If you’ve ever read through the Gospel of Mark before, you’ve probably noticed a curious note that appears at the end of chapter 16, following verse eight, that goes something like this: “Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9–20.”
Have you ever wondered about the significance of those twelve verses not appearing in early manuscripts, or how their inclusion could potentially impact your beliefs? Maybe you have, maybe you haven’t. But if you’re looking for Exhibit A, I would suggest you look no further than the article I wrote about Good Friday. In that article I argued against traditional Church beliefs by concluding that Jesus was crucified on Wednesday, and rose again on Saturday.
But doesn’t the Bible say that Jesus rose on the first day of the week, which is Sunday? Let’s read the first of those twelve verses I referenced:
“Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons.” (Mark 16:9)
It would appear that it doesn’t get much clearer than that. Jesus rose early on the first day of the week. Case closed.
Or is it? One of the first lessons in biblical interpretation is to let scripture interpret scripture. So let’s take a look at the other bible verses that talk about Jesus rising on the first day of the week. I’ll wait while you look.
What’s curious is that you won’t find anything. There’s not one other verse that states Jesus rose on the first day of the week. That should serve as our first warning signal. Our second warning signal should be the note that appears after Mark 16:8. I would be hesitant to base my beliefs about the resurrection on a verse that can’t be cross-referenced, and which wasn’t included in some of our earliest manuscripts.
Before some of you get up in arms, let me make clear that I’m not questioning the inerrancy of the Bible in its original text. Even though many New Testament scholars have concluded that Mark 16:9-20 is “non-marcan,” meaning it’s likely this ending to Mark was a later addition by scribes, that does not necessarily mean the verses are not authentic or inspired.
However, if we assume the verses belong as part of biblical canon, doesn’t that leave us with the same problem about the timing of Jesus’ resurrection? Before jumping to conclusions, let’s first read Mark 16:9 from the King James Version:
“Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.”
In this translation, the past tense is used. As a result, it leads to what may be a more natural reading of the text. The meaning of this verse is derived entirely from the placement of the punctuation. It’s important to note that the original Greek text had no punctuation. It was added hundreds of years later, and even then it was added based on human interpretation. So what if the comma was placed elsewhere in the verse?
“Now when Jesus was risen, early the first day of the week he appeared first to Mary Magdalene…”
So by simply moving one piece of punctuation, our entire understanding of the timing of Jesus’ resurrection can be altered. Nowhere in Scripture does it say that Jesus was crucified on Friday; and with a proper understanding of Mark 16:9, there’s nowhere that says He was raised from the dead on Sunday morning either.
In the end, does it matter? As I stated when I wrote about Good Friday, the message of why Jesus died is far more important than when He died. But consider the words of Jesus in Matthew 12:
“Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:38-40)
When the Pharisees asked for one sign from Jesus proving that He was the Son of God as He claimed, He chose to use the example of Jonah. His one sign was that He would spend three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. If we believe Jesus is the Son of God, then it is vital that we consider the sign He gave us proving His deity. That sign disproves a Friday crucifixion, and in turn – along with what we’ve studied about Mark 16:9 – disproves a Sunday resurrection as well.
Ultimately, what’s most important is that the resurrection did take place, just as Jesus predicted. And we can forever be confident that we serve a living God, because Jesus Himself gave us a sign to prove it.