Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!


(Cat afraid of a crow courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

(Originally written for Speaking to the Soul, Sunday, April 22, 2012)

Daily Office Readings for Sunday, April 22, 2012:

Psalms 148, 149, 150 (Morning)
Psalms 114, 115 (Evening)
Exodus 18:1-12
1 John 2:7-17
Mark 16:9-20

Our Gospel reading today is from the end of Mark...sorta.

You might have noticed those odd little brackets at the end of this book in your Bible.  If you have a study Bible, you might even see it broken down as one set of brackets being labeled "The Shorter Ending of Mark" and "The Longer Ending of Mark."

Here's the slightly sordid truth about that:  Both endings are very likely add-ons.  The original (best as we can tell) Mark ends with the empty tomb and "they were afraid."

Origen's writings in the 3rd Century on the Gospel of Mark stop after "they were afraid," implying that this was, indeed the end of that gospel at that time.  Some scholars even speculate Mark died and didn't finish the story.  But somewhere down the line, it seems that someone (or several someones) got uncomfortable that Mark's ending didn't really mesh well with the endings of the other three Gospels, so they tried to improve on it with a little better evidence of the Resurrection.  For some reason it just felt uncomfortable to someone to have everyone running from the empty tomb in fear, once enough time had passed for Christianity to have understood our relationship to the resurrection a little better.

It reminds me of second year medical students.

Second year medical students are sharply honed to pick "right answers" for subjects that have distinct criteria for a diagnosis.  They often try to stuff square pegs into round holes to feed that craving to be "right." They are struggling with the transition of being, indeed, probably one of the smartest sets of people on the planet when it comes to single right answers, who now must convert to a more clinical mindset.  The clinical mindset seldom has one right answer--there are many, and it often takes time, asking the right questions, and ordering the right tests to arrive at the correct diagnosis in a patient--not to mention the disease has to evolve far enough in the patient for the classic signs/symptoms to be elicited.  It's filled with tension in the dynamic between doctor and patient (The patient doesn't always understand that the disease doesn't usually pop up with noticeable symptoms from Day One) and it constantly pushes at the young doctor's feelings of self-worth and competency.

Second year medical students often deal with this by blaming everyone else--their teachers, the school, their significant other.  It's a test of intestinal fortitude to teach them on some days, because they will nitpick an instructor to death for the sake of one point on a test that nets them a gain of 0.01% on their course grade.  

So it is with the meaning of the empty tomb, I think.

I suspect that probably one of the most deep-seated feelings about our life and self-worth is that when we die, we simply flicker out like a candle and that's that.  We are intimately attached to our sense of self, and we simply can't wrap our heads around the non-existence of our selves as we know them.  Oddly, for many of us it's the Easter season that pokes at those fears rather than Lent--possibly because we celebrate something we don't understand and the odds of us disappearing from the cemetery three days after our death, or sitting bolt upright at the funeral home are pretty slim.  We might even lie in bed staring at the ceiling thinking what I call the Seven Words of Abject Despair--"Maybe this life is all there is."

All of us desire assurance that we are "right."  So did the writers of the Shorter Ending of Mark, and the Longer Ending of Mark, I think.  Perhaps, though, the original ending of Mark was meant to be just what it is--a reminder that part of our spiritual growth is to simply accept our fears and live out the Gospel anyway.  What can each of us consider this Easter season that moves us beyond fear, into acceptance of the gift God has bestowed on each of us?


Regarding what you said about Origen: the claim that "Origen's writings in the 3rd Century on the Gospel of Mark stop after "they were afraid"" is quite fictitious. There is no extant writing of Origen specifically about Mark. (Author Stephen Miller has claimed that there is, but he is flatly wrong; he is spreading a distortion that he made up out of thin air and his own confusion.) Origen simply does not use Mark 16:9-20. But there are many other parts of Mark -- some much bigger than Mark 16:9-20 -- that he does not use. His non-use of Mk. 16:9-20 tells us nothing about whether or not it was in his copies of Mark.

You stated, "Some scholars even speculate Mark died and didn't finish the story." The traditions about the setting in which Mark wrote consistently (except for Chrysostom) place him in Rome; the traditions about his martyrdom consistently place him in Egypt. So it's unlikely that he died in Egypt as he was writing his Gospel-account in Rome. It is possible, though, that he was suddenly interrupted, and left Rome, never to return, and that his colleagues finished the book -- before it was ever copied and distributed for use in the churches -- by attaching the part that we know as 16:9-20. In which case, the entire passage is canonical, and part of the original text, albeit as a result of redaction.

Bear in mind that Justin, Tatian, and Irenaeus, in the 100's, utilized the contents of Mark 16:9-20 in one way or another. Their copies of Mark did not have the benefit of being stored in the papyrus-preserving climate of Egypt, but their echoes are nevertheless heard in the writings of Justin, Tatian, and Irenaeus. Plus, Mark 16:9-20 is attested in all undamaged Greek manuscripts (over 1,700) except for two (which have an Egyptian text), and even those two have unusual quirks at the end of Mark that indicate that the copyists who made them were aware of the existence of the missing verses.

Inasmuch as Mark foreshadows a post-resurection appearance of Christ in 14:28 and 16:7, the idea that he deliberately stopped writing at the end of 16:8 seems entirely implausible.

If you've read misleading claims about Origen, then you've probably encountered some other misinformation about the evidence pertaining to Mark 16:9-20. There is a lot of that floating about. You're welcome to read my work on the subject.

Yours in Christ,

James Snapp, Jr.

Thanks for your comments.

My info on Origen came from a work by Wieland Willker. "A Textual Commentary on the Greek Gospels. Vol. 2b: The various endings of Mark." Interestingly, he uses one of your works regarding another topic in this work, your private work, "The origin of Mark, 16:9-20" praising its minutiae, but adding "unfortunately, rather one-sided." Granted, he's using Origen's silence as evidence, but that was my source.

I didn't read anything by Steven Miller. Your assumption is, well...presumptuous.

As for speculation on 16:8, well, that's all it is--speculation. At no time did I lay my poker chip on that one.

As for your work, I'd love to read it, but you didn't cite it.

This piece is not meant to be an academic discussion. It's meant to be a spiritual reflection on fear and death. If I ran around and attempted to correct every piece of misinformation I saw on the internet about surgical pathology or blood banking, or medical microbiology in the context of someone reflecting on story of their disease, I would be a very busy person, indeed. Your seeming need to debate me--to "prove me wrong" by jumping on me with both feet and a sledgehammer--rather than reflect on what the piece is really about is...well...interesting.

I hope your comments spur people to actually read some of your information. You've certainly given me some things to look up. Good luck to you on your journey.



Bookmark and Share

About Me

My photo
Kirksville, Missouri, United States
I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

Read the Monk Manifesto!

Light a Candle

Light a Candle
Light a candle on the site; click on an unlit candle to begin

Blog Archive

FEEDJIT Live Traffic Feed


Sign my Guestbook from Get your Free Guestbook from

Thanks for visiting my blog!