Tuesday, September 24, 2019

According to Mark: Victory

We’ve reached the final chapter in our study of the book of Mark. At the end of the previous chapter, Jesus’ body was laid in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea before dark on Friday. All day Saturday, everything remained as still as death. But on the third day, at dawn, the wait was over. Jesus rose from the grave to defeat death for Himself and for all those who believe in Him. His words were fulfilled and God’s will was fully carried out.


A touching, personal aspect of Jesus’ resurrection is found in Mark 16:7. The angel announcing it to the women tells them to take the message to the Lord’s disciples, reminding them of His promise a few days before (Mark 14:28). It is a message of reconciliation, especially for Peter. The last time the disciples had seen Jesus, they were running away from Him. Peter had tried to stay close but ended up denying Him. They must have believed their last memories of Him would be shameful ones. Instead, they are told that not only is Jesus alive, but He still wants them in spite of what they have done. It is a powerful message for all of us. I can only imagine what it must have been like for them to hear, though. Even more what it must have been like to believe when the Lord appeared before them. Those of us living today have to wait for that, for now.

The Ending of Mark

So, is that it? Because if you look at the editor’s notes for Mark 16, it seems like it might be. It says that “Some of the earliest [manuscripts] conclude with 16:8.” There are a lot of questions surrounding the remainder of the chapter, or if there even was any remainder.

This ties very well into my previous article (which I did not plan out this way, they just happen to be back-to-back). In it, I presented a summary of the dispute between those who suggest we ought only use the King James Version of the Bible and those who say we should use modern translations. Mark 16 is the largest block of text in the Bible that is different between them. To be fair, I have never seen a modern translation that excludes Mark 16:9–20. Instead, they bracket it the way the Christian Standard Bible does. And, in most recent editions of the KJV and the New King James Version, a footnote of some type generally appears to take note of the debate on whether these verses are original.

Which is the question: were they a part of the original reading of Mark? Some of the most ancient copies in our possession omit these verses. On the other hand, they do appear in the vast majority of manuscript copies that we have. Some of the Church Fathers never quoted from vv. 9–20. Others did. Mark 16:8 does not make good sense as an ending. Mark 16:9–20 is written in a style and vocabulary fairly different from the rest of the book. What is going on?

I cannot be dogmatic about it, but my personal opinion is that these verses are original. As I also explained in my previous article, I prefer the wide distribution of a reading as evidence of its accuracy to the original. The age of the copies we have is less persuasive for me, since it is not actually proof that still older copies did not say what we have in vv. 9–20 and simply deteriorated over time. And I cannot accept the idea that Mark ends as abruptly as v. 8 on its own.

Of course, some experts theorize that Mark had a different original ending that has been lost to us. The only thing I can say against that is an argument from faith. I have to believe that the version in use through most of the history of the church has been the one that God intended us to have. I’ll admit I could be wrong, though.

The other issue is, if Mark 16:9–20 is original, who wrote it? It certainly does not seem to have been Mark himself. At the very least, it does not seem like something written at the same time as the rest of the book. Perhaps he or someone else came along shortly after to provide a conclusion, but that still begs the question of why he would stop at v. 8 in the first place.

I actually prefer a theory that is, as far as I know, original to me. Verses 9–20 read as a complete summary of the resurrection appearances of Christ and the work of the early church. Rather than being an addition to Mark, I believe this passage preceded the gospel. My guess is that it was written as an easily shareable account of the events, perhaps even by the Apostle Peter himself, and that Mark built the rest of his book on it. A handful of early scribes might have omitted it because of its stylistic differences, while the vast majority knew to keep it as the capstone to the larger narrative.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ 

That’s just a bold (some would say unfounded) hypothesis. More important is what the verses actually say. This story is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. That also makes it difficult to accept v. 8 as the ending. The angel mentions the resurrection of Jesus, but the gospel does not feel complete without it actually being seen. That, after all, is what happened. The Lord appeared alive to His followers to prove His victory and to show the salvation available to those who trust in Him. His witnesses then went on to proclaim His glory even though it cost most of them their lives. They were not madmen, and liars do not maintain a lie in the face of torment and death. Certainly, hundreds of them do not do it at the same time.

Jesus is alive. All the evidence is in favor of this conclusion and denying it is something that must be done on blind faith. It is the ultimate proof that He is the Son of God who gave His life as the ransom for many (Mark 1:1; 10:45). All who believe in Him and accept His forgiveness are freed from the threat of eternal suffering and are welcomed into everlasting joy. Even if the original version of Mark did not explain all of this, it does appear in Matt. 28, Luke 24, John 20–21, and 1 Cor. 15. It is biblical truth, so there is no good reason to question its veracity. That is a worthwhile position to take on Mark 16, but it is a vital realization for life in general. We must respond to the historical fact that Jesus walked out of the grave, and we must live out the implications of this most vital event in the history of creation.

Closing Thoughts

Thank you so very much for traveling through this book with me. I started with the goal of explaining the basics of the life of Jesus through the lens of the most basic account of His life. Hopefully, if you did not know much about Him before, it has helped you come to recognize Him as the “Messiah, the Son of God” who gave His life as a ransom for you. And if that was already what you believed about Him, then I hope you discovered some reminders and new perspectives along the way. Now let’s go out and share what we’ve learned. This is good news the world needs to hear.

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