Literary Approaches To The End Of Mark’s Gospel -- By: Joel F. Williams

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 42:1 (Mar 1999)
Article: Literary Approaches To The End Of Mark’s Gospel
Author: Joel F. Williams


Literary Approaches To The End Of Mark’s Gospel

Joel F. Williams*

Mark 16:7–8 records the instructions of the young man to the women at the tomb and their surprising response. “But go, say to the disciples and to Peter, ‘He is going before you into Galilee; you will see him there, just as he said to you.’ And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment took hold of them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Do these verses make adequate sense as the conclusion to Mark’s Gospel? Some would say “no” and would search for an explanation to the problem of Mark’s ending in the historical circumstances surrounding the writing or preservation of this Gospel. Perhaps Mark was unable to complete his Gospel, and even though he stopped at 16:8, that was not his intended ending. Perhaps the real ending of Mark’s Gospel has been lost. 1 However, those who suggest such solutions to the problem of Mark’s ending must recognize that they are providing an historical explanation for a literary problem. Does the conclusion of Mark’s Gospel at 16:8 make adequate sense? This question presents a literary problem dealing with the meaning and function of the text. At times, historical conjectures are necessary to solve literary problems, but a literary solution should be sought first. Rudolf Pesch makes a similar point when he states, “The commentator of Mark’s Gospel has every reason to conclude from this that the original ending of the Gospel has been given with Mark 16:1–8. The peculiar character of this ending is an impetus to interpretation, not to conjectural reconstruction or speculation.” 2

The purpose for this article is to present and evaluate different attempts to explain the meaning and significance of Mark’s abrupt ending. In recent years, several literary critics have sought to show how the conclusion of Mark’s Gospel at 16:8 provides a meaningful closure to the narrative as a

* Joel Williams is associate professor of Biblical studies at Columbia International University, P.O. Box 3122, Columbia, SC 29230–3122.

whole, but these critics have produced a variety of possible explanations. 3 This article begins by reviewing briefly the issues related to the major text-critical problem in Mark 16. ...

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