- The Explore the Bible lesson for May 26 focuses on Mark 15:42-47, 16:1-8.
The close of Mark’s Gospel explains why Mark could call his story about Jesus in 1:1 “the good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God” and not “the tragic tale of Jesus of Nazareth” or “the inspiring story about Jesus.”
Mark presented the story in simplest fashion. The simple announcement of an empty tomb was enough to awaken imagination, engender hope and demand devotion.
Buried (Mark 15:42-47)
Death by crucifixion was not often quick. The crucified could remain alive to suffer for days. To dispel any notions of an alternative narrative that Jesus had merely swooned, Mark noted Pilate’s effort to verify that Jesus actually died before he would release the body (15:44-45).
Grieved (Mark 16:1-4)
It is not beyond reason to see God’s hand at work orchestrating events for his purposes. Jesus’ death late on Friday left insufficient time to give his body the proper burial preparation due someone of Jesus’ status (at least in the eyes of those who loved him). Sabbath restrictions forbade anyone from anointing the body on that Saturday. No, it had to be on that third day, on Sunday, when the women came to the tomb to carry out their task.
Resurrected (Mark 16:5-8)
If you have ever received life-changing news, you might be able to empathize somewhat with these ladies at the tomb. These women, however, were confronted not just with life-changing news but world-changing news. Consider the range of emotion and perception they would have experienced over the span of a few minutes. A somber walk to the tomb on that early morning turned into a flight from the tomb (16:8). With the abrupt ending of the Gospel, we the readers are left in that state of wonder. This is a place worth staying for a while.
Familiarity with stories in the Gospels has its merits, but there is something worthwhile about recapturing the ‘punch’ of their stories, particularly this one. “He is risen! He is not here.” Our lives are now lived in light of that declaration. Consider the personal and corporate implications of the empty tomb. “He is risen!”
The Challenge of Mark 16:9-20
We need not ignore the proverbial elephant in the room. “Why do some Bibles have a different ending to Mark’s Gospel than mine?” The stakes are high on this, it seems, at least to some. Some see no grave issue here. Discussions on ancient texts, textual criticism and translation processes elicit no cause for alarm. The whole discussion is a purely intellectual exercise to them.
For others who have encountered the different translations of Mark’s Gospel, though, it feels like the Word of God is being tampered with. Some of these reason that calling into question one part of Scripture calls all of it into question. Still others have deep personal ties that motivate their thoughts on this issue. The King James Version of the Bible is the Bible they have used for perhaps decades; for some it’s the only one they have ever owned. It is the Bible the Gideons distribute or the Bible that Bro. So-and-so preached out of for years. It is the Bible that “Momma used to read to me every night when I was a child.” For these, the King James Version is the Bible.
So, as one turns in his or her KJV Bible to chapter 16 of Mark, one sees the Gospel extend from verse 9 to verse 20 with no footnotes or asterisks or italics. There are no issues here, it seems. These verses bear no marks of anything that would lead one to conclude they are just as much part of God’s Word as the rest of Mark.
However, different translations, especially newer ones, have startlingly consigned this portion of the Gospel to a footnote or have put it into brackets, presenting it as somehow flawed or corrupt. Talk of “superior” manuscripts that do not include 16:9-20 calls into question not only the authenticity of these verses but also even the reliability of the entire KJV. That is a hard pill to swallow. We all can attest that being called to abandon something with which we have a rich history is no easy matter. It feels like losing a companion.
In light of all of the preceding, I would like to make two appeals. I appeal to those who would dismiss the concerns of those hesitant to jettison the longer ending of Mark. Remember these people are not stupid or intractable; they might just be vested because of a lifetime’s worth of experiences. This is not just an academic debate; it’s personal. Let is also not forget that for more than 400 years, the King James Version has led untold millions to know the Lord and continues to do so. So, extend some sympathy and consideration and please recall Paul’s words to the Corinthian church, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1).
On the other hand, I appeal to those who would accuse modern translations and their proponents of removing or corrupting Scripture. There are some who stand over Scripture as judge and executioner, but the vast majority of Bible translators are not among them. Their goal is to offer to readers the finest rendering of the Word of God as possible. Were verses 9-20 part of the original Gospel that Mark under the leadership of the Holy Spirit wrote? There are really good reasons to think that is not the case. (For a brief but helpful discussion of the principles that contribute to these really good reasons, see David Alan Black, New Testament Textual Criticism: A Concise Guide.) These matters can be tough to think through. If we are unwilling to think through them, so be it. Let us be cautious, however, of scandalizing those who are willing.
Martin Luther has been credited with the axiom, “Peace if possible, truth at all costs.” Might his admonition be appropriately applied in the case of this issue? Regardless of what side of this debate you fall, how can you show love and grace to those who are on the other side?
Jeremy Greer is assistant professor of religion at East Texas Baptist University in Marshall.