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Mark’s resurrection account – quotations

June 2, 2013

MkHaving led us to the deepest sorrow of the death of Christ, one might expect that Mark would conclude the Gospel with an explosion of joy at the resurrection. But this did not happen in the original version of his Gospel. The majority of scholars agree that it ended with the silence of the women, who said nothing because they were afraid. So Mark leaves us in suspense. It has been described as being like hearing one shoe fall in the room above, waiting for the other which never comes. The whole Gospel leads you towards the joy of the resurrection, but does not describe it.

This is a brilliant conclusion to the Gospel. Mark wanted his readers in Rome in the early seventies to be puzzled by these women. They should be provoked into asking, ‘Why aren’t they rejoicing? Can’t they understand that Jesus is absent because he is risen? Can’t they see that the empty tomb is good news?’ Mark then surely wanted his readers to discover that they are themselves those women. This early Roman community was filled with dismay and distrust. During the crisis of persecution, they had waited for the Lord to come, and yet there was no sign of him. They felt betrayed. Mark wished his readers to live this absence of Jesus with joy. We may not see him among us but, as the angel had just told the women, ‘He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him as he told you.’ His absence is not that of failure and death. He is not there, because he has gone before and arrived at the goal of his journey, and there he awaits us.

So Christian joy is not a determined jollity, a resolution to look on the bright side. It is not optimistically insisting that the glass is half full rather than half empty, or any of the other empty platitudes with which we may try to shield ourselves from dread and hollowness. It is an Easter joys which means that we can only fully enter it by passing through suffering, death and resurrection. We have to entrust ourselves to the dynamic narrative into which we were baptized and which we re-enact in the movement of every liturgical year. It bears us onwards towards the final joy. But even when we arrive at the triumph of Easter, we may still, like the women, be locked in unhappiness if fear has made us blind. Fear may make us see the absence of Jesus as failure rather than as promise.

If the Church is to be a witness to the joy of the resurrection, then we must be liberated from fear. There is too much fear in the Church — fear of modernity, of the complexity of human experience, of saying what we truly believe, fear of each other, fear of making mistakes, of not winning approval. It is this fear that may sometimes extinguish that joy that should puzzle people and make them wonder what is the secret of our lives. And so we must now look at the virtue that is most urgently needed in the Church if we are to witness to the gospel, courage. The Gospel ends with the angel’s invitation to carry on the journey. The end of the Gospel is not the end of the story. We must keep on walking — and that, as we shall see in the next chapter, is the heart of courage.  What is the point of Being a Christian? – T. Radcliffe (Burns & Oats 2005) P. 67

not speak (through him); instead, it speaks through his opponents, the chief priests, Pilate, the soldiers, those who pass by; they, ironically, declare the truth about him without intending to do so; they mock him with the truth. Jesus therefore dies with his mind and his faith destroyed; his exit-line from the book is: My God, my God, why have you deserted me? Having disposed of all the males, Mark brings on the women, but not to prove that they are superior to the men; only to show that they are no better. One of them is referred to as Mary the mother of James and Joses; we are left to think that Mark means by this the mother of Jesus (6.3). The women fear, instead of believing; their fear is the cause of their disobedience to the young man’s command, and the reason why they say nothing to anybody. So the book ends. It cannot go on, because there is no way that has yet been found of following Mark 16.8 with a further story that flows on from what has been said without hiatus, repetition or contradiction.

The end of the book was too good for the mind of the Church. It provoked two or three evangelists to improve on it, and two other writers to produce unsatisfactory endings — the longer and the shorter. It also caused some people to think that the original ending of the book had been lost. Only the scribes of Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, minuscule 304, and some ancient versions, left the book as Mark had finished it; all the rest asked the prosaic and improper question, What happened next? The question they should have asked was, What will happen next? Mark had given his readers the answer: The Son of Man will come to gather together his elect; so stay awake and be ready; you will see him when he comes to judge the world.

2. It was not just the end of Mark’s Gospel that provoked others to write ‘better’ Gospels; it was also the apparent inability of Mark to answer so many questions: How are we to live? Is there a Christian community? Why are the Jews wrong? Is there no presence of Jesus, here and now? How can we go on, if all there is waiting and enduring?

Sometime later it may have been as long as twenty years

PROFESSOR C. F. EVANS said to me once that a good way to teach Mark’s Gospel was to begin with the end of the book, at 16.8. When it can be demonstrated that the evangelist does not tell his readers what happened next, but leaves them to make up their own minds whether they will believe what the young man has said, or not, it will then be easier to show what sort of book we are dealing with when we read Mark: a Gospel (whatever that is), not a collection of an apostle’s reminiscences.

In point of fact, it was the question of the ending of Mark’s Gospel that, historically speaking, opened up new ways of reading it. When R. H. Lightfoot’ was arguing that the evangelist meant to stop at 16.8, and that there never had been a lost ending or any intention of continuing the narrative further, the first objection that was always raised was: Surely he must have meant to include at least one account of an appearance of Jesus after the resurrection; this was the most important event in the life of Peter Mark could not have missed it out.2 And the answer that was given was: Mark is not that sort of a book; you are reading it with inappropriate expectations; you are repeating the mistake of the person who is told a joke and then asks, ‘What happened next?’ What used to be called ‘The Marcan Hypothesis’, the theory that in Mark’s ‘presentation of the life of Christ the facts of history are set down with a minimum of disarrangement, interpretation, and embellishment’, 3 fell to pieces as a result of the study of the ending of the Gospel: if it were that kind of book, it would not end in this way; since it did end at 16.8, it cannot be that kind of book. But is there any need to take up the question of the ending of Mark again, after so much has been written on the subject in the last fifty years? That the Gospel is complete cannot be regarded as one of the generally accepted results of biblical criticism. Three examples must suffice, arranged in chronological order.

First, in 1971 the United Bible Societies published A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, subtitled ‘A Companion Volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek  New Testament (third edition)’, by Bruce M. Metzger ‘on behalf of and in cooperation with the Editorial Committee of the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament’: Kurt Aland, Matthew Black, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger and Allen Wikgren. The two volumes, the Greek New Testament and the Textual Commentary, are published in the same material and in the same colour, and the unwary reader might think the second had the same authority as the first. After discussing the textual evidence for the various endings of Mark, Metzger and his colleagues continue in a footnote: Three possibilities are open: (a) the evangelist intended to close his Gospel at this place; or (b) the Gospel was never finished; or, as seems most probable, (c) the Gospel accidentally lost its last leaf before it was multiplied by transcription4 One might dismiss this reference to the hypothesi5 of a lost ending of Mark as a suggestion made in a footnote twenty years ago; but as recently as 1992 it was still being said of Mark’s Gospel that it is ‘quite possibly truncated at both ends’.5

Second, in 1989 the University Presses of Oxford and Cambridge published The Revised English Bible. After their translation of Mark 16.1—8, as if it were another paragraph but still part of verse 8, they printed what is known as the Shorter Ending, without any sign in the text to indicate that this was not in all manuscripts, etc. After a double space, there follows their translation of the Longer Ending, verses 9—2o and there are notes at the foot of the page that explain the problem. Anyone asked to read Mark 16.1—8, who had not studied the footnotes, would assume that the passage ended immediately before the beginning of verse 9, and would therefore include the Shorter Ending in the reading. Was this, however, simply a printer’s error that escaped the eye of the proof reader? There was a reprint of the book in the year of publication, but there was no correction of the text at this point.

Third, a major commentary on Mark was published in 1993, by Robert H. Gundry;6 his view is that Mark 16.8 is not the last verse of the paragraph that began at 16. 1, but the first verse of another paragraph that is incomplete. In this now mutilated paragraph the evangelist described how the disciples saw Jesus in Galilee in fulfilment of the prediction in Mark 14.28. Gundry provides twelve reasons for thinking that this is how Mark’s Gospel originally ended, together with further notes. He does not, however, explain how the disciples received the message to go to Galilee, which 16.7 implies they needed; or provide a satisfactory account of why Mark has told his readers about the visit of the women to the tomb, if it was to have no connection with the continuation of the narrative of the disciples.

The suggestion that Mark intended to end his Gospel at 16.8 was first made by Wellhausen in 1903, and in taking up the topic again, over ninety years later, I want to draw attention to an English writer, the first English writer, I suppose, to support Wellhausen on this matter.7 J. M. Creed’s article, ‘The Conclusion of the Gospel according to Saint Mark’, was published in 1 930, eight years before R. H. Lightfoot’s Locality and Doctrine in the Gospels, and as it has never been republished and is only available to those who have access to back numbers of the Journal of Theological Studies, I shall attempt to give a selective summary of the argument; but the reader should be warned that this is only a summary, and that the argument in the article is concise and, in some parts, obscure. Creed begins by stating the problem of the variant readings: (i) the ending at 16.8 in XB, the old Syriac, codex a;9 (ii) the Shorter Ending, in codex k; (iii) the last twelve verses of the received text. Neither (ii) nor (iii) is thought to be by Mark, but to end at 16.8 as in (i) would be very abrupt; hence ‘many scholars are inclined to conjecture that a further paragraph recounting at the least the appearance of the risen Jesus to the disciples in Galilee, which the angel predicts in v. 7, has disappeared’. (Throughout the article, Creed refers to the young man in Mark 16.5—7 as an angel, though Mark himself does not describe him in this way.) Creed’s intention, he says, is to argue that ‘it is very improbable that the genuine Gospel was ever longer than it now is’; he refers to Wellhausen and E. Meyer, who both held the same view as Creed, but he believes that he is stating the argument in a different way from them.

He then notices briefly the hypotheses that have been framed to account for the supposed incompleteness of the Gospel, namely: (i) that the author died before finishing it; (ii) that the text was deliberately mutilated; and (iii) that it was mutilated by accident, and he finds them all inadequate as explanations of the conjecture that the text is incomplete, ‘unless we are compelled to do so by the document itself’. This is the main purpose of the article, and what makes it so significant: Creed is attending to Mark’s text, and enquiring whether there is anything in it that suggests incompleteness.

He then draws our attention to what he calls ‘a strange incoherence’ in the Marcan text; namely, the contradiction between what the women are commanded to do, in verse 7, and what they fail to do, in verse 8: they are charged to tell the disciples, but they remain silent. He says that this is ‘a very startling phenomenon’, which is not always remarked.

There is incoherence in the Marcan narrative significant incoherence — but it is latent. So long as we stop at v. 8 it does not really matter. But, on the theory of the lost conclusion, how are we to proceed? The latent incoherence will at once become intolerable. For we must suppose one of two things: either the lost conclusion was continuous with the story of the women, or else it made a fresh start with the disciples and their vision of the Lord in Galilee. It is hard to combine either supposition with verses 7 and 8 of chapter xvi. For v. 8 has effectively dismissed the women from further immediate participation in events, while v. 7 urgently demands their intervention.

He then considers the suggestion that had been made a few years earlier by C. H. Turner, that the lost ending related how Jesus appeared to the women and quieted their fears, so that they were able to tell the disciples; but he criticizes this, on the ground that ‘they said nothing to anybody’ must mean ‘they did not deliver the message’. ‘If the narrative of the women at the tomb is to be linked up with narratives of the appearances, it is essential that the women should deliver the message.’ Creed then draws our attention to the way in which Matthew and Luke have achieved this result: ‘by suppressing the telltale words, “they said nothing to anybody”; that was the only way in which they could make the story of the women lead on to the story of the disciples.

He then takes up the alternative hypothesis, that Mark made a fresh start with the journey of the disciples to Galilee, and refers to Kirsopp Lake’s suggestion that the disciples had already left Jerusalem; that was why the women were unable to tell them what the ‘angel’ had said. But Creed points out that there is a decisive objection to this: ‘The angel, on this theory, gives a message to the women which it was impossible for them to deliver. This ought not to be, and we may securely assume that it was not so.’

Creed then explains that what he is doing is asking how Mark could have proceeded, if he did; he must, Creed says, either have left ‘the angel’s message hanging in the air’, or else he must have explained why it was not delivered to the disciples. Neither of these two courses seems probable. ‘Internal evidence, therefore, as well as external probability, seems to point to the conclusion that the Marcan narrative never went beyond the words, “for they were afraid”.’

Creed makes one further point: he suggests an explanation of how it was that the ‘incoherence’ arose. Mark, he thinks, was working on traditions that were already in existence; one of them was the story of the women at the tomb, which might have ‘but recently come into circulation’. He follows E. Meyer in thinking that Mark inserted verse 7 into this traditional unit, without noticing that the silence of the women would make it impossible for the narrative to continue — but, in any case, he had no intention of continuing. The problem only arose when Matthew and Luke wanted to link the story of the women at the tomb to the account of appearances to disciples. ‘The absence of that link in Mark is an indication that in his Gospel no narrative followed.’

The strength of Creed’s argument that 16.8 was the intended conclusion to the Gospel lies in the method that he used: he paid attention to what Mark actually wrote; and he asks, Having written this, in these words, could he have written more? Creed challenges anyone who upholds the hypothesis of a lost ending to the Gospel to say how that ending could have followed on from verses 1—8, without hiatus, contradiction or redundancy. He observes the distinction, which is not always made, between what happened (to the women and the disciples, on Easter day) and what Mark wrote (when he composed his book); it is a method of studying a Gospel that has yielded rich results, but in 1930 it was novel, and Creed should be honoured as one of the earliest writers in England to approach a problem in the Gospels in this way.

I do not intend to go further and offer an explanation as to why Mark ended his Gospel thus. There has been no shortage of interpretations. Was it that the evangelist had an anti-Jerusalem bias — the apostles themselves (‘his disciples and Peter’) never received the message from the young man, therefore they did not believe in the resurrection, but were still in sin? Or was it that the evangelist was engaged in a controversy between followers of Paul and the sort of people he described as super-apostles (2 Corinthians 12.11) — he describes the disciples in Mark as failures, because he is attacking people who do not understand the cross or the resurrection? Or is the ending a literary device, whereby the audience is addressed over the shoulders of the women, and the question is left in the air, Was the young man right? Is Christ risen? One could compare the way in which the book of Jonah ends with a question.

I do not intend to comment on these or on any other interpretations of the end of Mark, because it seems to me that it is important to separate, as far as we possibly can, two kinds of question: What is the text? and, Why was it written? There were terms that described the distinction, but they are seldom used now: lower criticism and higher criticism.10 The end of Mark belongs more to the former than to the latter.

I suspect that the reason why there is still opposition to the view that 16.8 was the intended ending of the Gospel is because people do not want to buy any of the explanations that have been offered with it as a package deal. There is no need to attach the question of the ending to any particular explanation; it is a question on its own.

Nor, of course, is there any need to think that, if Mark meant to end there, it was because he did not believe in the resurrection. It would not follow that if he did not include resurrection appearances, he did not believe that Christ was risen. He refers to the resurrection directly or indirectly at the following points in his book: 8.31, 38; 9.9, 31; 10.34; 12.10—11, 18—27,35—7; 13.26—7; 14.28,58,62; 16.6.Did he need to say more? More about Mark J. Fenton (SPCK 2001) p. 15

 Matthew is more easily digestible—though still demanding enough!—and provides more supports for those just learning (or relearning) to walk in the spiritual life. Mark, on the other hand, is for those forced by the stormy circumstances of life, and especially experiences of loss, to find stronger nourishment, stand on their own feet, and walk alongside others who have come that way too. It seems to me not at all surprising, therefore, that whereas Matthew ends with Jesus’ promise of his ever-abiding presence (Matt. 28.20), Mark ends with the absence of Jesus (Mark 16:6) qualified by the mysterious announcement of the messenger that the Risen One ‘goes before’ his followers to Galilee.62 This absence, this abrupt ending, is disturbing and challenging. It leaves the completion of the story open and lacking in clear definition. It leaves it to be filled out and acted out by every reader and listener prepared to take up the call to follow the Master wherever he leads.  The Spirituality of the Gospels – S. Barton (SPCK 1992)  p.66

 In the eighteenth chapter of the book of Genesis, Abraham receives the visit of three angels. The text is mysterious, since at times it refers to three persons and at times to the Lord. We are before a text where the primitive monolatry of the fertile crescent was still in the pro­cess of emerging. All of this matters little. What is important is that these visitors come shortly after God has promised to the ninety-nine year-old Abraham that he will be the father of a multitude of na­tions through a son, Isaac. This son would be born within a year to his wife, Sarah, old and barren, well past her menopause. In fact there was no natural possibility of such a happening. The angels, or the Lord, repeat to Abraham that they will return in the spring, and that Sarah will be with child. Sarah is listening from behind a flap in the tent and laughs out loud at hearing such an absurd promise. The visitor asks why she laughs, as if there were anything too hard for the Lord, and promises the child once more. Sarah denies having laughed, because she was afraid. In the Greek of the Septuagint “she was afraid” comes out as ephobethe gar.

The impossible promise produces two reactions in her: laughter, on account of the absurdity of the promise, and fear, because of what is announced. After all, when one reaches a certain age, one is ac­customed to being sorry for oneself to some degree for things not realized, even though one has built one’s little security in the midst of what could be carried through. Someone comes along and with a solemn promise breaks that little security, thus threatening a future that is totally uncertain and quite different from anything one had imagined.

Let us jump to one of the most mysterious passages of the apos­tolic witness, the original ending to the Gospel of Mark. The women go to Jesus’ tomb, the definitive symbol of impossibility. They are on their way to perform a pious act, proper to the sort of piety that characterizes the dominion of death: the anointing of a body. They are going to find a stone, an obstacle too great for their own slight strength and one which is going to make even this most elemental act of piety very difficult. However, they find the stone put aside and a young man who says to them: Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was cruci­fied: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him. But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see hit you. And they went out quickly, and fled from they trembled and were amazed: neither said any man; for they were afraid [ephobounto ga Nothing in the phrasing of the texts of the New Testament is accidental, and it seems to me that in the story of Sarah which gives the context for the Marcan account of the frightened women.’ The stone put aside and the absence of in the first instance a motive for rejoicing, but for terror. Terror because what had happened was quite outside anything that could be expected. Beside this, the possibility of the birth of as child to an aged lady is a mere nothing. Terror because now there was ne security, no rules, nothing normal could be trusted in. And worse, terror because everything difficult and frightening which Jesus had taught them had to begin to come about: he went before them, as he had told them.

It seems to me that here we have the most appropriate place from which to start our examination of hope….. because there is nothing pretty about Christian hope. Whatever Christian hope is, it begins in terror and utter disorientation in the face of the collapse of all that is familiar and well known. Living in the End Times – J. Alison (SPCK 1997) pp. 160-1

Now, the readers stand at the brink of the incomplete narrative in which all have failed, and with terrible restraint, the narrator breaks off the story and leaves the readers, who may have thought the story was about somebody else, with a decision to make. Eugene Boring

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