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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
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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
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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 Mar 6 at 17:32
    
@soldarnal - it looks like you've been interested in this question. I've added my answer below. –  Matthew Miller Mar 6 at 19:37

4 Answers 4

If one discounts the longer or shorter ending of Mark (For why scholars have rejected these endings see this answer.), there are only two explanations for Mark's apparently unresolved ending at 16:8. It was either an accident of history or a purposeful descision on the part of the author. Mark's gospel could have been unfinished due to the death of the author or some other unintended authorial disruption. The scroll could have been accidentally damaged or the a leaf of the original codex been lost. But the ending at 16:8 could also have been the plan of the author. Determining whether the ending was accidental or intentional is a matter of weighing the narrative coherence of the ending we now possess.

Though certainly enigmatic and perhaps a bit troubling, Mark’s ending at 16:8 makes good sense of Mark's narrative.

Yes, this ending is hard to digest! 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 readers 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).

The real problem for most readers though is 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.

Mark in fact sets his readers up for not seeing the risen Jesus by the end of his gospel by placing a future meeting with the risen Jesus in Galilee. In promising this meeting in this distant location, Mark has bypassed any hint of the more imminent resurrection meetings in Jerusalem and Judea found in Luke and John. He places a meeting with Jesus three days journey beyond the time and environs of the empty tomb. Why doesn't Mark simply tell us of Jesus' appearances to the women and the disciples in Jerusalem? Why does he give the impression to the reader that a meeting will only take place in Galilee? The answer is found in Mark's ending at 16:8. In this detail Mark has given room for not seeing the risen Jesus. He's established the fact that Jesus will appear off-stage in another time and place. The women receive the good news and run off stage. The curtain closes. There is nothing left unresolved. Due to Mark's emphasis on fulfillment of Jesus' predictions throughout the gospel, the meeting between Jesus and disciples is most certainly assured.

By not recording an eyewitness meeting with Jesus, Mark places more weight on the few details leading up to his ending. Among the details he focuses 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-crumbs 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. As we have already seen.

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.

  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 are reluctant to accept such a "symbolic" reading, I must once again point out that this 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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Matthew, you're clearly very intelligent and creative, and brought up a number of interesting points here. I'm just not sure the conclusions are reliable-- for a couple of reasons. First, this entire line of thought is nullified if the ending is indeed original, which is where the evidence seems to me to point. Second, a lot of these arguments rely on drawing lines between different passages based on a single shared word or phrase, and that method is highly suspect. It just doesn't work consistently. You have to prove that the author intended the link, and one word isn't enough to do so. –  Jas 3.1 Mar 13 at 2:31
    
@Jas3.1 I so enjoy your push-back! I don't think there's anyone who's caused me to grow more in my approach to scripture than you. I appreciate that. I truly do! –  Matthew Miller Mar 13 at 2:46
    
@Jas3.1 I was teaching the gospel of Mark last fall and I was reminded of our discussions almost a year and half previous. You asked me if the word "bird" meant the same thing in both its uses in the context of Jesus parables in Matthew 13. I had no answer for you. But as I was teaching through the parables in Mark 4, the answer came to me. –  Matthew Miller Mar 13 at 2:58
    
@Jas 3.1 I believe that Matthew draws upon Mark's gospel and changes it in ways that cease to make sense in Matthew. In Mark's gospel the birds in the parable of the sower and the birds in the parable of the mustard seed have a clear synonymous meaning. They are related first and foremost through a chiastic structure. But both have ominious presence in taking away the seed or resting the branches of the tree. –  Matthew Miller Mar 13 at 3:02
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@Soldarnal Well said. I guess I find the ending of Mark at 16:8 satisfying for two principle reasons. First, the endings we possess after 16:8 have been persuasively shown not to be from the hand of Mark and (2) As God's word, I believe Mark's original ending could not be lost. The first is a claim based upon evidence. The second is an inference based upon my beliefs about God and the Bible. Given those two premises, I can't help but conclude that I'm reading Mark's ending as it was meant to be read. –  Matthew Miller Mar 24 at 4:14

The simple answer is yes. Mark begins:

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Mark 1:1 NKJV)

Beginning is arche which means the first in a series, like the beginning of birth pains. In other words, Mark begins something which will be completed later.

Mark was the first to be written and as it is read, it is apparent both the beginning and ending are missing. Since Mark was first there would be a period of time where it was the only written account; anyone who read Mark and came to ending would have normal questions like "What happened next?"

Obviously Mark knew the answer to that question, as well as other details such as the birth which he left off. So his original ending was purposeful to affirm his beginning which was the first in a series of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The series would be completed by others.

If Mark is seen as a work of the Holy Spirit (not something Mark was inspired on his own to do) then latter ending means that Mark was both first and last. It was the first and began the series and it was the last and completed the record.

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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 Mar 6 at 17:36

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