The Obvious Theological Biases driving Gospel of Mark!
Exposing the concerted motives behind the two endings of the gospel
The Gospel of Mark is purportedly the oldest gospel now present in the New Testament. On one hand where it enjoys the antiquity, on other hand, it intrigues Bible students too! In this paper we are concerned with one such perplexing issue related with the gospel and a fundamental Christian doctrine.
Gospel of Mark, unlike any other gospel, has two endings to it – as weird as it sounds – in one version it ends at Chapter 16, Verse 8, however, in another version it continues thereafter to end at verse 20. Various Bibles now in print often provide both the endings with sufficient notifications on the issue. For instance, The Good News Edition marginalizes/brackets verses 9 through 20 which we would be referring to as extraneous-verses throughout this paper.
Christians generally explain the matter as manuscript differences. However, is the issue so straight forward? When we tried to look into the matter a little closely, it turned out to be that it was not merely an issue of manuscripts! There were ponderous, controversial doctrinal issues hovering around the two narratives. Thus, in this paper we would address the objectives behind otherwise innocent looking two endings of Mark’s gospel(s) (1.).
The two endings
In this section we would briefly paraphrase the two endings which we have in gospel of Mark today.
Longer/Extraneous ending (Mark 16:9-20)
In this version, Jesus (peace be upon him) appears to his disciples after his alleged resurrection from death and commands them various things:
After Jesus rose from death early on Sunday, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had driven out seven demons. She went and told his companions. They were mourning and crying; and when they heard her say that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe her. After this, Jesus appeared in a different manner to two of them while they were on their way to the country. They returned and told the others, but these would not believe it. (Mark 16: 9-13)
For various passionate Christians this ending of the gospel is very sensational since in this account, upon (alleged) resurrection, Jesus (peace be upon him) appears and informs his disciples that they would be able to achieve extraordinary feats:
“Last of all, Jesus appeared to the eleven disciples as they were eating. He scolded them, because they did not have faith and because they were too stubborn to believe those who had seen him alive.
Believers will be given the power to perform miracles: they will drive out demons in my name; they will speak in strange tongues; if they pick up snakes or drink any poison, they will not be harmed; they will place their hands on sick people, and these will get well.” (Mark 16: 14, 17-18)
[Friendly Appeal: We strongly request our “believing” friends at ‘answering-islam’ not to try handling vipers or drink the venom of rattlers.]
After addressing the disciples thereafter, Jesus (peace be upon him) is portrayed to have been lifted to the heaven:
After the Lord Jesus had talked with them, he was taken up to heaven and sat at the right side of God. The disciples went and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and proved that their preaching was true by the miracles that were performed. (Mark 16: 19-20)
Here the longer version ends. So this longer version, in general terms, is more or less similar to the other gospel accounts except the sensational blessings for the believers. So far so good!
Shorter ending (Mark 16:1-8)
In the shorter version of the gospel however, Jesus’ (peace be upon him) female disciples, who also served him as his masseuse on occasions, from Galilee and Bethany hurries to the tomb on early Sunday morning to massage Jesus’ (peace be upon him) alleged corpse once again.
However, upon visiting the tomb, abnormally, they find a man already present inside it; although the tomb was sealed by a massive stone!
This mysterious man informs them that Jesus (peace be upon him) is no more in the tomb since he has been raised. He also commanded them to inform to other apostles especially Peter that, as planned, Jesus (peace be upon him) has been raised from the tomb:
Very early on Sunday morning, at sunrise, they went to the tomb. On the way they said to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” (It was a very large stone.) Then they looked up and saw that the stone had already been rolled back. (SEE 16:3) So they entered the tomb, where they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe—and they were alarmed.
“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is not here—he has been raised! Look, here is the place where he was placed. Now go and give this message to his disciples, including Peter: ‘He is going to Galilee ahead of you; there you will see him, just as he told you.’ “(Mark 16: 2-7)
However, the biblical “disciples” of Jesus (peace be upon him) acted contradictorily to run away from the tomb; moreover, they did not inform to any other apostle that Jesus (peace be upon him) has been raised!
So they went out and ran from the tomb, distressed and terrified. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. (Mark 16:8)
Just at this point, the shorter version of Mark’s gospel ends!
At this junction of the paper, we could feel that something fishy was transpiring in the pages of the so-called “Injeel”. Before we dig further into the issue, it is relatively important to know about the authenticity of the two narratives.
Authenticity of the two endings
According to biblical scholarship, the first or shorter narration of the gospel is found only in oldest and best Markan manuscripts:
…the last twelve verses of Mark, in which Jesus appears to his disciples after the resurrection, telling them to preach the gospel to all the nations and indicating that those who believe in him will speak in strange tongues, handle snakes, and drink poison without feeling its effects. But this amazing and startling ending is not found in the oldest and best manuscripts of Mark.
Instead, these manuscripts end at Mark 16:8, where the women at Jesus’ tomb are told that he has been raised, are instructed to inform Peter, but then flee the tomb and say nothing to anyone, “for they were afraid.” And that is the end of the story. (Bart Ehrman, Lost Christianities, p. 78)
We will talk about the authenticity of the longer, extraneous-version soon but at this instant let us assume that the so-called Holy “Ghost” did inspire the writer (whoever s/he was) with the extraneous-verses. With that said, let us do some inquiry into the two differing endings.
Notice that the “best” and the “oldest” manuscript did not had the extra-verses (9 through 20). On the foregoing, we propose the following queries:
1) Why the extra “verses” were not present in the “oldest” and “best” manuscript?
2) Does the presence of extraneous-verses in later manuscripts imply that they were “inspired” to younger writer(s)?
3) Subsequently, we ask: why were the extraneous-verses not inspired to earlier author(s)?
The truth of the matter is that the appended extraneous-verses are inauthentic and forged in the name of Mark. Biblical authority is almost unanimous about it. The introduction to gospel of Mark has the following to say:
“The two endings of the Gospel, which are enclosed in brackets, are generally regarded as written by someone other than the author of Mark. (The Gospel according to Mark, Introduction, Good News Edition, p. 44)
Consequently, if the extraneous-verses were inauthentic then why were they forged in the first place? Why were they inserted into “God’s words”? Like any other forging, these counterfeit “verses” served basically two fundamental Pauline objectives:
Objective 1: To confirm that Jesus (peace be upon him) was indeed resurrected.
Objective 2: To further corroborate that Jesus (peace be upon him) was raised.
The two objectives look very similar on the face of it, however, the there are subtle but very important difference between them; we would explore them in the passages to follow to finally see how important it was for the Pauline Christianity to achieve these objectives and how menacing it could have been for Pauline Christianity if the extraneous-verses were absent.
Objective 1: To confirm that Jesus (peace be upon him) was indeed resurrected
Remember that in the shorter version of Mark it was the mysterious man in the tomb apprising the ladies that Jesus (peace be upon him) has risen. In other words the ladies were not firsthand, eye witnesses of the resurrected Jesus (peace be upon him).
The unknown identity of the informing man in the tomb; lack of firsthand eyewitness account for resurrected Jesus (peace be upon him) – these were enough ground to reduce the veracity of Jesus’ (peace be upon him) resurrection which in turn had negative repercussions on his (alleged) death and would have in turn undermined the (alleged) crucifixion as well!
Therefore, to fill the obvious gaps, Bible redactors conveniently added the extraneous-verses and attributed them to God. So now we have the longer version in which Jesus (peace be upon him) is being witnessed by several of his disciples after his resurrection – problem was immediately solved!
However, the redactors supposedly working under the influence of Holy “Ghost” did an utterly gauche job when they out of need appended extraneous-verses. Initial Mark – the shorter version – ended with ladies not witnessing resurrected Jesus (peace be upon him) in the tomb. In fact the preternatural men inside the tomb exhorted them that resurrected Jesus (peace be upon him) would be witnessed on-road to Galilee:
So they entered the tomb, where they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe—and they were alarmed. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is not here—he has been raised! Look, here is the place where he was placed. Now go and give this message to his disciples, including Peter: ‘He is going to Galilee ahead of you; there you will see him, just as he told you.‘ “(Mark 16: 5-7)
However, contradictorily, (appended) verse 9 stated that the ladies did witness Jesus (peace be upon him) on Sunday – his resurrection day:
After Jesus rose from death early on Sunday, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had driven out seven demons. (Mark 16:9)
The presumably “resurrected” Jesus (peace be upon him) did not meet Mary Magdalene on Galilee highway but at very close proximity of the tomb, in fact, at the entrance of the tomb itself.
Mary stood crying outside the tomb. While she was still crying, she bent over and looked in the tomb and saw two angels there dressed in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head and the other at the feet. “Woman, why are you crying?” they asked her. She answered, “They have taken my Lord away, and I do not know where they have put him!”
Then she turned around and saw Jesus standing there; but she did not know that it was Jesus. “Woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who is it that you are looking for?” She thought he was the gardener, so she said to him, “If you took him away, sir, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned toward him and said in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (This means “Teacher.”) (John 20:11-16)
On the foregoing, it can be conclusively asserted that the appended “verse(s)” do not fit snugly to the flow of the chapter (Mark 16) and therefore it incurs sufficient proofs on its human production. No surprise, gospel manuscript authority D.C. Parker notes as follows:
“It has been pointed out that verse 9 sits very uneasily with verses 1-8. There is no resumption of the theme of fear and silence in verse 8, and Mary Magdalene is introduced afresh in verse 9, as though she were not already on stage.” (D.C.Parker, The Living Text of the Gospels (1997), p.138)]
The very fact that verse 9 sits “very uneasily”with verses 1-8 alludes that it has been extrapolated. This extrapolation also paved path for the gospels to be written in future; as such none of the younger gospels committed the mistake of not providing eyewitnesses accounts of Jesus’ (peace be upon him) resurrection! (Don’t we learn from our past mistakes?)
But one important query still lingers that why were the Bible redactors and compilers (corrupters?) so keen on adding the extraneous-verses of Jesus’ (peace be upon him) post resurrection personal interaction with his disciples? Why was it not enough when verses 1 through 8 informed that Jesus (peace be upon him) was raised? The answer of this query takes us to the next analysis of next objective.
Objective 2: To further corroborate that Jesus (peace be upon him) was raised
As already mentioned, verses 1 through 8 did inform under God’s “inspiration” that Jesus (peace be upon him) had been (allegedly) resurrected yet there was need for further corroboration to resurrection phenomenon. This was so because the believing disciples of Jesus (peace be upon him) were in no mood to believe the resurrection news of Jesus (peace be upon him) from their own colleagues, vicariously:
He is not here; he has been raised. Remember what he said to you while he was in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, be crucified, and three days later rise to life.’ “Then the women remembered his words, returned from the tomb, and told all these things to the eleven disciples and all the rest.
The women were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James; they and the other women with them told these things to the apostles. But the apostles thought that what the women said was NONSENSE, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; he bent down and saw the grave cloths but nothing else. Then he went back home amazed at what had happened. (Luke 24:6-12)
They returned and told the others, but these would not believe it. (Luke 16:13)
The disbelief of the disciples led Jesus (peace be upon him) to scold them:
Last of all, Jesus appeared to the eleven disciples as they were eating. He scolded them, because they did not have faith and because they were too stubborn to believe those who had seen him alive. He said to them, “Go throughout the whole world and preach the gospel to all people. (Mark 16: 14-15)
And we had hoped that he would be the one who was going to set Israel free! Besides all that, this is now the third day since it happened. Some of the women of our group surprised us; they went at dawn to the tomb, but could not find his body. They came back saying they had seen a vision of angels who told them that he is alive. Some of our group went to the tomb and found it exactly as the women had said, but they did not see him.”
Then Jesus said to them, “How foolish you are, how slow you are to believe everything the prophets said! Was it not necessary for the Messiah to suffer these things and then to enter his glory?” And Jesus explained to them what was said about himself in all the Scriptures, beginning with the books of Moses and the writings of all the prophets. (Luke 24:21-27)
“Apostle” Thomas, the “My-Lord-My-God” fellow, put an even stringent condition to believe in the resurrection. He would not have believed unless he would put his fingers through Jesus’ (peace be upon him) wounds!
One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (called the Twin), was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” Thomas said to them, “Unless I see the scars of the nails in his hands and put my finger on those scars and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” (John 20: 24-25)
We need to wait here for a moment to think why were the “loyal” disciples of Jesus (peace be upon him) had so much difficulty in accepting his resurrection (?).
Notice that there is one similarity in Luke’s account of disbelieving disciples and in John’s account of disbelieving Thomas. In both the narratives the audience was bereaved of firsthand experience. In Lukan narrative it was the ladies who gave secondhand information about resurrection to the other disciples and in John’s account, it was the other disciples giving vicarious information to Thomas!
On the foregoing, it can be deduced that disciples tangibly wanted to see and experience Jesus (peace be upon him) to believe in his resurrection. D.C. Parker asserts the same:
“…that the disciples did not believe (neither source has such a reference), and that when Jesus does appear, he rebukes ‘their unbelief and hardness of heart’. It is only when they see and speak with Jesus that they believe. (D.C.Parker, The Living Text of the Gospels (1997),p.140)
However, this exact condition of firsthand experience was missing in Mark’s shorter version! None of the disciples, including the ladies at the site (tomb), had firsthand experience; which in turn implies that they hitherto had no belief in resurrection of Jesus (peace be upon him)!
In order words, had Mark’s gospel ended at verse 8 it would have established beyond doubts that none of the disciples ever believed in the resurrection of Jesus (peace be upon him); which in turn would have casted sufficient doubt on the death of Jesus (peace be upon him); which in turn would have rendered crucifixion and Christianity to be dubious!
Nevertheless, since Paul’s epistles, which predated Mark’s gospel, had already set “orthodox doctrine” that without resurrection there was Christianity (1 Corinthians 15:14), this left the “custodians” of the so-called “Injeel” to append Mark’s “incomplete” and doctrinally menacing shorter account with verses tailor made to fit in succinctly with Paul’s theology. Now, as expected, disciples were portrayed to have had firsthand experience of the “risen” Jesus (peace be upon him)!
All this fast and loose was done to render credit to the alleged crucifixion (and resurrection) which, otherwise, even first of all gospels and Christians doubts!
In fact Parker takes a step forward to expose the truth that the additions were made in the gospel to tailor it according to particular (Pauline) agenda:
“This aside, the full contents of verses 9—20 provide a programme which, when interpreted in a certain way, is extremely congenial to a particular kind of conservative Christianity. Conversely, those who argue that these verses are spurious might be charged by their opponents with a hidden ‘liberalising’ motive.
“The Long Ending is best read as a cento or pastiche of material gathered from the other Gospels and from other sources, slanted towards a particular interpretation. This may be demonstrated by going through it verse by verse. Verses 15-16: In Matthew 28.19 the disciples are commanded ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’
The same pair of verbs, ‘preach’/’baptise5, is found here. The main idea here (beliefs-baptism—salvation) may be seen as a development of what is found in the New Testament (see Acts 16.31 and 33; 1 Peter 3·2ΐ)”. (D.C.Parker, The Living Text of the Gospels (1997),pp.103-131, p.140)
Not merely did Parker assert that the extraneous-verses have strong doctrinal biases but he even recognizes the sources which fathered theses “verses”. He points out that other gospels and epistles laid the framework for the extraneous-verses. This in itself raises several questions on the textual integrity of the New Testament.
The later/younger gospels had narratives for firsthand experience of Jesus’ (peace be upon him) resurrection quite in line with Pauline theology. Thus it was not too difficult to mould the odd one out – gospel of Mark – so that its “Long ending is best read as a cento or pastiche of material gathered from other Gospels and from other sources, slanted towards a particular interpretation”.
In the wake of the above sleight maneuverings, well known author Kenneth Cragg claims the following:
“There is condensation and editing, there is choice production and witness. The Gospels have come through the mind of the church behind the authors. They represent experience and history.” (Kenneth Cragg, The Call of the Minaret, p. 277)
Respectful resource Encyclopedia Brittanica has a similar note to chime:
“Yet, as a matter of FACT, EVERY BOOK of the New Testament, with the exception of the four great Epistles o St. Paul is at present more or less the subject of controversy and interpolations (inserted verses) are asserted even in these.” (Encyclopedia Brittanica, 12th Edition, Vol. 3, p.643)
Also remember that Paul’s various epistles primarily stressing on the (alleged) resurrection of Jesus (peace be upon him) and consequent salvation thereby were already available and in circulation among various Christian churches all around the area yet Mark did not include confirmed firsthand resurrection phenomenon in his “gospel”.
This concerns whether Mark believed in the resurrection of Christ (peace be upon him); whether resurrection incident was a mass phenomenon; whether resurrection was indispensible part of Christianity, if so, Mark would have never missed to mention it especially given the unbelieving attitude of the “believers” and direct guidance from “divine” Holy “Ghost”. On this note, Bible Professor Dr. A. Meyer (2.) makes a rather justified assertion:
“If by ‘Christianity’ we understand faith in Jesus Christ as the heavenly son of God, who did not belong to Earthly humanity, but who lived in the divine likeness and glory, who came down from heaven to earth, who entered humanity and took upon himself a human form through a virgin, that he might make propitiation for men’s sins by his own blood on the cross, who was them awakened from death and raised to God as the Lord of his own people,
who believe in him, who hears their prayers, guards and leads them, who shall come again to judge the world, who will cast down all the foes of God, and will bring his people with him unto the house of heavenly light so that they may become like his glorified body – if this is Christianity, the[n] such a Christianity was founded by Paul and not by Jesus.” (Meyer, Jesus or Paul, p. 122)
Finally, and very importantly, as if stating distinctly on the subject in hand – the (alleged) resurrection of Jesus (peace be upon him) – the group of scholars at the “Jesus Seminar” claim that death, resurrection and vicarious atonement are mythical roles attributed falsely to historical Jesus (peace be upon him):
“Biblical scholars and theologians alike have learned to distinguish the Jesus of history from the Christ of faith. It has been a painful lesson for both the church and scholarship. The distinction between the two figures is the difference between a historical person who lived in a particular time and place and a figure who has been assigned a mythical role, in which he descends from heaven to rescue mankind and, of course, eventually return there.” (Jesus Seminar, Robert W. Funk and Roy W. Hoover (translators and eds.), The Five Gospels (1993), pp.533-537)
According to the methodology of the best and earliest Christians – the “apostles” themselves – they were not supposed to believe in the resurrection of Jesus (peace be upon him) unless they themselves had a firsthand witness of it.
Now, as per best and earliest version of the oldest of all gospels – the gospel of Mark – not a single disciple ever had firsthand witness of Jesus’ (peace be upon him) purported resurrection phenomenon. This expressly implied that none of the earliest Christians ever believed in the (alleged) resurrection.
However, such a Jesus (peace be upon him) tradition emanating from oldest gospel itself contradicted Pauline theology which predated it and dominated Christianity. Therefore, a concerted effort was required to add an appendix to “God’s inspiration” itself. (Of course, this fast and loose had its own gauche limitations.)
And this is exactly we wanted to prove that although gospel of Mark is not specifically an “inspiration” identified by Qur’an yet even it was not spared of tampering. Men modified it to suit their sectarian belief (3.).
Indeed God spoke the truth in this regard:
Then woe to those who write the Book with their own hands, and then say:”This is from Allah,” to traffic with it for miserable price!- Woe to them for what their hands do write, and for the gain they make thereby. (Qur’an 2:79, Yusuf Ali’s Quran Translation)
If such is the state of affairs with the gospel(s) then, as a non – Christian, we feel it is extremely dangerous to venture our souls and eternal salvation in the so-called “Injeel” purported by missionaries.
- All biblical text taken from Good News Edition.
(1.) Mark has not just authored the “canonical” gospel. There have been other gospels around like the “Secret Gospel of Mark” which is also authoritatively attributed to him by scholars.
(2.) He is Professor of Theology at Zurich University
(3.) What we now know as “orthodox” Christianity was not the only form of Christianity in the incipient days of the churches. Many Christian groups did not endorse Paul or his coined doctrines. Whereas some rejected him as a corruptor of religion of Jewish patriarchs while others hardly believed in the death and resurrection of Jesus (peace be upon him) let alone the salvation, if any, it entailed.