Though Mark 16:9–20 is not the original ending to Mark’s Gospel (the majority position of evangelical scholars), its makeup is evidence that the early church used the other Gospels and Acts to form an ending that would be more in literary keeping with the other Gospels. A comparison of biblical manuscripts suggests that the formulation of Mark 16:9–20 came to be in the early second century. As one can see by looking up the biblical references below, what follows is a comparison of the contents of Mark 16:9–20 to the other Gospels and Acts in order to show what the church borrowed from the Gospels and Acts to provide an alternate ending to Mark.
Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9; John 20:14–17) and cast out seven demons from her (Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2). She told the disciples about seeing Jesus (Mark 16:10; Luke 24:10; John 20:18), but they did not believe her (Mark 16:11; Luke 24:11). Jesus then appeared to two disciples walking on the road (16:12; Luke 24:13–32), and they told the disciples about seeing Jesus (Mark 16:13; Luke 24:33–35). Jesus then appeared to the eleven (Mark 16:14; Luke 24:36; John 20:19) and commissioned them (Mark 16:15; Matt 28:18–20; Luke 24:47). He clarified the results of belief and disbelief (Mark 16:16; John 3:18, 36; 20:23) and promised the disciples would cast out demons (Mark 16:17; Acts 5:16; 8:7; 16:18) and speak in new tongues (Mark 16:17; Acts 2:4; 10:46; 19:6; 1 Cor 12:10, 28, 31; 14:26). He later ascended into heaven (Mark 16:19; Luke 24:51; Acts 1:2, 9, 11) and sat down at the right hand of God (Mark 16:19; Ps 110:1; Mark 14:62; et al). The disciples preached everywhere (Mark 16:20; Matt 28:19; Acts 1:8) while the Lord confirmed their message with signs (Mark 16:20; Acts 14:3; Heb 2:3–4).
Items not supported by others texts (but may still be historically true for all we know) include the following: the disciples’ weeping and mourning (Mark 16:10); their disbelief in the testimony of the two (Mark 16:13); Jesus’ rebuke of the disciples (Mark 16:14; but maybe Luke 24:38; John 20:20, 27–29?); and Jesus’ promises that the disciples would pick up snakes (Mark 16:18; but maybe Acts 28:1–6?) and be unaffected by drinking poison (Mark 16:18; but maybe a comparison to Luke 10:19 could suggest that handling serpents and drinking poison are metaphors for overcoming evil?).
Apart from the questionable mention of handling snakes and drinking poison, though Mark 16:9–20 is not part of the Bible, much of it is biblical. Perhaps Mark 16:9–20 is an expression of just what Mark intended, that many would believe in Christ and His resurrection and tell others the story of Christ (cf. Mark 16:6–8).
Pastor David Huffstutler
Pastor Huffstutler regularly writes articles for our Sunday bulletin. See his bio on our pastoral bio page.