The Ending of Mark’s Gospel – an apologetic

I heard something today which inspired me to think up an apologetic response to some scholars who suggest that the ending of Mark (Mark 16:9-20) could neither have been authored by Mark nor by any person contemporary with the Apostles. The tantalizing insight was this: that Marks’ Gospel begins with the words:

“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
~Mark 1:1

This ‘beginning’ may imply that, like Luke, Mark’s work was implicitly reflecting an intention to write a supplementary volume. Mark may have written a Gospel to be shared with prospective converts and catechumen, while keeping the ending, the true ‘good news’, as something to be expressed in the Liturgy. In other words, the resurrection would be proclaimed in the Liturgy, but the ‘Gospel’ was composed with an abridged cliff-hanger ending precisely in order to invite suspicious attraction to the Mass, where the ‘bow’ to the whole Gospel would finally be present-ed. This is actually in accord with what we know of early Christian practice. The early Christians practised something they called ‘the Secret’, which simply implied keeping certain parts of the Mass from being publicly exposed, precisely in order for people to find it for themselves (perhaps among other reasons). If Mark’s Gospel was carried by communities which self-consciously practiced this discipline of keeping some of the Liturgical richness hidden away for Catechumens, then it makes sense that they would end the Gospel they circulated publicly where scholars often suspect it originally ends. Notice how brilliant a cliffhanger the shorter ending is:

So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
~Mark 16:8

The Resurrection, a literally earth-shattering event, leaves the early disciples speechless and in perplexed, albeit wonderful, fear. That ending to the Gospel, without resurrection appearances, sounds ‘unfinished’ to our modern ears, but if one imagines that the Gospel was designed to end that way precisely to attract open eyed curiosity then one can imagine that it would have this effect, and that the ‘ending’ (intended to compliment ‘the beginning‘) of the Gospel was simply reserved for the context of the Liturgy (perhaps even acting as the reading for ‘Easter’). The longer ending could have been written by Mark, or Peter, or perhaps even developed in the context of a nascent liturgy which was in development as the Apostles were still walking among us.

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About tylerjourneaux

I am an aspiring Catholic theologian and philosopher, and I have a keen interest in apologetics. I am creating this blog both in order to practice and improve my writing and memory retention as I publish my thoughts, and in order to give evidence of my ability to understand and communicate thoughts on topics pertinent to Theology, Philosophy, philosophical theology, Catholic (Christian) Apologetics, philosophy of religion and textual criticism.
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8 Responses to The Ending of Mark’s Gospel – an apologetic

  1. mattd4488 says:

    Interesting thoughts. I never thought about the beginning of Mark that way. I guess it does sound unfinished.

  2. You said, “I heard something today which inspired me to think up an apologetic response to some scholars who suggest that the ending of Mark (Mark 16:9-20) could neither have been authored by Mark nor by any person contemporary with the Apostles.”

    I applaud your attempt at this challenge however, I think when starting to tackle a topic like this, I think first trying to understand and then debunk the grounding of why people and scholars would say Mark 16:9-20 should not be in the bible.

    I must say you gave a very good theological answer, but your answer still lacks in substance in regards to textual criticism and the many historical manuscripts.

    Here is a small post on the gospels that may give you a little more insight on the topic: http://bittersweetend.wordpress.com/2012/04/15/where-did-cain-find-himself-a-wife/

    • To insinuate that I am ignorant of issues surrounding textual criticism is a little insulting, but then, I probably need the humility. I do reserve the right to be ‘bloggy’ on my own blog, and the post was really just a reflection rather than a full fledged apologetic (I’m not so lazy that I’d leave an actual apologetic-attempt that sloppy and unfinished). Thank you for the article on your blog though.

      As a passing response, having read your post, I think you’ve lost sight of some of the issues yourself. First, it isn’t a foregone conclusion that the authors to whom Tradition ascribes the ‘evangelists’ were not the real authors (not least because there are still no other plausible alternatives except appealing to diverse Christian ‘communities’ – which my post above purposefully left open as an option). I have argued at some length about issues surrounding authorship, though not yet on my blog. I think that the apologetic reasons provided by Eusebius Pamphili of Caesarea continue to be convincing today, and while there are good reasons to criticize them seriously, there are also good reasons to take them seriously in the first place. On your blog one of your commentators makes a point about the private prayer in the Garden prior to Christ’s trial – allow me to take this example and respond briefly to give an example of how I would be tempted to respond – there are any number of plausible ways that eye witnesses could have recorded such a thing. Either because one of the close disciples snuck up on Jesus and overheard him (whether he willingly allowed that, or didn’t notice), or perhaps somebody received a revelatory vision of what transpired in the Garden – such solutions are not off limits by any means, unless one adopts enlightenment presuppositions. Moreover, after establishing that it is logically possible that the Traditionally recognized ‘authors’ were the ‘authentic’ authors, one has to ask what reasons one has to believe that that is plausible, and here a combination of good textual criticism (overturning the last generation’s presumptuous mistakes) along with sobering systematic theology (especially Catholic theology) can serve to point the way towards tremendous plausibility.

      Finally a quick point about third person perspectives in the Gospel narratives: wouldn’t that make a lot more sense if the Gospels were composed for the purposes of the Liturgy? Doesn’t that make the Catholic position seem plausible, or at least worth investigating? Finally – without appealing to something like the authority given to the Catholic Church by Jesus Christ, to infallibly lead the Christian people in matters of faith, how can you even be confident of the Canon of the Bible at all – the Canon which the Catholic Bishops, operating on Tradition, came to verify in the fourth century, and then formally and bindingly at Trent? However, if we appeal to that authority at all, then somehow or other the Gospels must have been written either by the Apostles or ‘Apostolic men’ who were ‘still living among the Apostles’ when the scriptures were written. That, I take it, is the Catholic position.

      My response, in short, to your question: “So now the Question remains, Can the Gospels still be considered reliable and trustworthy if we know that they are not eyewitness accounts?” is first that they can still be reliable and trustworthy, and second that we still have good reason to believe they ARE eyewitness accounts, or proximate to eyewitness accounts.

      • hi Tyler,

        In all honesty I’m a little surprised that you actually responded to my comment. It seems lately when I goto christian defense blogs, if my comments are not in complete agreement with the other person, it seems they never put up my comments or respond. And as time goes on in my blog, it seems the Christians are visiting it less and less. (Just two weeks ago, a guy who was defending the KJV on his blog deleted half my comments, and completely stop responding to my questions.) And In the beginning of my blog about half my comments were Christians, now I think I have only about three christian commenters on my blog.

        So I do thank you for answering and responding to my comments. U have definitely earned my respect. I do apologize if you feel like a offended you or insulted you. It was never my intention.

        ****

        but like you said, your initial blog was not to be all inclusive response to Mark 16:9-20, so I understand that. And this my main issue with the third-person perspective “Yeah, I know many of them were written decades after Christ Death. But the perspective of who it wrote should not change. Even if the Gospels were just copies of the disciple who wrote it, then they should still remain in first person. Either way we look at it, the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of John are to be considered eyewitness and should have been written from a first-person perspective. After all, any story that is telling of oneself in it (even if it is a copy), should have accounts or traces of being written with first person tendencies scattered throughout the text.”

        Now the third party perspective does warrant even further investigation than my little blog, but one of the problems I encountered, is that I couldn’t find any Christian scholarly answers. (All the answers I found in regards to the topic were secular or did not warrant any serious consideration)

        And lastly your question: “So now the Question remains, Can the Gospels still be considered reliable and trustworthy if we know that they are not eyewitness accounts?” is first that they can still be reliable and trustworthy, and second that we still have good reason to believe they ARE eyewitness accounts, or proximate to eyewitness accounts.”

        But its hard to still consider them eyewitness accounts, if they only backing is theological catholic answer because not only do secular scholars believe the gospels are not eyewitness accounts, but so do historians and some christian scholars.

      • I’m sorry to hear that – that attitude is unfortunate. I always welcome comments, and though I can’t always promise to respond within a reasonable amount of time, I try to ensure that I always do so with respect. Notice that we do have several reasons to think that the Gospels are eyewitness accounts, and let me briefly list them here:

        1) Tradition unanimously (that is, uncontroversially, and universally, in every area where Christianity spread after it’s inception) attests to the evangelists being ‘Matthew’ ‘Mark’ ‘Luke’ and ‘John’ from extremely early on, and it’s hard to explain how that could be so, especially when that period was rife with controversies, without admitting there to be some truth behind it.

        2) Notice that each of the Gospels bears a sort of signature of silence, or perhaps better a signature of humility. Mark’s Gospel, the one which is most closely connected with Peter, has Peter in the spotlight the least. Matthew’s Gospel is the only one which lists him AFTER Thomas, implying he was lesser than Thomas (the apostles are always listed in duplets (groups of two), and the Gospel of Matthew adds to Matthew’s name that he was the ‘Tax collector’. The other Gospels hide Matthew’s identity as such by giving his alternative name (many Jews had alternative names in that period, in order to negotiate living in a hellenized world), and thus they call him Levi. Luke speaks in the first person plural precisely because he is writing to a convert of his and Paul’s missionary journeys, which Luke describes himself as joining in in the book of Acts. Still other reasons can be added to the case of John’s Gospel, though that’s a more nuanced and complicated issue.

        3) There are NO plausible alternatives for authorship – the running theory in scholarship in competition with the classical view is that these Gospels were redacted and plausibly authored by small Christian ‘communities’, but this presumption is blatantly theological, as the reasons for supposing it are often the same as the reasons for suspecting that Paul didn’t author many epistles attributed to him. Consider Ephesians, which is thought non-pauline precisely because it’s theology is too Catholic (or at least the ecclesiology is thought to be too high). Notice that the same reason is used to argue that Matthew 16:15-19 cannot be written in the Apostolic era, since the ecclesiology is too high (but notice that nobody considers whether Jesus’ ecclesiology could have been that high – and it very plausibly could have: what else would a Jewish Rabbi gathering 12 apostles to represent the 12 tribes of Israel be thinking he was doing but starting a new or fuller Kahal?). Notice also that the dating of many scholars is contingent upon the supposition that prophesy is not actually possible, and thus to read Jesus talking about the destruction of the temple, let alone his own death, must be saying thrown onto the lips of Christ rather than read off of them. Why should Christian scholars grant such a supposition without qualification or consideration? That seems gratuitous beyond reason.

        In sum, there are no good reasons (at least from a Christian perspective) to believe any alternative account of authorship than the one Tradition bequeaths to us. Moreover, at best the Christian could reasonably maintain a reserved sceptical optimism because of the arguments presented against the traditional view. However, to say that Christians cannot reasonably maintain the ‘traditional’ ascription of authorship to the evangelists seems incredulous to me.

  3. Greetings Tyler. You’re not the first to interpret Mk. 1:1 in this way and give it some consideration in how 16:8 is understood; Morna Hooker does almost exactly the same thing in her commentary. However, it is important to first have a good grip on the facts regarding the attestation for Mark 16:9-20. Unfortunately, that is something that a lot of commentators have not possessed. If you find a commentator telling you things like, “Clement of Alexandria and Origen show no awareness of the existence of these verses,” or, “In some manuscripts, Mark 16:9-20 is accompanied by asterisks or obeli to convey scribal doubt about the passage,” then be aware that the author, at this point, is a parrot, not a researcher.

    I have written extensively on this subject and I encourage you to read my research-book “Authentic: The Case for Mark 16:9-20” before drawing any conclusions about the legitimacy of the passage (although I would expect that you, as a Roman Catholic, accept it as canonical inasmuch as it is part of the Vulgate). Just write to me and request a free digital copy (or purchase it at Amazon as an inexpensive Kindle e-book). I have also placed a couple of video-lectures on this subject at YouTube, which can be watched for free.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

    • That sounds very interesting to me, I’d love to read through it. I’ve seen scholars on various sides of the issues deal with the ending of Mark’s Gospel, and notice that my post above attempted to leave the door open wide enough for the ending to even have been written by a Markan community. I think most good scholarship is parroting the right sources, so I’ll check what you say against the Nestle Aland (and brush up on the Greek I’m supposed to know and have never practised – yet). Not that I wish to be a poor sport, but I’m afraid free is the only way I’m going to be getting your book (I’m a student who is really strapped for cash). Perhaps you can send me either a book, or the abstract, or an article you’ve published, etc.?

      Thanks for your comments.

      • Tyler,
        Yes; just sent a request to james (dot) snapp [at] gmail {dot} com and I’ll be glad to send you a digital copy via e-mail, along with a couple of related resouces.
        Yours in Christ,
        James Snapp, Jr.

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