Mark 16:9-20, the last twelve verses of Mark’s gospel, are found in the vast majority of manuscripts – something like 98% of our manuscripts. But our two oldest Greek manuscripts lack the twelve verses. It is also one of the two longest passages we have that is textually dubious. We have two passages that are twelve verses long that are doubtful. The next largest passage we have that we are not sure whether it is authentic or not is two verses. We have about two dozen places that are one or two verses long that we are just not sure of the authenticity; then it jumps all the way up to twelve verses. There are also phrases, and single words or parts of a word that are the most common kinds of variants. One point Dr. Ehrman makes in ‘Misquoting Jesus’ is that there are other passages like Mark 16, as if this is just one of many. No, there is just one other passage like this one. It gives an impression to the reader of this ‘unknown’ out here that if I embrace the Christian faith, then I am going to get embarrassed and be proven an idiot. And of course I do not want to go in that direction. Ehrman creates a fear of the unknown. He gives his best shot in his book. But his best shot does not prove a thing.
Mark 16:9-20 is not authentic. Most scholars would recognize that. It is the passage that talks about how disciples will pick up snakes, and drink poison and not get sick. Not only do our earliest Greek manuscripts lack it, but Eusebius and Jerome, church fathers from the 4th and 5th centuries, said the vast majority of the Greek manuscripts they looked at did not have this passage. But today the vast majority of Greek manuscripts do have it. So what was the majority reading in the 4th and 5th century is different than it is today. The earliest versions – the Latin, the Coptic, and the Syriac – did not have it originally in their earliest versions. There is evidence that is very strong that Mark did not write this passage on the manuscript testimony. If you look at it internally, it does not fit Mark‟s vocabulary, his syntax, or his style.
So you raise the question, ‘did Mark end his gospel with saying the women were afraid, without saying they went and told the disciples that Jesus had been raised from the dead?’ So you have Jesus rising from the dead in Mark’s gospel, but you do not have an appearance of the risen Christ to any human being? And I think yes, this is exactly what Mark is trying to say. Mark wants the reader to step into the sandals of the disciples and ask the question, ‘if you want to take Jesus in his glory, are you willing to accept him in his suffering?’ This idea goes all the way back to the middle of Mark when Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ. Jesus then talks to him and replies, “the Son of Man has to suffer and die and then rise from the dead.” Right after Peter confesses Jesus is the Christ, he rebukes him because that was not the kind of Messiah Peter was looking for. Jesus then rebukes Peter, “Get behind me Satan.” Through this account, you get an image of this man who gets revelation from God that Jesus is in fact the Messiah, but he does not have a clue what it means to be the Messiah. Peter tries to define that in his own terms. Peter wanted Christ in his glory. The issue was, ‘Peter, if you are unwilling to follow me in my suffering, then you do not get me in my glory.’ Mark’s gospel is all about discipleship, a true view of Jesus, and what it means to be a Christian.
At the end of Mark’s gospel, you are left in the same position as the disciples. You have to choose what you are going to do with Jesus. If you accept him in his suffering – recognizing that he died a tortuous death in your place – and accept that the life of a Christian is a life of persecution and suffering, then you can accept Jesus in his glory. It is a brilliant open-ended stroke that Mark has done.
Later scribes are looking at this realizing that Mark‟s account did not have a resurrection appearance of Jesus to his disciples. They added it. But I think Mark did intentionally stop when he did. One of the fascinating things is that we know open-ended stories occurred in the ancient world. There is a whole dissertation that showed that in relation to Mark. We know Luke heavily used Mark’s gospel when he wrote his own. Luke has a second volume, the Book of Acts. For the last seven or eight chapters, he has Paul coming up to his trial in Rome. The book starts with a bang and ends with a whimper. So Paul has been in prison and is about to come to trial, but it is not included in the story. The account is open-ended. Where did Luke learn that kind of style? I think he learned it from Mark.