NT Wright and the Gospel of Mark

Bishop N.T. Wright is an excellent Anglican theologian who has written some fine if massive tomes exploring how Jesus understood himself in his time and place.  He also seems to have a hankering to be a modern C.S. Lewis, writing more popular-style books exploring Christianity in day to day life.  These, to my mind, are far less successful than his scholarly stuff.

He does have a decent series of easy-reading Bible commentaries though, Mark for Everyone, Luke for Everyone, and so on.  I was interested recently to read his take on the famously abrupt ending of Mark:  the women fleeing the empty tomb.  Though told of the resurrection, they are too fearful to spread the news–and that’s it.  There are other endings sometimes tacked on, but they are much later additions.

Wright insists that the true end of the gospel has been lost.  Mark’s too good a storyteller and the ending is too abrupt to fit, he says.

I’m convinced he’s right about this, but I don’t care.  The truncated finale of Mark has always been my favorite resurrection story because it’s the most like life.  We see the empty tomb but not the risen Christ, the unimaginable possibility but not the proof.  We may have faith, but we’re also afraid.  It’s a profound statement, taken overall, accidental or no.

Maybe the answer is that the loss of Mark’s original ending is the work of the Big Editor in the Sky.

Be Sociable, Share!
  • Ronald Cox

    Mr. Klavan, I am not so convinced that Bishop Wright is correct. At the least, the ironical ending is in keeping with Mark’s approach throughout the gospel and captures the very human reaction to Jesus of even the best of his charcters. If I might share another British scholar’s ‘take,’ Morna Hooker writes: “The reaction of the women is entirely natural: “they went out and fled from the tomb.” The “trembling and terror” which overcame them are familiar Markan themes….Equally understandable is their silence….the women’s silence when they are told of the resurrection is of a piece with their terror. So, too is their disobedience. Up to this point, the women in Mark’s story have done well: individual women have been commended for their faith and their actions (5:34; 7:29; 12:41-4; 14:3-9), and the women who followed Jesus from Galilee have alone stood by him at the end; they alone witnessed his death, and burial. But at this point, even they fail. Their disobedience and fear demonstrate their inability to believe the good news. Throughout Mark’s gospel, men and women have been blind and deaf to the truth about Jesus, and now at the end, when the divine message is delivered tot he women, the are struck dumb, and fail to deliver it: “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Here is Mark’s final irony. In the rest of the story, Jesus has commanded men and women to say nothing about the truth they have glimpsed, and they have frequently disobeyed. Now the time has at last come, the women are silent!” (Hooker, The Gospel According to Mark, Black’s NT Commentary, commenting on Mark 16). Your website is great by the way – thanks.

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    I’ve always thought that the abrupt end of Mark’s gospel is too perfect to have been original. People just didn’t write that way in the first century. Perhaps the end of the scroll was lost in a fire while the rest was snatched out. Perhaps Mark was martyred while still working on it.

    But if one believes in divine inspiration, it certainly wouldn’t be out of the question for God to run a (metaphorical) red pencil through the last paragraphs and say, “Let’s end it here instead.”

  • Mark Kirby

    The ending that doesn’t end would bring the work full circle. Mark begins, “The Beginning / of the Gospel / of Jesus Christ / the Son of God.” What Mark gave us, the whole book – perhaps by accident – is the beginning. The rest of the Gospel is us: bewildered and frightened and enduring for millennia.

    The Gospel is not a tale that was told, but a tale that is being told now.

    Lars, has anyone written like Mark? His telling jumps and runs and leaves more implied than said. “…and he was with beasts…and the angels ministered to him.” You just want to read the lines and let them sound. He’s a better Modernist poet than most Modernist poets. (Love the image of the Editor God.)

  • Mark Kirby

    A further thought on God, Mark’s Editor.

    He seems to have worked on Mark’s Gospel the way Ezra Pound did on Eliot’s “The Wasteland:” cutting mercilessly, with a purpose. What’s left has nothing superfluous and nothing redundant and has an urgency that reads like Jesus’ own.