When we look carefully at the last twelve verses of Mark (Mark 16:9-20), the evidence shows that they are not part of the original God-breathed text, but were added to the original text of Mark, nevertheless, we have made some commentary notes below because those verses are so well known. The Gospel of Mark portrays Jesus as the Servant of God (see commentary on Mark 1:1), and Jesus’ work as the Servant foretold by the OT prophets ended at his death. He was resurrected as “Lord,” and so it is appropriate that Mark does not portray Jesus in his resurrected state.
There are many lines of evidence that lead us to conclude that the ending of Mark that is found in almost every Bible is not original, but is a later addition. The evidence falls into two major categories: external manuscript evidence and internal evidence in the verses themselves. What we will see is that both the manuscript evidence, and the internal evidence shows that Mark originally ended with verse 8, and that short and abrupt ending fits with the rest of Mark and the scope of Scripture. All these points will be examined below.
The first line of evidence we must examine when considering whether or not the closing twelve verses of Mark are original is the external evidence of the ancient manuscripts. When we do this, what we find is that the Greek manuscripts have four major different endings to Mark (Bruce Metzger, Textual Commentary on the New Testament). Obviously, not all four of them can be original, and in fact the evidence shows that none of the four of them is original. While it is true that the majority of the manuscripts have the traditional ending of Mark, that is for a good reason. After it was added, the subsequent manuscripts included it. It is never the largest number of manuscripts that establishes which reading is original, but rather the date of the manuscripts, the manuscript families that include or exclude a text, and any historical evidence that shows us why a text was added or omitted. Hendriksen sums up the manuscript discussion: “It cannot be denied that ever so many Greek manuscripts do contain these words, but when the manuscript evidence is properly evaluated instead of merely counted, the balance swings heavily toward the omission of the contested verses (New Testament Commentary: Mark. Emphasis his).
In the case of the ending of Mark, not only do the earliest manuscripts of the different textual families not have the ending, but the theologians who lived back then testified that the manuscripts they were using did not have it either. The noted textual scholar Bruce Metzger writes:
The last twelve verses of the commonly received text of Mark are absent from the two oldest Greek manuscripts (a and B), from the Old Latin codex Bobiensis (itk), the Sinaitic Syriac manuscript, about one hundred Armenian manuscripts, and the two oldest Georgian manuscripts (written AD 897 and AD 913). Clement of Alexandria [c. 150-215 AD] and Origen [Origen Adamantius of Alexandria, Egypt; 184-253 AD] show no knowledge of the existence of these verses; furthermore Eusebius [263-339 AD] and Jerome [347-420 AD] attest that the passage was absent from almost all Greek copies of Mark known to them. The original form of the Eusebian sections (drawn up by Ammonius) makes no provision for numbering sections of the text after 16:8. Not a few manuscripts that contain the passage have scribal notes stating that older Greek copies lack it, and in other witnesses the passage is marked with asterisks or obeli, the conventional signs used by copyists to indicate a spurious addition to a document. (Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament pp. 102, 103.)
As was stated above, there are other endings to Mark besides the well-known one that appears in most Bibles. Sometimes the Greek manuscripts that have traditional long ending also have the most well-known short ending, but this short ending is rarely translated into our English Bibles. Since the short ending is not original, and since it is not usually included in our Bibles, it was never assigned a verse number. The Greek manuscripts that do have both the long and short endings usually place the short ending before the longer one, between verses 8 and 9, which is more evidence that both endings were added to Mark. The New American Standard Bible includes the short ending, but puts it at the end of Mark, after verse 20. According to the NASB, the short ending is translated as follows: And they promptly reported all these instructions to Peter and his companions. And after that, Jesus Himself sent out through them from east to west the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.
The reason that someone would write a “more complete” ending to Mark is clear: it seems to end abruptly. The note in the NIV Archaeological Study Bible says it well: “Most scholars believe that this [verse 8] is indeed the point at which the original Gospel probably ended and suggests that the other endings very likely developed during the second century, after the Gospel of Mark was read alongside the other Gospels and appeared, by comparison, to lack a satisfactory conclusion.” Actually, when we understand the purpose of Mark, we will see that its ending at verse 8 is perfectly satisfactory, a point we will make later.
Having examined the external manuscript evidence and seen that the evidence leads us to conclude the ending of Mark is not original, we now turn to the internal evidence of the passage. The internal evidence is in two broad categories: the grammatical and syntactical evidence, and the evidence of what the verses actually say.
When it comes to the vocabulary, syntax, and grammar, of the last twelve verses of Mark, it is beyond the scope of this short work, and beyond the ability of most Bible students, to do a thorough study. That kind of evidence involves complex analysis of Greek vocabulary and grammatical patterns, and requires experts who thoroughly understand the Greek language. Thus, we will leave the more complete lexical analysis of the ending of Mark to other scholastic works. A few such works which cover the ending of Mark in much more detail are: B. F. Wescott and F. A. Hort, Introduction to the New Testament in the Original Greek, Appendix 1, pp. 29-51; Bratcher and Nida, A Translator’s Handbook on the Gospel of Mark, pp. 506-522; Roger Omanson, A Textual Guide to the Greek New Testament; William Lane, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Mark.
For the purposes of this study we will only quote some of the scholars who study the grammar and syntax of the ending verses of Mark, and acknowledge that they testify that it is significantly different from the rest of Mark. For example, the text note in the NET First Edition Bible says of the closing verses of Mark: “Their vocabulary and style are decidedly non-Markan.” William Lane writes: “the form, language, and style of these verses militate against Marcan authorship” (The New International Commentary on the New Testament). Even scholars like Lenski, who defends the closing verses of Mark as probably original, admit that the grammar and syntax of the closing verses does differ from the rest of Mark. Thus the evidence of the vocabulary, grammar, and syntax, of the closing verses of Mark is in harmony with the manuscript evidence, which is that the ending of Mark was not written by the same person who wrote the rest of Mark.
The other category of internal evidence that the closing verses of Mark are not original is what the verses say; the information that the verses contain. What we find is that there are statements in the ending verses of Mark that contradict the other Gospels and the scope of Scripture. For example, Mark 16:13 says that the two men (Cleopas and another disciple) who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus went back to Jerusalem and joined the rest of the disciples, but the disciples “did not believe them” when they said Jesus was alive. This contradicts the Gospel of Luke. Luke is the Gospel that has the full account of the men on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32), and it says that when Cleopas and his friend arrived at Jerusalem, the apostles and disciples were already convinced Jesus was alive. In fact, before Cleopas and his friend could even tell the apostles about seeing the resurrected Lord, the apostles and disciples said, “It is true! The Lord has risen” (Luke 24:34). Only after the Apostles and disciples in Jerusalem told Cleopas and his friend that Jesus was alive did the two men get a chance to report their own experience with Jesus, confirming that Jesus was indeed alive. Thus Mark 16:13 and Luke 24:34, 35 blatantly contradict each other, and the best explanation for the contradiction is that Mark 16:13 is not original.
Similarly, Mark 16:14 seems to contradict the other Gospels, and is the only verse in which Jesus reproves his disciples when he first appears to them. This conflicts with Luke 24:36, which says that when Jesus appeared to the disciples he said, “Peace be with you.” By the time Jesus appeared to the disciples who were behind closed doors, they were already saying he had been raised, so why would he reprove them? Reproof certainly does not seem to be the tone of Jesus’ communication with the disciples according to Luke 24:36-49 and John 20:19-23. Again, the best explanation of the contradiction is that Mark 16:14 is not original. We should remember that as the orthodox Church developed, the loving Christ of the Gospels became a much more harsh and judgmental Christ (God suffered the same degradation), so a Jesus who would enter and reprove the disciples even though they believed in him and even though he had just said, “Peace be with you,” fits well later in Church history.
Still more evidence that the ending of Mark is not original is the unusual material about picking up snakes and drinking poison. The ordinary experience of Christians who are bitten by snakes or who drink poison is that it does hurt them. It is extraordinary and miraculous when it does not. However, as the Church developed, mystical statements and beliefs became more common. Two more good examples of mystical beliefs that developed in the Church are the belief that sex made a person less spiritual, which led to the celibate clergy of the Roman Catholic Church; and also the belief that the communion bread actually became the body of Christ, rather than just symbolized it. The fact that it is not experientially correct that a believer can be bitten by a snake or drink poison without being harmed, and it is also out of harmony with the general wisdom that is taught in Scripture, the material about snakes and poison can be seen to be an addition to the text.
The phrase about speaking in tongues also clearly seems to be an addition to the text. Jesus would have never mentioned that to his followers just before his ascension. They would not have understood what he was saying. But we can see why it would have been added by a scribe as the Church developed because speaking in tongues was part of the early Church.
Still more evidence that the ending of Mark is an addition is that it has an event that is out of chronological order. Sometimes a Gospel will have an event that is out of chronological order, that is true, but in the record of events after the death of Christ, Mark is the only Gospel that has any event out of order. While that in itself would not be conclusive, given all the other evidence that the last verses in Mark were added, the out-of-order verse in Mark is simply more evidence that the verses are not original. Mark 16:9 about Mary Magdalene chronologically comes before 16:2. It is almost as if the person who wrote the ending of Mark wanted to reintroduce us to Mary Magdalene even though he ends up bringing her into the record at the wrong time.
Also, Mark is the only Gospel that mentions anything that happens after the Day of Pentecost. Matthew ends with Jesus talking to the disciples before his ascension; Luke ends with the disciples waiting in the Temple before the Day of Pentecost; and John ends with Jesus speaking with Peter, and then a conclusion about Jesus’ works. In contrast, the traditional ending of Mark has information about the expansion of the Church and the Word being preached “everywhere,” which occurred many years after the Day of Pentecost.
When we remove the last twelve verses of Mark, and simply end Mark as the oldest manuscripts do, with verse 8, we have a very abrupt ending. Scholars are divided into several broad camps about the abrupt ending of Mark. Many assert that Mark simply ended at verse eight; some scholars think there was an ending to Mark that is now lost; and some scholars think that Mark was in the process of writing an ending but was interrupted by persecution or death and thus did not finish his Gospel.
Although we can see why people want a “better conclusion” to Mark than 16:8 seems to be, as we have seen, the evidence is that Mark ends with verse 8. There is no actual evidence that there ever was another ending that is now “missing.” Mark is like the book of Jonah, which ends in an abrupt manner. Both Jonah and Mark leave us wanting a “better ending,” but when we think about it, there are many things in the Bible we would like to have more information about. Some scholars have tried to say that Mark cannot end with verse 8 because the Greek syntax would then be unusual, but arguments such as those have been ably answered. (One person who does a good job answering that kind of argument is: Ned B. Stonehouse, The Witness of Matthew and Mark to Christ, pp. 86-118.)
It has also been asserted that Mark 16:8 cannot be the ending of Mark because it makes the women become disobedient to the angel’s command to go and tell the disciples. But it is speaking about the women as they left the tomb, and should not be extrapolated and made to imply that the women did not go tell the other disciples.
Since the manuscript evidence, the grammatical and syntactical evidence, and the internal evidence from the verses themselves, all point to the fact that the Gospel of Mark does end with verse 8, is there evidence of God’s design in that abrupt ending? Yes, there is. The abrupt ending of Mark fits with the subject of Mark, and it also parallels the beginning of Mark. Mark portrays Jesus as the Servant of God (see commentary on Mark 1:1). The Gospel of Mark begins with Jesus being baptized and starting his work as the Servant of God. There is no genealogy like Matthew and Luke have, no explanation of how Jesus was the plan of God, the logos becoming flesh, like John has. There are no accounts of his childhood as in Matthew and Luke, or introduction of his person, as in John (“Look!, the Lamb of God”). A good servant needs neither genealogy nor introduction; he is qualified by his obedience and the quality of his work.
Mark starts with Jesus getting immediately to his work. By the end of chapter one (45 verses), he has been baptized by John; tempted for 40 days in the desert; preached the Good News of the Kingdom; called some Apostles; delivered people from demons; healed people of diseases; showed his devotion to God by getting alone and praying; and healed a man of leprosy, which was both a disease and an Old Testament type for sin, thus showing his authority over sin and his ability to heal both the body and soul. In contrast to the fast-Servant-start of Mark, after the first 45 verses of Matthew, Jesus was still a baby; after the first 45 verse of Luke, Mary was still pregnant with Jesus; and after the first 45 verses of John, John the Baptist had pointed out that Jesus was the Lamb of God and Jesus had asked some men to follow him.
When Jesus gave up his life for mankind, that ended his ministry as the Servant of God. In his resurrected body he was no longer the suffering Servant foretold in the Old Testament, but had become the resurrected Lord. That is not to say that Jesus no longer serves God and people, for he certainly does, but he serves in his capacity as Lord.
Not nearly enough work has been done comparing the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah as God’s “Servant” to Mark’s picture of Jesus Christ as that Servant. Part of the reason for that is the doctrine of the Trinity, which sees Christ as “eternal God of eternal God,” and never really recognizes Jesus Christ as the truly human servant of God. Zechariah 3:8 foretells that the “Branch” will be a servant, but the whole chapter of Zechariah 3 is typological of Jesus Christ, right down to the name of the High Priest, which is “Joshua,” the Hebrew name for Jesus.
Similarly, the four “servant songs” of Isaiah, the four well-known and specific prophecies of the Messiah as the Servant of God, are certainly fulfilled by the Servant-Messiah that Mark portrays (Isa. 42:1-9; 49:1-13; 50:4-11; 52:13-53:12). According to the prophecies, the Servant receives holy spirit; he does not raise his voice or cry out in the streets; he takes care of the bruised reeds and smoldering wicks (i.e., the weak and infirm); he is upheld by Yahweh; he gives sight to the blind and releases the captives from their prisons; he is a light to the nations; he gives his back to those who strike him; he does not hide his face from spitting and humiliation; his appearance is marred; he is a man of sorrows; he bears the sin of us all; and he is “cut off out of the land of the living.” That is a lot for any servant to bear, but Jesus knew it was coming (It is written!), and obeyed God to the end—his death on the cross.
Since Jesus completed his role of the “Servant” when he died, and in any resurrection appearance would no longer be in that role, it is appropriate that Mark ends with Jesus dying and being buried, then the announcement by the angel that he had risen from the dead and the traumatic effect that announcement had on the women. The Resurrection was not a carefully conceived plot by the disciples to deceive mankind, it was God Almighty breaking into history in a way that no one expected; an awesome and profound way that was both shocking and baffling. God showed His love for mankind by raising His Son from the dead and providing a way for all people to have everlasting life.
The commentary on Mark by David Smith also makes a good point. He says, “This ‘ending without an ending’ forces all readers to evaluate what they would do in a similar situation” (Mark: A Commentary for Bible Students). The very abruptness of the ending of Mark causes us to think about what happened. Like the women at the tomb, we have good evidence that Jesus has been raised from the dead. Will we believe it?
“after he rose, early on the first day of the week.” We believe this verse is not part of the original text [See commentary on Mark 16:9 above]. In spite of that fact, we have translated the Greek text of the ending of Mark because it is so well known. We believe the translation in the REV is the accurate way to translate the Greek because Jesus was raised from the dead Saturday evening before sunset.
Some versions of the Bible translate the verse as if the Greek text read: “When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene,…” (NIV). Translating the Greek that way makes Jesus get up early Sunday morning, which is why many commentators say Jesus got up when there was an earthquake and an angel rolled the stone away from the tomb door. We know that Jesus was “three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:40, so he could not have been raised Sunday morning, especially if, as tradition says, he was buried Friday evening. Many commentators assert that biblically, any part of a day is called a “day,” so they say Friday is day one, Saturday is day two, and Sunday is day three. While that way to count days would work if Jesus had just said he would be buried “three days,” it is not a proper understanding of how to count Jesus’ words, “three days and three nights.” There are not three days and three nights from Friday just before sunset to Sunday while it is still dark. We can reconstruct the chronology very accurately from the information in the New Testament. Wednesday was the 14th of Nisan, the day the Passover Lamb was killed, and thus the day Jesus died. Thursday was the 15th of Nisan, the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, always a Special Sabbath. Friday the 16th of Nisan fell between the Special Sabbath and the weekly Sabbath. Saturday, the 17th of Nisan was the weekly Sabbath, and Jesus was in the ground three days and three nights just before the sun set on Saturday, so his resurrection was on Saturday evening. Sunday, the 18th of Nisan was the first day of the week, and the day he appeared to Mary Magdalene and the rest of the Apostles and disciples.
The confusion about the burial of Jesus is due to the fact that the Bible makes it clear that Jesus was buried before the Sabbath. Not realizing that the “Sabbath” was a High Day, a Special Sabbath, the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (John 19:31), people assume Jesus must have been crucified on a Friday, and that is how the traditional account of the crucifixion got started.
When trying to translate and punctuate Mark 16:9, the Greek quite literally reads, “Having risen early on the first day of the week he appeared first to Mary Magdalene...” The question is whether the words, “early on the first of the week” refer to when he arose or when he appeared. The fact is that in the Greek text it could be either, so we need to discover the meaning from the scope of Scripture. One of the most, or perhaps the most, capable Greek grammarian in modern times is A. T. Robertson, who says, “It is probable that this note of time goes with ‘risen’ (αναστας), though it makes good sense with ‘appeared’ (εφανη)” (Word Pictures in the New Testament). There are cases in the NT where time phrases are unclear, so this is not solid proof that this verse is not original, however, if someone were to press the fact that the natural reading of the Greek made the resurrection on Sunday morning, then this verse would be one more piece of evidence that it was not part of the original text of Mark.