Archive for January 2008


January 12, 2008

After an easy walk through the refreshing pastures of Mark, the Book of Acts is the next destination.

Mark 16

January 5, 2008

Presumably on Sunday, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome go to anoint Jesus’s body with spices. Although Joseph of Arimathea had rolled the stone over the tomb, the women were uncertain how they would roll it away. But the tomb was open and a young man in a white robe was sitting inside the tomb, on the right side. The young man told them that Jesus, who he calls a Nazarene, had risen and gone ahead of the disciples into Galilee. However, the women are so frightened, they tell no one.

Then this chapter tells a second, completely contradictory version, in which Jesus Himself appears to Mary Magdalene, who told others. Jesus appeared to two people who were out walking, and they told others. But because no one would believe that Jesus had appeared, Jesus Himself came to rebuke the eleven apostles for their lack of faith. He told them to go out and preach the gospel and that only baptized believers will be saved. He told them that belief  could be ascertained by signs: believers would drive out demons, speak in new tongues, pick up snakes, survive drinking poison, and heal people by laying on hands. Jesus is then elevated into Heaven and God (not Jesus or the Holy Spirit) works with the disciples, confirming His word by signs.


1.  The tomb is usually depicted as a cave into the face of the rock, so that the stone would be rolled across the ground to cover the opening. If so, it’s not clear why Joseph of Arimathea could roll the stone over the tomb but the women would wonder who would remove it. There is a potential resolution of this problem, namely if the entrance of the tomb was in a depression in the ground. Then, relatively little strength would be required to roll the stone over the tomb versus the strength necessary to remove it.

2.  The term “Nazarene” (GR. nazarenos) is generally read to mean “of Nazareth.” According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “In the manuscripts of the New Testament, the name occurs in a great orthographical variety, such as Nazaret, Nazareth, Nazara, Nazarat, and the like.”  The Catholic Encyclopedia says the root meaning is “branch,” as the phrase “branch of Jesse.” Other sources are less definite about the etymology. One interesting question is whether there is a connection with the term “Nazirite.” John the Baptist may have been a Nazirite, but Jesus could not have been, since He drank wine.

3. Mark 16:9-20 is an exemplar of cases in which text has probably been added. It reads somewhat like a marginal note, recapitulating the appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene and then extending from there.What it says is inconsistent with the previous chapter and with general Christian belief, which does not rely on miraculous signs. The reference to handling snakes, the basis for some Pentecostal worship, is only confirmed elsewhere in the New Testament in Luke 10:19. According to the Zondervan NIV, this passage is absent from most early manuscripts.

It’s interesting to compare what the other gospels say. Matthew says that Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” went to the tomb and an angel (presumably outside the tomb) rolled away the stone.  Guards were also present and removing the stone involved an earthquake. Matthew says Jesus appeared first to the Marys and the other disciples saw Him only in Galilee. Luke says that Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James, and Joanna went to the tomb and were met by two angels, presumably outside the tomb. Jesus appeared first to Cleopas and another disciple and then to the Eleven. Galilee doesn’t enter into it, nor is there an earthquake. John says Mary Magdalene found an empty tomb, but no angels initially. Then two angels appeared after Peter and another disciple had come and gone, presumably outside the tomb. Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, then to the disciples, then in Galilee. No earthquake.

The different stories are no reason to doubt the resurrection, but they do illustrate that eyewitnesses often produce contradictory evidence. That was probably well-understood by the ancients, but in the modern age, idolatry whose object is the Bible demands that those under its sway abandon simple common sense to believe every word. Wiser it is to believe the underlying meaning of this chapter– that Jesus has overcome death and demonstrated convincingly that life is eternal–while accepting the differences of the eyewitness accounts as genuine differences of memory and opinion.