Tag Archives: Gospel of Mark

How Does the Gospel of Mark Really End?

Yesterday’s Easter sermon covered the last few verses in the Gospel of Mark…. or did it?

If you pick up any copy of any modern English Bible translation, Mark 16 starts off telling the reader that the women came to the tomb, where Jesus was laid after the crucifixion, early on Sunday morning, only to find that the stone at the entrance of the tomb had been rolled away, and a “young man” (an angel perhaps?) sought to answer the questions that the women had in their minds at that moment:

‘And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid’ (Mark 16:6-8 ESV).

The end.

It is a very awkward ending to the Gospel. This unknown figure announces that Jesus has been risen from the dead, but there are no resurrection appearances of Jesus to the women. That is really odd, but that is what you have here.

The graveyard at Bruton Parish Church, in Williamsburg, Virginia. What if you were among the women to visit the grave of Jesus, and Jesus was not there, but someone told you that Jesus had been raised from the dead?

However, what is interesting is that most every modern Bible translation will then include a note. The English Standard Version (ESV) modestly reads, “Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9–20.”  The New International Version (NIV) is bolder and more direct, “The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have verses 9–20.

Most of these modern translations will then have a footnote describing what is called the “shorter ending of Mark.” They will often include, in the main body of the text, what is called the “longer ending of Mark.” The most interesting feature of the “longer ending of Mark” is that it includes the infamous snake-handling verse (Mark 16:18), that some Christian groups in Appalachia use as a prooftext for handling live snakes in their worship services (Link to creepy National Geographic story on snake handling).

So, what is the story with these alternative endings for Mark?

Many Christians familiar with the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible will notice that there is no note at the end of verse 8, but that verses 9-16 are included anyway (the longer ending of Mark).  Many therefore conclude (understandably) that the longer ending is the authentic ending for the Gospel of Mark.

However, most scholars (Christian and non-Christian) do not believe that the “longer ending” (or even the “shorter ending”) of Mark are authentic. But scholars differ as to why most of our earliest sources lack anything after verse 8. Perhaps Mark just left the Gospel as a cliff-hanger at the end. Perhaps the original ending to Mark’s Gospel simply got lost, as though the last few inches of Mark’s papyrus got ripped off. A handful of scholars even suggest that some type of oral tradition gives us the alternative endings to Mark that are found after verse 8. Others say that it just seemed too awkward for Mark to end the Gospel at verse 8, so other endings were invented to smooth out the ending of the story.

The bottom line is that we simply do not know how to account for Mark’s abrupt ending at verse 8. Aside from the snake-handling verse, which is perhaps an allusion to Paul being bitten by a snake on the island of Malta, and surviving (Acts 28:1-7), (and the related bit about drinking poison), there is nothing in verse 9-16 that is not repeated or covered elsewhere in the New Testament. No theological problems here. So, we do not lose any specific Christian doctrine if we recognize verses 9-16 as not being authentic.

But it does make for some interesting conversation!!

For a “shorter” summary of the broad scholarly consensus on Mark 16:9-20, you might want to briefly look at the 2 1/2 minute video below from a recent Mike Licona debate. For a “longer” summary, you can consider Mike Winger’s 2-hour video teaching on the topic. Mike Winger is one of most popular Christian Bible teachers / apologists today on YouTube, with over 400,000 followers. As a church pastor, with a YouTube channel on the side, Mike Winger says he spent 150 hours researching this topic. Did you ever think it was possible to spend 150 hours studying the final 12 verses of the longer end of Mark?



Things that Go Bump in the Night

“From goulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night
Good Lord, deliver us!”
Scottish prayer recorded in The Cornish and West Country Litany, 1926


Nightmare by Paul Bielaczyc. Charcoal, 2005.


There was my dentist—a normally genteel man—in the back of a military cargo plane decked in an olive-drab Level A HAZMAT suit, gesturing me into his examination chair with long, gleaming, barbaric surgical instruments. I had a hard time making out what he was saying behind his face shield, but it sounded like, “Buckle up.” I’m pretty sure he was grinning.

I’m not one much for dreaming, nor am I particularly anxious, but it’s amazing what the anticipation of a minor dental procedure did to loose my subconscious this week.

Fear is powerful, and the Bible has a lot to say about it. The words fear, afraidanxious, and anxiety appear 541 times in the ESV.

  • The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; (Proverbs 1:7)
  • Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. (Proverbs 3:7)
  • Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.” (Matthew 6:25)
  • He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40)
  • And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” (Matthew 8:26)

Need an anti-anxiety prescription?  Here you go: fear in the right channel is prescribed—throughout Proverbs and the rest of the Bible. The apostle Paul instructs believers in Philippians 2 to, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”  We’re not supposed to be free from fear. We’re supposed to live with fear in the right context—reverence and respect for the awesome power of our Creator. That’s what Dick Woodward’s 4 Spiritual Secrets are all about.

Ready for some good news? According to Jesus, fear has an anecdote: faith.

Fear is powerful. My loving mother, who hung that Scottish prayer just outside my bedroom door, was paralyzed by fear her entire life. So many times I wished I could have helped her think through her fear. But that’s not the way it works. Overcoming fear is not a matter of our intellect or will—it’s a matter of the heart. And no one gets out alive. Apart from the grace of God and a little faith we don’t stand a chance.

Here’s a link to Whom Shall I Fear? by Chris Tomlin that gets to the heart of the matter.


HT: Paul Bielaczyc (Nightmare used with the kind permission of the artist.)

Michael Card on the Gospel of Mark

Hope for the Gentiles: The Gospel of Mark

Michael Card’s books and videos are among the most helpful and encouraging resources you can find for gaining insights into Scripture.  The best teachers are full of original material, and Michael Card is indeed one of the best.

He has a new book entitled, Mark: The Gospel of Passion, which Day of Discovery has produced into a three-part video series entitled, Hope for the Gentiles: The Gospel of Mark.  Watch all three video segments directly on the Day of Discovery website.

The bMark: The Gospel of Passionook can be ordered from Amazon.com
(particularly if you enjoy using a Kindle Reader), or directly from MichaelCard.com (in paperback only).


New Manuscript Evidence

Several pieces of the New Testament have been discovered recently, that when properly vetted will comprise the oldest New Testament fragment of the Bible, and the earliest copies of several Pauline letters.  The discovery of these ancient documents is exciting enough for anyone interested in ancient artifacts and Bible history, but this particular story is shaping up to be the New Testament equivalent of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which broke the record of the oldest surviving copies of Old Testament manuscripts by 900 years.  In so doing they demonstrated very clearly the precision of ancient scribes in handing down the original text.  (The methods used by scribes, particularly the Masoretes, will be covered in a future post—suffice it to say these people were extremely meticulous in quality control, and the Dead Sea Scrolls proved just how effective their methods were.)

P52, The Rylands Papyrus

The Rylands Papyrus (P52): the ‘current’ oldest New Testament fragment

Paper deteriorates over time due to chemical reactions with the atmosphere.  This is particularly true of ancient papyrus, parchment and vellum, although there are tens of thousands of surviving specimens.  When it comes to the Bible, there are far more documented copies than for any other ancient text.  But the fact remains we do not have the original Biblical manuscripts—we only have copies.

Many skeptics have tried to prove that the Scriptures were changed—and therefore corrupted—as they were copied over time.  In fact, even Josh McDowell set out many years ago to make an “intellectual joke” of Christianity by undermining the authority of the Scriptures.  Working with this intention, Josh had two main questions on which he focused his research:

    1. Is what we have today in the Bible what was written down 2,000 years ago, and
    2. Was what was written down true?

Eventually Josh McDowell said, “I came to the conclusion that I can hold the Bible in my hand and say it is the word of God, it is true, and it is accurate historically.”  His research is documented in a foundational work entitled New Evidence That Demands a Verdict.

“Textual criticism” is the discipline that attempts to determine the original wording of any document whose original no longer exists.  Never heard of textual criticism?  Sounds pretty boring doesn’t it?  Turns out it is a big deal.  A very big deal.

There are those who purport that the Bible was so corrupted by changes during the copying process over time that we no longer have reliable copies of the original documents.  The implication is that if the text is corrupt, we can’t trust the Bible.  And it would be hard to argue that point if in fact the Bible had been substantively corrupted in its transcription.  We would then be left at best to make our own determinations about what parts are genuine and what parts we could or should overlook.  (Actually, there are a lot of people doing that anyway—without thinking about textual corruption—but that’s another matter.)

But a main contention of this blog is that the Bible can stand up to scrutiny, so bring it on.

Let’s start with the obvious: there are problems with our current Bibles.  Pick up a copy of the New International Version or English Standard Version, both meticulous translations, and you will find notes like these:

  • “The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have verses 9–20” (Mark, Chapter 16), and
  • “The earliest manuscripts and many other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53—8:11.  A few manuscripts include these verses, wholly or in part, after John 7:36, John 21:25, Luke 21:38 or Luke 24:53.”

In attempting to produce the most accurate text, the translating committees and publishers took the most reliable ancient (mostly Greek) texts to translate from among many copies, which did not settle the matter of the definitive text in these two instances.  But these are minor problems, and they don’t negate the original message of the entirety of Scripture.  You can argue that these passages should be cut from the Bible, but nothing would be changed or lost by such deletions.

But before taking liberties with scissors, meet Dr. Daniel B. Wallace and the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts.  Dr. Wallace and his colleagues have spent decades studying ancient manuscripts.  They have developed intricate systems for comparing texts, and have some interesting conclusions about the accuracy of the Bibles we possess in the 21st century.  You might be very surprised at their take on textual criticism, and its value in defending the veracity of Scripture.  The Day of Discovery folks recently produced a three-part documentary on their work.

With that bit of introduction, read about Dr. Wallace’s exciting discoveries and all the press his work is generating.  He has a lot to say about the accuracy of the Bible.  He can quantify the textual variants, and you might be surprised to see how insignificant most of them are.  And how they resolve discrepancies between manuscripts.  Fortunately there’s a lot of evidence to work with in the thousands of manuscripts that are now catalogued.  You might also be interested to discover how the correct text can be determined from the volume of copies.  Don’t miss the radio interview in which he describes what is going on with the new discoveries and why he can’t rush to publish.  It’s important to get it right.  And that’s the point of this post.

Dan Wallace by Justin Taylor

Dan Wallace Interview

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