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
    Commented Jun 19, 2014 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. Commented Jul 14, 2014 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.
    – Dɑvïd
    Commented Mar 6, 2015 at 17:32

6 Answers 6


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.

  • 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
    Commented Mar 13, 2015 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! Commented Mar 13, 2015 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. Commented Mar 13, 2015 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. Commented Mar 13, 2015 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. Commented Mar 24, 2015 at 4:14

It is not necessary to hold to a binary position of either the longer ending was added by some scribe after the formation of the canon, or that the one and only original version of Mark ended at Mark 16:8. One can have a more nuanced, progressive view called the Clementine Biblical Tradition view.

This view, popularized by the Catholic theologian Barnard Orchard OSB & the Anglican priest Harold Riley, takes a high view of the church fathers and harmonizes their statements by proposing that Mark’s Gospel has gone through at least one rendition that was done in the lifetime of its author.

This model of reconciling the variant readings of Mark’s ending, by proposing updates approved by Peter himself, resolves the seemingly small contradiction between Clement and Origen in that Clement places Luke before Mark and Origen places Mark before Luke.

For an expanded view of the Clementine Biblical Tradition, see Dennis Barton’s 2017 edition paper. In the paper, he puts forth Orchard’s thesis:

Clement of Alexandria tells us that Peter was indifferent to copies of Mark’s writing being made for the audience. But later, when he became aware of its favorable reception, he agreed to it being sent to the churches. This account points to two editions coming into circulation.

Archeological research confirms there were two editions. One included the last 12 verses and the other omitted them. Clement says Mark issued Peter’s words while Peter was still alive and Irenaeus says Mark published after Peter’s death. This is another pointer that two editions were published.

Barton argues:

Once Orchard’s thesis is accepted, answers to other questions suggest themselves. For example, why are the last 12 verses of Mark disjointed from the main text? In 1987, Orchard speculated that these verses may have been notes for a further talk. But he later became interested in the suggestion that they were replies to questions provoked by the new information contained in Luke’s Gospel. When examined as such, they do make sense.

The use of ‘he’ in Mark 16:9 is inexplicable unless we accept that the word “Jesus” was contained in a question. Matthew mentioned Mary Magdalene, and Luke mentions that a Mary of Magdalene had been possessed by devils. When someone asked if she was the same person, Peter confirms that she was. In the ensuing verses, we see Peter confirming details when he was a witness of an incident but otherwise quoting others.

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    Orchard's work is great! Big fan Commented Feb 17, 2022 at 21:27
  • HoldToThe Rod, Indeed, it makes sense that there were at least a couple of editions of Mark being authorized by Peter, as it best explains the variants. There is no need to propose a extra ending put in by some scribe into Mark's Gospel, after the formation of the canon. Nor is there a need to propose that scribes somehow failed to accurately copy and transmit a large section of what they had received from the beginning.
    – Jess
    Commented Feb 17, 2022 at 21:48

The alternatives seem to be either that

  • Mark continued the Gospel beyond verse 16:8 but his ending was lost, so later scribes wrote new endings, from which the 'Long Ending' was eventually selected
  • Mark did continue the Gospel beyond verse 16:8 and the 'Long Ending' we now have was original to the Gospel

  • Mark intended to continue the Gospel beyond verse 16:8 but was prevented from doing so, whether by his untimely death or otherwise

I believe the first option is the least likely, as autograph scrolls were valuable and would be handled carefully. In any case, the evidence is that Mark's Gospel was copied and circulated widely in a very short time, so that even if one copy was damaged, this would quickly have been recognised. In any case, accidental damage would not result in the scroll ending at a logical point in the narrative, as the existing Gospel does do:

Mark 16:8: And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid.

Although it is generally accepted by New Testament scholars that the 'Long Ending' did not form part of the Gospel as originally written, this still leaves us to decide what the author's intention was. I believe the answer to this question must be found by looking at the Gospel narrative.

Mark's Gospel is framed around a parallel structure that begins with John the Baptist explaining the coming of Jesus and ends with the young man explaining the departure of Jesus. Pair A elegantly define the boundaries of the structure, so that our author was unlikely to have intended to provide any further material outside the structure. Please note, a parallel structure would normally be indented in a similar way to a chiastic structure (but with parallel sets), but in this case the structure is too large for this to be very practical:

A John explains the coming of Jesus (Mark 1:1-8)
B The baptism of Jesus (1:9)
C The voice of God from heaven, "Thou art my beloved son" (1:11)
D The forty days in the wilderness as an allusion to Elijah and Moses (1:13)
E The people were astonished at what Jesus taught (1:22)
F Jesus casts out an unclean spirit (1:23-26)
G Pharisees took counsel with the Herodians how they might destroy Jesus (3:6)
H Demons, whenever they see Jesus, fall down and say that he is the Son of God. (3:11-12)
-- Jesus commands that they tell no one of this
I Jesus calls the 12 disciples (3:13-19)
J Jesus rejects his own family: he has a new family, his followers (3:31-35)
K Jesus rebukes the wind (4:36-41)
L The demoniac, wearing no clothes (5:15), cries out that Jesus not torment him and Jesus sends out the demons (5:1-20)
M Jesus comes into his own country (6:1)
-- Where he was brought up
N The people misunderstand Jesus and he can do no mighty work (6:2-6)
O Jesus sends out the disciples and curses those who will not receive them (6:7-11)
-- in sending the disciples with authority and expecting all to receive them, Jesus is asserting his own authority
P Herod thinks that Jesus is John the Baptist risen from the dead (6:14)
Q Herodias and her daughter conspire to kill John the Baptist (6:16-29)
R Feeding the thousands, and related miracles and discourses (6:31-8:21)
S Who do people say that I am (8:27)
T Peter affirms faith in Jesus as the Christ (8:29)
U Whosoever shall be ashamed of me: of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed (8:38)
V The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and scribes (8:31a)
W Be killed and after three days rise again (8:31b)
X Prophecy of second coming (9:1)
-- Jesus tells the disciples that some of them would not taste death until they saw the kingdom of God coming with power.
B' The Transfiguration of Jesus (9:2-3)
C' The voice of God from heaven, "This is my beloved son" (9:7)
D' Jesus talks to Elijah and Moses then to the disciples about Elijah (9:4-13)
E' A great multitude was amazed at Jesus (9:15)
F' Jesus cast out a dumb spirit (9:17-27)
G' Jesus says they shall kill the Son of man and he shall rise on the third day (9:31)
H' Jesus clarifies his divine status, saying that he is not God: "Why call me good? There is none good but God" (10:18)
I' Peter says the disciples have left all and followed Jesus (10:28)
J' Those who have left their family for Jesus have a new family: all Jesus' followers (10:29-30)
K' Jesus rebukes the 'sons of thunder', James and John (10:35-45 - cf 3:17)
L' Blind Bartimaeus cries out for mercy and casts off his clothes, then Jesus heals him (10:46-52)
M' Jesus comes into Jerusalem (11:1-10)
-- Where he will die
N' Jesus misunderstands the fig tree that can provide no fruit (11:13-14)
O' Jesus casts out them that sold and bought in the Temple and curses them for making the Temple a den of thieves (11:15-17)
-- Jesus is asserting his authority
P' Jesus asks whether the baptism of John is from heaven or of men, and the priests, scribes and elders can not answer (11:30-33)
Q' Parable of husbandmen who conspire to kill the vineyard owner's son (12:1-9)
X' Prophecy of second coming (chapter 13)
-- on clouds of glory, within the lifetimes of some of those to whom he was speaking
R' The Last Supper (14:17-25)
S' Art thou the Christ, Son of God (14:61)
T' Peter denies Jesus three times (14:66-72a)
U' And when he thought thereon, Peter wept (14:72b)
V' The chief priests, elders and scribes delivered Jesus to Pontius Pilate (15:1)
-- Delivering Jesus is a similar concept to rejecting him.
-- Both parts of the pair involve chief priests, elders and scribes
W' Jesus dies and on the third day rises again (15:37, 16:6)
A' The young man explains the departure of Jesus (16:6-8)


Mark intended his Gospel to end at 16:8, which most scholars now accept as the original ending.


Mark begins (using the NET):

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

Beginning is ἀρχὴ which means the first in a series [G746-arche]. It describes the absolute beginning of something which continues:

For nation will rise up in arms against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and there will be famines. These are but the beginning (ἀρχὴ) of birth pains. (Mark 13:8)

The signs are the beginning of what will continue. Similarly in John:

Jesus did this as the first (ἀρχὴν) of his miraculous signs... (John 2:11)

Cana was the first (arche) of His signs, and the cross marked the culmination (telos) of His works. 1 The word, arche prepares the reader to expect more to come. What follows in Mark is more and also ends on the same note: the reader expects even more, a reality at odds with modern source theories, yet fulfilled for the initial readers when Matthew, Luke, and John add details Mark (obviously) intentionally chose to omit.

To show this is the intended ending of the original author, this simplistic approach must lead to a suitable answer to the question of why Mark chose this particular ending. The opening line may prepare the reader to expect something more, but this in itself does not prepare for, or explain, why this particular ending was chosen. However, once it is accepted as both purposeful and suitable, the ending can be examined in this light to see what message the author intends to convey and how this particular ending best serves to support this message.

Mark's presentation ends with a primary focus placed on the young man inside the tomb speaking to the women. Mark's "the women said nothing to anyone" (literally "to none nothing they spoke") purposefully mutes the women placing all attention on the words spoken by the young man:

But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has been raised! He is not here. Look, there is the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples, even Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.” (16:6-7)

Mark has placed the first witness of the resurrection as the one given by the young man.

The young man also tells the women to "go and tell the disciples, even Peter that He is going ahead of you in Galilee. You will see Him there, just as He told you."

This ending makes the point Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome are supposed to go to Galilee. The young man last words are: "just as He told you" which in context means the three women he is speaking to inside the tomb.

Next, Mark placed the statement the young man is referring to at the end of the Last Supper:

But after I am raised, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” (14:28)

Mark's arrangement and ending effectively locates Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, with Jesus at the end of the meal, implying they were present for the Last Supper.

Therefore one purpose this ending serves is to strengthen the validity of the witness of the three women to the final events of the life of Jesus and His resurrection:

Last supper: But after I am raised, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” (14:28)
Crucifixion: There were also women, watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. When he was in Galilee, they had followed him and given him support. (15:40-41)
Burial: Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was placed. (15:47)
Resurrection: 16:1-8

Additional Consideration – The “Empty” Tomb

Another purpose served by Mark's presenting the women’s witness in this particular fashion pertains to "the empty tomb," a phrase often used as evidence to prove the resurrection. In this light Mark’s ending is purposeful to correct a deficiency in this phrase. Since all accounts record the fact Jesus was resurrected and no longer in the tomb, the tomb was empty, if the phrase is taken only in the limited sense as it applies to Jesus.

However, Mark, Luke, and John all record the women saw and/or heard a young man, two men, or two angels inside the tomb. The women's testimony is different than the men's: the tomb was not empty. True the body of Jesus was not there, but this is not all of what happened.

Luke's account of the encounter on the road to Emmaus is purposeful to highlight the difference between what the men and women saw:

Furthermore, some women of our group amazed us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back and said they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of those who were with us went to the tomb, and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see him.” (Luke 24:22-24)

The men did not see "Him" and they did not the angels. Also, Luke reports what Cleopas heard the women say “a vision of angels” but has corrected this to “two men” in the narrative account:

Cleopas: “and when they did not find his body, they came back and said they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. (24:23)
Narrative: but when they went in, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men stood beside them in dazzling attire. The women were terribly frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has been raised! 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 again.” (24:3-7)

Here is a table of the four records of what the men and women saw outside and inside the tomb: enter image description here Mark's ending is singularly focused on what takes place inside the tomb and refines the report of an empty tomb. This in no way lessens the fact Jesus was not there; it only serves to correct a deficiency by making the point the tomb was not empty.

Mark's ending not only draws attention to the young man, it invites speculation on his identity. Contemporary readers still have a question What is the significance of the young man who runs away naked in Mark's gospel? and undoubtedly the initial readers would have this same question. None of the accounts state who this man is, but Matthew provides a detail to offer a reasonable explanation:

And tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had died were raised. (They came out of the tombs after his resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.) (Matthew 27-52-53)

Mark's young man was dressed in white, the clothing saints wear (cf. Revelation) so he is one of those saints who came out of their tombs after the resurrection. The logical OT candidate is Abel, the first and youngest person to die.

If correct, Abel was given the privilege of announcing the resurrection to the three women from Galilee. Which would be the perfect beginning to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and thus the most appropriate ending to Mark's account of the resurrection.

1. Craig R. Koester, Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel, Augsburg Fortress, 1995, p. 81


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
    Commented Mar 6, 2015 at 17:36

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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