devotion 9-30-14

Good Morning!

Mark 16.9-20

The Shorter Ending of Mark

[[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 Longer Ending of Mark

[[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. She went out and told those who had been with him, while they were mourning and weeping. But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.

 After this he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them.

 Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the 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. And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.’

 So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. 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. ]]

So — let’s talk a moment about textual criticism. This term refers to examining the various ancient texts in existence for clues about where variations came in, and where changes were made. All of the scripture was copied by hand, from scribe to scribe – there are various “streams” of texts, originating from older texts. Scholars today go back to the oldest and most reliable texts we have, and in the translation process they make decisions about how to translate, what is authentic, and what is not. Sometimes, scribes would add a margin note to clarify, and then the next scribe would include that note in his copy within the text. Or a word would not sound right to the scribe and he would assume someone before him made an error and “correct” it. Some rules for making decisions of which text to use when they disagree include:

  • the one that is older, and attested by more older texts is more likely the original
  • the one that is the less comfortable or likely interpretation is most likely the correct (the scribes would have changed from something uncomfortable to something easier to believe about Jesus – for example, some copies leave out altogether the story in John about the woman caught in adultery; this would have been an uncomfortable topic for the monks making copies)
  • the one that uses language and sentence structure consistent with other writing by that author, or at least with the remainder of the book, is more likely to be correct.

Why bring these things up here? Because the older texts of Mark’s gospel end with chapter 8. Mark may have ended there, may have intended, like Luke to write a “sequel”, or may have written one that was lost, or the ending – at the end of the scroll – might have been broken off and lost.

And so, it seems, subsequent scribes added an ending.

The shorter ending:

[[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. ]]

If you are reading from the NIV or the King James Bibles the “shorter ending” is not included. This ending was added sometime after the third century – isn’t it incredible to think that we have 3rd century documents for comparison? The copiers simply did not want to end on the negative note – the women had to have told someone!

The Longer ending, verses 9 – 20, was added around that same time, to one copy of the gospel of Mark – that copy was then copied, etc. But look at the wording – have you seen that particular language and sentence structure used in Mark? And what about the “signs” that are listed? snake-handling, drinking poison without harm? and, of course, healing. Other than healing, where were these things ever mentioned by Jesus or a part of the actual gospel, any of the actual gospels? It seems that some of the longer ending was copied from Luke, while some was the product of a particular sect in the second or third century.

In the King James version this “long ending” is included without question. Remember, the King James was written in 1611; scholars did not have access to ancient manuscripts. They translated from what they had. In the NIV only the “longer ending” is included, but there is a note that the remaining verses are questioned.

What is my take on this? When I study or teach Mark, I end with verse 8. If there was more, it was lost and the endings given are only guesses; if Mark ended there, he must have had his reason – perhaps to show us that faith is enough, that the empty tomb and the testimony of frightened women was enough, that the disciples indeed met with Jesus in Galilee, and he did not need to tell more. I go to other gospels for the time beyond the discovery of the empty tomb.

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