Why Does Mark Seem To Have Two Endings?

I’ve always loved the Gospel of Mark — which is why I published an extended meditation on this first-gospel-ever-written called John Mark (see redmoonpublications.com). I love its fast-paced, almost breathless action and the fact that scholars believe it was written closest to the actual events it purports to convey. This Easter Week, in our daily lectionary, we have just completed various “endings” of Mark.

In keeping with its “highlights only, almost outline” webelieve that the original  ending of the gospel was at Mark 16:8 with Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome experiencing the empty tomb when they brought spices to anoint Jesus’ body. A young man suggests that they go tell Peter and the other disciples that he had been raised from the dead and that they should go back to the place where it all began — Galilee — where they would see him once again. Initially, however, the women fled from the tomb and didn’t tell anyone “for they were afraid.” The story ends with an affirmation of the resurrection, but no actual appearances of Jesus.

The longer ending of Mark (Chapter 16, verses 9-20) appear to have been added later and include details which would later be included in the Gospels of Matthew,  Luke-Acts (and perhaps even the much later Gospel of John!). The appearance to Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18), walk to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) and Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) seem to be suggested in this longer ending of Mark.

The unknown author may have even known of Luke’s second-volume Acts of the Apostles since, in this section (Mark 16:17-18) he seems to refer to events such as exorcism by the apostles, speaking in tongues, and Paul’s snake handling which we only know of in the accounts of the Acts of the Apostles. Finally, the ascension of Jesus is mentioned (Mark 16:19-20) a fuller account of which we can find in Luke 24 and Acts 1.

Some people find the literary dependence between the four gospels (and even Acts) to be problematic since it suggests, among other things, that Matthew and Luke (and perhaps even John) had the Gospel of Mark before them when they wrote, incorporating much of his story and adding details of which they were aware or further grounding the life of Jesus in the Hebrew Scriptures.

I find it fascinating and even affirming that the four evangelists took such care in their recounting of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection while each one bringing an emphasis of his own — Matthew’s a Jewish one; Luke’s a Gentile one; John perhaps specifically Hellenistic thoughtand philosophy.

How much richer the accounts we have when seen though four sets of lenses than if we only had one, but that they took each other seriously enough to build on their predecessors’ work!


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