What’s at Stake in The Original Ending of Mark?

As a NT student with an abiding interest in the Gospel of Mark and its early text, Nicholas P. Lunn’s The Original Ending of Mark: A New Case for the Authenticity of Mark 16:9-20 (Wipf & Stock, 2014) has been on my radar for a while and I’ve just now gotten around to starting it. I’ve seen it get some good press (most recently here) and so, even though I tend to think Mark ends at 16:8, I am open to changing my mind.

One thing I find mildly off-putting, however, is the theological and apologetic weight Lunn attaches to this issue, beginning in his preface on page vii:

lunnVII

For Lunn, the ending of Mark matters for two vital reasons: first, it contains descriptions of a post-resurrection Jesus (16:9-20). Second, because Mark is the earliest written Gospel (ca. 70 AD/CE), these descriptions of a post-resurrection Jesus are important for shoring up the historicity of the resurrection. An offshoot of this point, as evidenced by Lunn’s lengthy quoting of an Islamic counter-apologetic against Christianity (among other counter-apologetics, including one from mythicist Richard Carrier), is that the Christian faith stands or falls among other religions on whether or not the earliest written gospel relates the resurrection of Jesus.

My disagreement stems not out of a “liberal” (or whatever) belief that the resurrection of Jesus doesn’t matter. For Christians, among whom I count myself, I think it absolutely does. My problem, though, is that readers (Christians or otherwise) don’t need Mark 16:9-20 in order to argue for a Markan resurrection. Mark 16:1-8, as well as 9:9-10 and the threefold passion-resurrection predictions in 8:31; 9:31; and 10:33-4, are more than enough evidence that Mark’s story is about a Jesus who is raised from the dead.

Even if we assume that Mark ends at 16:8, we are still left with a document whose composer quite obviously believed in a resurrected Jesus. The young man at the tomb tells the women that Jesus “has been raised” and that “he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you” (16:6, 7). It is almost an abuse of the English language to read this as an “implied resurrection,” as some do. But it is definitely an abuse of English to assert that

The original authors of Mark created the first biography of Jesus, but failed to mention that he rose from the dead!

as another one of Lunn’s Internet interlocutors does (Lunn, viii).

And so I wonder: Why is Mark 16:9-20 so crucial, both for Lunn and his counter-apologist interlocutors, for the resurrection of Jesus when the resurrection of Jesus is explicitly narrated as an event that happened in Mark 16:1-8? Put differently: Do we need 16:9-20 to believe that the composer of Mark thought Jesus had been raised from the dead? Holly Carey thinks not. I agree.

I am interested to interact with Lunn’s text-critical argument but, honestly, I could do without the shrill apologetic opening salvo with which he begins his book.

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3 thoughts on “What’s at Stake in The Original Ending of Mark?

  1. Perhaps Lunn’s concern, framed more precisely, is the doctrine of the *bodily* resurrection of Jesus. A *bodily* resurrection is supported by a text of Mark with 16:9-20 more than it is supported by a text of Mark that stops at the end of 16:8.

    • Yes, but the bodily resurrection is not really under threat by an ending at 16:8. My point in this post was that, whatever (very) good arguments Lunn makes elsewhere, the apologetics at the beginning made more of the problem than was warranted.

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