Mark 16:1-8 — The Ministry of Jesus Begins Anew

The ending of Mark has long been a controversial subject among scholars even though the present general consensus is that the long ending (Mark 16:9-20) is not original to the Gospel. I will not rehearse that evidence here except to say that 9-20 is absent from the earliest manuscripts, patristic evidence is scanty and confirms that most manuscripts in the fourth century did not have the long ending (both Eusebius and Jerome note that most manuscripts do not have the long ending), and the style of Mark 16:9-20 is very different from the previous narrative. [This is no threat to faith as the text of the New Testament is more certain and verifiable than any other ancient text.] Despite this, some yet advocate for the originality of 16:9-20. Whatever the case, I will assume—for the purposes of this final blog on the Gospel of Mark—that the Gospel ends at 16:8 for if we reject the authenticity of 16:9-20 we have no other choice than to read Mark 16:1-8 as the end of the Gospel. (I recognize that some believe the original ending has been lost to us, and that may very well be the case.)  If the Gospel of Mark ends at 16:8, it is a rather peculiar ending. But this might be its narrative genius rather than a drawback.

Ever been to a movie where the ending left you hanging and asking “what happened next?” Those endings are often frustrating but purposeful. They invite us into the story as we “live out” the ending in our own imagination. It is possible that Mark ends on a note something like that.

It is plausible that Mark is intentionally open-ended with his final words. He does not end the story or provide some closure but rather reopens the story as if to return to the beginning of the Gospel narrative itself. He leaves us with a dramatic cliffhanger that invites us to begin the story anew. Possibly Mark restarts the ministry of Jesus in the light of his resurrection and the disciples, including Peter, are again called to follow him. It is this mission in which we also as readers are invited, and the real ending of Mark lies with us. In other words, will we follow Jesus back to Galilee and begin anew his ministry of heralding and practicing the kingdom of God? Or, will we refuse to believe and follow?

Mark 16:1-3 stands in narrative contrast with Mark 15:46-47. While Joseph bought linen and hurriedly buried Jesus in a tomb with a large stone sealing it before the Sabbath began on Friday evening, the women after the Sabbath bought spices and came to tomb on Sunday morning to complete the burial (“anoint”) despite the fact that they did not know how they would roll back the stone. The women came in love and to their surprise they found the stone already rolled back from the entrance to the tomb.

Beginning in Mark 16:5, the narrative bridge from the cross to the tomb is now complete. Jesus died in Mark 15:37 and the tomb is found open in Mark 16:4. Mark 16:5-7 is the climatic moment of Mark’s narrative.

Mark 16:5-8 is filled with linguistic and conceptual connections with Mark’s previous story (see the chart at the end of this post). The narrative intertextuality illuminates what Mark is doing in these significant and revolutionary sentences.

The first disclosure is the presence of the “young man.” The only previous appearance of a “young man” in Mark was the one who fled from the scene of Jesus’ arrest in Mark 14:51. But here, instead of fleeing, this “young man” sits “on the right” clothed (wrapped) in a white linen. “Sitting on the right” is a significant phrase in Mark. It is the position to which James and John aspired (Mark 10:37); it is the position of the Messiah next to God (Mark 12:36); and it is the position of the Son of Man in glory (Mark 14:62). Further, this “young man” is dressed in “white,” and that word only occurs elsewhere in Mark when he describes the transfiguration of Jesus into glory (Mark 9:3).

In other words, in contrast with the despair of a “young man” who flees the garden on a previous night, this “young man” sits in glory. This is a triumphant picture; it is an eschatological picture. The glory of the Son of Man radiates from the empty tomb where one of his “disciples” (that is, a “young man”) sits. The world has been remade and renewed. The tomb is empty.

The second disclosure is the word of the “young man.” His language arises out of Mark’s previous narrative. While crowds and authorities had previously “sought” Jesus, now the women seek him. But the one they seek is no mere miracle worker or Messianic pretender. On the contrary, he is the crucified but risen one! Jesus is no longer in the “place” they laid him—he is no longer alone and dead in a tomb. “Place,” in the Gospel of Mark, has always been used for solitary, wilderness and chaotic situations. Now, however, Jesus is no longer in that “place.” He is no longer subject to the powers of the wilderness and chaos; death no longer holds power over him.

“Crucified and risen” is the language of the “Son of Man” though that title is not used in chapter 16. Jesus had predicted that the Son of Man would be killed but also rise from the dead, and the “young man” announces the reality. In effect, he heralds the coming of the Son of Man; he heralds the kingdom of God.

Significantly, the “young man” not only announces the resurrection (and thus the kingdom of God), but also calls the disciples (through the word of the women) to renew the ministry of the kingdom of God. The reference to Galilee is not simply a reference to a geographical location but is symbolic of the beginning of the Gospel of Mark itself. It was in Galilee where Mark’s gospel begins. It is where the disciples were first called and where they ministered with Jesus.

Galilee does not simply represent a geographical region. It evokes a mission; it engages our wills and emotions. It is a metaphor for the ministry of Jesus. As some suggested in my Bible class last Sunday, “going to Galilee” might be like “going to Michigan” in the 19550s. In other words, “to go to Michigan” is not simply about geographical but it is finding a job in Detroit. Another example is “going to Washington.” This does not refer primarily to geography but rather the intent to participate in governing a nation. “Going to Galilee” is something similar. It means to participate in the ministry of Jesus as in the beginning of the Gospel of Mark.

Jesus is returning to Galilee and the disciples are to follow. There they (including the women!) will “see” Jesus. The term “see” (optanomai) is only used three other times in Mark. In each context it is eschatological in nature. The disciples saw Elijah and Moses (Mark 9:4), the powers will “see” the Son of Man coming in the clouds (Mark 13:26), and the Sanhedrin would “see” the coming of the Son of Man (Mark 14:62). Their “seeing” is an eschatological seeing, that is, they will experience the reality of the kingdom of God (inclusive of resurrection appearances).

The total effect of the “young man” (both presence and message) is the eschatological reality of the kingdom of God. The kingdom is present in power. The cross did not destroy the kingdom of God; it bore witness to the kingdom. The resurrection destroyed the powers; it enabled disciples to “see” the coming of the Son of Man. The kingdom has emerged triumphant.

The curious part of the text is the response of the women in Mark 16:8. They are described (including Mark 16:5) as “troubled,” astonished (estatic), afraid and trembling. The narrator piles one term on top of another. Mark’s purpose is dramatic effect—the emotional state of the women ranges from amazement to the shakes (trembling). The dramatic moment vivified the women but also “stopped them in their tracks.” They have encountered eschatological reality; they have experienced a divine encounter of sorts.

The women are afraid (that is, they “fear”) in the wake of this encounter. This has a (momentary?) paralyzing effect. They have faced eschatological Truth and “fear.” This parallels two similar instances earlier in the narrative. The disciples were “afraid” when Jesus stilled the chaotic waters (Mark 4:41) and the people of the Decapolis were “afraid” of Jesus because he cast out a demon (Mark 5:15). When one watches the kingdom of God overcome the powers, fear is a natural response. The women are “afraid” in the wake of Jesus’ victory over death. It is a fear that arises out of awe and wonder, and it can be paralyzing….for a moment.

Mark leaves us here—women paralyzed by awe-struck fear in response to the resurrection of Jesus. It is open-ended. The reader wonders what happened next (and thus several attempted to supply an answer).

But the answer does not lie in the narrative. It lies in the reader. Will we, as we presume the disciples will (and, as we know from other Gospel accounts, did), follow Jesus to Galilee? Will we renew the Galilean ministry of Jesus? Will we “see” Jesus in the power and mission of his ministry as we follow him?

What happens next depends not on the narrator but on the reader. What will we do? It is the question we must all answer as readers of the Gospel of Mark.

Narrative Links in Mark 16:5-8

Previously in Mark

Mark 16

Tomb (5:2, 3; 6:29; 15:46; 16:2, 3) Tomb (16:5, 8)
Sitting on the Right (10:37; 12:36; 14:62) Sitting on the Right (16:5)
Young Man (14:51) Young Man (16:5)
Clothed/Wrapped (14:51) Clothed/Wrapped (16:5)
White (9:3) White (16:5)
Amazed/Frightened/Troubled (9:15; 14:33) Amazed/Frightened/Troubled (16:5,6)
Seeking Jesus (1:37; 3:32; 8:11; 11:18; 12:12; 14:1, 11, 55) Seeking Jesus (16:6)
Crucified (15:20, 24, 25, 27) Crucified (Mark 16:6)
Rise (12:26; 14:28) Rise (Mark 16:6)
“Solitary” Place (1:35, 45; 6:31, 32, 35) and “place” of chaos (13:8; 15:22). Place (Mark 16:6)
Going Before in Galilee (14:28) Going Before in Galilee (16:7)
To “See” Jesus (9:4; 13:26; 14:62) To “See” Jesus (16:7)
Astonished (ekstasis; 5:42) Astonished (16:8)
Fear (phobeo; 4:41; 5:15) Fear (16:8)
Fearing and Trembling (tremo; 5:33) Fearing and Trembling (tromos; 16:8)

16 Responses to “Mark 16:1-8 — The Ministry of Jesus Begins Anew”

  1.   James Snapp, Jr. Says:

    I don’t think it is satisfactory at all to stop at 16:8; Mark clearly foreshadows events beyond that point, in 14:28 and 16:7. I recommend finishing the blog-series on Mark by using the text that can be shown to have been used in the 100’s, and which is attested by over 99.9% of the extant Greek manuscripts of Mark. That is, the text of Mark that includes 16:9-20.

    I also recommend that you *do* rehearse the evidence that has been your basis, until now at least, for rejecting 16:9-20, inasmuch as the decision to reject those 12 verses clearly forms the basis for your interpretation of the preceding verses. I point out, for example, that contrary to your claim that “patristic evidence is scanty” for Mark 16:9-20, the passage is very well attested; over 40 patristic writers from the era of the Roman Empire utilized the contents of Mark 16:9-20 in one way or another.

    And the testimonies of Eusebius and Jerome are not exactly what you presented them to be. Clearly there is a need to rehearse the evidence — to examine it in detail, instead of trusting Metzger’s misleading descriptions — and clarify what it does (and does not) say. Until that is done, I recommend appealing the case to a higher court, so to speak — that is, look into the evidence in more detail — before you sentence 16:9-20 to banishment from the text.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.
    Minister, Curtisville Christian Church

    •   Terrell Lee Says:


      While I’m not a “professional” textual critic, I understand the discipline and had just the opposite perception of this post than you. I’ve continued to study Mark’s ending about 35 years (because it is one of those matters that intrigues me) and have drawn these conclusions: (1) those who want to defend the longer ending may show unfounded exuberance for the longer reading; (2) at best it appears to be a toss-up between the shorter and longer endings and its a little hard to be enthusiastic about toss-ups; (3) one must avoid giving patristics more weight than the MSS because MS evidence generally trumps patristic evidence; (4) MSS must be weighed, not counted (and Sinaiticus and Vaticanus weigh heavily in favor of the shorter reading); and (4) this is not a matter of faithfulness to the word of God, but a question of what that word is.

      It seems to me the question may only be resolved by a consideration of the internal evidence since the external evidence may lean against the longer ending, at least until more MS evidence surfaces. At this point I feel as you–that the longer ending is correct. Why? I favor the longer ending because of themes in 1:1-15 and 16:15-16–baptism and preaching the gospel–providing somewhat of an inclusio for the whole Gospel. I think internal evidence like this is where the discussion must now focus. Yet, at this time I have to recognize that far better students than I aren’t persuaded by these thoughts. For example, John Mark shows how internal evidence may also support the shorter ending.

      So I remain humble and tentative in my conclusions.

      Thanks John Mark for a way to view the shorter reading.

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      You presume too much, James. I did not depend on Metzger. In fact, I gave a different resource on the point as well as suggesting reading that looks at the text pro and con.

      My judgment is that it is not original to Mark, so I wrote on that basis. I may be wrong, but I did not take the time in a short post to rehearse the evidence since I was more interested in the theological point. And, contrary to your opinions, I do think the patristic evidence prior to the fourth century is scanty (and point readers to the resource I linked above).

      Readers can read other links and make their judgment, and they may not agree with mine. I understand that, and I do not resent it. It is part of the dialogue process. My only interest here is to point how Mark 16:1-8 could theologically function as an ending to Mark as it does in the oldest and best manuscripts we have.

      Thanks for offering a differing perspective. It is worth hearing.

      •   James Snapp, Jr. Says:

        John Mark,

        You certainly did depend on Metzger; apparently you just did so indirectly, without realizing it: look up the sources cited in “Perspectives on the Ending of Mark” (the book that you mentioned), and you’ll see that Metzger is repeatedly cited, particularly by Daniel Wallace. If you lean on Wallace, well, Wallace leans on Metzger; thus you lean on Metzger. (Wallace did not depend on Metzger for some other mistakes in his chapter; those are all his own.)

        Your idea that “the patristic evidence prior to the fourth century is scanty” is untenable; you need to get better acquainted with the evidence. Justin Martyr, Tatian, Irenaeus, Epistula Apostolorum, Hippolytus, De Rebaptismate, Vincentius, Hierocles (probably using material from Porphyry), and probably Tertullian utilize the contents of Mark 16:9-20. That is not scanty.

        Here’s what scanty is: the evidence from the 100’s and 200’s for the abrupt ending at 16:8. For such evidence is non-existent. Right? Can you present a single witness of any kind from the 100’s or 200’s for the abrupt ending at Mark 16:8? I am all ears.

        Yours in Christ,

        James Snapp, Jr.

      •   James Snapp, Jr. Says:

        Just checking back here after a few months to see if any witnesses for the Abrupt Ending from the 100’s or 200’s have been presented. Looks like a definite “No.” I remind readers that contrary to the false claim that patristic evidence for Mark 16:9-20 is “scanty,” and contrary to the wild speculations of the atheistic writer to whose material John Mark has linked, the patristic support for Mark 16:9-20 is exceptionally abundant.

        Regarding Terrell Lee’s claim that “One must avoid giving patristics more weight than the MSS,” I simply point out that those patristic writers had MSS of their own which cannot be liegitimately ignored: patristic writings must be approached with caution because they have their own transmission-lines to consider and because patristic writers sometimes quote Scriptures rather fluidly. But when the text of a patristic writing is clearly established, and when a patristic writer explicitly or extensively quotes a Gospels-passage, this is obviously evidence of the contents of a manuscript that was known to the writer. To ignore that, or to minimize it as if the writer’s manuscript is not as important as MSS that have survived to the present day, would guarantee false conclusions to one’s research.

        Yours in Christ,

        James Snapp, Jr.

  2.   John King Says:

    One of the more intriguing aspects of this discussion is the fact that there are actually multiple endings of Mark, with the “longer” not being the longest. Housed in a special area of the Smithsonian is an ancient copy of the longest ending of Mark. Maybe those who get upset with deleting 16:9-20 ought to address why they don’t opt for an even longer ending. There are more than two choices and you have to grapple with the textual (external and internal) evidence. Thanks, John Mark, for interpreting the text as it appears in the best of the ancient manuscripts!

    •   James Snapp, Jr. Says:

      John King,

      Are you misrepresenting the evidence from Codex W intentionally or unintentionally? Codex W — the manuscript at the Smithsonian to which you refer — included Mark 16:9-20, with the Freer Logion between v. 14 and v. 15. To call this a different ending would be like calling me a different person when a cat is in my lap, or like saying that a ship becomes a different ship when a barnacle attached itself to the hull. That sort of misrepresentation of the evidence does a disservice to students and readers.

      Yours in Christ,

      James Snapp, Jr.

  3.   Richard Kruse Says:

    Mark, unlike Matthew and Luke, does not begin with the birth of Jesus. He begins with his baptism and temptation right after Isaiah and John the baptizer briefly introduce him. Is there a possible connection between the abrupt beginning and abrupt ending?

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      Some have suggested just that. In fact, instead of sending the disciples as in a Great Commission in Matthew and Luke, it may be that Mark intends us to simply continue the ministry of Jesus as we rejoin him in “Galilee.”

  4.   eirenetheou Says:

    To many who have studied the “longer ending” — Mark 16:9-20 — it is clearly a compendium of material from the other Gospels with a little of the Acts mixed in for some spice. Verses 17 and 18 are a fountain of endless mischief. Attempts to “improve” a text that seems unsatisfactory often produce unintended consequences.

    In his historic lecture at Abilene Christian College in 1950, Marshall Keeble tells us how the “longer ending” came to his rescue in a confrontation with a white racist who quoted Matthew 28:19 (“make disciples of all nations”) and denied that American Negroes constituted a “nation.” MK was able to say that “Mark says, ‘every creature’,” and his opponent could not deny that Negroes are “creatures.” So in everything, even misguided attempts to “improve” a text, God works for good with those who love God (and know Scripture).

    Douglas Geyer’s fine study — Fear, Anomaly, and Uncertainty in the Gospel of Mark — is a learned and quite useful work that helps us to understand why the Gospel ends in the way that it does. i commend it to all serious students of the Gospel.

    God’s Peace to you.


    •   James Snapp, Jr. Says:

      I looked through the online book-sample of Geyer’s work, and only saw the same misrepresentation of the testimony of Eusebius and Jerome that has infected many other commentaries; I saw no up-close examination of the evidence, only an assumption that the text should end at 16:8. Was there some especially significant part of the book that you had in mind, in which Geyer describes the evidence in detail?

      Yours in Christ,

      James Snapp, Jr.

      •   eirenetheou Says:

        Dr Geyer is not writing a “commentary” on whole Gospel, nor is he working specifically on Mark 16 and its several alternative “endings.” His work on earlier passages does lay the groundwork for an understanding of how the ending of the Gospel, at 16:8, is entirely consistent with what the author is doing in the rest of the Gospel, and it explains why the Gospel ends in the way that it does. i commend Dr Geyer’s exegesis to your close reading.

        God’s Peace to you.


  5.   Agent X Says:

    Glad I found this post. I am creating my own layman’s commentary on Mark. I, like you, see the ending at 16:8 as being original and appropriate (at least reasonable as such) and find that it means the message moves off the written page and into the life of the reader. So far, I am very close with you.

    In fact you sharpen a lot up for me. Thanks for that.

    I would like to suggest something to this subject that I have recently been struck by in my reading…. The passage in 1:35 -39 seems strikingly similar with key differences to the closing scene in chap 16. Early in the morning the disciples seek him, but that time it is before the sun comes up. Jesus has withdrawn from them to pray (as opposed to being dead and buried) in what seems to be an anxious search.

    In the first vignette, Jesus tells them, “Lets go to the surrounding towns and proclaim, since that is why I came.” In the finale, the young man in white directs the women to get the disciples and head to Galilee, where he had already told them he would be. This seems to suggest proclamation will happen starting there, only this time the news will be about a risen Jesus.

    Thanks for this post and all your work. You help me.

    Blessings from Texas

  6.   James Snapp, Jr. Says:

    John Mark,
    Why are you linking to Richard Courier’s essay? Not only does it contain many inaccuracies (though fewer than it did before I communicated with Carrier about its shortcomings), but Carrier is a dedicated secularist and ant-Christian. Surely if you had wanted to expose your readers to false and misleading claims about Mark 16:9-20 you could at least refer them to misinformed Christian writers, such as Metzger, Wallace, Stein, Edwards, or Witherington.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  7.   Mike Says:

    John Mark,

    This is an excellent argument. The openness of the ending, as you’ve stated, is a key rhetorical maneuver employed by Mark. And what is the purpose of this? I think you’ve underscored it quite well:

    “He does not end the story or provide some closure but rather reopens the story as if to return to the beginning of the Gospel narrative itself.”

    And in returning to the narrative, the real kicker is Jesus’ definition of the gospel, or the “good news,” in the Mark 13: 9-13 section. Here, he encourages disciples to proclaim the good news to “all the nations.” And in doing so you will be delivered. Now, we must pause here and ask the question, what does it mean to testify in Jesus’ name? Well, the overall context of Mark 13 informs us that Jesus stands in clear opposition to the gentrified Sanhedrin and their exclusionary badges of righteousness. The temple will fall, he predicts, and one assumes the esconced religious elites will as well go down with the ship in stoic fashion. Jesus exhorts us to live radically inclusive lives with all peoples, all nations, outside of the insiderness of religious establishments.

    In other words, exegetically speaking, the gospel via Mark 13 isn’t merely resurrection-centered; indeed, bodily resurrection is secondary. Of primary importance to the gospel is answering the call to live robustly and dangerously here-and-now by standing up to hierarchical powers that be. The good news equals standing in opposition to the powers of the world, not escaping them via resurrection after death. That is hard irony to swallow. This may explain the abrupt, jarring ending with the empty tomb: “stop thinking about the hereafter, start living now,” could be the byline.

    •   Jean-Marc Alter Says:

      Interesting comments and exegesis but if the longer ending is quoted in the second century by numerous writers doesn’t that mean it existed then! A bit (lot) concerned that Mike seems to suggest that Jesus’ resurrection is of secondary importance. Texts from the gospels and the whole of scripture would state that it is of Vital importance. The gospel is historical and is tied to the birth of the Son of God as man, who lived a real life, died a real death and was really bodily resurrected from the dead. If you don’t believe this then nothing can save you. ( Isaiah 53, Psalm 22, Gen 3,15 Luke 24, Mark 8, 9, 10 1Cor 15, Rom 10 vv1-15 and many others)

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