In the oldest Bibles that exist Mark ends with 16:8a—“so they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
It’s a head scratcher: the women who came to the tomb on Easter morning, who encountered the messenger in dazzling white apparel, and who heard that Jesus had been raised from the dead, responded by saying “nothing to anyone for they were afraid.”
What’s up with that?
No wonder early Christians thought that the last page of the manuscript must have been lost. Some well-meaning church leaders scotch taped a one sentence ending onto verse 8—“And all that had been commanded them they told briefly to those around Peter. And afterward Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.” Then someone else suggested a longer ending that reprised the tomb scene focusing only on Mary. On and on it went.
The additional verses in chapter 16 contain multiple endings. Read them carefully and you can almost hear early church members debating, “Mark should really end like this,” one leader says. “But the ending won’t be complete without snakes and poison,” another argues. “How about a summary of the Great Commission?” someone else suggests. I’m convinced that Mark 16:8b-20 is the work of an early Christian committee that determined to fix the abrupt ending problem by combining several alternatives. (Trust me, I’ve sat in countless committee meetings, and the “kitchen sink approach” usually wins the day.)
But the scholarly evidence indicates that Mark probably ended his gospel by having the women fleeing the empty tomb and saying nothing to anyone “for they were afraid.” How do you make sense of this?
Mark was a preacher, and with this ending he is challenging his readers by holding up a mirror. Of course the three women didn’t keep quiet! The news got out, and we are evidence of how long and far it has spread. But Mark holds up a mirror by saying to you and me, “Okay, you have witnessed the story, you have heard the news that He is risen, now what? Are you going to keep the news to yourself? Are you going to be too afraid to share it with anyone? What are you going to do?
To me, that’s a pretty decent way to end the greatest story ever told.