The Endings of Mark

Here’s a question for our readers: in your experiences in congregational and college settings, how have your teachers handled the variant endings of the book of Mark?  (Or were you aware that Mark has multiple endings?)  This is the third time (that I remember) that I’ve taught Mark in churches, and I’ve always tried to teach the final lesson (or the penultimate, if I decide to do a recap lesson at the end) as a text-criticism lesson, attempting to inocculate my class against idiocies like Bart Ehrman’s, which would treat just about any variant as a reason to cry “Forgery!” and get some atheism on the cheap.

How have your teachers treated the ending(s) of Mark?

12 thoughts on “The Endings of Mark

  1. I took a Bible as Literature class at Grossmont College here in California back in 99. From what I can recall the class was almost even keel with a natural tendency to lean a little bit toward secular view points. I don’t remember the different ending in Mark to be very faith shaking, I actually thought (and still think) that the original ending is better. It adds mystery and reminds me of endings to many of my favorite anime (Elfen Lied comes to mind).

    “They went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had gripped them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

    As a 19 year old in that class I remember stressing out because the teacher held that John didn’t write John. My paper was basically a forgery of a book I found that supported that John wrote it. In retrospect, I no longer believe it’s as critical an issue as I thought it was back then.

  2. The non-instrumental Church of Chist, in which I grew up, throws it weight behind the traditional ending. The verse “He that believeth and is baptized shall be save” is one of its strongest weapons.

    As I moved toward a more progressive mode I did the typical reaction and rejected it along with the KJV. That was what a liberal was supposed to do, right? But as I have grown older, still very progressive, I find myself loving again the KJV for what it has given us, and the poetry and beauty it still offers the heart of God’s children. Along with that renewed love is a new appreciation for what baptism is within Christianity.

    So, I can study my NRSV and agree, intellectually, with its notes that the short ending is accurate. Then, while enjoying my poetic moments with the KJV be moved in heart by THE outward sign of faith with all other signs that follow, signs of God’s choosing, that make us awed and humbled that we are who we are. After all, I have played with the serpant and drank enough poison, figuratively speaking of course, to kill my soul many times over; yet, God still lets me get up each morning to read and converse.

    Yes, the longer ending, with a number of other added or misplaced passages, still fill a need.

  3. Our pastor just finished a series through Mark (available here, if you’re interested: http://www.capitolhillbaptist.org/audio/category/gospels/ ), in which the Pastor ended at 16:8, pointing out that 1) there’s nothing heretical in Mark, so treating it as scripture shouldn’t necessarily burn anyone’s conscience; 2) It seems to be a loose-ish summary of Acts, and may even be an addition by someone like Luke; 3) 16:8 is a better literary ending, as it leaves the reader where the women are, seized with trembling and astonishment, and having heard the promises that Jesus is risen and we will see him.
    I think the pattern at our church has consequently been: Mark 16:9-20 is not used as a sermon text, but is covered in Bible studies and (occasionally, I think) in our version of Sunday School, where there’s more opportunity to delve into the issues a bit.

  4. Thanks for the responses, all. I also taught the “long ending” as largely a summary of Acts, and we treated the book as it ends in 16:8 as a completed book. I had some old-timers who didn’t much like that approach, but when I brought in the possibility of a reader-response interpretation of the end, most of the class really liked the possibility that the writer of Mark was intentionally blurring the lines between narrative and audience. (To be more precise, I asked them, “Who other than the women hears the Resurrection proclaimed? This is a trick question, I promise.”)

    Next week we’re doing a summary of Mark, so we’ll see whether objections have arisen since then.

  5. @Coyle – How do we decide it’s a better literary ending? And even if we do, is that a worthwhile category to apply here? Personally I’ve always liked the ending and found it filled with a lot more hope than the longer one because I find myself in it way more often. The disciples throughout the Gospels regularly get painted as morons and folks who haven’t got the foggiest of ideas as to how to follow Jesus. This to me seems like the perfect of “realist” (though the whole scene is certainly surreal) endings. I can’t think of any books that do this well but Easterm Promisces I thought was a great end to a film which while it doesn’t have the little bow to wrap up the story it is implicit (and thus a lot more pedagogical) and gives the viewer a clear trajectory for where the story moves just off-screen. I think when we have things spelled out and all of the loose ends accounted for it makes for a much weaker story than the one that draws on what it knows it’s audience knows and can figure out for itself.

  6. Oops…didn’t mean to attempt to steal your thunder there Nathan. I suppose I should finish all of the comments before I add my own. Oh well.

  7. No worries, Gus. No worries.

    Oh, and I haven’t forgotten your request for an essay on evolution. This semester is kicking my butt, though, so it might be a little while before that happens.

  8. @ Gus “How do we decide it’s a better literary ending?”
    Because I don’t want to have to snake-handle, that’s how.
    😉

  9. This didn’t occure to me until after the Euripides episode but the shorter ending, is upon a surface reading, very Euripidean. The leader of this group by being faithful to his cause is thrown under the bus, and the curtain closes in the midst of fear and uncertainty. But yet, and here is the twist of course, it’s not tragic…What do you think? Grasping at straws here?

  10. That’s pretty good, Gus. Obviously the declaration of the resurrection makes it a departure from Euripides, but there’s definitely an unsettled quality to the short ending that’s reminiscent.

    Also, to jump in on your conversation with Coyle, I do think that, for the purposes of liturgy, one could legitimately make a case for Mark as literature precisely because the genre of liturgical reading is supposed to involve the audience. So even beyond sharing Coyle’s concerns about the snakes, I think his is a good, valid criterion for judging between the endings.

  11. I was attempting to say from a literary perspective I like the endings that don’t have the neat wrap up and I think they make for stronger stories. For example I find Tom Joad to be compelling at least partly because Stienbeck respects his readers enough to not spell everything out for them.
    As for the Euripidean ending, Nathan, the resurection as departure from Euripideas as a stylistic master seems like a powerful use of a medium for Mark. Clearly our author has no problem appropriating and subverting Roman culture…why not approriate AND subvert Euripides as well?

  12. I was attempting to say from a literary perspective I like the endings that don’t have the neat wrap up and I think they make for stronger stories. For example I find Tom Joad to be compelling at least partly because Stienbeck respects his readers enough to not spell everything out for them.
    As for the Euripidean ending, Nathan, the resurection as departure from Euripideas as a stylistic master seems like a powerful use of a medium for Mark. Clearly our author has no problem appropriating and subverting Roman culture (see in particular Ched Myer’s Binding the Strong Man and much of Richard Horsley’s work)…why not approriate AND subvert Euripides as well?

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