Blogs are an ideal place for experimental writing, so I hope you will allow me to do that today.
In just about every Bible translated since the King James Version there is a line after 16:8 that says verses 9-20 are not found in the earliest manuscripts. Still, I have always read the chapter as a whole, trusting that the editors of whatever translation I am reading had a good reason for putting vv. 9-20 in there.
Verses 9-20 were probably not written by Mark; there is ample evidence to suggest that. They do show up before AD 150, though, so they are early and maybe still apostolic. Maybe a copyist thought the book was too messy if it ended at 16:8 and added an ending of his own. Maybe someone wanted to add a truncated version of Jesus on the road to Emmaus, the Great Commission and mention of miracles to be done by the apostles. Maybe someone felt we needed to actually hear about Jesus meeting the apostles in Galilee as 16:7 mentioned. Maybe Mark did have an ending and it was lost or destroyed (this section would have been the end of a scroll or codex) and vv. 9-20 are just a copy of the original that was rewritten later. Maybe Mark died or was arrested before he could finish the book. Honestly, I am not that worried about it. It might be wise to refrain from picking up rattlesnakes thinking the Bible authorizes it, just in case.
Today I would like to experiment with ending Mark at 16:8 and seeing what message arises from that decision. Maybe Mark wanted his gospel to end as abruptly as it started in chapter 1, no mention of his birth and now no post-resurrection appearance by Jesus. So, the ending of Mark would be:
They [the women] went out, and fled from the tomb. Trembling and panic had seized them. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. (16:8)
That seems like a weird ending to the book. We never see the resurrected Jesus; we must simply believe that what the angel says is true. We never see emboldened believers: the apostles are still hiding, and even the women who were at least faithful enough to come to finish the job of anointing the body run away in a mix of awe and terror. Is Jesus alive as the angel said? What will become of this new movement? What more should have been done? These questions are all left unanswered in Mark’s awkward ending.
But maybe that is the point. Maybe Mark, who we have repeatedly seen leave us hanging with forced vows of secrecy and people swimming in puzzlement, wants to leave us with questions. That certainly would fit with the “messianic secret” idea we have seen already. Remember these questions from Mark? We are left answering these questions for ourselves:
Who do people say I am? (8:27)
Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One? (14:61)
Are you the king of the Jews? (15:2)
What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews? (Mark 15:12)
More practically, maybe Mark is intending to push us back into his book to decide for ourselves whether we can believe that Jesus really is who he says he is. Some people think Mark was intended to be used as an evangelistic tool and this sort of ending could set up quite a fruitful conversation with a spiritual seeker. Maybe we are supposed to naturally compose the ending we think there should have been — what the women should have done, what the apostles should and will do, what needs to be done now if Jesus really is alive. Moreover, maybe we aren’t just supposed to compose the ending, maybe be are supposed to do that ending we imagine.
I think I like that sort of ending.
As we finish Mark, please take the time to write one sentence summarizing what “big idea” has stayed with you these past three weeks as you have read.