Bible Review 17:4, August 2001

To Be Continued…

The Many Endings of the Gospel of Mark

By Michael W. Holmes

Francis Ford Coppola filmed two endings for Apocalypse Now, and John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman offers a choice of endings. But nothing quite matches the last chapter of the Gospel of Mark for variety. At least nine versions of the ending of Mark can be found among the 1,700 surviving ancient Greek manuscripts and early translations of the gospel.

The differences are not insubstantial. The shortest form ends with the three women at the tomb. The stone is rolled back, the body is gone. An angelic figure informs the women that Jesus has been raised from the dead, but Jesus himself is never seen again. The women, the final verse (Mark 16:8) of this short form records, are so frightened they run away and don’t tell anyone what they have seen—or failed to see.

In the longest versions of Mark’s ending, by contrast, the resurrected Jesus shows himself to Mary Magdalene, to two disciples on the road and then to the 11 disciples in Jerusalem.

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