What do we do with the ending to Mark’s Gospel?

At Home Group the other night, the group were wrapping up Mark’s Gospel. The group leader felt it was worthwhile spending some time talking  about how we responded to the the shorter and longer endings to the book.

I am not going to rehearse the arguments for and against the inclusion of v8b or v9-20 here. You can follow them up for yourself. My view is that we shouldn’t include them in the bible and therefore they do not count as inspired and infallible.

The question then is what we should do with them and how we explain their presence in our Bible to enquirers. Well, here is my take.

Mark is written to be read in about 1 hour and probably fits onto one scroll. The rhetorical force of finishing at v 8 leaves open the question for hearers about their response to the empty tomb.  These two reasons combine to help us see why the likely ending is at verse 8.

So, what  does that make verses 9-20? I think the simple answer is “footnotes.”  Imagine that you were responsible for making copies of a book of the Bible today. By accident when you set things up for print, you left out the markers for where the additional headings and notes came in.  The actual text, notes, cross references and study notes would all get merged in together.  However, would you still be able to spot where the text finished and the notes started. I believe you would because you would recognise the change in genre, style and vocabulary.

Well, when the early Scriptures were being copied in the early centuries, then sometimes scribes might write in their own editorial notes.  We may see examples of this elsewhere in Scripture.  However, the modern methods we use today for distinguishing out notes from handwritten text would not necessarily be there. At first everything might seem to merge in together but in fact for the same reasons (syntax, vocabulary, style and content) we can recognise when the main text stops and the editorial notes start. 

So, what is Mark 16:9-20? In my view it is a footnote at the end of the Gospel summing up what happened next.

One thought on “What do we do with the ending to Mark’s Gospel?

  1. I tend to agree with the footnote conclusion, although I’m no scholar! But I think it should be included, because my rather apocryphal theory is that Mark was, as tradition suggests, martyred, before he could quite finish his gospel, so his co-workers in the gospel, who knew the end of the story, added on the footnote… Just a thought!

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