A World of Terror Needs the Original Ending of Mark’s Gospel

Have you ever noticed that your Bibles have a note in them that tells you that the Gospel of Mark originally ended after verse 8 in chapter 16, even though it continues on for a few paragraphs?

Among people who read and study the Bible, the original ending of Mark’s Gospel is famous for it’s unusual and unsatisfying nature. There are no appearances of the resurrected Jesus. There are no moments of rejoicing. There is no reconciliation between Jesus and the disciples. There is no conclusion to the heartbreaking relationship of betrayal between Jesus and Peter.

There is only fear. Only confusion. And only vague instructions.

Why are there extra verses in our Bibles after the original ending? Somewhere along the way, a reader of Mark’s Gospel decided to try and give Mark an ending that wrapped the book up like a nicely decorated present with a bow on top. Mark’s Gospel got an upgrade and from then on it looked much more like the other three Gospels. The longer ending gives it a much happier, confident, and triumphant conclusion. The disciples finally understand and are given detailed instructions for the future.

What if Mark ended his Gospel the way he did on purpose? What if faith, the active attempt to follow Jesus in our world, often looks more like the ending of Mark’s Gospel than the ending of the other three Gospels?

The recent terrorist attacks in Paris, and elsewhere, have once again left the world reeling with fear and confusion. As a Christian, I find myself with the same emotions. We often assume, or are told, that being a Christian means we should always have a feeling of confidence, an unending supply of easy answers, and an obvious plan for the future.
But I have none of that. All I have are a few basic instructions that dangle in front of me like a compass meant to guide one through a fog:
Love (even your enemies).
Support the suffering.

I’m actually thankful for Mark’s short and confusing ending. The life of a Christian is not always similar to the disciples at the end of Matthew or Luke – with an easy faith, with clear proofs in front of them, with the future mapped out. Instead, life sometimes surrounds us with fear and confusion and we barely know the next step to take.

A world reeling from the recent terror attacks needs the original ending of Mark’s Gospel.

A church reeling from the recent terror attacks needs to know that it is okay to be afraid and confused. But – we have an option. An invitation.

Go following the living Christ. Take the next step. Sometimes, we only know the first step to take. Take it. Trust that the living Christ will meet you there and take you forward. Trust that despite the horrendous evil and suffering in the world and in our own lives – Jesus is alive, on the move, and continuing to bring God’s Kingdom to earth as it is in heaven.

10 thoughts on “A World of Terror Needs the Original Ending of Mark’s Gospel

  1. Everything happens according to God’s will (including terrorist attacks) and we are called to be in favor of His will and to trust it and accept it. Given this, should we still mourn and pray for God to not allow something although it would be according to His will? I am not sure how I should feel about events like this because according to the word, they are in line with God’s will and if it is according to God’s will we should support it, “let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”, where as most of the population of the world including christians are mourning and view it as a terrible act, but I cannot get over the fact that it is in line with God’s will.


    1. Hey Tyler,

      I do think we should mourn and pray for God to work against evil like terrorism in the world. In fact, I think God himself is mourning over the evil in the world (see Genesis 6; see the life of Jesus were God comes and suffers alongside us). I also think God himself is in prayers for those mourning and against the evil deeds of those in our world (New Testament repeatedly mentions Jesus praying to the Father for us as well as the Spirit praying for us).

      I understand the tension you are describing and I think it is a result of you using the term/idea of “God’s Will” in a loose way that has allowed you to slip into a sort of hyper-calvinism. I see it all in the first sentence: “Everything that happens is God’s will” and “we should be in favor of His Will.”

      “God’s Will” – as a specific term or topic – is mentioned surprisingly little in the Bible. There are lots of passages that can add to our understanding, but it is very important to know what we mean when we say “will.”

      Historically, theologians have distinguished at least two different “wills” of God: a sovereign/transcendent will and a revealed/moral will.

      The first, God’s sovereign will, is used to describe a mysterious belief that nothing happens in the world outside of God’s ultimate plan. It is sometimes called his permissive will – God somehow and for some reason has permitted and allowed everything that happens to happen (usually seen in his decision to give other creatures – human and angelic – free will … “say so” in what happens in God’s world). However, we do not know God’s sovereign/transcendent/permissive will. It is a mystery. And we are never commanded to try and figure it out or be “in favor of it.” In short, we might call this a will of existence.

      The second, God’s revealed/moral will, is what God has clearly told humanity he desires of his creation and world. This is a will of desire. And it is very clear. God does not desire murder (see Ten Commandments). Because of free-will however, many (if not most) things happen outside of God’s moral will. In fact, the whole narrative of the Bible is predicated on the fact God’s will was not and is not being done in creation. If everything that happens is God’s will – why is He sad over creation’s disobedience (Genesis 6)? Why does he get angry about sin? Why does he give commandments that include promises and punishments? Why did he start a large-scale rescue plan to change creation back to his true intentions/desires?

      The line you quoted from the Lord’s prayer is a perfect illustration. For Jesus to pray, and teach us to pray, “Let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” is to assume that God’s will is not always being done on earth as in heaven.


      Thanks for the comment!


  2. Great post Mike,
    Although I disagree almost your entire argument, I can appreciate your passion for the topic. I am specifically mentioning your “love your enemies” propaganda. Not only is this not found in the bible, but it is simply irrational. If we do not destroy ISIS and radical Islam, we will be destroyed, and the Christian faith will be over. If violence and holy bombs are the way in which we are to advance the Kingdom, I see no reason why we shouldnt bomb the living hell out of the Middle East.


  3. Good post, Mike. Too often we as Christians want tidy answers and for everything to “make sense.” That leads to the kind of thinking that tries to confine God inside our limited human intellectual constructs. Terrorism (and cruelty, murder, malice, hatred) is never in line with God’s moral will, as you outlined. I certainly can’t imagine myself telling one of the victims of this terrible tragedy that somehow all of this was, in any way, part of “God’s will”. To think we can figure out God so exactly in every detail is pure folly. “My ways are not your ways, my thoughts are not your thoughts.” The question is: can we neatly divide “God’s will” into the “sovereign” and “moral” categories, or is even that just another attempt to put God into one of our intellectual boxes? It probably is to some degree, but it’s a more satisfying answer than to just say everything-every evil, every act of unspeakable barbarism- somehow exists in accordance with God’s will so loosely defined.

    And although I don’t have a totally satisfactory explanation about why a good God allows things like this to happen I do know how He has instructed us to live: “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

    That being said, I also sincerely hope that Stan’s post is ironic. If not…yikes.


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