Just How Did the Gospel of Mark End?

As most study Bibles -- including fundamentalist ones -- note in the margins, Mark 16:9-20 is not part of our earliest manuscripts of that Gospel. Rather, it appears to be a later addition. If true, this brings us to the question of whether the Gospel of Mark original ended at Mark 16:8. The question is often raised because of the odd way the Gospel would end if verse 8 is really the end--with the women finding the empty tomb but fleeing in fear and not telling anyone about it. I have elsewhere discussed my reasons for concluding that Mark 16:8 is not the original ending to Mark. There was more to the ending than verse 8, likely including the narration of resurrection appearances. But through the happenstance of history, the original ending was lost to us.

One reason I concluded that Mark 16:8 was not the original ending was the unusual way in which it ends. Not just unusual as a narration, but grammatically. While reading Norman Perrin's The Resurrection According to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, I ran across even more evidence that supported this argument:

Mark 16:8 in the original Greek ends with the phrase ephobounto gar, "for they were afraid," and gar is a conjunction. Now it is as grammatically barbarous to end a sentence with a conjunction in ancient Greek as it is to the end as it is to end one with a preposition in modern English, and there is no other known example from ancient Greek literature of a while book ending with a conjunction. This consideration alone is sufficient to convince many scholars that the original text of the gospel cannot have ended at 16:8; that there must have been either an accidental or deliberate mutilation of whatever it was that originally followed the conjunction gar.

Norman Perrin, The Resurrection According to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, page 17.

What impressed me was the fact that no other Greek book ends in this way. I knew the Greek was unusual and suggested a further narration, but I did not know that it was -- quite literally -- unheard of. So I was somewhat surprised when Perrin went ahead concluded that Mark ended at verse 8. Here are his reasons:

[T]he rules of the ancient Greek grammarians are not necessarily binding upon the evangelist Mark. As a matter of fact, the Greek which Mark writes often has the kind of vividness and simplicity that one associates with the teller of folk tales, but there are also things about it for which he would have had his knuckles rapped in a classroom were Greek rhetoric was taught!


All right. I know that the author of the Gospel of Mark is not renowned for his literary genius, but is he really the worst Greek writer ever? The reluctance to end books in this way is absolute. It does not seem to be dependent just on the rules of Greek grammar, but on the absolute practice of every other Greek author! When the highly unusual Greek is conjoined with the highly unusual break in the narration, as well as the other reasons for believing there was a narrated fulfillment of Jesus' prophecy that he would appear to his disciples after his resurrection (Mark 14:27-28), the argument for a longer original ending to the Gospel of Mark is very persuasive.


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