The whole of Christianity rests on the question of the resurrection as its founder, Paul of Tarsus writes: “And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins.” (1 Corinthians 15:17, NLT) But the first of the four gospels, i.e., the Gospel according to Mark, apparently did not receive Paul’s memo.
There is no resurrection in Mark’s gospel. And this is a very important point as we keep in mind that each of the gospels was initially divorced from each other and were written in different localities for different audiences. There was no canon of the New Testament as we know it today in the first 70 years of Christianity in the first century.
No Resurrection In Mark?
The first person to canonise scripture was the heretic Marcion and this was, according to most biblical critics, the impetus behind the orthodox canonisation process.1
The Gospel of Mark seems to support the Islamic worldview as it starkly keeps silent or omits any mention of the resurrection. The gospel ends in verse eight with the women, in utter confusion, fleeing the scene of the tomb, which was empty:
“Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.” (Mark 16:8, NIV)
The late Catholic Jesuit scholar John McKenzie writes:
“…for Mark really has no resurrection and no apparitions, just the empty tomb.”2
Lightfoot Professor of Divinity and New Testament scholar, James Dunn writes:
“… the earliest Gospel (Mark) ends without any record of a ‘resurrection appearance’,…”Dunn, J. D. G. (1985), The Evidence for Jesus (Louisville, Kentucky: The Westminster Press), p. 66
Dean at the Institute of Pastoral Studies at Loyola University, Dr Brian Shmisek writes:
“For our purposes, let us note that the earliest gospel has no appearance narrative and leaves many questions unanswered.”3
Chair of the Department and Centre for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto, Prof. John S. Kloppenborg writes:
“Mark, famously, has no resurrection appearance stories, only the discovery of an empty tomb.”4
Mark’s Faith Is “Futile”?
Essentially, the gospel according to Mark has zero resurrection narrative and so those — the initial recipients — that read this gospel soon after it was written and put into circulation, would not have had much belief in the resurrection as they were not made aware of it by the gospel that they were relying upon.
The gospels according to Matthew and Luke, which would eventually supply such information would only come years later.
This would have been utterly antithetical to the gospel preached by Paul, which specifies the fundamental importance of the resurrection; according to the words of Paul, the gospel according to Mark, without the resurrection, is in fact “useless”.
The original ending of Mark proved very disturbing to the early scribes of the Bible and it really did not sit too well with them. So perturbed was their theological sensibilities, that they sought to smoothen the ending with their own version of an ending by appending to verse 8 the longer ending of Mark that extends from verse 9 to 20 and that currently remains part of the main text in the New King James Version. In fact, more creative scribes added two other versions of the ending, i.e., the Freer Logion and the Shorter Ending.
North America’s most eminent textual critic — the protege of Bruce Metzger — Professor Bart Ehrman, writes:
“Obviously, scribes thought the ending was too abrupt. The women told no one? Then, did the disciples never learn of the resurrection? And didn’t Jesus himself ever appear to them? How could that be the ending! To resolve the problem, scribes added an ending.”5
And that was how easy it was to mint the so-called “words of God” in Christianity.
In short, the gospel according to Mark — according to the gospel of Paul — is nothing but a useless gospel, because without the resurrection the faith of Christianity is useless and the resurrection simply does not exist in Mark’s gospel.
- Perhaps it is also pertinent to note that a gospel that predates Mark, the so-called Sayings Gospel or Q (quelle, which means “source” in German), which has been reconstructed by scholars through the Synoptic Problem, has absolutely no crucifixion or resurrection narratives in it. Professor James Robinson writes: “…the Sayings Gospel has no passion narrative or resurrection stories…” (Robinson, J. M. (n.d.). The Real Jesus of the Sayings “Q” Gospel. Retrieved from http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=542). Professor Bart Ehrman writes: “Most striking was the circumstance that in none of the Q materials (that is, in none of the passages found in Matthew and Luke, but not in Mark) is there an account of Jesus’ death and resurrection.” (Ehrman, B. D. (2003), Lost Christianities (New York: Oxford University Press) p. 57) [↩]
- McKenzie, J. L. (2009), The New Testament Without Illusion (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock), p. 198 [↩]
- Schmisek, B. (2013), Resurrection of the Flesh or Resurrection from the Dead: Implications for Theology (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press), p. 61 [↩]
- Kloppenborg, J. S. (2008). Q, the Earliest Gospel: An Introduction to the Original Stories and Sayings of Jesus (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press), p. 84 [↩]
- Ehrman, B. D. (2006). Whose Word is it?: The Story Behind Who Changed the New Testament and Why (London: The Continuum International Publishing Group), p. 67 [↩]