Mark 16:9-20


Other Canonical, but non-Markan, Endings

Some later copyists felt uneasy with the crisp ending Mark had given to his account of the Gospel.  Over the years two different endings became attached.  One was quite brief, consisting simply of one further verse.

The other was more comprehensive, adding twelve more verses.  These contained a brief synopsis of some “appearance stories” of the risen Christ mentioned in the later Gospel of Matthew, in Luke's Gospel and his Acts of Apostles, and in epistles of Paul.

Scholars are unanimous in recognising that they were not written by Mark.  They are divided over whether they nevertheless can be accounted as canonical.


The Shorter Ending of Mark

9 And all that had been commanded them
they told briefly to those around Peter.
And afterwards Jesus himself sent out through them,
from east to west,
the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation. 

The additional verses are included in only a small handful of old but not highly reliable manuscripts, and obviously do not reflect the direct and graphic style of Mark, nor his enigmatic conclusion.


The Longer Ending of Mark

Mark 16:9-20   Post-Resurrection Appearances of Jesus

Like the previous addition, this one, too, though better attested than the other and clearly existing by the middle of the second century, is not found in the most reliable manuscripts.

9 Now after he rose early on the first day of the week,
he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, 
from whom he had cast out seven demons. 
10 She went out and told those who had been with him,
while they were mourning and weeping. 
11 But when they heard that he was alive
and had been seen by her, 
they would not believe it.

John's Gospel had mentioned Mary Magdalen as the first one to find the empty tomb, and later to encounter the risen Jesus:

It was the first day of the week.  
Very early, while it was still dark,
Mary Magdalene came to the tomb,
and saw the stone removed from the tomb [John 20:1].
she turned round,
and saw Jesus standing there –
though she did not recognise that it was Jesus [John 20:14].

Though Mary's presence at the tomb was mentioned in Luke's Gospel, she did not actually encounter the risen Jesus but two men in brilliant clothes who told her and her companions that Jesus had risen.  The account of the cool reception of Mary's message by the apostles was taken from Luke's Gospel:

Now it was Mary Magdalene,
(Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them)
who told this to the apostles.
But these words seemed to them an idle tale,
and they did not believe them [Luke 24:10-11]
12 After this he appeared in another form to two of them,
as they were walking into the country. 
13 And they went back and told the rest,
but they did not believe them.

The reference is obviously to the story of Jesus' encounter with two disciples on their way to Emmaus, as recounted in Luke's Gospel [Luke 24.35].  It is interesting to note the editorial comment referring to Jesus appearing in another form.  The Emmaus story is an indirect reference to later disciples' encounter with the risen Jesus in the celebration of Eucharist.

14 Jesus appeared to the eleven
while they were at table.
and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, 
because they had not believed
those who saw him after he had risen.

The observation was again taken from Luke's Gospel:

Jesus himself stood among them and said to them,
‘Peace be with you.’
They were startled and terrified,
and thought that they were seeing a ghost.
He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened,
and why do doubts arise in your hearts?'  [Luke 24:36-38]
15 He said, “Go out into the whole world.  
Proclaim the good news to the entire creation. 
16 Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved;
whoever does not believe will be condemned. 

The passage this time was based on the conclusion of Matthew's Gospel, though it went beyond what Matthew in fact had written:

Go now and make disciples of all the nations,
baptising people
into the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  
Teach them to observe all that I enjoined on you  [Matthew 28:19-20].

The "salvation/condemnation" alternatives reflect more the dualistic style often found in John's Gospel, though the earnestness of the decision and the use of threat were also dear to the heart of Matthew.

17 These signs will accompany those who believe:  
They will cast out demons in my name;
they will speak in new languages;
18 they will pick up snakes;
if they drink anything lethal, it will not harm them.  
They will lay their hands on those who are ill
and they will get well.

The signs listed were to be found in Luke's second work, Acts of Apostles, where they were attributed to Paul and, sometimes, to Peter.  Luke mentioned them particularly to show how the same Spirit that was in Jesus and allowed him to work his healings and exorcisms was now at work in the Church through the disciples of Jesus. 

Casting out demons. One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, ‘These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.’ She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, ‘I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And it came out that very hour [Acts 16:16-18].

Speaking in tongues.  To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues [1 Corinthians 12:7-10]  

Picking up snakes. Paul had gathered a bundle of brushwood and was putting it on the fire, when a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. When the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, ‘This man must be a murderer; though he has escaped from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live.’ He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm [Acts 28:3-5]

Sick recovering. In Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet and had never walked, for he had been crippled from birth. He listened to Paul as he was speaking. And Paul, looking at him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed, said in a loud voice, ‘Stand upright on your feet.’ And the man sprang up and began to walk [Acts 14:8-10]

Interestingly, while recognising the authenticity of the gifts of the Spirit, as they were manifested most spectacularly in Corinth, Paul saw them as frequently the occasion of competition, pride and division within the community.  For Paul, the greatest gift of the Spirit was the capacity and readiness to love.

19 So then, after he had addressed them,
the Lord Jesus was raised up into the heaven
and took his seat at the right side of God.

Luke was the only evangelist to use the language and imagery of Ascension to explain the complementary experiences of both the absence of the historical Jesus and the undeniable activity of the risen Jesus in the lives of the disciples.  Jesus' absence he explained by saying he was raised up into heaven.  His activity he proclaimed by his assertion that Jesus took his seat at the right side of God, a phrase meaning that Jesus now shared in the powerful activity of God, working in the world through the Spirit.

In his Gospel, Luke had written:

Then he led them out as far as Bethany,
and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them.
While he was blessing them,
he withdrew from them
and was carried up into heaven [Luke 24:50-51].

For Luke, heaven was the realm of God.  The imagery reflected, naturally, the cosmology of the times.

Luke then developed the imagery in his second account of the Ascension as found in his Acts of Apostles:

… as they were watching, [Jesus] was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven’ [Acts 1:9-11].

The two men in white robes connected with the two men in brilliant clothes [Luke 24:4], who revealed the mystery of Jesus' resurrection to the women at the tomb.  Here they revealed the mystery of Jesus' return to his Father and his sharing the power of the Father.  They also announced the future return of Jesus to the world, coming on the clouds of heaven, a clear reference to his role as glorious Son of Man.

20 And they went out
and proclaimed the good news everywhere, 
while the Lord worked with them
and confirmed the message
by the signs that accompanied it.

The ambivalent but basically negative image of the disciples as shown in the actual ending of Mark's Gospel was here quite deliberately changed to give a positive affirmation of the disciples and their later fruitful work in the wider world.