The Denial of the Good News and the Ending of Mark -- By: Aída Besançon Spencer

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 17:2 (NA 2007)
Article: The Denial of the Good News and the Ending of Mark
Author: Aída Besançon Spencer

The Denial of the Good News and the Ending of Mark

Aída Besançon Spencer

Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

Peter’s denial is a major literary theme in the Gospel of Mark that appears to resonate with Mark himself, helps us posit reasons for the Gospel’s abrupt ending and for the developing climax of the narrative, and explains subtle emphases and omissions.

Key Words: Peter, Mark’s Gospel, denial, ἔκστασις, φοβέομαι, συνίημι, ἀσύνετος, νοέω, ἀγνοέω, ἐπίσταμαι

For hundreds of years, people have been dissatisfied with the closing of the Gospel of Mark. Even though our two most important fourth-century Greek codices, Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, and our first and earliest Syriac, Coptic, and Georgian versions from a variety of text families (Alexandrian, Western, and Caesarean) all supported the Gospel’s ending with 16:8,1 one to two centuries later a change came about. The later Syriac, Coptic, and Georgian versions, as well as all the later Western and Byzantine versions added a longer (vv. 9-20) or shorter ending. An Armenian manuscript in a.d. 989 even described the author of vv. 9-20 as Ariston.2 Many scholars think the last leaf of the original copy was accidentally lost, torn off, or deliberately omitted, or that Mark was prevented from

finishing.3 The Pilgrim edition of the King James Version explains the problem well: “It hardly seems likely that the second Gospel would conclude with the words, ‘for they were afraid.’ The glorious Gospel of Christ does not leave His disciples in an attitude of fear.”4

However, if we examine the movement of the book itself, we will discover that 16:8 is a most appropriate way for the Gospel to end. Why? Because Peter’s denial drives the Gospel of Mark. That is why it has to end the way it does. Further, the historical background supplements the literary analysis. Finally, to assess this thesis we will close by comparing the Gospel of Mark with the other Gospels on the topics of denial and understanding in order to see whether 16:8 is a significant way to end the Gospel of Mark (see appendix, pp. 281-283).

Historical Setting

Strong and consistent early church traditions support a connection between Peter and Mark in the writing of Mark’s Gospel.5 In the secon...

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