/ Bible / Type & Termination: The Impact of Genre Classification on the Text-Critical Problem of Mark’s Ending.

Type & Termination: The Impact of Genre Classification on the Text-Critical Problem of Mark’s Ending.

Craig Smith on November 15, 2012 - 7:37 am in Bible, Biblical Studies, Featured, Gospels

Craig A. Smith, Ph.D.

The text-critical problem of Mark’s ending remains one of the more vexing difficulties in studies of a book which is by no means a stranger to controversy.  Though there is relatively little doctrine at stake in the question of the originality of Mark 16:9-20, the desire to settle the debate is understandable.  If nothing else, it would be nice to have some means of bridging the gap between Evangelical scholars – the majority of whom seem to have decided against the originality of the final 12 verses[1] – and the average Christian who is understandably confused and even distraught by footnotes in their Bibles calling into question the legitimacy of these verses.  This distress is compounded when the popularly accessible commentaries not only deny the originality of the ending but go on to assert either that the Gospel was never completed or that the original ending was lost.[2]

As we shall review in a moment, the evidence for additional text beyond 16:8 is both substantial and early, suggesting at the very least that ending Mark at 16:8 has long been perceived to be problematic. This remains a widespread perception; the abrupt and “open-ended” nature of 16:8 causes many casual readers to feel that it cannot have been intended as the conclusion to the book. There are several observations which contribute to this sense.  First, the promise of 14:28 (“But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee”) is seemingly unfulfilled in Mark if the text ends at 16:8.  Second, the women are left “trembling and bewildered” instead of rejoicing.  Third, we are left with the assertion that the women “said nothing to anyone” which seems to contradict their witness to the apostles as reported in the other Gospels. Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, concluding Mark at 16:8 means that there is virtually no account of the Resurrection itself, and this is difficult to reconcile with the fact that Mark is known to us as a Gospel, a term intimately connected in the rest of the N.T. to the announcement of the Resurrection of Jesus.[3]  How could one write a Gospel and yet leave off nearly everything about the Resurrection itself?

These observations are significant and make the persistent unease with 16:8 as the original ending to Mark perfectly understandable.  However, a critical look at these observations reveals that they are nearly all based on expectations which emerge from a particular understanding of what kind of text Mark is; that is, from a perception, conscious or unconscious, of the genre of Mark. But what if the perception about the genre of Mark is mistaken to some degree?  Could it be that an adjustment of our view of Mark’s genre might cast new light on the likelihood that 16:8 was the originally intended conclusion to the book?  That is the subject of this short inquiry.

 

A Short Review of the Problem

 

The manuscript evidence regarding the ending of Mark is, unfortunately, inconclusive. As the footnotes in most English Bibles indicate, the earliest complete manuscripts, Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, do not have 16:9-20 and many later manuscripts give some explicit inter-textual indication that vv.9-20 were regarded with some hesitation if not suspicion.[4] On the other hand, the majority of extant manuscripts include vv.9-20 without any hesitation as to their originality and several of these are quite nearly as old as those which omit the longer ending.[5]

The patristic evidence is likewise inconclusive.  Several patristic writers demonstrate no awareness of vv.9-20, but their silence is hardly conclusive evidence against the originality of the longer ending.  However, the possible citation of 16:20 by Justin Martyr and the certain citation by Irenaeus and Tatian clearly demonstrate that the longer ending was well-known by the mid-2nd century.

Internal analysis of the longer ending is, in my opinion, slightly weighted against the originality of vv.9-20, but this is by no means conclusive.  Differences in vocabulary, stylistic oddities and the fact that the longer ending of Mark “feels” a bit like a composite summary of material that appears in Matthew, Luke and Acts may suggest that the longer ending was a later attempt to provide a more satisfactory ending than the abrupt conclusion at v. 8.  However, these are largely subjective assessments and can hardly be seen as definitive evidence.

In short, the objective evidence is insufficient to determine with certainty whether or not vv.9-20 were original to the Gospel of Mark.  If there is evidence which might enable us to make a more confident determination, we will have to look elsewhere for it.  Again, it is my proposal that such evidence may be found in a proper understanding of the genre of Mark.

 

The Gospels as Ancient Biography

Until the last century, the Gospels were generally considered a kind of biography and this view seemed plausible until the genre of biography itself began to change in response to modernism.  During the nineteenth century, likely spurred by the parallel development of modern psychology,[6] biographers became more interested in explaining the character of their subjects by detailing their childhood, upbringing, schooling, etc.[7]  Prior to this, details of a subject’s early years do not appear to have been standard features of the biography. As one might imagine, however, once such features became standards of the biography, their relatively conspicuous absence in the Gospels made it increasingly difficult to see the Gospels as biographical works.[8]  However, this dissimilarity obtains only in comparison of the Gospels to modern biography. Comparison of the Gospels with ancient biographies yields “marked similarities of form and content”.[9] While there is still considerable debate about the degree to which the various canonical gospels fit within the genre of ancient biography, there appears to be a general consensus that this is the most appropriate classification for them.  For the purposes of this inquiry I will depend upon this new consensus that the canonical Gospels are best considered within the general milieu of Greco-Roman bios, taking it as very unlikely that they would have deliberately set out to create an entirely novel genre.[10]

However, to say that the Gospels are bioi does not mean that their authors were slavishly devoted to a restrictive set of “rules of the genre” and in fact, it would be quite difficult to argue that such formal “rules” existed.  To say that the Gospels are a kind of ancient biography is really only to say that they are interested first and foremost in a historical person, one Jesus of Nazareth, and in the significance of this person and his teachings for their audience(s).  As such, they are all to be considered historical works, contra many of the scholarly opinions in the previous century which supposed them to be deliberately and consciously a-historical.  In other words, to say that the Gospels are a kind of ancient biography is only to say that they are intended to recount events from the life of a historical person.  Determinations of which events are most significant and how best to present them in service of an author’s purpose will vary, sometimes substantially, from one biographical work to the next, regardless of the fact that each author will still consider their work to belong to the genre of biography. Plutarch’s Lives provides an illuminating example of the degree to which texts may vary from one another while still belonging to the same genre. 

The consequence of this is that while we may properly consider Mark to be a biography of Jesus, alongside Matthew and Luke and perhaps even John,[11] we do not necessarily have to think of it as being precisely the same kind of biographical work as the other gospels or interpret Mark through precisely the same lens.  The genre of Greco-Roman bios is widely recognized to have distinct sub-types.[12]  Talbert has advocated this approach to the canonical gospels, classifying Mark & John as defenses of the subject against misunderstanding[13], Luke as “life of the founder” and Matthew as “hermeneutical key”.[14]  These particular micro-classifications need not be accepted in order to acknowledge the central point:  to say that the Gospels belong to the genre of biography is not necessarily to say that they are all the same kind of biography.

There is obvious justification for thinking of Mark in different terms than the other Gospels.  Though source criticism has led us to focus on the fact that most of Mark’s content is duplicated in Matthew or Luke, we should not fail to note that there are things which are unique to Mark such as the Messianic Secret, a surprising emphasis on the failure of the disciples, et.al. While Mark does have some unique features, it is the omissions which are most remarkable. For instance, with the exception of 13:5-37, Mark does not contain the kind of extended discourses by Jesus that are common in Matthew and Luke and is, on the whole, a far more action-oriented Gospel. Of more interest for this inquiry, however, is the fact that Mark has no birth narrative or genealogy.  These are particularly puzzling omissions since Matthew and Luke placed such emphasis on these elements in their presentation of Jesus. If Mark was the first of the Gospels and Matthew and Luke looked to him as a model for their own work, it is strange that their early chapters differ so substantially from his.

And, of course, we have not yet mentioned the possible difference between Mark and the other Gospels which most directly bears upon this discussion:  the Resurrection accounts.  If the longer ending of Mark is original, then this difference is somewhat lessened, though it would still be noteworthy.  There is a clear tendency on the part of Matthew and Luke to abbreviate Mark’s longer pericopae, but the questionable ending of Mark would represent a rare exception to this, since even the longer ending of Mark is dramatically shorter than the Resurrection and post-Resurrection accounts in the other Synoptics.  In other words, this would be a reversal of the trend from long pericopae in Mark to shorter pericoape in Matthew and Luke, with no obvious explanation as to why this should be the case.

On the other hand, if Mark originally concluded at 16:8, then Mark’s Gospel would omit the same sort of material at its beginning and end, material which the other Synoptics felt the need to include.  This would support the idea that Mark, while still broadly biographical, is not precisely the same kind of biography as Matthew and Luke. But if Mark intended to write a somewhat different kind of biography than Matthew, Luke and John, do we have any indication of what Mark was aiming to do? 

 

Does Mark Indicate His Genre?

Burridge and others[15] have observed that the opening features of a text – that is, its title and opening formulae/prologue/preface – are often important indicators of genre and/or the purpose of the text.  It is appropriate, therefore, to look to the title and opening lines of Mark to see if they provide any illumination. 

Unfortunately, the earliest evidence of titles attached to Mark tells us very little about its genre as they are primarily variations on the preposition kata,[16] and it is only in the mid-2nd century that Justin Martyr indicates that the word “gospel” was being used in reference to these books.[17]  Furthermore, Mark’s opening line does not obviously fit into a formulaic pattern that is evident in ancient texts of an identifiable genre.[18]Still, the expectation that the opening lines of a text might well be expected to provide some indication of its genre is both reasonable and supported by surveys of other ancient literature.[19] As Mark 1:1 contains no verb, it cannot easily be seen as the beginning of the narrative itself, and some have taken this as evidence that Mark intended “beginning the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the son of God” to be the title for his work. I think this an intriguing possibility, but it would be an unusually long title.  Its length makes the phrase more likely to be an opening line, but still quite possibly one which was intended to help readers orient themselves to the rest of work.  As such, it bears closer examination.

Mark’s opening line is unusual in at least two respects.  First, it is the only NT work to use the word euangelion in a way that could be a reference to a literary work.  In fact, it seems quite plausible that the early church took to calling these texts “gospels” because of Mark’s use of the term here. As such, it may be that Mark intended euangelion to be a genre-designation, but as we shall see in a moment, there are significant difficulties with this view. The second unusual feature of Mark’s opening line is the use of an anarthrous and preposition-less archē  to begin the text.  This is, to the best of my knowledge, a wholly unique way to begin a literary work.

There appear to be three possible functions of archē in Mark 1:1: First, could be meant to place Mark in an O.T. context by drawing a parallel to Gen 1:1. It has been suggested that Mark’s opening line bears some resemblance to the opening line of Genesis,[20] but the absence of the preposition enmakes it unlikely that this was authorially intended.[21]  Second, it could serve as an identifier of an opening section of the Gospel that was meant to be distinguished from the rest of the text; 1:1, 1:1-8, 1:1-13 and 1:1-15 have all been suggested as constituting this archē that precedes the narration of Jesus’ ministry.  The difficulty with this view is evident in the disagreement over the extent of this opening section. It is difficult to know which parts of vv.1-15 can be meaningfully separated from the rest of the narration of Jesus’ ministry.  Moreover, the return of attention to John the Baptist in 6:14-29, 8:28 and11:30-33 strongly suggests that narratives like this opening section, that is, narratives concerning John the Baptist, are to be considered an integral part of Mark’s narrative. Therefore, setting the initial narrative about John apart from the rest of Mark has the appearance of arbitrariness. 

However, this understanding of archē as a designation for a literary unit is a very natural way to understand its use here in Mark 1:1, as evidenced in the multitude of commentators who have taken it in precisely this way.  But if it is unlikely to designate an introductory section, then to what could it refer?  I would like to suggest that the third possible function of archē  in 1:1 is as a designation of Mark’s entire work.

In this view, it would be archē rather than euangelion which identifies the genre or, more properly, the sub-genre of Mark;[22] that is, the book of Mark is not a euangelion but an archē .  Admittedly, giving such weight to the word archē may seem counter-intuitive to the modern reader who is accustomed to seeing the word “Gospel” as a title before each of these books, but there is good reason to doubt that Mark used euangelion as a genre-designation.  First, we know nothing of a Gospel-genre preceding Mark and it is problematic to assume that Mark self-consciously invented and designated a novel form with no other indication of his intention to do so.[23]  Second, Mark’s intention to create a novel form would seem to require his conscious awareness of this thing we call genre and this may presume more than we can know of his formal literary sensibilities.[24]  Third, if Mark was inventing a new genre, his most immediate successors seem to have missed it; neither Matthew nor Luke use euangelion as a designation for their own texts in spite of their apparent dependence on Mark as a literary source.  Fourth, the N.T. uses of euangelion seem, in the majority of instances, to flow from Isa 61:1 where it is an announcement of freedom from oppression.[25]  The arrival of the person of Christ, accompanied by miraculous signs and culminating in his defeat of death itself is referred to throughout the N.T. as “the Gospel.”[26] In other words, it is a kerygmatic use. Is it likely that Mark would have completely conflated his particular recounting of this good news with the kerygma itself?  Fifth, it is problematic to think that Mark called his work “the Gospel” and yet included only a very brief Resurrection account or even omitted it entirely simply because the Resurrection itself seems to have been at the very core of what the early church considered to be the Gospel.[27]  If Mark is significantly dependent on the teaching of Peter, whose recorded speeches in Acts are clearly Resurrection-centric, the brevity with which Mark recounts the Resurrection is nearly incomprehensible if he intended his text to be considered a recounting of the “Gospel”.

On the whole, then, it seems unlikely that euangelion should be taken as a designation of genre for Mark, but is archē any more likely a candidate? There are at least two reasons to think that it is. The first reason is grammatical: archē  is the first word in the text and the only nominative.[28]  Moreover, it is also the only known example of an ancient writer beginning a text with an archē  that is both anarthrous and preposition-less.  This may well have served to draw attention to the word itself.  Second, there is a logical reason why it is sensible to think that Mark used archē in this way:  it fits the nature Mark perfectly.  Mark, more than any of the other Gospels, revolves around conflict.  Virtually every literary unit in Mark involves explicit conflict between Jesus and the powers-that-be, whether spiritual, religious or judicial.  If the gospel, to employ the normal NT usage, is the good news of the Resurrection, then Mark is the story of how Jesus came to be crucified.  It is the story of the ever-escalating conflict culminating in the crucifixion which was, itself, the necessary precursor to the Resurrection which is the heart of the good news.  In other words, Mark did not write to paint a portrait of Jesus so much as to explain how he came to be crucified.  In that sense, Mark is not a proclamation of the good news so much as it is the back-story to the good news.  It is what Paul Harvey calls “the rest of the story”.  It sets the stage and provides meaningful context for the good news with which his audience was already familiar…and archē is a very good word for such a thing.

In the same way that Paul Harvey’s radio broadcasts brought his listeners up to the point in the story that they already knew and then stopped, this view of Mark could easily account for the abrupt ending of the Gospel at 16:8.  It could also account for the abrupt beginning to Mark:[29]  if Mark is the back-story to the Resurrection, it is primarily concerned with the escalating conflict that culminated at Golgotha.  The birth of Jesus and his early life did not provide suitable material for describing this escalating conflict and so were unsuited to Mark’s purpose.[30]  There may also have been a structural reason for excluding a birth account.  If Mark intentionally left off a Resurrection account then he may have wanted to exclude a birth account for the sake of balance. The first pericope of Mark is concerned with John the Baptist who heralds the coming of Christ.  If the original conclusion of Mark is at 16:8, then the final pericope of Mark is concerned with another herald who announces the return of Christ.  Bauckham has also suggested an inclusio of Petrine references at the beginning and ending of Mark.[31]  Both observations suggest that Mark was interested in having his beginning and ending balance each other.

 

Conclusion

In conclusion, what I am suggesting is that Mark is perhaps best understood as archē  bios, a kind of sub-genre of Greco-Roman bios which explained how he came to be crucified, thus recounting the background to the “Gospel” as his audience already knew it.  I am not suggesting that Mark intentionally set out to create a distinct literary sub-genre or that he meant his readers to take archē as a formal literary term.  Rather, I imagine he envisioned his work as a stage-setting enterprise and used archē in the same way we might call a book An Introduction to the New Testament, where “introduction” describes our intention for the work without necessarily being intended as a formal genre-designation.  To the extent that Mark was genre-conscious, he likely thought of his work as a subtle alteration to the existing genre of bios.  In this vein, what I am saying here is quite close to the view of those who, like Talbert, have identified Mark as an attempt to dispel misunderstanding of their subject, similar to Xenophon’s Memorabilia or Philodemus’ Life of Epicurus.[32] If I am really saying anything new here at all, it boils down to two things

  1.  archē may tell us more about Mark’s intention for his work than euangelion, and this could easily be understood as consistent with the present view of Mark as Greco-Roman bios.
  2. This view of Mark’s genre (or sub-genre) explains both the accepted abrupt beginning and disputed abrupt ending, providing an additional plank in the broader argument that the Gospel originally ended at 16:8.  In that sense, this view suggests that Evangelicals have no need to resort to disturbing assertions that Mark was either never completed or that its ending has been lost.

 

 

 



[1]Robert W. Funk and the Jesus SeminarThe Acts of Jesus: the Search for the Authentic Deeds of Jesus. (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco,1998), 449-495.  While I am not inclined to take the findings of the Jesus Seminar as indicative of the majority scholarly opinion (and it should be noted that I find their conclusions generally unsupported by the actual evidence), in spite of their tendency to conflate the two, I do think in this case that what they claim to be the view of “most scholars” is in fact the view of most scholars.

[2] Wessel says precisely this in his commentary on Mark for  the Expositors Bible Commentary which is widely used in Evangelical churches; Walter W. Wessel, Mark in EBC (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984), 792-793. Croy has a helpful review of the majority opinion on this issue in his interestingly titled book The Mutilation of Mark’s Gospel; N. Clayton Croy, The Mutilation of Mark’s Gospel (Nashville:  Abingdon, 2003), 18-42. McGrath believes that this opinion has shifted in recent years so that now the “majority of commentators appear to regard 16:8 as the intended conclusion to the Gospel”; James F. McGrath, “Mark’s Missing Ending: Clues from the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Peter”, http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/mcg.shtml#sdendnote1sym.

[3] Acts 17:18 most vividly portrays this intimate connection though it is by no means the only such example: because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.

[4]The earliest complete manuscripts of Mark (Sinaiticus and Vaticanus), both dating to the 4th century, end at 16:8, though Vaticanus does have a strange blank after the closing inscription, perhaps demonstrating an awareness of the already disputed longer ending. The 4th century Syriac Sinaitic ends Mark at 16:8 as does one Sahidic manuscript.  The existence of a one-sentence alternative  ending in Codex Bohiensis , known as the “short ending”, may provide some additional evidence of another early text-line which concluded at v.8. 

[5] Codex Alexandrinus and Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus date to the 5th century.

[6] It is an interesting coincidence that the German E.Norden, who was perhaps the first writer to blatantly deny any parallels between the Gospels and biography, did so in 1898, a decade or so after Sigmund Freud became well-known for his therapy in Vienna and two decades after Wilhelm Wundt founded the first psychology lab in Leipzig.

[7] Richard A. Burridge, “About People, By People, for People: Gospel Genre and Audiences” in The Gospels for All Christians, ed. Richard Bauckham  (Grand Rapids:  William B. Eerdman Publishing Co., 1998), 114.

[8] Burridge provides a brief but illuminating survey of the trend away from the identification of the Gospels as biographies; Richard A. Burridge, What Are the Gospels? (Grand Rapids:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2004), 3-12.

[9] Burridge, “Gospel Genre and Audiences” in The Gospels for All Christians, 122.

[10] Bryan insightfully observes that “the notion of a writer proceeding without genre, or creating a totally new genre (sui generis) is (even if theoretically possible) akin to the notion of a writer choosing to write in an unknown language”; Christopher Bryan, A Preface to Mark: Notes on the Gospel in Its Literary and Cultural Settings (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 12.

[11] John may betray the most obvious genre-consciousness when he apologizes for omissions of content in 21:21, a remark that has certain similarities to Plutarch’s remark at the beginning of Alexander:

It being my purpose to write the lives of Alexander the king, and of Caesar, by whom Pompey was destroyed, the multitude of their great actions affords so large a field that I were to blame if I should not by way of apology forewarn my reader that I have chosen rather to epitomize the most celebrated parts of their story, than to insist at large on every particular circumstance of it.

Of course, John makes his apology at the end rather than the beginning of his work, but the sentiment remains remarkably parallel.

[12] The number and definition of these sub-types is by no means settled, but the recognition that there are sub-types is widespread.  Talbert’s five-fold division is not universally accepted, but provides an illustration of the kinds of divisions that are typical; Charles H. Talbert, What Is a Gospel: The Genre of the Canonical Gospels (Macon: Mercer University Press, 1984), 92-98.

[13] Burridge is dismissive of this association between Mark and John; What Are the Gospels, 82.  While Burridge’s critique is understandable, there are certain obvious similarities between Mark and John.  At the very least, we should not fail to note the fact that both Mark and John leave off any mention of Jesus’ birth/childhood.

[14] Talbert, What Is a Gospel, 92-98.

[15] For instance, Koester says that “Ancient writings normally begin with either a formal declaration describing the purpose of the book or with an opening line [that] treated the first subject discussed”; H. Koester, Ancient Christian Gospels (Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1992), 14.

[16] Martin Hengel, Studies in the Gospel of Mark (London: SCM, 1985), 64-84.

[17] Justin Martyr describes the gospels as “memoirs” of the apostles (Apologia 1.67) or “memoirs which we call gospels” (1.66 cf 1.33).

[18] Burridge suggests that Mark’s opening is not atypical for Greco-Roman bioi, but his suggestions of particular parallels are not entirely convincing; What Are the Gospels?, 188-189.

[19] Donald Earl, “Prologue-Form in Ancient Historiography”, ANRW I.2 (1972), 842-856.

[20] Burridge, What Are the Gospels?, 189.

[21] It is difficult to imagine why Mark, if he intended to draw such a parallel between his work and Genesis, would have altered the presumably well-known the formula.  Certainly John’s intention to draw this parallel is all the more unmistakable precisely because he followed the formula exactly.  I should also point out that there is no strong indication that Mark expected his audience to know the O.T..  Apart from O.T. quotations in accounts of Jesus’ teaching, Mark only cites the O.T. one time, in 1:2-3, and it could be argued that this quotation only allows a Gentile audience to understand John the Baptist as a herald. 

[22] I do not mean that avrch was a formal literary genre.  Several of the objections which have been raised against the idea of euvagge,lion serving as an indication of a formal genre would also have to be raised against seeing avrch in this way.  I mean only that it may serve as an indicator of how Mark saw his work connecting to the euvagge,lion as proclamation of the Resurrection; that is, he did not see his text as “the Gospel” or even as “a Gospel” but as a kind of prelude to “the Gospel.”

[23] As discussed above, while significant differences of opinion exist, the general consensus seems to be that the similarities between the Gospels and the bioi outweigh the differences.  Given such similarities, it is far more likely that Mark, to the extent that he was conscious of it, modeled his own work on an existing form rather than inventing something entirely new.

[24] Interestingly, Mark does not even make reference to “the Law” or “the Prophets”, phrases which could be seen as indicating an interest in something like a genre for O.T. texts. Matthew, Luke and John on the other hand, do use such terms.  Luke also adds “the Psalms” (Luke 20:42, 24:44).

[25] This oppression takes several forms in the Synoptics, from poverty to physical maladies to demonic forces.  While it must be acknowledged that many of the N.T. uses of euangelion are not accompanied by explicit references to such release from oppression, there are very few – if any – instances where a different understanding of the term would be needed to make good sense of its use.

[26] It is interesting that these kerygmatic uses of the term are typically accompanied by an article. Of the 76 uses of euangelion in the N.T., 72 of them are preceded by a definite article. Two of the anomalies are references to false gospels (2Co 11:4, Gal 1:6) and one seems to be a reference to something that is parallel to but distinct from the euangelion of Jesus (Rev 11:6), explaining why John did not call it the Gospel.  This leaves only Rom 1:1 where the lack of the article is likely related to a grammatical construction that does not obtain with any other N.T. uses of the term.

[27] This is obviously a rather expansive statement and one which cannot be adequately defended in such a short inquiry as this.  However, that the assertion of the primacy of the Resurrection is not without basis is easily demonstrated. First, Peter’s speeches in Acts 2 and 5 and Paul’s proclamation in the city of Athens (cf. 17:18 especially) are obviously Resurrection-centric.  Second, references to the Resurrection in Acts outweigh references to the crucifixion or cross and nearly every mention of the cross or crucifixion in Acts is either preceded by or immediately followed by a statement to the effect that “but God raised him up”.  In other words, where the death of Jesus is mentioned in Acts it nearly always sets the stage for a declaration of the Resurrection.  Third, in general, these observations hold true for the rest of the N.T. as well.  Vielhauer’s assertion that the soteriology of the Pauline epistles is focused on the crucifixion  (Philipp Vielhauer, “On the ‘Paulinism’ of Acts”, Perkins School of Theology Journal, 17:1 [1963], 5-18) seems overstated, particularly since, as Blomberg has noted, “Neither the crucifixion nor the resurrection represents Christ’s entire salvific work, as Paul himself observes by stressing the necessity of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15”; Craig L. Blomberg, From Pentecost to Patmos (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2006), 12.

[28] It is likely, however, that the entire phrase arche tou euangeliou should be taken as the subject of the verse.

[29] The abruptness of Mark’s beginning is so stark as to force some scholars to postulate that Mark assumed his readers were already familiar with Matthew and Luke; cf. Harold Riley, The Meaning of Mark (Macon: Mercer University Press, 1989), 3.  While this might be a possible explanation for Mark’s abrupt beginning, this approach does not, in my opinion, adequately account for the numerous other observations which have given weight to the theory of Markan priority.

[30] It could be argued, of course, that Matthew’s recounting of Herod’s slaughter of the innocents could have constituted another example of conflict that would have served Mark’s purpose, but there may have been other reasons why Mark was uninterested in this account.  One such reason could well be that the flow of Mark clearly portrays a linear progression of escalating conflict.  Conflict at Jesus’ birth followed by a long period of peace might have been counterproductive to his literary purpose.

[31] Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2006), 124-125.

[32] Talbert, What Is A Gospel, 94. Extending this comparison a bit, one might even argue that Jesus’ crucifixion could have made some listeners question whether or not he could serve as an example to follow.  In that case, Mark’s recounting of the conflict which led to Jesus’ crucifixion would have served to not only provide the back-story to the Resurrection but also to rehabilitate the life of Christ as a model to be followed.

 

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  • November 28, 2012

    Dear Dr. Smith:

    You wrote, “The evidence for additional text beyond 16:8 is both substantial and early, suggesting at the very least that ending Mark at 16:8 has long been perceived to be problematic.” Why do you say that? Is this not loaded language? Why not say instead that such evidence suggests that Mark 16:9-20 is part of the original text?

    You wrote, “We are left with the assertion that the women “said nothing to anyone” which seems to contradict their witness to the apostles as reported in the other Gospels.” That is only part of the difficulty. There is also the unusual use of GAR at the end of 16:8 to consider — a feature which is unlike Mark’s use of gar, and which is a very strange way to end a narrative. (If one rejects Mark 16:9-20, then the Gospel of Mark is, afaik, the *only* narrative anywhere, anytime, that ends with GAR.) Another difficulty is that on the premises that (A) Mark wrote before the other Evangelists, and (B) Matthew told the truth, then Mark deliberately risked giving his readers the impression that the women remained silent even though he knew very well that they did not do so.

    You wrote, “As the footnotes in most English Bibles indicate, the earliest complete manuscripts, Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, do not have 16:9-20 and many later manuscripts give some explicit inter-textual indication that vv.9-20 were regarded with some hesitation if not suspicion.” Most such footnotes are unhelpfully vague; the ESV’s footnote about the end of Mark currently even contains a false statement.

    And about those “many later manuscripts”: what exactly do you mean? Other than copies of Mark in which the text is accompanied by the Commentary/Catena of Victor of Antioch, I know of 14 manuscripts that contain special annotations about Mark 16:9-20 (14 out of 1,700 not being exactly “many”); these 14 MSS fall into two basic groups: the first group is f-1, and the second one is is part of a group of MSS known for having the Jerusalem Colophon. And the annotations tend to affirm the legitimacy of Mk. 16:9-20; the older form of the annotation in f-1 states that although some MSS stop at 16:8 and the Eusebian Canons also stop there, many manuscripts have the entire passage; the similar annotation in the Jerusalem-Colophon group states that although some MSS lack the passage, in the ancient witnesses the entire passage is intact.

    In addition, besides noticing the distinct blank space in Vaticanus after Mk. 16:8, it is worthwhile to also notice that in Sinaiticus, the text on the four pages which contain Mark 14:45-Luke 1:56 was not written by the same copyist who wrote the surrounding pages; the lettering on the 16-column sheet which constitutes those 4 pages is written with erratic shifts in its letter-spacing (i.e., some full columns are crammed with text, but in others the lettering is stretched out), and the decorative design which follows Mk. 16:8 is specially emphatic. /Both/ Greek MSS that stop Mark’s text at 16:8 have something anomalous in the format of the text at this point.

    You wrote: “However, the possible citation of 16:20 by Justin Martyr and the certain citation by Irenaeus and Tatian clearly demonstrate that the longer ending was well-known by the mid-2nd century.” John MacArthur has spread the false claim that Irenaeus knew not just Mark 16:9-20, but “endings” of Mark. Such misinformation should be undone by emphasizing that Irenaeus not only used Mark 16:19 but that he explicitly cited it as from Mark’s Gospel-account, and gave no indication of any alternative ending or of any textual question about it.

    You wrote, regarding internal evidence: “These are largely subjective assessments and can hardly be seen as definitive evidence.” I encourage you to reconsider the sudden non-transition between 16:8 and 16:9. Notice how Mary Magdalene is reintroduced; the day and time are restated; Mary’s companions, who were on stage a moment ago, have suddenly vanished. I foresee that concentration on these features will yield the conclusion that Mark 16:9 was not composed as a continuation of the scene in 16:8. (This is a problem for the view that Mark wrote 16:9-20 as the ending of his account. It also poses a problem for the view that Mark 16:9-20 was composed by someone later on for the purpose of ending Mark’s account.)

    You wrote: “Mark has no birth narrative or genealogy. These are particularly puzzling omissions since Matthew and Luke placed such emphasis on these elements in their presentation of Jesus.” Figuring that the Gospel of Mark is based mainly on Peter’s recollections about Jesus, it is not particularly surprising at all that it begins at approximately the time when Peter and Jesus meet, with only the ministry of John the Baptist preceding that so as to set the stage.

    You wrote: “The longer ending of Mark is dramatically shorter than the Resurrection and post-Resurrection accounts in the other Synoptics.” No; if one figures that Matthew’s anecdote about the report of the guards is not properly a story about Jesus’ resurrection (inasmuch as Jesus Himself does not appear in that anecdote) then Mark 16:9-20 is longer than Matthew’s account about Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances.

    You wrote about Mark 1:1, “This is, to the best of my knowledge, a wholly unique way to begin a literary work.” I don’t think this is the case. I wish I had a citation to offer showing that other compositions exist which began by saying “The beginning of XYZ;” unfortunately off the top of my head I cannot. Regarding this you may want to consult Craig Evans’ article at http://craigaevans.com/Priene%20art.pdf if you have not already done so.

    You wrote, “I would like to suggest that the third possible function of archē in 1:1 is as a designation of Mark’s entire work.” Regarding this whole approach to a phrase which, istm, was simply intended to tell a scroll-reader that he was at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel-account, I would draw attention to Mark 13:10 and 14:9, where it is clear that the gospel itself is distinct from the subsequent acts of proclaiming/receiving/applying the gospel. To me, this does not leave a lot of room for the idea that Mark regarded Peter’s reports about what Jesus said and did as merely the beginning of the good news.

    You wrote, “It is problematic to think that Mark called his work “the Gospel” and yet included only a very brief Resurrection account or even omitted it entirely simply because the Resurrection itself seems to have been at the very core of what the early church considered to be the Gospel.” This problem is not problematic for the theory that Mark intended to include a more extensive resurrection-account but was prevented from doing so by circumstances beyond his control.

    You wrote, “If Mark is significantly dependent on the teaching of Peter, whose recorded speeches in Acts are clearly Resurrection-centric, the brevity with which Mark recounts the Resurrection is nearly incomprehensible if he intended his text to be considered a recounting of the “Gospel”.” And, I would add, the heavy foreshadowing in Mark 14:28 and 16:7 is likewise nearly incomprehensible /if he intended/ to stop at 16:8. But if the sudden stop at 16:8 was not intentional, then this is not problematic.

    You wrote: “There is a logical reason why it is sensible to think that Mark used archē in this way: it fits the nature Mark perfectly.” Just a quibble: there seems to be a missing “of” in that sentence.

    You wrote: “Mark did not write to paint a portrait of Jesus so much as to explain how he came to be crucified.” But a whole lot of Mark’s account bears no direct connection to that! The parables in Mark 4, for example, do not help explain why Jesus was crucified. The private miracles that Mark describes do not help explain why Jesus was crucified. Clearly there is a lot more on Mark’s to-do list than that.

    Finally, you wrote: “This view [which provides an additional plank in the broader argument that the Gospel originally ended at 16:8] suggests that Evangelicals have no need to resort to disturbing assertions that Mark was either never completed or that its ending has been lost.” I would propose, as an alternative, that before the text of the Gospel of Mark began to be copied and disseminated for church-use, its text was completed by an associate of Mark who, realizing that Mark had been prevented from finishing his account, completed it by attaching a short composition about Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances which Mark had composed on another occasion. In this form the text’s production-stage concluded and its transmission-stage began.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

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  • January 15, 2013

    Yes, we try to CSI what was done 1900 years ago and since it is not “fresh evidence” we have to intrepect. We either make a “plausible” explanation like the faithful servant finishing what the author could not or judge the format to be about first and last sentence consistantcy. Well we have the message remarkely transmitted across 1900 years and as one with communication technology knowledge I would easily expect to recieve such a large magnitude of symbols with no less than 1 in 10,000 bits losts is simply amazing.

    Yah Coyote
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