At or near the end of his gospel, Mark says that the women fled from the tomb trembling and bewildered and that they "said nothing to anyone because they were afraid." What were they afraid of?

I can think of a couple options:

  • They were experiencing shock after seeing the young man dressed in white
  • Maybe they were still afraid that something had happened to Jesus' body
  • Perhaps they were afraid of the Romans for some reason

But I don't have any arguments for any of these; they're only possibilities. And perhaps there are better possibilities I'm not considering. What were the women afraid of?

4 Answers 4


Not the Romans, per se, but the religious leadership in Jerusalem ("the Council, chief priests, elders and scribes" (Mark 15:1)), who held sway with the Romans and were able to borrow soldiers (Matthew 27:65) and incite the crowds to force Pilate's hand (Mark 15:11-15). They also had their own soldiers (the temple guard), and generated fear through the threat of excommunication (see John 9:22).

Jesus' followers were afraid when they approached Jerusalem (Mark 10:32) and Jesus Himself would have been arrested sooner, if it weren't for the crowds' enthusiasm (Mark 11:18). At His arrest, Jesus had to specifically ask the soldiers to let his disciples go (John 18:8) and in spite of this, the soldiers still attempted to seize one of Jesus' followers (Mark 15:51), apparently grabbing the linen cloth he was wearing, since he slipped out of it and ran away naked. This is presumably the reason the disciples fled (Mark 15:50): they were afraid of being arrested with Jesus.

After the resurrection, Peter and John were arrested by the temple guards, specifically for "proclaiming the resurrection from the dead" (Acts 4:2).

But I think there is a deeper, thematic reason Mark emphasizes the fear and silence of the women: He is most likely writing to the persecuted church in Rome, see https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/a/13131/6002. The theme of bold witness in the face of persecution (as evidenced by Jesus Himself before the Sanhedrin in 14:62) is strong in Mark. Though this is debatable, I think Mark is deliberately contrasting the cowardice of the women with the courage of Joseph of Arimathea by sandwiching his story (Mark 15:42-47) with references to the women (Mark 15:40-41 and 16:1-8).

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Have you considered the fact that what they were afraid of was the response of those they were afraid to tell? The testimony of a woman was not admissible in court, which is not in question here, but it's possible that they were simply afraid they wouldn't be believed. After all, they could hardly believe it themselves!

One of the marks of authenticity of the Gospels is this: that the women were the first ones to discover the fact of the resurrected Jesus. If you were trying to perpetrate a myth as fact in the first century, you would have a man making this discovery.


That is a very interesting question.
The subject of fear is quite interesting throughout all the Scriptures, and it is very prevalent. There are two types of fear, the rightful fear of God, and fear of everything else (be it man, enemy, satan, circumstances, events, anxiety, etc). Wherever there is perfect fear of God, there is fear of nothing else, and vice-versa. Consider this thought when reading about fear through the Scriptures, as well as your daily life.
Now back to the question, the fact that they where astonished when they saw Jesus risen from the dead, suggest that they didn't really expect/await/believe it, even though he had told them on a number of occasions, and it had been prophesied. This hints that they where not so much in the Godly fear of witnessing the power of God. But rather the fear of the event that had taken place,... a combination of the reasons you mentioned: their Master had been crucified a few days earlier, and even so as a blasphemer, according to the leaders of their country (the pharisees,...), they were uncertain about what would happen, there was anxiety, as they did not remember what the Lord had spoken (that He should rise on the 3rd day).
To be honest an even more interesting question, would be: "what where they expecting to see at the tomb?"... as it was supposed to be heavily guarded and with a huge stone which a few women cannot move!
Also, everyone would know that they were disciples of Christ if they were to go to His tomb... (and we know that the disciples stayed inside at a locked door, due to fear of the Jewish leaders (John 20:19)). So in a sense the women were quite brave. So, in light of that, I would suggest they feared more to what could have happened to their Lord, in combination to what the angles had told them, than for their own lives.


The women were afraid as a result of their encounter(s) inside the tomb.


At the core of Mark's account is the young man inside the tomb. From strictly human experience it is understandable the women encountering a young man, likely supernatural, inside the tomb would be cause for alarm, fear, or terror.

Mark and Luke both record encounters the women had inside the tomb. Each also states the women were afraid:

And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed (ἐξεθαμβήθησαν). And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed (ἐκθαμβεῖσθε). You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him... And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling (εἶχεν) and astonishment (ἔκστασις) had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid (ἐφοβοῦντο). (Mark 16:5-6, 8 ESV)

And as they were frightened (ἐμφόβων) and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” (Luke 24:5-7 ESV)

Mark's states "they were afraid" using the word ἐφοβοῦντο [G5399-phobeo] where Luke states the women were "frightened" using the word ἐμφόβων [G1719-emphobos]. Mark's statement seems to say they left in fear while Luke is clear they were afraid inside the tomb. If this is correct, then the use of different words ἐφοβοῦντο and ἐμφόβων follows how each account records the women's fear. Inside the tomb the women were ἐμφόβων (Luke) and they fled in ἐφοβοῦντο (Mark).

Mark provides additional details saying they fled with "trembling and astonishment" using the words εἶχεν [G2192-echo] and ἔκστασις [G1611-ekstasis] These reactions are consistent with fear.

In a similar fashion when describing the women's fear, Luke gives the additional detail: "they bowed their faces to the ground." This too is consistent with being afraid.

Finally, Mark states the women were "alarmed" ἐξεθαμβήθησαν while inside the tomb. That reaction is recognized by the man who tells them "do not be alarmed." This word can mean to terrify or be struck with terror. [G1568-ekthambeo] It is used once in the LXX where the Hebrew is usually translated as fear or terrify:

Behold, no fear of me need terrify you... (Job 33:7 ESV)
οὐχ ὁ φόβος μού σε στροβήσει

Inside the tomb the women encountered one man or two men. Or since Luke states they bowed their faces to the ground, Mark and Luke may be describing two different encounters separated by bowing their faces to the ground. In this case, there would be even greater reason for them to be afraid.


Therefore we can say they women were afraid of the man/men who spoke to them inside the tomb and a combined account of Mark and Luke's description could flow like this:

...entering the tomb they were frightened (ἐμφόβων) and bowed their faces to the ground...they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed (ἐξεθαμβήθησαν)...they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling (εἶχεν) and astonishment (ἔκστασις) had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone [the man/men inside the tomb], for they were afraid (ἐφοβοῦντο).

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