Friday, May 9, 2014

Mark's Ending

Today I want to discuss the ending of Mark's Gospel.  In recent years, with the proliferation of literary analyses of the Gospel of Mark, many NT scholars (myself included) have been convinced that Mark intended to end his gospel at 16:8.  This of course is not a debate about whether the same author could have written the various longer endings of Mark, which is an issue that seems to be settled in textual criticism to a large degree.  The most original ending or Mark's Gospel is at 16:8.  But debates have raged about a lost ending, or the possibility that Mark died before he could finish.  But now, many have argued that Mark intended to end the Gospel at 16:8.

What I want to address here is a sentiment that I have heard many times, but most recently in one of the episodes of Mark Goodacre's NT Pod.  The sentiment is as follows: If NT scholars in the late 20th and early 21st centuries have come to find some literary genius behind Mark's enigmatic ending, then they are the only people throughout all of church history who have done so.  That is, they are so narcissistic to believe that they alone possess the knowledge and skill to recognize Mark's genius.  The argument runs that everyone throughout church history has found the short ending of Mark problematic.

I want to push back on this argument for a moment.  Can we really say that everyone throughout church history has found Mark's short ending a problem?  I don't think so.  Sure, we have examples of a handful of people in ancient church history who found the ending problematic.  Matthew sees fit to add to Mark's ending, so does Luke, so does John if he is familiar with Mark. That's 3 people who either found Mark's ending problematic and added to it.  We also have three different endings in the manuscript tradition (the shorter ending, the Freer Logion, and the Longer ending).  So, I count 6 people who we know either had a problem with the ending, or thought they could improve it.  But, those 6 are not everybody.  Certainly, after the longer ending gained ascendancy in the manuscript tradition, we cannot say that people were dissatisfied with the shorter ending.  They weren't aware of the shorter ending.  So we can discount the claim that anyone from about 500-1800 discounted the shorter ending.  They simply didn't know it was an option.

Well, what about before the longer ending became the majority text?  I have pointed out at least 6 people who went a different way and may have found Mark's ending wanting.  But is this everybody?  Again I say no.  The counter evidence suggests that the very fact that we have manuscripts which end at 16:8 means that there were at least some (the copyists of Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, for example) who either found no problem with the short ending, or at least did not feel compelled to change it.  Perhaps there were early Christians who recognized the genius of Mark's short ending, but over time their voices were lost in the midst of the manuscript tradition in which the various other options had become dominant. So I do not think that we can say that everybody except for modern NT scholars have failed to recognize a possibility that Mark intended  to end his Gospel at 16:8.  Modern NT scholars might stand in good company with many others (the copyists of Sinaiticus and Vaticanus included).

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