The Final Disclosure
Mark 15:42-47; Mark 16
Throughout the Gospel of Mark, we have noted similarities with the Elijah-Elisha narratives. Other similarities not yet discussed include Jesus and Elisha both performing the same number of miracles. Jesus’ and Elisha’s ministries both begin after the end of their predecessor’s ministry. Both ministries aim to establish God’s rule. There are multiple references to Elijah in Mark’s gospel – the final one while Jesus is on the cross. However, multiple similarities in themselves do not constitute literary dependence. Adam Winn has suggested several criteria for determining literary dependence: 1) Plausibility of imitation, 2) similarities in narrative structures/orders of events, 3) similarities in specific narrative details and actions, 4) verbal agreement, and 5) weight of combined criteria. Based on these criteria, Dr. Winn concludes that there is a literary dependence.
This does not mean that Mark just plugged in “John” for “Elijah” and “Jesus” for “Elisha” and repeated the same story. Dr. Winn is only claiming that the Elijah-Elisha narratives were an important literary source for Mark’s gospel – but not the only source. Nor does Mark’s use of the Elijah-Elisha narratives mean we should draw any conclusions with respect to the gospel’s meaning or theological significance. Understanding the theology behind the Elijah-Elisha narratives doesn’t necessarily help us interpret the Gospel of Mark.
The gospel writers have frequently quoted Old Testament scripture in their text. Mark’s gospel, for example, begins with quotations from Isaiah, Malachi, and Exodus. Dr. Winn’s study opens up the issue of other ways the Old Testament may have been utilized by New Testament writers. It has long been theorized that the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke used Mark’s gospel as a primary source. Winn’s work provides a potential answer to the question, “What were Mark’s sources?” Thomas Nelligan, for example, has more recently explored First Corinthians as another potential source for Mark’s writing.
Mark’s account of the crucifixion and death of Jesus is the shortest account of the four gospels, and yet in the crucifixion and burial stories, Mark sums up nearly everything of importance he writes in the whole gospel. After Jesus died on the cross, Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate, requested Jesus body, and buried it in a tomb (Mark 15:42–47). Mark told us that Joseph of Arimathea was a councilor, but not what type of council he sat on – there is no reason to think he was a member of the Sanhedrin. It was quite unusual to quickly bury the body of someone who was crucified. Most bodies were left on the cross for days or weeks to be picked over by birds as a warning. Joseph did what John’s disciples did after his execution, and what Jesus’ disciples failed to do. Jesus’ body was buried Friday afternoon before the start of the Sabbath.
“When the Sabbath was over” (after six pm on Saturday evening), the women purchased spices to anoint the body (Mark 16:1–8). When they went to the tomb after sun rose on Sunday, the stone was rolled away and a young man dressed in white sat at the right – the favored place. We learn four things from the young man: (1) not to be alarmed; (2) the women who were looking for Jesus had not been paying attention. They were looking for a dead Jew instead of a living Messiah; (3) Jesus, who had been crucified, had been raised up; (4) the women are to tell the disciples to go back to Galilee (back to the beginning) to see Jesus. Jesus’ loyalty to his disciples is linked with God’s vindication of Jesus. The women who have followed Jesus to the end, even after the Twelve have run away, also fail at the last moment. Out of fear, they say nothing.
The Gospel of Mark has four endings. The shortest – the one ending with verse eight – is likely the earliest. It was the only ending familiar to Clement (150–215 c.e.) and Origen (185–254 c.e.). The evidence points to it being the one written by Mark, or his earliest redactors. The other possible endings appear to have been derived primarily from material in Matthew, Luke or John at a much later date. The vocabulary and style differ significantly from the rest of Mark’s gospel. While they present valid theological viewpoints, they are not the viewpoint expressed in the core of Mark’s gospel.
An intermediate ending following verse eight, tells us that the women reported to Peter and the disciples, and afterwards Jesus “sent out through them the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation …” This short addition uses language common to Paul or Luke, but never appears elsewhere in the Gospel of Mark. That, plus the fact that it directly contradicts verse eight which said the women said nothing to anyone, makes it highly unlikely that it was included in Mark’s original text. This ending first appeared in some Greek manuscripts in the seventh, eighth and ninth centuries.
A longer ending (Mark 16:9 – 20) is divided into three sections. The first section (from verses 9 to 14) is focused on the problem of disbelief. Mary Magdalene told the disciples what she saw, but they did not believe her. Jesus was seen by two disciples walking (probably on the road to Emmaus – from Luke), but when they told the others, they were not believed. Finally, Jesus appeared to the eleven and upbraided them for their lack of faith and their unbelief. Perhaps this section was added by followers of Jesus who had been dealing with the issue of disbelief when they preached the resurrection story.
The second section (verses 15–18) is the great commission story followed by a discussion of dramatic signs to be performed by believers, such as picking up snakes and drinking poison without ill effect. This flies in the face of earlier stories where Jesus clearly stated that he would not provide any more signs. The section also includes the clause, “the one who does not believe will be condemned. ” – a judgment unprecedented in Mark. The third section (verses 19–20) describes the ascension of Jesus followed by the disciples’ complete rehabilitation as ardent proclaimers of the good news, in a way that seemed impossible for the confused, frightened deserters we have read about throughout this gospel. Again, this does not fit the narrative we have been given from the first chapter through the eighth verse of the sixteenth chapter. Jerome included this ending in his translation into the Vulgate (Latin), but was not convinced it was part of the original. It seems to have first appeared in the late fourth or early fifth century.
Also in the fifth century a version appeared that had verses 9 – 20 plus an expansion between verse 14 and 15. This expansion appears as a footnote in the NRSV as well as some other current translations. In this addition, the disciples demand that Jesus disclose his righteousness right now. This section is loaded with apocalyptic language and even uses ideas, language and themes consistent with Mark’s gospel, But it is extremely unlikely it was written by Mark.
The longer versions are a part of the canon – i.e. a part of the New Testament used by most Christians today. What ending we include with the story makes a difference in how we understand the whole story. Dr. Black suggests we consider the extra endings as commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Perhaps it could be thought of as an annex. But if, as it appears, Mark ended his gospel with verse eight, the question becomes. “Why?”
There are three obvious options. (1) Mark wrote a longer ending that was lost; (2) Mark was somehow prevented from finishing (e.g. He died. He was imprisoned. His writing hand was broken); (3) Mark intended to end the book with verse eight.
While some scholars make a case for the first option, very few argue for the second. Dr. Black suggests that the third option – Mark ended the gospel the way he intended – is most the consistent with the first fifteen chapters. It is possible that Mark’s point was that the women were left looking for Jesus just as the readers of the gospel were still searching. Mark’s entire gospel appears to be in many ways a mystery. It is not just that the Jesus of Mark’s gospel tells parables (riddles), the Jesus of the Gospel of Mark is a parable of the kingdom he preaches. It certainly would not be out of character for Mark to leave us a riddle.
Jesus is elusive and beyond even his students’ grasp. For Mark to end his gospel any other way would have undermined everything he has said about God’s kingdom, its Messiah, and its subjects. This was not just a tale about a Jewish miracle worker who ended up on a cross. The gospel is a proclamation of the coming of God’s kingdom led by a teacher whose disciples never understood what was going on. It is a book about shattering human expectations, including the expectations of its readers. Jesus’ disciples had to hear the message over and over again before they even began to understand.
Perhaps the book itself is one great intercalation. Beginning with “the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”; in the middle we are given a mystifying description of the kingdom. The intercalation closes by asking the women to tell the disciples (and Mark’s readers) to go back to Galilee – back to the beginning. Start over – try again. For it was the women – the reliable women who stayed with Jesus till the very end – and “… said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
Editor’s Notes: These recaps are intended to summarize the discussion of the Monday evening study on the Gospel of Mark, but do not include every idea expressed in those classes, much less every viewpoint, interpretation or conclusion incorporated in the sources cited below. It is assumed that those who read the summaries are also able to read the text of the Gospel of Mark. Therefore I did not always attempt to summarize the text from the Bible. Those reading the recaps on-line can click on the citations, which will direct them to Biblia.com to find the biblical text being discussed. Biblia.com uses the English Standard Version. Most quotations used in the summaries are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
The Monday evening study and the recaps primarily utilized the commentary by C. Clifton Black. The majority of interpretative comments were taken from his book. The description of the destruction of Jerusalem in session nine was largely from Reza Aslan’s book. The explanation of historical critical method in session two was derived primarily from Marc Zvi Brettler. Most of the descriptions and discussion on the comparison of the Gospel of Mark with the Elijah-Elisha narratives came from the work by Adam Winn.
Summaries, by definition are not complete, accurate depictions of the original. So while I have attempted to carefully convey the ideas of the source authors, undoubtedly some interpretations or descriptions in these recaps are less clear than ideal, and some may not effectively reflect the original author’s intent at all. Some ideas expressed are those of bible study participants. The recaps are summaries of a church bible study, not intended to be an academic research paper or a theological statement of belief. For complete explanations on specific ideas contained in these recaps, go to the sources listed in the bibliography below. Charlie Walden.
Primary Text: Mark (Abingdon New Testament Commentaries) by C. Clifton Black (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 2011)
Mark: Image of an Apostolic Interpreter – C. Clifton Black, (Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 1994)
The Lost Gospel “Q” – Editors, Mark Powelson, Ray Riegert, and Marcus Borg; Introduction – Thomas Moore, (Ulysses Press, Berkley, California, 1996)
How to Read the Jewish Bible – Marc Zvi Brettler, (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Mark and the Elijah-Elisha Narrative: Considering the Practice of Greco-Roman Imitation in the Search for Markan Source Material – Adam Winn, (Pickwick Publications, Eugene, OR, 2010)
Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth – Reza Aslan, (Random House Trade Paperbacks, New York, 2014)
Evolution of the Word – Marcus J. Borg, (Harper One, New York, 2012) (New Testament Text from New Revised Standard Version, 1989)