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What is the Ending to Mark’s Gospel?

If you open an English Bible, you’ll see that Mark’s Gospel ends with a couple of different endings. One is quite a short one that just rounds things off, and the other is a longer one that has a few resurrection appearances. But most scholars think that neither of those are actually original to Mark’s Gospel; they were put on much later, and in fact that Mark’s Gospel— the original version—ends at 16 verse 8. So what you have there is that the women, they’ve gone to the tomb, they’ve found it empty, they’ve seen the angel; they run off; and they say nothing to anybody because they were afraid.  And that’s where the original version of Mark ends.  

Now, scholars are a bit uncertain as to what to make of that. Some people think that perhaps Mark wrote more, or he intended to write more and he was stopped, or that he did write more and that the end of the scroll or the codex got damaged in some way and that we’ve actually lost it. And that would have been much more common in the ancient world than nowadays; scrolls could easily get damaged. Most scholars though think that Mark did actually intend to finish at 16 verse 8 with these frightened women at the tomb. Now, that might seem like a very strange way to end a gospel to us, but in a way it’s quite a clever psychological ending, and what people think nowadays is that Mark deliberately intended to end his gospel there. He started his gospel with baptism, the beginning of the Christian journey, and now he ends it here with the news of the empty tomb’  and its almost as if his audience are in the position of these women: they’ve heard about the tomb being empty; the question is what are they going to do about it. Are they going to run off scared and say nothing to anybody like the women or are they going to go and proclaim the good news? Are they going to take a different course of action? So it’s kind of a call to his audience: how are they going to respond? And so it may well be that that was a deliberate intention and that that’s what Mark wanted—to finish there, and then each person makes up their own ending.

  • Helen K. Bond

    Helen K. Bond is Professor of Christian Origins and Head of the School of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. She is interested in all aspects of the first-century Jewish world and the emergence of earliest Christianity. Her publications include Pontius Pilate in History and Interpretation (Cambridge University Press, 1998), Caiaphas: Friend of Rome and Judge of Jesus? (Westminster John Knox, 2004), and The Historical Jesus: A Guide for the Perplexed (Bloomsbury, 2012). She has just finished a book on Mark as the first biographer of Jesus to be published by Eerdmans in 2020.