What Rapture?

by Farrell Till

Re-posted here by permission from Farrell Till.

Thank you Mr. Till!


Eighteen replies to Robert Turkel’s attempt to defend preterism are listed at the bottom of the index page in this forum. His articles made frequent references to the “rapture” belief of dispensationalists, so I often had to remind readers that what dispensationalists believe about the second-coming prophecies was irrelevant to his debate with me, because I am well aware that the New Testament does not teach the rapture doctrine believed by what is probably a Christian majority. As I explained in my replies to Turkel, New Testament writers believed that there would be an imminent return of Jesus within the lifetime of some people of their generation. Those prophecies obviously failed, so biblical inerrantists have been leaning over backwards to try to explain the failures. Preterists claim that the prophecies and their references to “the sign of the son of man coming in the clouds” and “all the tribes of the earth mourning over him” were figurative, and dispensationalists have redefined terms like “this generation,” “soon,” “at hand,” etc. to make them references to events in the distant future. Both are acts of desperation by people who refuse to accept the obvious failure of the second-coming prophecies.

My eighteen replies to Turkel, linked to above, soundly refuted the figurative fulfillments of the second-coming prophecies, which preterists claim happened in AD 70. In this article, I will reply to the dispensationalist belief that the second-coming of Jesus is yet in the future. An important part of their belief is something that they call “the rapture,” which is a doctrine that was taught nowhere in the New Testament. Before I show that the doctrine of a rapture clearly contradicts New Testament passages that referred to the “second coming,” I should first explain what dispensationalists believe the rapture will be.

In my replies to Turkel’s preterism, I often said that dispensationalism is just as ridiculous as preterism; however, I think I will have to admit that for sheer silliness and screwiness, the rapture part of dispensationalism can hardly be exceeded, because it puts a figurative spin on second-coming prophecies in order to deceive people into believing in a “rapture,” which, according to the dispensationalist spin, will be an event when the righteous dead will be resurrected and, along with the righteous living at the time, will all be caught up into the air to be with Jesus while a seven-year “tribulation” ravages the unrighteous who were left behind on earth, but this so-called “rapture” is taught nowhere in the New Testament. Indeed, as I will be showing, it flagrantly conflicts with the face-value reading of various New Testament passages that spoke of the second-coming and “end times.” To see that the doctrine of a “rapture” contradicts the New Testament, we must first understand what the dispensationalist concept of the rapture is. This belief was recently given mainstream popularity by the “left-behind” novels published by Timothy LaHaye, who with Jerry Falwell co-founded the Moral Majority, and Jerry Jenkins. I understand that the sale of those novels has enriched both LaHaye and Jenkins, a fact that makes the “rapture” just one more example of how religion often exploits the general public. I wouldn’t waste my time reading fiction that had the obvious intention of playing on the fears of the biblically uninformed by propagating a doctrine that is obviously contrary to New Testament teachings, but having read reviews of the first novel in this series, I think I can summarize its plot.

On an airline flight from Chicago to London, the pilot is informed by a flight attendant that several passengers have mysteriously disappeared. Their clothes were left behind, but the passengers themselves had vanished. Through radio contacts with other airliners, the pilot learned that the same thing had happened on their flights. The pilot was ordered to return to Chicago, and when the plane arrived there, the ones who had been left behind on the flight, found chaos present all over the city. Airplanes, cars, and other vehicles, whose operators had also mysteriously vanished, had crashed. When the pilot returned home, he found that his wife and son had also disappeared. His wife was a Christian, who had claimed to see signs of an imminent rapture of true believers, so the pilot saw this as the only possible explanation of the disappearance of so many people.

I will interrupt the plot summation here to point out that the disappearance of so many is a serious flaw in this fanciful novel, because the New Testament teaches that only a few people will be saved.

Matthew 7:13 “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. 14 For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

Luke 13:22 Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. 23 Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” He said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able.”

Matthew 22:14 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”

That LaHaye and Jenkins depicted so many who had been caught up in the “rapture” is not just a flaw in the plot of this novel; it is a reflection of the deplorable fact that many who claim to be Christians rarely take the time to learn what the Bible actually teaches. We see this misconception about the number of “saved” people reflected on an almost daily basis. Over the news, we often see people interviewed after the deaths of those who had somehow caught the attention of network news saying something like, “He [she] is with God now,” or “He [she] is in a better place,” or “He [she] is in heaven now,” whereas, if the New Testament is accepted as the “inspired word of God,” the odds are that someone who has died would be more likely to be in hell than in heaven. I can’t remember ever hearing anyone say of a recently deceased person that he [she] is probably weeping and gnashing his [her] teeth in hell. No, such talk is almost invariably about how the dead person is in heaven. That belief in widescale “salvation” was apparently reflected in LaHaye’s and Jenkins’ “left-behind” novels is within itself sufficient to show that they present an unscriptural concept of what will happen when Jesus returns.

As the storyline in the first novel in the “left-behind” series continued, the pilot, who returned home and found his own wife and son missing, called the office of her church and found the pastor there. During a subsequent meeting of the two, the pastor told the pilot that he had never actually been a real Christian and was therefore not surprised at having been left behind. The obvious purpose of this part of the plot was to promote the “rapturist” view that when Jesus returns, he will take the righteous into heaven with him for seven years, so that they will be spared the suffering that will come during seven years of tribulation that a figure known as “the antichrist” will bring upon the unbelievers who were left behind when the righteous were caught up to meet Jesus. The identity of the antichrist will not be revealed until after the seven years of tribulation, at which time “all nations” will attack Israel in a war that will culminate with the battle of Armageddon, during which the armies of heaven will be led by Jesus. Needless to say, everyone who is not a believer will be destroyed in this final battle, and Christ will begin a thousand-year reign on earth. Satan will be bound and cast into a bottomless pit at this time to remain there during this earthly reign of Christ (Rev. 20:1-3). During this thousand years, there will be a “golden age” of Christianity, but some people will be born who are not faithful to Christ, so at the end of the thousand years, Satan will be released from the bottomless pit that he had been thrown into at the beginning of Christ’s reign (Rev. 20:7). At this time, those not loyal to Christ will gather against him again and be defeated. Satan and his cohorts will then be thrown into a lake of fire (Rev. 20:10) where they will be tormented forever. God will then create a new heaven and earth and put those who were “saved” on the new earth to rule there forever.

There are, of course, variations of the “rapture” doctrine, but the summation above represents the most commonly believed aspects of it. The word “rapture” doesn’t actually appear in the New Testament, but this belief is based primarily on a strained interpretation of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

13 Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 14 We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage each other with these words.

An important point for readers to keep in mind as I analyze the rapture doctrine is that this passage clearly teaches that when Jesus returns, he will bring with him those who have died and then call those who are living at the time up into the air to meet him. Another proof text used by the rapturists is 1 Corinthians 15:50-58.

50 What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 55 “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

A serious problem with the “rapture” doctrine is that it teaches that there will be multiple resurrections. Rapturists teach that Jesus will return, at which time, the righteous dead will be resurrected to be caught up into the air to meet him with those who are living at the time. Then after a battle with the forces of evil, Jesus will reign on earth for a thousand years, after which there will be a second resurrection to precede the final judgment, but some very clear New Testament texts teach that both the righteous and unrighteous dead will be resurrected at the same time to face judgment according to what they had done on earth.

John 5:28 Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when ALL who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and will come out–those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.

This passage clearly says that “the hour” is coming when all that are in their tombs will come out. It doesn’t say that the hour is coming when the righteous dead will hear the voice of Jesus and come out, and then a thousand years later, the unrighteous dead will hear his voice and come out. It says that there will be an “hour” when both the righteous and the unrighteous dead will hear his voice and come out. The subsequent statement that those who have done good will attain the resurrection of life and those who have done evil the resurrection of condemnation certainly teaches that both the righteous and the unrighteous will be simultaneously resurrected and then judged. By saying that “the hour” is coming when this will happen supports the view of a simultaneous resurrection of both groups but is hardly compatible with the repturist belief that the righteous will be resurrected and then a thousand years later the unrighteous will be raised.

As we saw above, the rapture doctrine teaches that Jesus will “bring with him” the righteous dead so that they and the righteous living can reign with him for a thousand years, but other New Testament texts teach in rather plain language that the resurrection of the righteous will happen on “the last day,” not a thousand years before the last day.

John 6:37 Everything that the Father gives me [Jesus] will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; 38 for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.” 41 Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day….

I have often pointed out that an inerrant Bible would require every verse in it to be consistent with all other verses, but if the rapture doctrine is true, the Bible is errant in other places, because the passage just quoted contained four references to a resurrection of the righteous, which would happen “on the last day,” but the rapture doctrine says that the resurrection will occur a thousand years before the last day. Hence, if the spins that rapturists put on 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and 1 Corinthians 15:50-58 are correct, the passage quoted above from the book of John is incorrect in repeatedly saying that the righteous will be resurrected “on the last day.” Hence, the rapture doctrine is incompatible with the biblical inerrancy doctrine.

Rapturists will no doubt object that 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 says only that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him and that the “dead in Christ will rise first” but says nothing about a resurrection of the unrighteous at this time; however, those who so interpret this passage fail to keep in mind that Paul’s purpose in saying these things was to give comfort to those who were concerned about friends and relatives who had already died: “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope” (v:13), so he wanted to assure them that when Jesus returned, God would bring with him those who had fallen asleep “in him” (v:14). His intention, then, was to let the Christians worried about the eventual fate of Christian friends and relatives who had died before the return of Jesus know that God had not forgotten them and that they would be given top priority when Jesus returned. Besides this, the passage does leave room to understand that a general resurrection of both the rightous and unrighteous would happen at the return of Jesus, because Paul said in verse 16 that “the dead in Christ would rise first.” This could have simply meant that the dead in Christ would rise first or before the living righteous at that time would be caught up to meet Jesus, but it could have meant that at the general resurrection when Jesus returns, the dead in Christ would rise first and then those who had died in an unrighteous state. Regardless, if this text is to be made consistent with others quoted above that mentioned a general resurrection of the righteous and unrighteous in the same hour–and biblical inerrancy requires such consistency–it must be interpreted to mean that Paul made no direct mention of the resurrection of the unrighteous not because he thought that they wouldn’t be resurrected at this time but because they lay outside the scope of his purpose, which was to comfort Thessalonian Christians who were concerned about Christian relatives and friends who had already died. The failure to mention directly the unrighteous dead, however, would not mean that Paul was claiming that only the righteous dead would be resurrected at that time.

The rapture doctrine is also inconsistent with what the Bible teaches about the “final judgment.” John 5:28-29, quoted above, teaches rather clearly that there will be one general resurrection, at which time both the righteous and the unrighteous will be judged. This same view of the final judgment is taught elsewhere in the New Testament.

2 Thessalonians 1:6 Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; 7 And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, 8 In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: 9 Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; 10 When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day.

Two groups were identified in this passage: those who have been troubled or persecuted, who would be Christians, and the troublers, who would be those who “know not God.” The persecuted Christians will be given “rest” (v:7), and the troublers or persecuters, who have not obeyed “the gospel of [the] Lord Jesus Christ,” will be punished with “everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord” (v:9). This “rest” and “punishment” will happen “in that day” (v:10) when “the Lord Jesus [is] revealed from heaven with his mighty angels,” as he takes vengeance on the disobedient in “flaming fire” (v:8). This text is entirely consistent with the passages quoted above from the gospel of John, which taught a resurrection and judgment of both the righteous and unrighteous in the same “hour,” but it isn’t at all consistent with the rapture doctrine, which teaches that Jesus will return but will not resurrect or judge the unrighteous until a thousand years have passed.

The rapture doctrine also teaches that the earth will endure for a thousand years after the return of Jesus, but this aspect of the doctrine conflicts with 2 Peter 3:9-14, which teaches rather clearly that the earth and everything in it will melt in fervent heat when Jesus returns. After referring to “scoffers” who would ask about the promise of Jesus’s coming, because all things were continuing as they had since the creation (vs:3-4), “Peter” went on to describe the catastrophic ending of the world when Jesus did come back.

2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. 11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. 14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.

Aha, some rapturists will probably say, this text spoke of “a new heaven and a new earth,” so this is consistent with the dispensational view of the rapture, but it really isn’t. The dispensationalist view of the second coming is that Jesus will return, take the righteous dead and the righteous living at the time off to enjoy the rapture for seven years, while the ones left behind experience the “tribulation,” and then after a thousand-year reign of Christ, the earth will finally be destroyed for a new, rejuvenated earth to arise from its ruins, and a final judgment of the wicked will occur. The dispensational view teaches this order of events: (1) Jesus returns (2) the dead in Christ are resurrected to come with Jesus, (3) the living righteous are caught up in the air to meet Jesus, (4) a rapture of seven years happens, (5) Jesus returns to Jerusalem, (6) the armies of the world gather together against righteous forces, which will be led by Jesus, (7) the righteous forces prevail, (8) Satan is bound and cast into a bottomless pit, (9) Jesus reigns on earth for a thousand years, (10) Satan is released from the bottomless pit, (11) another battle with Satan and his forces happens, (12) Satan is defeated and, with his forces, is cast into a lake of fire and brimstone to be tormented forever, (13) the dead, both the great and the small, stand before the throne to be judged, (14) the wicked–whose names were not found in the book of life–are cast into the lake of fire, and (15) a new heaven and a new earth, where righteous dwells, arise.

The scriptures I quoted earlier, however, teach this order of events: (1) Jesus returns on the clouds of heaven with his angels, (2) the earth and everything in it is destroyed, (3) all who had already died are simultaneously resurrected, (4) the living and the dead stand before the throne to be judged according to the deeds they had done while living, and (5) the righteous are saved in heaven, and the wicked are condemned to eternal torment in hell. The following passage, which followed descriptions of the second coming of Jesus in the previous chapter, clearly teaches this view of “final judgment.”

Matthew 25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

This passage is entirely consistent with the texts quoted earlier, where Jesus said that the hour was coming when all who were in their graves would hear the voice of Jesus and come forth, those who had done good to the resurrection of life and those who had done evil to the resurrection of condemnation (John 5:28-29), it is consistent with John 6:37ff, which said four times that Jesus would raise the righteous “on the last day,” and it is consistent with 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10, which says that Jesus will return with his angels, take vengence in flaming fire on those who hadn’t obeyed the gospel, render eternal punishment to them, and be “glorified” by his saints, but it can be made consistent with the rapture doctine only by putting strained, figurative interpretations on the face-value language of texts that referred to the second coming of Jesus.

The problems in the rapture doctrine can be summarized like this:

  • It requires too many “comings” of Jesus. The New Testament teaches one second coming, but rapturism has Jesus coming once to take the righteous away to experience a seven-year “rapture” and then coming a second time to defeat the forces of Satan, reign for a thousand years, and then render a final judgment of the wicked.
  • It teaches that only a part of the people on earth will see the return of Jesus, but Revelation 1:7 says that “every eye will behold him,” including those who pierced him, and all the people on earth will wail over him. This is inconsistent with the rapturists belief that the righteous will be caught up to Jesus when he returns, and the unrighteous will be left behind, not knowing what has happened.
  • It teaches two different resurrections, the resurrection of the righteous at the coming of Jesus and then a resurrection of the unrighteous a thousand years later, rather than a general resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous at the same “hour.”
  • It contradicts Jesus’s clear statement that the resurrection of both the righteous and unrighteous would occur “on the last day,” because the doctrine of the rapture has the righteous dead being resurrected a thousand years before the destruction and rejuvenation of the earth and final judgment of the unrighteous.

Jude 14-15 is very clear in teaching that when Jesus comes, he will do so to execute judgment on the world, both to the righteous and the unrighteous.

14 “It was also about these [troublemakers in the church] that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, “See, the Lord is coming with ten thousands of his holy ones, 15 to execute judgment on all, and to convict everyone of all the deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”

Jude’s depiction of the coming of Jesus is consistent with the descriptions in Matthew 24:30-31 and Matthew 16:27, which depict Jesus coming in the clouds with his angels to “render to every man according to his deeds,” but it isn’t at all consistent with the rapture doctrine that has a thousand-year gap between the coming of Jesus and the judgment. In a word, belief in the rapture is hopelessly inconsistent with the many New Testament prophecies that predicted an imminent coming of Jesus, which would signal an immediate end of the world and a final judgment of both the righteous and the unrighteous.

I trust that readers understand that I believe none of the biblical rantings about a second coming of Jesus, end of the world, and final judgment. I consider all doctrines about a second-coming of Jesus to be silly religious nonsense. Jesus has been coming soon all of my life, and I am 72 years old. From the time in which he allegedly lived, believers in him have said that he would return soon, as passages quoted above clearly show, but as the scoffers ridiculed in 2 Peter 3:4 said, “All things continue as they were from the beginning.” Even before the time of Jesus, there were doomsday prophets who predicted that the world would end soon. A list of hundreds of failed predictions that the world would end soon can be accessed here. These failed predictions date back as far as 2800 BC, to an inscription on an Assyrian clay table, now in the Municipal Museum at Istanbul, which said, “Our earth is degenerate in these latter days. There are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end. Bribery and corruption are common.” Similar doomsday prophecies have been reissued all through history, and they have all failed. Despite the failures, people shackled by superstition still take them seriously. The many predictions that we hear today about the coming “rapture” is taken very seriously. Any time that an important political figure in the Near East sneezes or acts of terrorism happen in that part of the world, gullible believers see them as signs that the end is near. There is even a Rapture Index on the internet that keeps people apprised of the likelihood of the rapture happening immediately. This index is based on 45 different categories, such as false christs, the occult, Satanism, unemployment, inflation, global turmoil, and so on. It now stands at 152, up from its all-time low of 57 on December 12, 1993, but down from its record high of 182 on September 24, 2001. There is also a Rapture-Letters site, which claims to have a computer program that will let people leave letters that will automatically be sent to their “left-behind” friends after the writers have been caught up in the rapture and left their empty cars behind. The site offers this service free–but solicits contributions–and advises those who want to leave letters that this will be an important way to witness to left-behind friends and relatives after the rapture has taken the letter-writers away. As the humorist Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up. You can click the link above and see for yourself that such nonsense as this is being taken seriously.

That so many people do take it seriously causes rational-thinkers to wonder if there is any hope for humanity ever to rise above the superstition that has retarded the progress of civilization.

Problems in the Ending of the Gospel of Mark

Problems in the Ending of the Gospel of Mark
by Farrell Till

A reply to:

The End of Mark

Did the Gospel End at 16:8 — and Would That Be a Problem?
by Robert Turkel aka James Patrick Holding

Re-posted here by permission from Farrell Till.

Thank you Mr. Till!

This article was orginally incorporated into “Bobby Grabs More Straws,” a reply that I wrote to Turkel’s attempt to trash Dan Barker’s Easter Challenge. Since Turkel linked that article to one in which he had tried to prove the authenticity of the Marcan Appendix (Mark 16:9-20), I originally intended to reply to them both in a single article. The result was an article much too long, so I decided to cut the part that replied to “The End of Mark” and post it as this separate article and link “Bobby Grabs More Straws” to it.

In the first paragraph of “The End of Mark,” Turkel introduced a problem in the ending of Mark’s gospel and then proceeded to “solve” it.

Skeptics and critics alike have found grist for their mill in the assertion that Mark presents an inconsistency, and poses a problem, in that his Gospel ends with the women at the tomb thusly: “And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid.” The other Gospels, it is said, have the women going right away and saying something to the apostles, and this is an inconsistency. From here as well some critics will charge that Mark represents an original state in “evolution” of Christianity in which no one knew what happened to Jesus’ body.

After stating the problem, Turkel then launched into a maze of “solutions.” My style is to reply to “apologetic” articles point by point, so I will follow my usual custom of quoting my opponent and then replying to him. The Turkel and Till headers will identify who is saying what.

Turkel:
It is worth noting, first of all, that even scholars of a liberal or moderate bent who say Mark ended at 16:8 (and no portion thereof is lost) do not see this “problem” at all.

Till:
Notice that Turkel did not say how many or what percentage of scholars “of a liberal or moderate bent” do not see any problem in the ending of Mark. His choir members, who sit like hatchlings with their mouths agape to swallow anything poked into them, will read this and think, “Well, this must not be any problem, because even liberal and moderate scholars don’t think it is.” They will not pause to ask themselves how representative Campenhausen and Robbins (quoted below) are of the liberal/moderate view of the controversial ending of Mark’s gospel, because Turkel didn’t bother to tell them that only some liberal/moderate scholars see no problem here. By saying that “even scholars of a liberal or moderate bent” do not see a problem in Mark’s ending, Turkel leaves the impression that this is a general view of liberal/moderate scholars. Hence, it will not occur to his readers that Turkel’s selective quotation of liberal/moderate scholars may not be typical of this class of scholars in general.

I’ll say more about this later, but at this point, I will just advise Turkel’s “hatchlings” to do something unusal for them: take the time to examine Turkel’s claim that liberal/moderate scholars don’t see any problem in Mark’s ending. Those who do that will see that the “some,” like Campenhausen, who don’t see any problem in the ending, are not representative of this general class of scholars. I looked in Lindsey P. Pherigo’s commentary on Mark, published in The Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary on the Bible and found that he devoted an entire page to problems in the ending of this gospel that have bothered biblical scholars. Before Turkel pooh-poohs Pherigo’s opinions into insignificance by saying, “Oh, well, this is just the view of a liberal,” let him remember that his whole point above is that the liberal commentators Campenhausen and Robbins did not see any problem in the abrupt ending of Mark, so he needs to explain why the opinion of a liberal who sees no problem in the way that Mark ended should weigh in more heavily than the opinions of liberals who do see problems in it. I guess it is time to remind Turkel of something he said in an e-mail forum back in October 1998 when I quoted Philo Judaeus to support my view that Exodus 7:20-22 meant that Moses and Aaron had changed all of the water in Egypt into blood.

That’s nice, but Philo is simply reading into the text what is not there. So if I find a Jewish commentator of equal worth that says the opposite, is it a draw? If I find two, do I win? Remember that Philo is trying to promote Moses and Aaron here and would maximize their feat to the greatest extent possible.

I’m sure that Turkel is shocked to see commentators “reading into the text what is not there,” because he, of course, would never do that. Neither would he try to promote Moses or Aaron or David or Noah or Jesus or John or Paul or any other biblical character. This guy is a paragon of objectivity. My reason for quoting Turkel’s comments about Philo, however, was to show his inconsistency. He habitually seeks to settle textual disagreements by quoting someone who agrees with him, but if someone quotes scholars who disagree with him, he dismisses them as inconsequential. I wonder, then, if I quote a scholar of “equal worth” to Campenhausen, will we have a draw on whether the ending of Mark is problematic. If I find two, will I win? Somehow, I suspect that Turkel will find some way to “explain” that what he said about Philo doesn’t apply in this case.

So let’s look at what Campenhausen said.

Turkel:
Campenhausen [Tradition and Life in the Church, 61, 71] supposes that Mark wished to show by the women’s silence that the disciples themselves had nothing to do with the tomb being empty! This would then be an “anti-theft” apologetic in line with Matthew’s account of the guards. He adds: “One can hardly take the text as meaning to the simple reader, and therefore to the author, anything but that the women first kept silent, so that the events which followed took place without any help from them and without any regard to the empty tomb.”

Till:
Turkel didn’t bother to explain how the silence of the women would have been an “anti-theft apologetic in line with Matthew’s account of the guards,” but, of course, Turkel very rarely bothers to explain anything. He finds it much easier just to assert, and since his sycophants let him get away with it, why should he bother to explain? That would take time, and he has hackwork to crank out for his website. Anyway, let’s look at the problems in the opinion of this scholar of “liberal bent,” who thinks that Mark’s original ending meant only that the “women first kept silent” about what they had seen at the tomb. This spin on Mark 16:18 is in obvious conflict with Matthew’s account. Notice the words emphasized below in bold print.

Matthew 28:5 And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. 6 He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. 7 And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you. 8 And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.

The angel told the women to go quickly to tell the disciples that Jesus had risen, and Matthew’s narrative says that they “departed quickly.” If what Campenhausen said is true, the angel told the women to “go quickly” to tell the disciples that Jesus had been resurrected, but they didn’t obey him. Instead, they “first kept silent” and then supposedly told the disciples later. How much later? A day? Two days? A week? What? One could argue, of course, that the women didn’t obey the angel’s command to tell the disciples quickly that Jesus had risen, but if Turkel resorts to this quibble, I suppose he will expect us to believe that the women “departed quickly from the sepulchre” only so that they could then keep silent first.

Before any of Turkel’s hatchlings buy any “explanation” like this, I would ask them to take a good look at the last sentence quoted above: “And they [the women] departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.” If Turkel’s scholar of “liberal bent” is right, does this mean that the women departed quickly from the sepulchre so that they could at first keep silence, but then after they had decided to keep silent no longer, they did run and tell the disciples what they had seen?

Does Turkel ever bother to read them first before he offers to his hatchlings silly “explanations” of problematic biblical texts?

Turkel:
Vernon Robbins, a scholar who gives Acts about the same credence as a roll of toliet [sic] paper, supposes that the anamolous ending is a form of missionary call:

Till:
I’ll interrupt here to make a comment before we look at what Vernon Robbins said about the original ending of Mark. If Vernon Robbins’ opinion of the book of Acts is of no value, because he gave it “about the same credence as a roll of toliet [sic] paper,” how can we be sure that his opinion of Mark is any more worthwhile? Well, let me answer that question. Robbins’ opinion of Acts is worthless because that opinion disagrees with Turkel’s, but Robbins’ opinion of Mark deserves serious consideration, because that opinion agrees with Turkel’s.

See how it works? You’ll catch on if you do enough reading at the Tektonics site.

Turkel [quoting Robbins]:
“Now it is up to you to spread the Good News of the Gospel!”

Till:
Well, actually, I don’t disagree with this spin. However, the only problem is that the text, as it originally ended, said that the women didn’t heed this call “to spread the Good News of the Gospel.” It says instead that “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” In other words, they didn’t execute the missionary call.

A comparison of Matthew’s parallel of this verse will shed light on the probable meaning of Mark 16:8. The differences in how these accounts recorded the way the women left the tomb can be seen when the two are juxtaposed.

Mark 16:8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Matthew 28:8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

The women in Matthew’s account left the tomb quickly with great joy and ran to tell the disciples, but the women in Mark’s account fled from the tomb in terror and amazement. The word translated fled in Mark 16:8 was phleugo, which meant “to seek safety in flight.” Here are some examples of how Mark used it.

Mark 13:14 But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not, (let him that readeth understand,) then let them that be in Judaea flee to the mountains:

Mark 14:45 And as soon as he [Judas] was come, he goeth straightway to him [Jesus], and saith, Master, master; and kissed him. 46 And they laid their hands on him, and took him. 47 And one of them that stood by drew a sword, and smote a servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear. 48 And Jesus answered and said unto them, Are ye come out, as against a thief, with swords and with staves to take me? 49 I was daily with you in the temple teaching, and ye took me not: but the scriptures must be fulfilled. 50 And they all forsook him, and fled.

So this word denoted flight that was taken in fear, and Mark’s original ending said that the women took flight in terror and then told no one what they had seen, for they were afraid. Matthew’s women at the tomb, however, left the tomb quickly “with great joy” and ran to tell the disciples what they had seen. There is no way to see in Matthew’s account a time delay, during which the women “at first” told no one of their experience but then later reconsidered and told the disciples. Hence, there is every reason to believe that scholarly criticisms of the original ending of Mark are very worthy of consideration. Mark’s original ending told of no reports to the disciples or claims of postresurrection appearances, and the likely purpose of this kind of ending could well have been to offer a sensible explanation for why there were no contemporary reports of resurrection sightings. Later, as the resurrection myth gained wider acceptance, believers of the myth saw a need to correct the problem in the ending of Mark’s gospel. Hence, different endings were written (the short ending, the Freer Logion, and the long ending) to correct this deficiency in the original gospel. The longer ending has since gained the most popularity and has come to be known as the Marcan Appendix. It is found in most versions of the Bible, usually with explanatory footnotes, but there is scholarly consensus that this ending was linguistically different from the rest of the gospel and therefore not a part of the original composition.

Turkel:
Finally, in the chauvinistic context of first-century society, having women discover the empty tomb would have been a detriment to the apologetic – indeed, it would have been counterproductive! If this were merely a late rationalization, we would have expected the tomb to be first found empty by Joe of A., or by one of the Apostles, or by a lesser MALE member of the apostolic band, like Cleopas. But this is not what we have: Instead, we have the “worst” possible scenario, one so inherently “smelly” that it could not possibly work as a rationalization – it could ONLY work if it reflected what actually happened, and it has to be assumed that the women did spill the beans at some point.

Till:
Ah, yes, the old it-must-be-true-because-the-witnesses-were-women quibble. Turkel, of course, is simply parroting what he has heard from preachers and writers desperate to grasp some straw that might give their beliefs in fantasy a semblance of respectability, but he really should study the Bible a bit more with a view to seeing that women in biblical times were held in much higher esteem than this quibble assumes. I think immediately of Esther, the Jewess in Persian captivity who rose to become the queen in a time of great crisis. Although the book that tells her story is the only biblical book that makes no direct reference to God, there is a clear implication in the book that God had chosen Esther to save his people during the crisis that threatened their extinction. I am referring, of course, to Mordecai’s impassioned plea for Esther’s help in thwarting a plot to exterminate the Jews, at which time he said to her, “Who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this” (Es. 4:14). As the tale was spun, Esther was eventually permitted by the king to write a decree that empowered the Jews throughout Persia to resist all forces that assaulted them, so she became a second Moses and saved the Jews from the genocide that the wicked Haman had devised against her people. In honor of her achievement, the Jewish holiday of Purim was instituted and is still celebrated by Jews today on the 14th and 15th days of the 12th month of the Jewish calendar. That was quite an accomplishment for a woman who lived in a time when her gender, according to Turkel, was considered so inferior that having women do anything notable would have been a “detriment to the apologetic.”

What about Deborah the prophetess who judged Israel in a time of crisis (Judges 4:4ff) and in Joan-of-Arc fashion led the Israelites to victory over Jabin of Hazor’s Canaanite army? The song of Deborah in tribute to that victory is recorded in Judges 5. The fact that Joshua had already defeated Jabin’s army (Josh. 11:1-12), burned Hazor, utterly destroyed its people, and left nothing alive to breathe, of course, is inconsequential, because pesky little inconsistencies like these didn’t matter in a time when there was a nuance or an idiom or a cultural custom or a “paper shortage” to make inconsistencies not be inconsistencies.

What about Huldah the prophet? She was a contemporary of Jeremiah, but when the book of the law was “discovered” during temple renovations, by a priest named Hilkiah, King Josiah ordered him to “inquire of Yahweh” [as they routinely did in those days], but Hilkiah and his assistants took the book not to Jeremiah but to Huldah, who in a rather long-winded discourse declared the book to be Yahweh’s law and warned of dire consequences that the people would suffer for not having observed the laws in the book (2 Chron. 34:14-34). When Hilkiah and his assistants reported Huldah’s warnings to the king, did he say, “Well, what would a woman know about such things as these?” He did not. He took the warning seriously and instituted the greatest religious reformation that the nation had ever experienced–all because of the advice of a woman!

I would take too much space if I told about Ruth, Phoebe the Deaconess, Anna the prophetess (who prophesied at the dedication of Jesus in the temple), the evangelist Phillip’s four daughters, who were prophets, etc. I suggest that those who think that Turkel has a convincing argument here take the time to study the prominence that women had in both biblical, pseudepigraphic, and pagan mythology. By typing “women in mythology” into the search window at Google, one will receive enough hits to keep him busy reading long enough to see that women in those times were not considered nearly so unreliable as Turkel’s quibble would have us believe.

Cleopas apparently didn’t consider the testimony of women unreliable, because as he was speaking to the not-yet recognized Jesus on the road to Emmaus, he mentioned what the women had reported after going to the tomb, yet he didn’t say, “But this was just women’s talk, so none of us believed it.” To the contrary, he thought that the women’s testimony had been trustworthy enough to check out.

Luke 24:22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.”

Turkel thinks that the Bible is inerrant, so he must believe that all of this happened just as Cleopas reported it, so perhaps Turkel can tell us why men living in a time when women were held in no more esteem than he described above would have bothered to go check out the report of these women. If the Bible is indeed inerrant, then the fact that the men did check out what the women reported would disprove Turkel’s parroted claim that the story muct have happened as recorded in the gospel or else writers trying to fabricate a resurrection myth would never have invented women to be the principal witnesses.

For the sake of argument, let’s just assume that Turkel is right and that women of that time would have been considered untrustworthy corroborating witnesses. How does Turkel know that Matthew and Luke, the first gospel writers who actually made women witnesses to the resurrection, would not have known this and used it to their “apologetic” advantage? Is it not possible that they would have been aware of this prevailing attitude about women (if indeed it was the prevailing attitude) and deliberately made them the first witnesses so that first-century Christians could have argued that the resurrection story must be true because unreliable, untrustworthy women were the ones who witnessed it? In other words, I am asking why early Christians could not have used the same apologetic argument that Turkel is now trying to sell.

The possibility of this motive seems more likely when the gospel accounts of witnesses are compared to the earliest known report of witnesses to the resurrection.

1 Corinthians 15:1 Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, 2 through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you–unless you have come to believe in vain. 3 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

I assume that Turkel knows that this chapter in the first epistle to the Corinthians was devoted entirely to trying to convince doubters in the church at Corinth that the resurrection had actually happened. It is an early example of apologetics, and after stating his premise that Jesus had risen from the dead, the apostle Paul began a process of argumentation to support his claim. His first supporting evidence was the claim that the resurrected Jesus had been seen by people whom he proceeded to name: Cephas, then the other apostles, then 500 unnamed and completely unidentified brothers and sisters, then James, and finally Paul himself. Paul’s method here was obviously an attempt to give the resurrection credence by naming those who had seen Jesus after his death. He was so desperate for witnesses that he even threw in the unnamed 500, but he didn’t mention any women at all. That’s a bit strange, since Paul was here trying to reinforce his claim by bombarding his readers with witnesses. Altogether, he cited more than 500 who had seen the resurrected Jesus, but he said nothing at all about the women, who were the first to see Jesus after he had risen.

This oversight has led many to suspect that at this time in the evolution of the Christ myth, there were no traditions about women witnesses. These came later, after Paul had presented his case to the Corinthian church, and so it could well have been that the inclusion of women witnesses in the gospel narratives was an attempt to do the very thing that Turkel now sees as evidence that the resurrection narratives “reflect what had actually happened.” That is, the women were invented so that early Christians would be able to argue that the story must be true, because unreliable, untrustworthy women were the witnesses, and no sensible writer would have made up such a scenario.

If not, why not? If Turkel is going to posit how-it-could-have-beens, why can’t I do it too, especially since mine is just as sensible as his?

Turkel:
But that’s all within the context-assumption that 16:8 is the original ending — and the evidence is actually strongly against that being the case. Witherington in his commentary on Mark [415-418] provides a summary of the evidence, which we will in turn report here:

Till:
Turkel did indeed give only a “summary.” He made no attempt at all to support Witherington’s “summary of the evidence.” Hence, every one of these constitutes nothing but argumentation by assertion. I will, however, try to point out problems in these assertions. As I do so, I would ask readers to keep in mind that both Witherington and Turkel are believers in the resurrection; therefore, they can be expected to grab any straw in sight that might be usable as evidence that a dead man returned to life. The very nature of the resurrection claim is such that any rational person should view it with suspicion, but when you have “apologists” trying to defend such a claim with unsupported assertions, you have a double reason for doubting it.

Turkel/Witherington:
The Gospel of Mark, like all the Gospels, is in the genre of a laudatory biography. Such a work “is most unlikely to end in this fashion” but rather would end on a positive note.

Till:
Isn’t this just darling? We have two apologists trying to prove that the ending of the account of an unlikely event is unlikely because it was “most unlikely to end [a laudatory biography] in this fashion.” The central event in the biography was itself most unlikely, but the way it ended was “most unlikely,” because it was “most unlikely” to end biographies in this way. If the unlikelihood of the resurrection itself doesn’t give Turkel and Witherington pause to question the central event, then why should we be bothered by an ending to the tale that is “most unlikely”? In other words if Turkel and Witherington don’t think that it is unreasonable to believe in an extremely unlikely event like a resurrection from the dead, why should they think that it is unreasonable to accept an unlikely ending to an ancient document that reported the unlikely event?

Aside from this, I assume that readers noticed that Turkel and his hero (Witherington) gave no evidence at all that this kind of ending in a “laudatory biography” was “most unlikely.” How about some examples of “laudatory biographies” written in that time so that we can compare Mark’s ending to the others? Oh, I forgot, if they had given examples for us to compare Mark to, that would have constituted giving supporting evidence, and “apologists” like Turkel just don’t bother with such trifling details. It’s so much easier to assert and then rush on to another assertion.

Turkel/Witherington:
Mark as a whole “goes to great lengths in the passion narrative to reveal fulfillment of early promises and predictions, especially those of Jesus, and this leads us to expect the same with the prediction of the resurrection appearance.”

Till:
Did anyone see here any attempt to show readers that Mark did indeed “go to great lengths in the passion narrative to reveal fulfillment of early promises and predictions”? I saw nary a one, and that is so typical of Turkel. He will throw out an assertion, make no attempt at all to support it, and then hurry on to his next unsupported assertion. His choir members lap it up, but it just won’t work with critically minded readers.

When I read this, I was left wondering, what early promises and predictions, what prediction of the resurrection appearance? I thought maybe my memory was failing me in my own age, so I took the time to read the “passion-narrative” part of Mark’s gospel to see if I had forgotten something. It turned out that I hadn’t. I saw no effort at all in “Mark’s” gospel to “reveal fulfillment of early promises and predictions.” If Turkel wants to consider the “last supper” as a part of the “passion narrative,” then he will find Jesus’s prediction of betrayal (14:21) and its fulfillment (14:43-44), and he will find Jesus’s prediction that Peter would deny him three times before the cock had crowed twice (14:29-30), followed by its fulfillment (14:66-71), but these two brief examples could hardly be called going to “great lengths to reveal fulfillment of early promises and predictions.” Both examples are brief and are really nothing compared to the lengths to which Matthew and John went to find fulfillment in every piddling event involved in the “passion” of Jesus.

Matthew, for example, gave more details about Judas’s betrayal and even threw in a claim of a nonexistent prophecy that Jeremiah had made (Matt. 27:9-10). Mark, on the other hand, said nothing about the remorse of Judas and his casting of the 30 pieces of silver into the sanctuary. Mark told about the Roman soldiers who cast lots for Jesus’s garments (15:24), but John took this event further and claimed that it had fulfilled an earlier prophecy about Jesus.

John 19:23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. 24 So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.” This was to fulfill what the scripture says, “They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.”

Mark told of the vinegar that was given to Jesus on a sponge (15:36), but John claimed that this had been done to fulfill scripture.

John 19:28 After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

An examination of Mark’s version of the “passion narrative” will show that he indicated only casual interest in “reveal[ing] fulfillment of [the] early promises and predictions” of Jesus, and for the life of me, I can’t find any “appearance predictions” in Mark’s gospel. This is just another example of Turkel’s thinking that he can say just anything and get by with it. Regrettably, it works with his uncritical choir members.

Turkel/Witherington:
Mark, if he had wanted to suggest that the command by the angel to speak was disobeyed, would have introduced their activity with an adversative as he does in other situations of disobedience (1:45, 7:36, 10:14, 10:22, 10:48, 15:23, 15:37).

Till:
For the benefit of those who don’t have backgrounds in linguistics beyond their general-requirment courses in English, I guess I will have to explain what Turkel meant here. Well, I should have said what Witherinton meant, because I doubt that even Turkel understood what Witherington was saying. It sounded impressive, so Turkel borrowed it and passed it along to his choir members.

Witherington was referring to adversative conjunctions, which serve the purpose of showing contrast. But, nevertheless, and in spite of would be examples of adversative conjunctions. What Witherington was saying could best be illustrated by looking at a couple of the examples that he cited without quoting. The adversative conjunctions are emphasized in bold print.

Mark 1:42 Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43 After sternly warning him he [Jesus] sent him away at once, 44 saying to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” 45 But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.

Mark 7:36 Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.

The function of adversative conjunctions should now be obvious. Jesus issued orders in the examples cited to tell no one about the miracles he had performed, but the orders were disregarded and word of his deeds was spread abroad. Witherington’s argument then is that if Mark had intended readers to understand that the women disobeyed the angel’s command to go tell the disciples, he would have written verse eight with an adversative conjunction. Let’s look at the verse as Mark wrote it and as Witherington claimed that Mark would have written it had he meant to communicate that the women had disregarded the angel’s command.

So they [the women] went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; but they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Readers with more than just an average understanding of linguistic constructions should see that Mark 16:18 is structured differently from the examples quoted above. In Turkel’s, er, Witherington’s examples, an order was given, which was then followed with a statement that showed the order was disregarded. Jesus told the leper to tell no one about his cleansing, but the former leper went out and freely proclaimed the healing. Jesus told the people to tell no one about the healing of the deaf man, but the more zealously he told them, the more they proclaimed it. The structure of these examples was command + disregard, but that is not what we find in Mark 16. Between the command and the disregard, there is intervening material that would make the sentence awkwardly structured if the disregard of the command had been introduced with an adversative conjunction.

Mark 16:6 But he [the young man] said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

So the structure here is command [go tell the disciples] + information about where Jesus will meet them + information about the departure of the women [they went out] + information about their frame of mind [terror and amazement had seized them] + [finally] the statement of disregard [they said nothing to anyone]. One has only to substitute but for and at the end of the sentence to see how awkward an adversative conjunction would have been in a sentence structured with so much information intervening between the command and the disregard of the command.

Let’s suppose that in the example of the deaf man, whom Jesus had healed, Mark had included between the command and the statement of disregard. information about the man’s frame of mind and the way that he had departed from Jesus. If so written, it might read something like this.

Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he [Jesus] sent him away at once, saying to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” And he went out with great joy and amazement and began to proclaim freely his healing….”

If so written, the ordinary coordinate conjunction and would have been entirely appropriate, because there would have been less need to signal contrast with an adversative conjunction like but. The main weakness in Turkel’s, er, Witherington’s quibble, however, is the fact that Mark did sometimes connect a command to an act of disregard without using an adversative conjunction.

Mark 1:23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.

Jesus commanded the [snicker, snicker] unclean spirit to be silent, but the spirit didn’t obey the command to be silent. He came out “crying with a loud voice.” In recording this event, Mark, who Turkel says would use “an adversative” to show an act of disobedience, connected the command to the disobedient act with the ordinary conjunction and [kai], so Turkel must not be the expert in Marcan linguistics that he would like for his readers to think he is.

Turkel/Witherington:
Mark’s Gospel as it stands end [sic] with an unusual word, a conjunction, that does not appear as the last word in any work, with the possible exception of a work of Plotinus. It would be a very unusual word to end a work on; it amounts to ending a work in “because” or “for.” There are sentences and paragraphs that end with this word (inlcuding [sic] John 13:13) but to end an entire work thusly is otherwise unverified, except for Plotinus, and that may also have lost an ending!

Till:
Hey, watch me end a “work” with for. To illustrate that this can be done with no akwardness, the readers will have to imagine that I have written a story that told of a successful, much admired person named John Doe, who committed suicide for no apparent reason. After writing all of the details, I decide to end the story with a question that emphasizes the mystery behind Doe’s suicide.

What did he do it for?

If I wanted to, I could even end the story with because: And Doe killed himself because…?

One thing I learned in teaching college writing courses for 30 years is that there is no writing “rule” that cannot be violated at times for very legitimate reasons, but Turkel, er, Witherington has made an assertion about using gar at the end of a work, so let’s look at the merits of the quibble.

Arndt and Gingrich [1957, p. 151] noted in the very first paragraph of their explanation of the word gar [a “conjunction used to express cause, inference, continuation, or to explain”] that it “(n)ever comes first in its clause; usu[ally] second, but also third [Hb 11:32], or even fourth [2 Cor 1:19]….” This sentence structure would, of course, seem odd to us, because we are accustomed to seeing its equivalent in English [for] come first in its clause, although my example above shows that even we are not entirely consistent in the way we use it. Nobody would think anything at all about seeing a sentence that said, “What did he do that for?” Why, then, should Turkel and Witherington think it unusual that Mark would have used gar to end a sentence or even an entire document? If such usages of gar are known in ancient Greek, that would certainly make it impossible to argue with certitude that the original version of Mark couldn’t have ended with 16:8, because that would make gar the last word in the document.

Notice [above] that Arndt and Gingrich said that gar among other meanings was a conjunction that was used “to explain.” If we look at the final clause in Mark 16:8, we see that this is the exact function of the word as it was there used: “ephobounto gar. The clause just before this said that after they had fled from the tomb in terror, the women “said nothing to anyone, ephobounto gar [for they were afraid]. Gar was clearly used here to explain [why the women said nothing to anyone], so what would have been wrong with ending a book in this way? Furthermore, the final clause in Mark 16:18 contained only two words: “ephobounto gar.” Since, as Arndt and Gingrich noted, gar never came first in a clause, how does Turkel think that Mark could have put it anywhere but last in a two-word clause? Does Turk think that Mark should have violated the rules of Greek grammar and put it first?

I have not personally researched the gar ending of Mark 16:18, but I have seen claims in articles on the subject that more than a dozen ancient Greek documents are known to have sentences that end with gar. I don’t think that Turkel would dispute this, because he, er, Witherington noted that John 13:13 ended with gar. This verse, by the way, is parallel to Mark 16:18 in that the final clause in it has only two words. In the quotation of the verse below, the final two-word clause is emphasized in bold print.

You call me teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am [eimi gar].

In the KJV, the word so is italicized, because its equivalent was not in the Greek text. Literally, the final two-word clause said, “For I am.” It is so apparent that a sentence in Greek could end with gar, that even Turkel had to admit it, but he tried to evade this problem by arguing that a book would not end with gar. This quibble, however, has its problems too, because scholars know that the Greek philosopher Plotinus ended his 32nd treatise with gar. Turkel was also aware of this embarrassment to his quibble, so he, in effect, said, “Well, yeah, but that may also have been a lost ending.” He, of course, gave no evidence to support this assertion. He just made it and then passed on, because Turkel can’t allow himself to be bothered with trifles like giving support for his assertions. As long as his sycophants continue to lap up uncritically everything he says, he doesn’t really need to giving supporting details, because his only interest is in holding [no pun intended] on to those who have already swallowed the resurrection myth. He apparently has no interest in persuading those who doubt that the Bible is “the word of God,” or else he would at least try to make his apologetic arguments more logical.

I dislike citing sources, but in this case I am going to make an exception. “Irony in the End: A Textual and Literary Analysis of Mark 16:8” by Kelly R. Iverson of Dallas Theological Seminary discusses very throughly and scholarly, in my opinion, the many problems in the absence of Mark 16:9-20 in many of the early copies of this gospel. He addresses almost all of the quibbles above that Turkel has appropriated from Witherington, but his discussion of the gar quibble is particularly good. He very methodically dismantles it. I highly recommend this paper to readers who want to see just how thin the ice is that Turkel is skating on.

I am going to quote Iverson’s rebuttal of the quibble that a book could not end with the word gar. Readers can then decide if they want to access the paper and read the rest of it.

Option (3), which is the theory presented in this paper, is that Mark intentionally ended his Gospel at v 8. Though this view has gained support, several objections have been raised against it. First, many have suggested that a book can not [sic] end with gar. In 1926 R. R. Ottley published an article in which he cited several examples of sentences ending with gar (Homer Od. Iv 612, Aesch. Agam. 1564, Eurip. Med. 1272, 1276, Eurip. Orestes 251, Eurip. Iph. Aul. 1355, and in the LXX [Gen 14:3; Isa 16:10; 29:11]) the most notable of which came from Genesis 18:15 where Sarah, barren in her old age, laughed at the angelic messenger’s announcement that she would conceive and give birth to a child. When confronted by Abraham, Sarah denied it, ephobethe gar—a similar expression used by Mark in 16:8.

I have stripped this quotation of Iverson’s footnotes, which can be found by accessing the paper, and have altered the transliteration to make it compatible with the system used throughout both my article and Turkel’s. Those with access to the Septuagint may want to check the examples that Iverson cited to see that they all are two-word clauses, just as Mark’s final clause was in Mark 16:8. The clause ephobethe gar in the LXX version of Genesis 18:15 meant “for she was afraid” and is, as Iverson pointed out, similar to ephobounto gar [for they were afraid] in Mark 16:18. In fact, it could be said that they are the same in that the one was third-person plural and the other third-person singular. It appears, then, that the grammatical rule that prevented gar from appearing first in a clause made sentences in which gar came last when it was in a final two-word clause rather commonplace in Greek documents. As I noted above, if Greek grammar would not allow gar at the beginning of a clause, what else could a writer do with a two-word gar clause at the end of a sentence except to put gar last?

Here is what Iverson said about the assertion [appropriated by Turkel] that a book could not end with gar, and so the end of Plotinus’s 32nd treatise may have also been lost.

Despite the emergence of other literary parallels, many scholars continued to insist that a paragraph ending with gar was not the same as a book ending with gar. Then in 1972 P. W. van der Horst published a landmark article. In the 32nd treatise of Plotinus (a philosophical work) it was demonstrated that a book could end with gar. Van der Horst concluded his article by suggesting that “the proof was really not necessary for common sense alone could argue that, if a sentence or paragraph can end with gar, a book can too.”

Five footnotes were stripped from this paragraph, which can all be seen at the end of Iverson’s paper. I will wrap up this point by challenging Turkel to explain to us what was incorrect about Van der Horst’s statement quoted in the final sentence of the paragraph above. If a Greek sentence or paragraph could end with gar, then why couldn’t a book also end with it?

Don’t look for Turkel to answer that question.

Turkel/Witherington:
If there is a point of comparison within Mark, it is Mark 1:44, where a leper is told to be silent to others, but go and tell the appropriate person, the high priest. “This would suggest that the women were to be silent to the general public, but to communicate with the disciples.”

Till:
This is just more quibbling by assertion, and it is also illogical. Why would the women have been expected to be silent “to the general public” and to communicate only to the disciples? Wasn’t the resurrection the “good news” that was to be proclaimed to the whole world? Why would the women have been expected to keep this good news from everyone except the disciples? It seems that Turkel thinks that preaching to the choir was a first-century apologetic method too.

Aside from this, there is also no parallel between Mark 1:44 and 16:8, because the former clearly stipulated that no one was to be told about the cleansing except the priest. In the latter, the angel [young man] did not command the women to tell no one but the disciples what they had seen. He stipulated that they were to go tell the disciples and Peter, but the final clause in the next verse says, “They said nothing to anyone,” a statement that would clearly indicate that they did not do what the angel had told them. Is Turkel going to argue that “anyone” would not have included the disciples? If so, what is his rationale for this claim? Unless he can give one, there is nothing to conclude except that the word “anyone” would have necessarily included the disciples. Hence, if the women said nothing to anyone, then they said nothing to the disciples either.

If not, why not?

Turkel/Witherington:
From 15:40 to 16:8, Mark “has carefully built the case for the women to be valid witnesses” to the Easter message. Especially in light of the problem of women’s testimony noted above, it hardly makes sense that Mark would build his case, then undermine it or render it moot be [sic] giving the women a case of permanent closed mouth.

Till:
The reason for the “case of permanent closed mouth” was clearly stated in the original ending of Mark. The women said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. They fled from the tomb having been seized with terror, and they were afraid, so why would their silence have made no sense?

A perfectly sensible explanation for Mark’s ending was also suggested above. He could have easily intended this ending as an explanation for why there had been no tales of a resurrected Jesus. None had existed, because the women who had seen him after his resurrection were so terrified that they had kept silent about what they had seen.

Turkel/Witherington:
A consideration is that 1 Cor. 15 shows that resurrection appearances were part of the earliest Christian tradition. Especially for those who date Mark later than 1 Corinthians (70 vs. 50-55), this raises the problem of how Mark could have left out any record of appearances.

Till:
I covered this quibble above in my comments on 1 Corinthians 15, but so that readers won’t have to scroll up to find it, I will quote my earlier reply to it.

For the sake of argument, let’s just assume that Turkel is right and that women of that time would have been considered untrustworthy corroborating witnesses. How does Turkel know that Matthew and Luke, the first gospel writers who actually made women witnesses to the resurrection, would not have known this and used it to their “apologetic” advantage? Is it not possible that they would have been aware of this prevailing attitude about women (if indeed it was the prevailing attitude) and deliberately made them the first witnesses so that first-century Christians could have argued that the resurrection story must be true because unreliable, untrustworthy women were the ones who witnessed it? In other words, I am asking why early Christians could not have used the same apologetic argument that Turkel is now trying to sell.

The possibility of this motive in having women witnesses seems more likely when the gospel accounts of witnesses are compared to the earliest known report of witnesses to the resurrection.

1 Corinthians 15:1 Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, 2 through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you–unless you have come to believe in vain. 3 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

I assume that Turkel knows that this chapter in the first epistle to the Corinthians was devoted entirely to trying to convince doubters in the church at Corinth that the resurrection had actually happened. It is an early example of apologetics, and after stating his premise that Jesus had risen from the dead, the apostle Paul began a process of argumentation to support his claim. His first supporting evidence was the claim that the resurrected Jesus had been seen by people whom he proceeded to name: Cephas, then the other apostles, then 500 unnamed and completely unidentified brothers and sisters, then James, and finally Paul himself. Paul’s method here was obviously an attempt to give the resurrection credence by naming those who had seen Jesus after his death. He was so desperate for witnesses that he even threw in the unnamed 500, but he didn’t mention any women at all. That’s a bit strange, since Paul was here trying to reinforce his claim by bombarding his readers with witnesses. Altogether, he cited more than 500 who had seen the resurrected Jesus, but he said nothing at all about the women, who were the first to see Jesus after he had risen.

This oversight has led many to suspect that at this time in the evolution of the Christ myth, there were no traditions about women witnesses. These came later, after Paul had presented his case to the Corinthian church, and so it could well have been that the inclusion of women witnesses in the gospel narratives was an attempt to do the very thing that Turkel now sees as evidence that the resurrection narratives “reflect what had actually happened.” That is, the women were invented so that early Christians would be able to argue that the story must be true, because unreliable, untrustworthy women were the witnesses, and no sensible writer would have made up such a scenario.

If not, why not? If Turkel is going to posit how-it-could-have-beens, why can’t I do it too, especially since mine is just as sensible as his?

So rather than 1 Corinthians 15 being proof of Turkel’s position, it is actually support for the view that Mark ended his gospel at verse 8 in order to provide a satisfactory explanation for the absence of any testimonies to resurrection appearances at the time when Jesus allegedly rose from the dead.

Turkel/Witherington:
Finally, there is this consideration: The parallel construction of the Greek, and the imperfect verb tenses, imply that “for the circumscribed period of time the women were in terror and feld [sic] from the tomb, they said nothing to anyone.” They would speak once the fear (perhaps in the form of religious awe — cf. Luke 1:29-30) had subsided.

Till:
Here is an abstraction that says exactly nothing specific. How does the “parallel construction” of the Greek “imply” that the women didn’t speak for just “a circumscribed period of time”? We don’t know, because Turkel didn’t say. I seriously doubt that Turkel knows anything at all about parallel construction in Greek. I doubt that he even knows much of anything about parallel construction in English. On the other hand, I think I do understand the concept of parallel construction in English, and I can’t think of how parallel construction in English could imply anything at all about silence of just “a circumscribed period of time.” Parallel structure in English usually serves the purpose of emphasizing points, but maybe Greek was different. Maybe it served the purpose of showing silence for “a circumscribed period of time.” Perhaps Turkel will be able to explain it to us.

How would imperfect verb tenses imply that the women were silent for just “a circumscribed period of time”? We don’t know that either, because Turkel didn’t explain it. Turkel, you see, rarely explains much of anything. He thinks that he can just cut and paste from books and authors who agree with him, and that should be sufficient to make his case. Turkel, in a word, is only a would-be apologist who doesn’t know the first thing about how to develop arguments with supporting material.

Turkel:
Bottom line: All arguments which focus on 16:8 as the intended ending of Mark’s Gospel have a great deal to reckon with before they can peddle any related theories of conspiracy or inconsistency.

Till:
The line under the bottom line: all arguments that attempt to deny 16:8 was the original end of the gospel of Mark have a great, great deal to reckon with before they can peddle any related theories about “lost endings.” As I said above, Turkel can bang his head against the arguments in Kelly R. Iverson’s paper linked to above and then call an ambulance, because the evidence that Mark 16:9-20 was not a part of the original is overwhelming.

Two final points on this issue seem in order: (1) It is unlikely that the end of the gospel of Mark would have been lost if this gospel were written on a scroll, because after the reading of a scroll, the document was rolled up beginning at the end and rolling toward the beginning so that when one unrolled the scroll, the beginning of the document would appear first. Therefore, the end of the scroll was on the inside and therefore much better protected than any other part of the document. (2) If the gospel of Mark were written in codex form, the last leaf could, of course, have been lost, but the Codex Sinaiticus gives reason to believe that this was not the case. James Bentley, In Secrets of Mt. Sinai, noted reasons why this manuscript of the New Testament indicated that the gospel of Mark ended at 16:8.

The scribe who brought Mark’s Gospel to an end in Codex Sinaiticus had no doubt that it finished at chapter 16, verse 8. He underlined the text with a fine artistic squiggle, and wrote, “The Gospel according to Mark.” Immediately following begins the Gospel of Luke (p. 139).

Biblical inerrantists continue to try to legitimize the long ending of Mark, but the evidence above shows that their case is too weak for critically minded people to accept. It is more rational to believe that this gospel, as it was originally written, ended at 16:8.

Turkel asked in the subtitle of his article if it would be a “problem” if the gospel of Mark had originally ended at 16:8. I always like easy questions, so I will finish my reply to Turkel’s article with an easy answer to an easy question. Yes, it would matter, because (1) no one trying to sell the claim that a man had risen from the dead would have omitted references to resurrection appearances unless he had had an ulterior motive such as a desire to offer an explanation for why there had been no reported sightings of the formerly deceased at the time when the resurrection had allegedly occurred, and (2) if the gospel of Mark had originally ended at 16:8, then it was afterwards tampered with to add another ending. If this happened, then reasonable people would have to wonder how much tampering was done with other biblical books after they were written. In a word, the credibility of the Bible would be seriously undermined if it could be established that the author of Mark had originally ended this book at 16:8.