The Resurrection: All of the earliest manuscripts have a cut off ending for Mark’s Gospel, so that it ends at verse 8, after the angel announces to the women that Jesus is alive, but before anyone sees the risen Jesus.
It is apparent that this was the end of what we have of Mark’s writing. Early on (possibly as early as 150AD Irenaeus quotes 16:19 in Mark’s Gospel) two postscripts were added to Mark’s Gospel, the longer one being v9-20 in the KJV, NIV and RSV. In other translations, these verses are in parentheses, to distinguish them from the rest of Mark. Most of this ending consists of quotes from the other Gospels. It is apparent that the early church felt that this gospel lacked some of the testimony that was important for teaching the faith. Since the four gospels were circulated separately, it must have seemed important to make sure that those who only had Mark’s gospel would get this supplementary material. Thus they appended these verses to Mark’s Gospel and later on, sometime after 350 they came to be merged into the Gospel itself. That situation continued until the weight of evidence from older manuscripts came to light through archaeology and research, and scholarly opinion began to shift during the last 150 years in the West.
Mark’s v.8 ending does seem abrupt. Was an original longer ending lost? Did Mark have a literary reason for ending where he did? We can’t know that. Since the testimony about Jesus resurrection appearances is basically quoted from the other Gospels, it is not out of place, or made up and it does not detract from Mark’s account. Only part of v.17-18 are uncorroborated in the other Gospels, and these seem to reflect the experience of the early church (tongues, snakes and poison: in Acts [Paul got bitten by a poisonous snake] and elsewhere). Did those words come from Jesus? Are v.9-20 genuinely Scripture? Christians have different opinions on this, yet neither answer changes any substantive teaching of Scripture, for all the content of these verses is confirmed by other scriptures.
Even with only v 1-8 we have an open, empty tomb, and angelic messenger announcing that Jesus is risen, and a promise that Jesus would meet them later in Galilee. The women flee from the tomb, filled with the confusion and fear which, in the Gospels, seems the lot of anyone who meets a genuine angel.
Lord, it can be troubling to see uncertainty in the scriptures – but thank you for the thousands of manuscripts that have enabled scholars to confirm the content of the originals. You have worked in history to preserve the testimony to Jesus, and we have more than enough reason to believe!
Congratulations on reaching the end of the Second Gospel. Luke’s Account starts tomorrow! See you there!