his readers enough clues to piece together a coherent resolution. In his conclusion,

  1. By placing an eyewitness meeting with the risen Jesus outside the environs of the Judea, Jerusalem and the tomb, Mark calls the disciples and his readers to once again follow Jesus into the unknown.
  2. By describing the angel as a "young man," Mark symbolizes the disciples restoration though a literary restoration of the "young man" who represented the abandonment of the disciples in the garden.
  3. And by emphasizing the movement of the resurrection stone, Mark points to the coming of the Son of man and the assured destruction of the temple and idolatrous kingdoms of this earth.

For those of you who reluctant to accept such a symbolic reading, I must once again point out that this symbolic reading is not to say that these events are not historical. Mark clearly presents these events as occurring in real time and space. But Mark’s narrative is more than history. As with the leather belt wrapped around John the Baptist, Mark draws his readers in by presenting details which he expects his readers to decipher. Like Jesus’ parable of the sower (what is in fact Jesus’ parable of the parables), Mark’s gospel is also seed looking for the right soil.

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@soldarnal - it looks like you've been interested in this question. Here's my answer. –  Matthew Miller 3 hours ago
You can't just ping anybody at random with @ like that. Only the owner of a post, its editors and previous commenter can be pinged. Either find a related post of Soldarnal's and comment there with a link to this as related material or ping him in chat (get a mod to do so if he's not in the room). –  Caleb 1 hour ago
Thanks @caleb. I didn't know. –  Matthew Miller 1 hour ago
You might try pinging him with a comment on the question. I see he had a bounty on it at one point. I know editors are pingable but I actually have no idea about bounty posters. Maybe. Worth a shot I guess just to find out. –  Caleb 1 hour ago
I just confirmed with someone that you should be able to ping him with an @ message on the question because he posted a bounty on it. That does, apparently, qualify him for being pingable---but on the question, not this answer. (BTW: please flag these comments obsolete after reading this far and I'll clean up) –  Caleb 53 mins ago

If the author of the (in time) first gospel had been in the position and intent to give a wellrounded end to his account, he would perhaps not have left any (and there are a few) difficulties in his text. Some of these were not corrected until John wrote his gospel. They, together with those in Luke's and Matthew's account, tell us a lot about the circumstances of the production of these texts and are in this way of greater value than a single one account without any difficulties. The end (what could it be?) very likely was the most difficult portion for him to write and the scroll may have left his hands before he felt it should. It may have been for the good of many in that time of more difficult postal delivery than we are used to.

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The Bible's own literary structure is key here. Mark follows a convention found throughout all the Bible's texts, based upon the Creation Week and the Levitical Feasts (Lev. 23). The gospel has a number of "Covenant-shaped" cycles, and the entire book is itself "Covenant-shaped." This final cycle is left incomplete if the gospel ends at 16:8.

Creation: Day 1 / Sabbath / Genesis: The women intend to anoint Christ's body on the first day of the week (Spirit/dove hovers over the waters)

Division: Day 2 / Passover / Exodus: The women enter the open tomb (The bloodied/sealed door opened / Passage through the abyss / the Veil torn)

Ascension: Day 3 / Firstfruits / Leviticus: An angel tells the women that Christ, the firstfruits, has risen, and gives the women a commission to go and tell the disciples (The structure of Leviticus takes us from outside the Tabernacle to the Most Holy Place and out again, sin having been atoned for. The angels seated at each end of the slab correspond to those on the Ark of the Covenant)

Testing: Day 4 / Pentecost / Numbers: Mary and Jesus appear to the disciples but many do not believe (Mary's seven demons are mentioned because they are negative counterparts of the seven spirits before God's throne, pictured in the sun, moon and five visible planets of Day 4, and also the seven lamps of the Lampstand, tongues of fire. This is the repeated biblical architecture)

Maturity: Day 5 / Trumpets / Deuteronomy: Jesus appears to all the disciples and rebukes them (the Law "repeated" concerning His resurrection - fragrant Incense Altar)

Conquest: Day 6 / Atonement / Joshua: Jesus gives the Great Commission, beginning with the healing of Israel ("by His stripes"). The two goats of Atonement here are those who believe and those who reject the gospel.

Glorification: Day 7 / Tabernacles / Judges: Jesus sits as a righteous judge at the Father's right hand (as Covenant head) and the disciples go and preach the gospel in His power (as Covenant body). This is the "corporate fulfilment" of what was intended on Day 7 of history, and also of the "Judges" period in Israel's history.

This pattern is found in every inspired book of the Bible, because the Bible is a fractal. It contains the same patterns we find in nature, used for both efficiency and beauty.

A lot of this might be new to many readers. You can find out more in my "Bible Matrix" books, or lectures by James B. Jordan available at www.wordmp3.com

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Besides being a raw assertion of a conclusion (rather than the demonstration of how a conclusion was arrived at as required by this site in general) this answers the wrong question. It's basically an answer to the opposite question that was asked and does nothing to explain to the inquisitive what case might be made the other direction. –  Caleb 2 hours ago

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