Monday, January 31, 2011

Missing Mark Found?

It is well known that the ending of the Gospel According to Mark is problematic. Some ancient manuscripts end the gospel at Mark 16:8 and others insert a number of different endings suggesting that no solid tradition survived concerning any text after the eighth verse. This has led some scholars to conclude that there never was an ending and that the author of Mark intended the sudden and dramatic ending.

One thought that has occurred to me is that Matthew's gospel gives a further indication that the "missing" ending may never have existed or at least was lost extremely early. We all know (I think) that Matthew borrows heavily from Mark. In fact Mark is Matthew's primary source for narrative details. When we read the end of the Gospel According to Matthew, of course we get the cute story about the guards which "is told among the Jews to this day" (Kudos to Matthew for this nice bit of apologetics). This is followed by chapter 28, verses 16-20
16Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’
This brief and simple appearance story pales next to Luke's and John's memorable versions. However, if we line it up with Mark's passion narrative a curious thing happens. Matthew's appearance story is precisely what we would expect to follow Mark 16:8, namely the disciples meet Jesus in Galilee just as the young man in the white robe instructed the women at the tomb saying, "he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you." Mark 16:7.

Is Matthew stuck with a copy of Mark that ends without the promised reunion? Does he feel the need add exactly the scene that so many scribes felt compelled to supply as well? I must admit that I never felt completely satisfied with the conclusion that Mark ended so abruptly but this little detail has me rethinking my position.


James E. Snapp, Jr. said...

Well here's another idea: There was an early collection of Petrine/Marcan material that was used by Luke, in which events after Jesus' resurrection proceeded essentially as they do in Matthew 28:8-10 and 28:16-20. Matthew's sources included the Gospel of Mark and this "Proto-Mark." When Matthew wrote about the post-resurrection appearances, he chose to follow the earlier source.

By the way, the claim that other MSS "insert a number of different endings" is bound to mislead readers. The only truly distinct alternative ending to 16:9-20, other than the abrupt stop at the end of 16:8, is the Shorter Ending.

Yours in Christ,

James Snapp, Jr.

P. S. You're welcome to read more about the ending of Mark at .

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comments, James. I'll be sure to check out your blog.

I am not sure how (or why) to distinguish between a "Proto-Mark" and any other non-Mark sources Matthew might have used but so be it.

Matthew could very well have had a source for his post-resurrection appearance. What struck me, however, was how terse the ending is and how specifically it would plug the hole left by "truncated" Mark. Unfortunately, there is not much we can tell for certain here.

I suppose my characterization of the multiple endings of Mark was a bit too glib. I think the state of confusion would have been better expressed if I had included your two specifics plus the fact that some manuscripts try to include both the short and long endings.

Anonymous said...


I looked over your extensive research concerning the ending of Mark. Although you present many possible explanations for the state of the manuscript evidence, I am not sure their probability adds up to a case for anything beyond a willing state of uncertainty.

I also took a another good look at Mark 16:9-20 and must stand by the conclusion that it does not flow from the preceding text. Why would Mark restate that Jesus "rose early on the first day of the week" and "appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons." This same Mary had been introduced a mere eight verses before. Throw in a Greatest Hits from the other gospels and I am afraid I see only a transparent attempt to harmonize Mark with the other gospels. Is it possible that Mark wrote this? Yes. Probable? I would have to say, "No."

Thanks for your engagement on this topic.