Thursday, March 09, 2017

Mark 16

Mark 16 (ESV): The Resurrection, Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene, Jesus Appears to Two Disciples, The Great Commission


In the previous passage Jesus died on the cross, and Joseph of Arimathea put his body into a tomb, and rolled a large boulder over the entrance. In this passage, once the Sabbath is done, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bring some spices to the tomb, to anoint his body. As they are on their way, they wonder amongst themselves who is going to roll that boulder away, but when they get there they find that it’s already gone. They go into the tomb and find a man dressed in white, who tells them that Jesus has risen, and is no longer in the tomb. He shows them the place where Jesus’ body had been laid, and then tells them to go and tell the disciples (and Peter) that Jesus is going before them into Galilee. However, they flee from the tomb, and don’t say anything to anyone, because they’re afraid. (This doesn’t last, however, because we’re told in Matthew that the women did, after all, go and tell the disciples.

There now seems to be some cloud around verses 9–20; the note in the NIV is stronger than the one in the ESV, saying, “The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9–20.” So… take the rest of this post with a grain of salt, I guess; it might not have actually been written by Mark. (Though it’s included in modern Bible translations, so it’s not for sure out, either.) That being said, there doesn’t seem to be anything in this section that disagrees with the other gospels or the rest of the Bible, either, so… do with it what you will.

Jesus next appears to Mary Magdalene, who goes out to tell the others, who are still mourning for Jesus, but they don’t believe her. Then he appears to two disciples, who also go back and tell the others, but nobody believe them, either.

Finally he comes and appears to the eleven remaining apostles, and rebukes them for not believing the people he had already appeared to. He tells them to go into the world and proclaim the gospel to everyone (to “the whole creation” (verse 15 (ESV)). As they do, whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, and whoever doesn’t will be condemned. There are also various signs that he says will accompany whose who believe: they’ll cast out demons, speak in tongues, pick up serpents or drink deadly poison without being harmed, and lay their hands on the sick to heal them.

After this, Jesus is taken up into heaven, and the disciples go out and preach the Word, accompanied by the Lord’s confirming signs. The book of Acts would be a continuation of the story, if you’d like to go read that next.


Mark doesn’t come out and say it, but the “man dressed in white” in the tomb is an angel. (John and Matthew specifically use the word.) The other gospels also give different information on how many angels there are; like Mark, Matthew only mentions one, while Luke and John mention two. The reaction of the women is very typical, however, of anyone in the Bible who encounters an angel: They’re afraid.

It’s worth noting that Mark is being very forthright in reporting that it was the women who discovered Jesus had risen. The testimony of women wasn’t really trusted, in those days, and Mark’s story would have been given more credence if he’d said it was the apostles who found Jesus’ empty tomb. But that’s not what happened. Some use this fact as further proof of the truth of the Bible, the thinking being that if Mark (and the other gospel writers) was making it up, they never would have made it up this way. I see the point, but I don’t consider it a really strong piece of evidence; humans are very creative, so arguments about “people who were making it up would never have said that” don’t sway me that much. That being said, I already believe the Bible is true, so I don’t have to be swayed.

I’m unclear the order of events, between the women finding Jesus’ empty tomb, and Jesus appearing to Mary. I’m assuming his appearance to Mary comes after. (If these verses aren’t really from Mark, and someone added them later, maybe it’s not relevant anyway.)

I haven’t done any research on this topic, but I’m guessing that verse 18 (ESV) is probably where snake handlers got the idea. It’s worth noting that Jesus wasn’t commanding anyone to do anything, and he definitely wasn’t saying that all Christians would/could/should pick up serpents, anymore than he was saying that everyone would be a faith healer or cast out demons or speak in tongues. There’s a lot of danger in taking verses in isolation from the rest of the Bible, or trying to put too much weight onto particular verses. (If you don’t know what “snake handlers” are, don’t worry about it.)

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