Did They Or Didn't They?
Did They Or Didn't They?
In the Autumn 1991 issue, we began a series of articles designed to
show inconsistencies in the resurrection accounts of the four gospels.
Gallons of ink have been used in attempts to explain away these
inconsistencies, but some of the variations in the accounts are so
discrepant that only the very gullible could possibly believe the
far-fetched scenarios that bibliolaters have resorted to in trying to
harmonize them. Of these discrepancies, none is more obvious than the
variations in what the gospel writers said that the women did to spread
word of the empty tomb after hearing from the angel(s) that Jesus had
risen from the dead.
Matthew and Luke both said that the women hurried from the tomb to tell
the disciples what the angel(s) had told them ([ref003]Matt. 28:8; [ref004]Luke 24:9). Even
John, whose version of the story differs significantly from the synoptic
accounts, said that Mary Magdalene ran to find Peter and "the other
disciple" to tell them that the body of Jesus had been taken away
Three of the gospel writers, then, clearly depicted the eagerness of the
women to report to the disciples what they had found at the empty tomb.
Mark, however, recorded this part of the story in an entirely different
way. After telling of their encounter with an angel, who told them that
Jesus was risen and that they should go tell the disciples to meet him in
Galilee ([ref006]16:6-7), Mark said
that the women were too frightened to tell others what they had seen:
And they went out, and fled from the tomb; for trembling and
astonishment had come upon them: and they said nothing to
anyone; for they were afraid ([ref007]v:8).
The discrepancy is obvious, but it is even more obvious if Matthew's and
Luke's accounts are juxtaposed with Mark's:
And they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great
joy, and ran to bring his disciples word ([ref008]Matt. 28:8).
And they remembered his (Jesus's) words and returned from
the tomb, and told all these things to the eleven, and to all the
Luke's account even recorded an alleged conversation between Jesus and two
disciples (on resurrection day) in which one of the disciples said that the
women had reported finding the tomb empty:
Moreover, certain women of our company amazed us, having
been early at the tomb; and when they found not his body, they
came, saying, that they had also seen a vision of angels, who
said that he was alive ([ref010]24:22-23).
So the facts in this matter are apparent enough: three gospel writers said
that the women ran to report the empty tomb; one said that they were so
frightened by what they had seen that "they said nothing to
anyone." A rule of evidence noted in an earlier article in this
series ("[ref011]The Resurrection
Maze," Spring 1992, p. 12) states that two or more contradictory
statements cannot all be right. So who was right in the way this part of
the resurrection story was told? Were Matthew, Luke, and John right in
saying that the women ran to report the empty tomb to the other disciples?
Or was Mark right when he said that they were so frightened that they said
"nothing to anyone"? Did they tell anyone what they had seen or
didn't they? That's the problem that inerrantists must resolve.
In my debate with Bill Jackson, he presented a completely speculative
solution to the problem:
(T)he women told no man they met by the way, but the
accounts are correct in that they told the apostles (_Jackson-Till_
_____Debate_, TSR edition, p. 63).
I say that this solution is speculative for the simple reason that it
assumes something that is not explicitly stated in the text. Mark did not
say, "(A)nd they said nothing to anyone on their way to find the
disciples, for they were afraid"; he said that they said nothing to
anyone, period. The Church of Christ, which Mr. Jackson preached for,
prides itself on "speaking where the Bible speaks and being silent
where the Bible is silent." However, when Bible inerrancy is at
stake, Church-of-Christ preachers will speak volumes on matters that the
Bible is clearly silent on. This is just one example of their willingness
to break biblical silence.
At this point, inerrantists will usually argue that Mark did say that at
least one of the women reported what she had seen at the tomb:
Now when he was risen early on the first day of the week, he
appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out
seven demons. She went and told them that had been with him,
as they mourned and wept. And they, when they heard that he
was alive, and had been seen of her, disbelieved ([ref012]16:9-11).
Such appeals as this, however, ignore completely the question of
authenticity. In scholarly circles, [ref013]Mark 16:9-20 is
known as the "Marcan Appendix," because there are sound reasons
for believing that the author of Mark did not write this passage. Textual
evidence indicates that as far as original materials are concerned Mark
should end at verse 8 with the statement about the women being too afraid
to tell others what they had seen. [ref014]Verses 9-20 were
redacted by a later scribe.
My own edition of the American Standard Version affixed this footnote
at the beginning of verse 9: "The two oldest Greek manuscripts, and
some other authorities, omit from ver. 9 to the end. Some other
authorities have a different ending to the Gospel." My NIV edition
has a bracketed statement between verses 8 and 9: "The most reliable
early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:
9-20." Of the 17 versions of the New Testament in my personal
library, 15 of them have reference notes to tell readers that this ending
to Mark was not in the oldest and most reliable manuscripts.
One of the early manuscripts that did not include the Marcan Appendix
was Codex Sinaiticus (4th-century A.D.), which ended Mark's gospel at [ref015]16:8. In
Secrets of Mt. Sinai, James Bentley made this observation about the
omission of the Marcan Appendix in Codex Sinaiticus:
The scribe who brought Mark's Gospel to an end in Codex
Sinaiticus had no doubt that it finished at chapter 16, verse 8.
He underlined the text with a fine artistic squiggle, and wrote,
"The Gospel according to Mark." Immediately following begins
the Gospel of Luke (p. 139).
Codex Sinaiticus is the only ancient Greek manuscript that contains the
entire New Testament. The fact that it did not include the Marcan Appendix
clearly suggests that the 4th-century scribes who copied it had before
them a version of Mark that ended with [ref016]16:8. In the foreword
to Bentley's book (p. 6), the renown pseudepigraphic scholar James H.
Charlesworth pointed out that Codex Syriacus (a 5th-century translation),
Codex Vaticanus (mid-4th century), and Codex Bobiensis (4th- or
5th-century Latin) are all early manuscripts that exclude the Marcan
Appendix. In addition to these, approximately 100 early Armenian
translations, as well as the two oldest Georgian translations, also
omitted the appendix (Bentley, p. 179). Manuscripts written after
Sinaiticus and Vaticanus have been found that contained the Marcan
Appendix but with scribal notes in the margins that said the verses were
not in older copies; others have been found that had dots or asterisks by
the verses in the Marcan Appendix as if to signal that they were in some
way different from the rest of the text (Bentley, p. 179). These facts
give us compelling reasons for suspecting that the Marcan Appendix was
indeed the redaction of a scribe who considered Mark's omission of
postresurrection appearances to be an inadequate way to end the gospel.
In addition to the Marcan Appendix, some manuscripts ended Mark's
gospel with other variations. Codex Washingtonensis (late 4th or early
5th century A.D.), for example, included the addition to [ref017]16:14 that is
known as the Freer Logion. It is the underlined statement added to the
following quotation of verse 14:
Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sit-
ting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith
and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw
him after he had risen. And they excused themselves, saying,
"This age of lawlessness and unbelief is under Satan, who does
not allow the truth and power of God to prevail over the unclean
things of the spirits. Therefore reveal your righteousness
now"--thus they spoke to Christ. And Christ replied to them,
"The term of years of Satan's power has been fulfilled, but other
terrible things draw near. And for those who have sinned I was
handed over to death, that they may return to the truth and sin
no more, that they may inherit the spiritual and imperishable
glory of righteousness that is in heaven" (NRSV).
Other manuscripts added to verse 8 still another but much shorter ending
than the Marcan Appendix: "And all that had been commanded them they
(the women who had gone to the tomb--FT) 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"
(NRSV), to which even other manuscripts added Amen.
If anything is clear from all this it should be that the ending to
Mark's gospel has undergone considerable editing. What the original ending
actually was may now be permanently lost in the wake of all this scribal
tampering, but the scholastic consensus is that none of the variant
endings-- the Marcan Appendix, the Freer Logion, and the "short
ending"--were the work of the original writer. The reasons for that
consensus are summarized in the following quotation from The New Jerome
The longer ending, traditionally designated Mark 16:9-20,
differs in vocabulary and style from the rest of the Gospel, is
absent from the best and earliest mss. now available, and was
absent from mss. in patristic times. It is most likely a 2nd-cent.
compendium of appearance stories based primarily on Luke 24,
with some influence from John 20.... The so-called shorter
ending consists of the women's reports to Peter and Jesus' commis-
sioning of the disciples to preach the gospel. Here too the non-
Marcan language and the weak ms. evidence indicate that this
passage did not close the Gospel.
The so-called Freer Logion in Codex W at 16:14 of the longer
ending is a late gloss aimed at softening the condemnation of the
disciples in 16:14. All the endings attached to Mark in the ms.
tradition were added because scribes considered 16:1-8 inadequate
as an ending (p. 629, emphasis added).
The stylistic and vocabulary differences referred to in this quotation are
apparent even in English translations of the variant endings, but even
without this consideration, suspicion is cast onto their authenticity by
(1) the obvious attempt to reconcile Mark's ending with Luke's and John's
accounts of postresurrection appearances and (2) the inconsistencies
between the appendix and what Mark had said earlier in the chapter.
As noted in previous articles, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all referred to
women (plural) who went to the tomb and found it empty. Luke mentioned
three by name and referred to "other women" who were on the
scene ([ref018]24:10), and even Mark
specified that at least three women (Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of
James, and Salome) were there. However, after declaring that the women
"said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid" ([ref019]v:8), chapter 16 of
Mark suddenly begins to read like John's version, which focused on Mary
Magdalene's role in the story: "Now when he was risen early on the
first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he
had cast out seven demons" ([ref020]v:9). If
"Mark" really wrote this verse, one has to wonder why, after
having said that at least three women had gone to the tomb, and seen the
angel, and heard the angel's message to go tell the disciples, he would
have said that Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene. If other women were
there, why wouldn't they have all seen him? Indeed, Matthew claimed that
they did all see him ([ref021]28:9). So this 9th
verse reads suspiciously like a statement written by someone wanting to
give a twist to the story, as Mark had begun it, that would make it at
least a little more compatible with John's version.
If this was the redactor's intention, he failed miserably, for he later
said that Mary Magdalene "went and told them that had been with him,
as they mourned and wept, (a)nd they, when they heard that he was alive,
and had been seen of her, disbelieved" ([ref022]vv:10-11). This
deviates significantly from John's version, whose Mary Magdalene went not
to tell the disciples that Jesus was risen and that she had seen him but
to say, "They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we know
not where they have laid him" ([ref023]20:2). Indeed, John's
Mary never saw Jesus until she had returned to the tomb, and even then she
didn't recognize him. She thought he was the gardener ([ref024]20:14-15)!
The redactor of the Marcan Appendix went on to say, "And after
these things, he was manifested in another form unto two of them, as they
walked, on their way into the country" ([ref025]v:12). This was
surely an allusion to Luke's account of the appearance Jesus made to the
two disciples on the road to Emmaus ([ref026]24:13-27), at
which time he wasn't recognized until he sat down with the disciples and
broke bread with them ([ref027]vv:28-31). In
telling this, however, the redactor again bungled his attempt to harmonize
Mark's ending with other postresurrection accounts, because he said that
after Jesus appeared to these two disciples, "they went back and told
the rest, but they did not believe them" ([ref028]vv:12-13, NRSV).
This disagrees with Luke's version of the report that the Emmaus disciples
made to the apostles. Luke said that when they realized they had seen
Jesus, the disciples from Emmaus "rose up that very hour, and
returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and them
that were with them" ([ref029]24:33). However,
Luke's eleven did not disbelieve the report of the Emmaus disciples. Even
before the two from Emmaus reported that they had seen Jesus, the eleven
said to them, "The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to
Simon" ([ref030]v:34). Only after
this did the Emmaus disciples tell "the things that happened in the
way, and how he was known of them in the breaking of the bread" ([ref031]v:34). So why
would the apostles have disbelieved the report of the Emmaus disciples if
by then they themselves were proclaiming that Jesus had risen and appeared
What we have in the Marcan Appendix, then, is an obviously bungled
attempt to harmonize the ending of Mark's gospel with other accounts of
postresurrection appearances. The failure is so apparent that the
authenticity of the appendix must be rejected. So the
did-they-or-didn't-they problem is still with us. As far as we know,
"Mark" wrote nothing about postresurrection appearances and
possibly ended his gospel at [ref032]16:8. At that point,
he said that the women ran from the tomb so frightened that they
"said nothing to anyone." Matthew, Luke, and John all disputed
that. So what is the truth in this matter? Did the women go tell the
disciples what they had seen or didn't they? Both versions of the story
can't be right.
Somebody has to be wrong, and the inerrantists can take their pick. The
version of Matthew, Luke, and John or the one by Mark--it doesn't matter.
If either version is wrong, then the Bible is not inerrant. One thing is sure:
the four resurrection accounts are certainly not inerrant.
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