I have basically accepted the present day consensus that Mark’s gospel account actually ends at 16:8 in our Bibles without having really studied and wrestled with it. It seems to me that a good case can be made for that. I’m especially an advocate for weighing manuscript evidence. So I was a bit surprised that N. T. Wright opts for a longer ending even if he wonders that what we have is precisely it, and so does our priest, Michael Cupp. I think for sure it is part of an early Christian tradition (two endings, I refer to the longer one, but there’s a short one as well, see below). And unlike spurious gospels which are gnostic, it has the marks of gospel authenticity. Essentially all that is said in the longer ending is verified in other gospel accounts or in the New Testament at large.
The dominant notes for me are the witness of Mary Magdalene and the unbelief of the disciples that followed. They were by and large skeptics and their reticence (called “unwillingness” here) to believe ends up being good evidence that they came to believe the witness, that Jesus actually was raised from the dead and into a new existence, resurrection happening in the middle of history, as well as at the end. Jesus the first and forerunner in and through whom the resurrrection of the righteous is to take place.
The note on faith and baptism is interesting. I think it comports with the thought that an unbaptized believer in the New Testament is unknown, or not the rule.
And then the signs, that part of this passage actually excluded in the gospel passage to be read today in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, which I consider to be a weakness. It would on the face of it be obvious why. These charismatic gifts as they’re called today are often marginalized or viewed with skepticism, even as they can be misused by those who advocate such practices, such as the churches which practice snake handling.
The shorter ending may be suggestive. Perhaps that narrative, ending at verse 8 in our Bibles, is meant to hit us right now where we are, the need for the risen Lord to show up day after day in our own struggle of faith in order to bring home to us the truth and power of the gospel, of his resurrection for us and though us for the world.
16 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”
8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.[a]
[The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have verses 9–20.]
9 When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. 10 She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. 11 When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.
12 Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. 13 These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either.
14 Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.
15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”
19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. 20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signsthat accompanied it.
- Mark 16:8 Some manuscripts have the following ending between verses 8 and 9, and one manuscript has it after verse 8 (omitting verses 9-20): Then they quickly reported all these instructions to those around Peter. After this, Jesus himself also sent out through them from east to west the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation. Amen.