Why Mark’s Abrupt Ending?

I finished W.D. Davies’ The Gospel and the Land.  Davies includes as Appendix IV an article by Gunter Stemberger entitled “Galilee—-Land of Salvation?”  Stemberger is arguing against certain viewpoints about Galilee in the Gospels—-that there was a Galilean church, for example—-and his conclusion is that Galilee is emphasized in the Gospels because, well, that’s where Jesus conducted his ministry.

But I don’t want to talk here about the debates about Galilee.  What I want to discuss here is the issue of why the Gospel of Mark ends so abruptly.  In Mark 16, a man in a white garment appears to women at Jesus’ tomb, says that Jesus is risen, and instructs the women to tell the disciples and Peter that Jesus will show up at Galilee.  But v 8 then says that the women told no one because they were afraid.  (Many scholars regard vv 9-20 as a later addition.)  Other Gospels present the women telling the disciples, and they also show the disciples having experiences of the risen Jesus.  But this is not the case with the Gospel of Mark.  Why?

What I understand Stemberger to be saying is that Mark does not want for his readers to focus on Jesus’ appearances to a few witnesses in the past.  Rather, Mark wants for his readers to anticipate the coming parousia, and to realize that the risen Jesus still appears.

A professor I had at my undergraduate institution had another explanation for the abrupt ending of Mark.  My professor thought that the parable in Mark 4:26-29 was relevant.  That parable says (in the KJV): “And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; And should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how. For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear. But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come.”

In this parable, a seed grows into a plant, but the planter does not know how.  Similarly, my professor said, Mark is saying that the Kingdom of God grows, even though we don’t know how this happens.  In the case of Mark 16, how could the Kingdom of God have grown, if the women told no one about the risen Jesus because they were afraid?  Didn’t the women need to testify to the risen Jesus for the church to even get off the ground?  Who knows?  It’s a mystery!  God works notwithstanding human failure.  That was my professor’s explanation of the abrupt ending in Mark.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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2 Responses to Why Mark’s Abrupt Ending?

  1. Agent X says:

    Thanks for the analysis. I am dealing with that question myself. I have long believed that Mark ended at 16:8 purposefully and problematically as a way to hook the reader. But then the questions like why and how still persist. Your insight here is uncommon and helpful.

    I have been considering that brief passage after Simon’s mother-in-law is raised from a fever and Jesus withdraws to pray. The disciples go looking for him early in the morning and apparently in some high anxiety. These similarities make the differences really pop out.

    The ch.1 story happens before sun up; ch. 16 after sunrise. Ch. 16 says nothing about what comes next, but if ch. 1 is considered as instructive at just that point, then we know Jesus expects the disciples to “go to the towns nearby (Galilee???) and proclaim the message because that is what he came for!)

    This passage is full of mystery and guesswork. But I find it to be a matter of wrestling with God much like Jacob wrestles the angel in Gen. I note also that in that story, Jacob refuses to let go of the angel until he identifies himself. And since Mark gospel stresses the identity of Jesus as the Son of God, with only one mortal character in the narrative coming to terms with that concept at the most crucial point in 15:39, it all resonates together suggesting we have our nose on the right scent.

    Blessings from Texas…


  2. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Thanks for your comment, Agent X. Looks like you’ve thought a lot about the Gospel of Mark!


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