not even knowing what scholarship says about your own book." Actually, quite a few of
us do know. The difference is we are interested in knowing the details of what that
scholarship says, not just a few points we can cherry pick.
Wednesday, 14 May 2014
"Knowledge" About Mark's Gospel
As the old cliche goes, “A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.” This is true for a
number of reasons. One reason is that, when we half know or half understand something,
we tend not to just accept that we half know or half understand it, but to
make up “knowledge” to fill in the gaps and convince ourselves that we understand
more than we do.
As an example of what I’m talking about, there seems to be a growing misconception
among a number of atheists concerning the longer and shorter endings of the Gospel
According to St. Mark. The misconception its self, isn’t a huge problem, but the fact
way it seems to have formed in some people’s minds is. Let me hasten to had that,
while, for this example, I’m picking on my atheist friends, I have little doubt that many
examples of similar folly could be found on my own side.
For those unfamiliar with what I mean by longer and shorter endings of St. Mark; St.
Mark’s Gospel has sixteen chapters and the final chapter has twenty verses. The
vast majority of scholars, however, would consider that only the first eight verses
were part of the original gospel with the remaining twelve being added by a later
scribe. The shorter ending of St. Mark does not contain any description of the risen
Christ appearing to His followers. This fact makes it unique among the Biblical Gospels;
the longer ending, as well as the other three Gospels all do contain such narratives.
It is important to note, however, that the shorter ending, does clearly affirm the
resurrection happening. The shorter ending describes a group of women coming to
the tomb of Jesus, early on Sunday morning, finding the tomb empty and being told
“You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth. He is not here, he is risen.”
A large number of atheist, however, seem to have heard this fact, but only partly
grasped it. The upshot of this is that, in past few months, I’ve had several atheists
inform me that Mark’s Gospel, as originally written, contains no mention of the
resurrection and, at least one of them, as gone so far as to conclude from this that,
at the time of the Gospel’s writing, belief in the resurrection was not part of Christianity.
I’m pretty sure that none of these people are lying; they believe what they are saying. I
think that, what has happened, is that they have heard it said (truly) that most scholars
believe the original version of Mark’s Gospel contains no accounts of appearances of the
risen Christ and, not fully grasping the important distinctions, concluded that this means
that it contains no mention of the resurrection.
This error, by itself, would be harmless enough. The problem is that many will then
go on to claim something like “people who think the original gospels contain an
account of the resurrection obviously aren’t aware of modern scholarship like I am.”
Even when, I point out to such individuals the fact that, actually, the shorter ending of
St. Mark, the one universally recognised as being part of the original gospel, does include
the clear affirmation that "He is risen.", this is sometimes dismissed as "Silly Christians