The Conclusions of Mark

Is there anything inherent in the text which might indicate the authenticity of the conclusion of Mark’s Gospel? [level-stranger](Register here to read the rest of this article.)[/level-stranger] [not-level-stranger]

Discussing William A. Johnson’s Readers and Reading Culture in the High Roman Empire, Ben Witherington writes:

Bookrolls were generally the product of scribes, not of private persons. “Making a bookroll involved no more than taking a premanufactured papyrus roll, writing out the text, attaching additional fresh rolls as the length of the text required, and when finished, cutting off the blank remainder.” (p. 18). Or not. It is entirely possible that what happened with Mark’s Gospel is that the original ending of only a few verses about seeing the risen Jesus after Mk. 16.8 was lost, since the outermost edge of the end of the text was left exposed to the elements (no they didn’t heed the exhortation— be kind and rewind, that we used to hear during the videotape era), so more papyrus was added to the end, and the result was the production of no less than three alternative endings, including the so called long ending of Mk. 16.9ff. (of course here in Kentucky it can only be seen as bad news that Mk. 16.9ff is not an original part of Mark’s Gospel since it provides the only possible endorsement of snake handling and poision drinking as tests of faith). 1Ben Witherington, Ancient Readers and Manuscripts— William A. Johnson’s Take.

“Smooth narrative” is one of the arguments against the inclusion of any of the various endings for the Gospel of Mark, which suddenly picks up speed after the resurrection. Yet the Bible is not known for its smooth narrative. When dealing with Holy Week, the Gospels slow right down to give us all the details.

Since we are dealing with literary structure, is there anything inherent in the text which might indicate the authenticity of the conclusion of Mark’s Gospel?

Mark follows a convention found throughout all the Bible’s texts, based upon the Creation Week and the Levitical Feasts (Leviticus 23). The Gospel has a number of “Covenant-shaped” Cycles, and the entire book is itself “Covenant-shaped.” This final Cycle is left incomplete if the Gospel ends at 16:8:

Creation: Day 1 / Sabbath / Genesis: The women intend to anoint Christ’s body on the first day of the week.
(The Spirit/dove hovers over the waters)
Division: Day 2 / Passover / Exodus: The women enter the open tomb.
(The bloodied/sealed door opened / Passage through the abyss / the Veil torn)
Ascension: Day 3 / Firstfruits / Leviticus: An angel tells the women that Christ, the firstfruits, has risen, and gives the women a commission to go and tell the disciples.
(The structure of Leviticus takes us from outside the Tabernacle into the Most Holy Place and out again, sin having been atoned for. The angels seated at each ends of the slab correspond to those on the lid of the Ark of the Covenant)
Testing: Day 4 / Pentecost / Numbers: Mary and Jesus appear to the disciples but many do not believe.
(Mary’s seven demons are mentioned because they are negative counterparts of the seven spirits before God’s throne, pictured in the sun, moon and five visible planets of Day 4, and also the seven lamps of the Lampstand, tongues of fire. This is the repeated biblical architecture)
Maturity: Day 5 / Trumpets / Deuteronomy: Jesus appears to all the disciples and rebukes them.
(The Law “repeated” concerning His resurrection – fragrant Incense Altar)
Conquest: Day 6 / Atonement / Joshua: Jesus gives the Great Commission, beginning with the healing of Israel (“by His stripes”).
(The two goats of Atonement here are those who believe and those who reject the gospel.)
Glorification: Day 7 / Tabernacles / Judges: Jesus sits as a righteous judge at the Father’s right hand (as Covenant Head) and the disciples go and preach the gospel in His power (as Covenant Body).
(This is the “corporate fulfilment” of what was intended on Day 7 of history, and also of the “Judges” period in Israel’s history.)

It is certainly possible that the Cycle ends at Ascension, just to make a point. The Bible authors do this in numerous places, but it is to point out the failure of those who exalt themselves, and that is not the case here at all. The subject is the first man who humbled Himself perfectly and was exalted by God. So the first question is, would a well-meaning scribe have been inspired to complete the Gospel with a postscript which accurately follows the matrix structure? I doubt it. And the second question is, does this “clockwork” internal textual evidence outweigh the shabby history of the manuscripts? I believe so.

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