Mark's ending is really worth chewing on—for a long, long time. Get ready to mull. And mull some more.
One Big Question
The first problem: where does Mark end? It's not often that we don't know where a story ends. We mean, doesn't it just end at the last word? Well, it's not that easy in Mark. The manuscripts offer conflicting variations, which are pretty much summed up as follows:
(1) Mark ends at 16:8 with the words, "for they were afraid." Kind of a downer.
(2) Mark ends after the so-called "short ending." The short ending consists of two sentences saying that the women eventually obeyed the messenger and informed the disciples, whom Jesus later sent forth to spread the "holy and incorruptible proclamation of eternal salvation." FYI, only one manuscript ends in this way.
(3) Mark ends after the so-called "long ending" (16:9-20), which either follows 16:8 directly without the "short ending" or is paired with the "short ending" (depending on the manuscript).
Okay, so what's the deal? The best explanation is that Mark originally ended with the words, "for they were afraid" (16:8). Later (maybe in the 100's) some Christians decided this ending wasn't cool, especially in light of the other three gospels, which record resurrection appearances to the disciples. Enter short and long endings to make up for it.
And One More for Good Measure
But the fact is that Mark stopped writing at 16:8. And the million-dollar question is: why would Mark end the story in this way? We're left with an empty tomb, fear, and failure to obey—not a happily ever after, that's for sure. What would the effect of this ending be to ideal readers. What's its effect on us?
As you explore the ins and outs of these questions, don't forget to consider the several passages within the story that foretell what will happen beyond 16:8. Check out: 8:31; 8:38-9:1; 9:9, 31; 10:34; 13:1-37; 14:28, 62. In these verses Mark sort of gives a preview of the sequel he never wrote.