Papers on Gospel of Mark

Jeanie C. Crain

The Longer Ending of Mark

In “The Messiah Has Done It: A Structural Approach to Jesus’ Identity in Mark” (Crain)  identifies an overall structure that climatically satisfies the question of who Jesus says he is.” The paper focuses on Mark 14:61-62 as the climactic and pivotal point of the Gospel: “Jesus’ actions in leaving the temple, speaking of its destruction and a coming future, lead directly into the actual climatic chapter 14, where Jesus, before the council, is asked by the high priest whether He is ‘the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One’ (61). Jesus not only accepts the title but speaks to its fulfillment in a future when  people ‘will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,’ and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven’” (62). The challenge now is to take up another question—whether Mark’s account ends with verse 8 or includes the last twelve verses. The longer ending readers will recall contains Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalen early on the first day of the week, who tells those who have been with Jesus only not to have them believe he is alive (9-11); included, also, is an appearance to two disciples, who went back and told the rest, only to be met with disbelief on their part (12); Jesus commissions the disciples (14-18); and finally, the account ends with the ascension of Jesus. If, in fact, Mark can be understood structurally as building to the point of Jesus’ own identity of himself as Messiah, with this question satisfied, why should Mark continue on past Jesus’ final Messianic cry from the cross: “’Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (15:34). Crain declares: “The final chapter serves as Mark’s dénouement; readers find themselves left to contemplate all that has happened, and invited to think about it.” The final twelve verses, of course, move well beyond what has happened into an account of what becomes the result of what has happened: his appearances, commission, and ascension. It may be further observed of denouement that any remaining mysteries, questions, secrets can be explained by the author. In the case of Mark, understood as answering definitively, the matter of Jesus’ Messiahship, what remains to be said is what will come of Jesus raised from the dead. How very logical that Mark should end with his appearances, his commission, and his ascension These serve to wrap up the story of an eschatological event, which has moved its readers from Temple traditions into the advent of the Church of the Messiah.

It may be observed, ironically, that the work of biblical criticism has created as established fact an issue that Dean John Burgon hoped to settle as long ago as 1871 in The Last Twelve Verses of the Gospel According to S. Mark. Burgon concludes: “That, in all future critical editions of the New Testament, these ‘Twelve Verses’ will have to be restored to their rightful honours: never more appearing disfigured with brackets, encumbered with doubts, banished from their context, or molested with notes of suspicion. On the contrary. A few words of caution against the resuscitation of what has been proved to be a “vulgar error,” will have henceforth to be introduced in memoriam rei” ( ) While it may be observed that the Authorized King James and The American Standard Version (1901) include all twenty verses without remark, other versions such as The New Revised Standard Version, The English Standard Version,  and The Contemporary English Version note both a shorter and longer ending.  Burgon provides readers with two suppositions:

First,—That the Gospel according to S. Mark, as it left the hands of its inspired Author, was in this impeded or unfinished state; ending abruptly at (what we call now) the 8th verse of the last chapter:—of which solemn circumstance, at the end of eighteen centuries, Cod. B and Cod. א are the alone surviving Manuscript witnesses? . . . or,

Secondly,—That certain copies of S. Mark’s Gospel having suffered mutilation in respect of their Twelve concluding Verses in the post-Apostolic age, Cod. B and Cod. א are the only examples of MSS. so mutilated which are known to exist at the present day? (Ch. 12)

Burgon, of course, decisively dismisses option 1, and provides ample evidence for the second. It may be useful to review Burgon’s summary of the resulting actions from accepting the first hypothesis:

Editors who adopt the former hypothesis, are observed (a) to sever the Verses in question from their context:—(b) to introduce after ver. 8, the subscription “ΚΑΤΑ ΜΑΡΚΟΝ464”—(c) to shut up verses 9-20 within brackets. Regarding them as “no integral part of the Gospel,”—“as an authentic anonymous addition to what Mark himself wrote down,”—a “remarkable Fragment,” “placed as a completion of the Gospel in very early times;”—they consider themselves at liberty to go on to suggest that “the Evangelist may have been interrupted in his work:” at any rate, that “something may have occurred, (as the death of S. Peter,) to cause him to leave it unfinished.” But “the most probable supposition” (we are assured) “is, that the last leaf of the original Gospel was torn away.”

The problem, as Burgon sees it, is the “the most recent Editors of the text of the New Testament, declining to entertain so much as the possibility that certain copies of the second Gospel had experienced mutilation in very early times in respect of these Twelve concluding Verses, have chosen to occupy themselves rather with conjectures as to how it may have happened.” Burgon finds himself astonished at the absence of any evidence that Mark left the hands of its inspired author with only verses 1-8 as its conclusions.


Kevin W. Larsen provides a useful overview of several structural approaches to Mark  (Currents Biblical Research, 3.1 [2004]143-164]ISSN 1476-993X).  Larsen presents a review of structural criticism that divides Mark into either three-part of two-part sections, then moves on to review several other proposals. Given the origins of this current paper in a prior argument that Jesus’ own identification of himself as the Messiah serves as the climatic point of Mark, the two-part division is rejected. This structure puts the Caesarea Philippi episode and Peter’s confession “as the central pericope and turning point of the gospel” (145).  Larsen, after a discussion of Quesnell (1969), quotes his conclusion: “By contrast, if the gospel had stopped at 8.26, Jesus would be a great prophet, teacher, healer, but he would not have been the crucified Messiah.” “The Messiah Has Done It: A Structural Approach to Jesus’ Identity in Mark” (Crain) argues exactly this point. The only remaining question is whether to include twenty verses as the original account.


If the final twelve verses can be considered as dénouement, which puts to rest remaining secrets, questions, mysteries, then logically Mark would have projected beyond the tomb into the ongoing work of the Messiah. In all ways, Mark has prepared readers for the longer ending. Readers will recall Mark’s unfolding revelation of Jesus as Messiah in the work of redemptive history in the bridegroom parable: “The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day (2: 20).“The bridegroom connotatively suggests a wedding, this associated with the long-awaited day of the Lord” (12). Chapter four relates several parables, all associated with organic growth and destiny relative to the coming of God’s kingdom. Chapter five shows Jesus proclaiming God’s kingdom and casting out demons, healing disease and sickness, and raising the dead—“all signs and expressions, not merely of the supernatural, but of God’s kingdom now present in the Messiah. The parables describe a kingdom, both present and future” (Crain). Chapter six continues kingdom-work building with the sending of disciples out on mission.Chapter 7 serves as a pivotal, transitional chapter. Jesus explains why human beings reject the supernatural: “You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition (8)” (Crain) While Peter in chapter eight declares Jesus to be Messiah, he clearly has in mind an earthly, political leader, which leads, in fact, to his later denial that he knows the Jesus on trial for his life. The transfiguration in chapter nine renders Jesus in a three-fold office: as prophet, priest, and king. In chapter ten, Jesus reveals his full Messianic purpose: :   “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (38).

“Chapter 11 records Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, where he is hailed by the people as coming in the name of the Lord, heralding, they think, the coming kingdom of David (9). Much like Peter, they will reject the idea of a suffering and dying Messiah” (Crain). Chapter twelve contains the parable about wicked tenants, making clear the people’s rejection of the “beloved son” (1-12).  Mark 13 injects Jesus’ words about the coming destruction of the temple (1-8), talks about persecution (9-13), the desolating sacrilege and attempts that will be made to lead astray the elect (14-22); it then addresses the future coming of the “‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory” (Crain). This future coming can be describes as future Messianic.

That the Messiah must suffer, be rejected, and be killed has been rehearsed three times with the disciples and brings no surprise in its prophetic fulfilment. Even the resurrection has already been introduced by Mark in chapter eight: “He will, however, rise in three days to return “in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (38). This same verse heralds the ascension. The disciples have previously been sent out on commission (ch. 8), so this subject, too, comes as no surprise: “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation” (16:15). Chapter fifteen also alludes to final Messianic fulfillment in Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” with its basis in Psalms 22, which proclaims dominion: : “All the ends of the earth/will remember and turn to the Lord,/and all the families of the nations/ will bow down before him,/ for dominion belongs to the Lord/ and he rules over the nations” (27, 28). Thus, Mark has faithfully led to final Messianic outcomes:The people of the world will know Jesus has completed his Messianic purpose: ‘All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;/ all who  go down to the dust will kneel before him—/ those who cannot keep themselves’” (Crain).

If certain principles can be assumed in reading and interpreting the Bible, many controversies can be put to rest. Simply, one must come to the Bible believing that it really is the inspired Word of God, that it provides reliable testimony, and that it must be interpreted in light of all Scripture. Both Dean Burton (1860) and Geerhardus Vos, The Self-Disclosure of Jesus: The Modern Debate about the Messianic Consciousness (1978) provide corrective therapy for much of the doubt and suspicion that has been cast upon the nature of original biblical text, including the ending of Mark. At this point, it can be reasonably concluded that the longer ending of Mark, “these Twelve Verses are wholly undistinguishable in respect of genuineness from the rest of the Gospel of S. Mark” (Burgon) and the book as a whole has prepared readers in advance for exactly this ending.


Appendix: Longer Ending of Mark (NRSV)


[[Now after he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. 10 She went out and told those who had been with him, while they were mourning and weeping. 11 But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.

Jesus Appears to Two Disciplesem

(Lk 24:13–43; Jn 20:19–23)

12 After this he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. 13 And they went back and told the rest, but they did not bee lieve them.

Jesus Commissions the Disciples

(Mt 28:16–20; Lk 24:44–49; Jn 20:19–23; Acts 1:6–8)

14 Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.c 15 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good newsd to the whole creation. 16 The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes in their hands,e and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

The Ascension of Jesus

(Lk 24:50–53)

19 So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it.f]]













The challenge now is to take up another question—whether Mark’s account ends with verse 8 or includes the last twelve verses.

At this point, it can be reasonably concluded that the longer ending of Mark, “these Twelve Verses are wholly undistinguishable in respect of genuineness from the rest of the Gospel of S. Mark” (Burgon) and the book as a whole has prepared readers in advance for exactly this ending.