Click here to get started today!
For critical discussion leading to the conclusion that this whole chapter is a valid part of the Gospel of Mark and of the Word of God, see the introduction to this commentary. The Christian student has no need whatever to be concerned with allegations to the contrary, none of which are founded on anything except subjective conclusions of scholars, many of whom are obviously influenced more by bias against the content of the chapter than by any objective evidence favoring its exclusion.
Even J. R. Dummelow, while admitting that the external evidence against the last twelve verses "is certainly not enough to justify their rejection," nevertheless decided to reject them on grounds of form, vocabulary and style. However, of all the evidences bearing on questions of this kind, nothing could be of less weight than arguments from style and vocabulary. Mark is said to have used words in this chapter which he used nowhere else in the gospel; but that is incapable of proving that the words were not in his vocabulary. The conceit that Mark used every word that he knew in the first fifteen chapters is untenable! Furthermore, the sudden change to singular pronouns in Mark 16:15-16 was a part of the essential design to make clear who would be empowered to do the "signs" of Mark 16:17-20; and the alleged awkwardness of the re-introduction of Mary Magdalene in Mark 16:9 disappears completely when Mark's purpose of mentioning the sevenfold exorcism is discerned. That purpose was not to identify Mary Magdalene, already mentioned twice, but to explain the "hardness of heart" on the part of the eleven (Mark 16:14). It is such a failure to read what the gospel is saying that results in misjudgments based upon style.
And very early on the first day of the week, they come to the tomb when the sun was risen.
Mary Magdalene had already made one visit to the tomb quite a bit earlier "while it was yet dark" (John 20:1); and, being aware that the tomb was empty, she had told Peter and John. Nevertheless, after sunrise she returned to the tomb with the group who had brought spices. There are some elements of the sacred narratives of these events that cannot be fully catalogued as to time and personnel due to the brevity of the accounts regarding what must have been a day of exceedingly many episodes and involving at least hundreds of people. As Cranfield said:
It would be suspicious, if just here everything agreed exactly. The discrepancies (this student likes the word VARIATIONS instead of DISCREPANCIES - J.B.C.) are at least evidence that we have not to do here with a piece of carefully concerted deceit.
And they were saying among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the tomb?
Mary Magdalene already knew that the stone was rolled away; but as this verse relates what some of them were saying among themselves, there was no cause for her to speak, the same fearful reticence being already upon her which came upon them all a little later (Mark 16:8).
Who shall roll us away the stone ...? Who indeed solves every human problem too great for men to solve themselves? It was God who sent an angel and removed the stone, and it was God who sent the Christ to pay the price of human salvation and restore the broken fellowship between man and his Creator.
And looking up, they see that the stone is rolled back: for it was exceeding great.
Many an insurmountable obstacle has yielded before God's children engaged on missions in harmony with his will. Their fears and apprehensions regarding the great stone were perfectly well founded from the human viewpoint; but when they arrived at the place where frustration had been anticipated, the obstacle had been removed. That the event here recorded was an actual historical happening is surely true; but it is no more wonderful than similar things which have been happening ever since in the spiritual sector.
And entering into the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, arrayed in a white robe; and they were amazed.
The young man ... Mark surely intended that we should understand that this was an angel of heaven. Some people refuse to believe in the existence of angels, having been poisoned by the leaven of the Sadducees; and, like the Sadducees, they "do greatly err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God" (Matthew 22:29). Again, from the words of Cranfield:
Here a protest must be made against the widespread tendency to dismiss angels as mere pious fancy ... The purpose of angels at the tomb was to link the actual event of the resurrection and the women. Human eyes were not permitted to see the event of the resurrection itself... The angels as the constant witnesses of God's actions saw it ... By their testimony the resurrection ... was made known to men.
And he saith unto them, Be not amazed: ye seek Jesus, the Nazarene, who hath been crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold, the place where they laid him.
The Nazarene ... How unlike any human designation was this! When the Lord Jesus addressed Saul of Tarsus from glory, he said, "I am Jesus of Nazareth whom thou persecutest" (Acts 22:8). Just why the angels of God and Christ himself should have brought the name of that wretched Galilean village into such identifications cannot be fully known; but one thing was certainly in it, namely, a rejection of human value-judgments.
He is risen: he is not here ... Was this really true? The great heart of humanity has invariably received it as gospel truth, the wisest and best of all ages since then having concurred in the conviction that our Lord did in fact rise from the dead. There could have been no Christianity if he did not. The great historical witnesses of: (1) the calendar, (2) the Lord's Day, (3) the Lord's Supper, (4) Christian baptism, and (5) the progression of Christianity throughout history are perpetual and undying monuments to the fact of Jesus' resurrection. Not one of them has any explanation at all apart from the truth that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead.
Behold, the place where they laid him ... The angel here called attention to the undisturbed grave-clothes of Jesus. the evidence thus lying before them being sufficient to convince them of the resurrection. John elaborated this detail (John 20:1-10), indicating that it was the evidence which convinced him of the resurrection. The grave-clothes, having been applied by the winding of the whole body of Jesus in small medical-like bandages cut from the linen cloth, were intact, as if the body of the Lord was still encased therein, even the napkin being in a roll as if Jesus' head was still in it. Christ had risen through the grave-clothes in exactly the same manner that he had risen through the tomb. The angels had rolled away the stone not to let Jesus out, but to let the witnesses in! This is developed extensively in the parallel place in John (see my Commentary on John), and also in my Commentary on Mark, Mark 27:52.
REGARDING THE EMPTY TOMB
Satan has vexed himself endlessly regarding the phenomenon of the empty tomb. His emissaries have alleged that someone stole the body, or that the women mistakenly went to the wrong grave, or that Jesus walked out after a long swoon, etc., etc., endlessly; but all of the devices of the devil fail in the light of the facts: (1) that if the enemies of Christ had stolen the body, they would have used it to destroy the infant faith, and (2) that if the disciples had stolen it, it would have resulted in Christianity's having been founded upon a fraud, an assumption so monstrous that only a fool could believe it. There was nothing in heaven or upon earth that could have sent the last one of those apostles of Jesus up and down the Roman empire preaching Christ crucified and risen again, except the unqualified certainty that they were preaching the truth. Most of them, if not all, sealed their testimony with their blood; and the Spirit-filled church swept over the ancient empire like the breath of God himself. The empty tomb proved the resurrection of Christ, independently even of the remarkable epiphanies which followed.
But go, tell his disciples and Peter, He goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you.
Tell his disciples and Peter ... Peter's denial had left him in an estranged position with regard to Jesus, and such a message as this would have greatly encouraged him. No doubt he needed such encouragement. If the Lord had intended by this special mention of Peter to indicate any preeminence among the apostles, his name would have come first.
Into Galilee ... This anticipates the Galilean appearance to the disciples, as recorded in Matthew 28:16-20, in which the great commission was given, disproving absolutely the theory that the last twelve verses do not belong to this gospel. Mark 16:7 points squarely at Mark 16:15-16, where the world-wide commission to teach and baptize all nations was recorded in perfect harmony with the report in Matthew.
And they went out, and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them: and they said nothing to any one; for they were afraid.
Trembling and astonishment had come upon them ... These graphic words indicate dramatically the soul-shocking nature of the truth those women had just learned. The mystery and heart-stopping meaning of what they had come to know was as devastating a body of information as mortals ever received; and the implications of it are enough to challenge and awe any man who ever contemplated it. Christ is eternal; he came out of the grave; he ever lives to save and redeem men, and to judge them! The powers of hell itself trembled at the significance of what those women became suddenly aware of; and there can be no marvel that they were afraid.
Of extreme importance is the fact that women played such a large part in the drama unfolded that day, a fact so utterly out of harmony with anything in Judaism, or the whole ancient world, that it stands as independent and conclusive proof of the new dimensions in which the faith of Jesus Christ came to mankind, being a thing, as Cranfield noted, "which the early church would not be likely to invent."
And they said nothing to any one ... This fearful reticence was a testimony to the greatness of the revelation that had come to them. The silence on their part was not for long. As Sanner said, "It was a different matter, later, when understanding brought a surge of joy (Matthew 28:8; Luke 24:9)."
For they were sore afraid ... Such fear was natural, arising not merely from conversation with an angel of the Highest, but also from the shattering impact of the information imparted to them.
 C. E. B. Cranfield, op. cit., p. 463.
 A. Elwood Sanner, Beacon Bible Commentary (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1964), P. 413.
Now when he was risen early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons.
Mary Magdalene ... The radical critics love to assert concerning this verse that "Mark here introduced Mary Magdalene, just as if she had not been mentioned twice already in a few verses," concluding from this that Mark could not have written these words. This is not even reasonable. True, Mark had mentioned her twice already; but here, in his account of Jesus' post-resurrection appearances, he was compelled to speak of her a third time; and the incredible thing from the human standpoint, that this woman should have enjoyed the top priority in such a list is pinpointed and emphasized by this reference to the fact of the sevenfold exorcism. Thus, Mark mentioned this, not for purposes of identification, but for the wonderment of it in connection with her being the first to see Jesus after his resurrection.
She went and told them that had been with him and they mourned and wept.
From John, it is clear that this woman was also entrusted, first of all, with the message that Jesus would ascend to the Father in heaven, and if that was also part of the message she told them here, there is no wonder that they disbelieved.
And they, when they heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, disbelieved.
Disbelieved ... Does this not refer back to the sevenfold exorcism in Mark 16:9? It was not so much an inherent unbelief in the resurrection of Christ that is meant here, although that was in it, but the further incredibility of the fact that such a person as Mary Magdalene was the first to whom the Son of God appeared.
And after these things he was manifested in another form unto two of them, as they walked, on their way into the country.
Unto two of them ... This is usually understood to be the same appearance as that recorded in Luke 24:13, the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.
In another form ... has reference to the fact that Christ withheld his identity from them, so they at first did not recognize him.
And they went away and told it to the rest: neither believed they them.
Luke recounted in detail how these two returned to Jerusalem and reported to the eleven as they were gathered together; and, although Luke did not mention the fact of the eleven's unbelief of their report, he did relate how Christ suddenly appeared in the midst of them for the express purpose of causing them to believe. Thus, the sacred records sustain and corroborate each other (Luke 24:33-35).
Neither believed they them ... From the Lucan account, it is clear that the "eleven" were the ones who did not at first believe. In the verses following this, one of the most fantastic exhibitions of the use of pronouns to be found anywhere in all literature is in evidence; and the pronouns are the key to the next passage.
And afterward he was manifested unto the eleven themselves as they sat at meat; and he upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them that had seen him after he was risen.
This verse establishes, by its repetition of it, the fact that the eleven apostles were the persons meant by the pronoun "them," not only here but completely to the end of this Gospel, there being utterly no grammatical device known to man by which any other antecedent for this pronoun appears anywhere in the whole passage. The last "them" in this verse, of course, is the lone exception and has reference to the "them" in Mark 16:12-13.
Upbraided them with their unbelief ... The eleven apostles were unbelievers regarding the fact of the resurrection, at first; and their reluctance to believe the two who came back from Emmaus and Mary Magdalene may have stemmed partially from human pride. After all, they had frequently engaged in discussions of who would be greatest in the kingdom of God; and, on the very first day of the resurrection, the Lord had appeared to once-notorious Mary and to two nameless disciples not even belonging to the sacred company of the apostles. No wonder they could not believe it. It was not that they did not believe that Jesus was alive, Peter and John having already seen the convincing evidence in the tomb early that morning. It was simply that they could not believe that Jesus had appeared to THOSE people! All this is implied in the next clause.
And hardness of heart because they believed not them that had seen him ... Ah, there it was! Mark had similarly recorded another instance of the Twelve's hardening of their hearts in Mark 6:52. On that occasion also, the Twelve were not in full harmony with the will of God, just as in the case of the eleven here.
And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and reach the gospel to the whole creation. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned.
Notice the dramatic shift to singular pronouns in these verses; although addressed to THEM and YE, that is the eleven, there is not a plural word afterward in these verses, this no doubt being designed by the Holy Spirit in order to thwart any application of Mark 16:17-20 to any persons whomsoever except the eleven. Matthew's account of the great commission is loaded with plurals, but there is not one in Mark's account.
Go ye into all the world ... Christ's assignment to the apostles was that of the universal proclamation of the saving gospel. There is not even one obscure village on earth which Christ intended to be left out.
Preach the gospel to the whole creation ... The use of the word CREATION here is significant, this being the same word Paul used in Roman 8:19-21, where it is sometimes rendered "creature." The meaning does not include lower orders of life, but only humankind. Many speculative theories are built on a misunderstanding with regard to this. The KJV has "every creature" in this place; but the meaning is "every person on earth."
He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved ... In linking faith and baptism as binding preconditions to salvation, Christ made it clear enough that salvation is the result, not of merely believing but of believing and being baptized. The reasons underlying this are as profound as the New Testament itself. Salvation depends upon the absolute and perfect righteousness of the individual saved, there being nothing that a sinner can either believe or do that could endow him with any degree of righteousness approaching what is required for salvation. The Medieval theory of God's imputing righteousness to a sinner is ridiculous. There is nothing that God could put into a sinner that would make him righteous. And if it is suggested that God's Spirit could do so, let it be recalled that God's Spirit is not given to sinners, but to sons (that is, persons in Christ), as stated in Galatians 4:6.
However, there is a way that God makes people righteous. What is that? He transfers the sinner into Christ WHO IS RIGHTEOUS; and thus the sinner is saved in Christ and as Christ. (See Galatians 2:16,20). Thus, God's plan of salvation is not that of imputing righteousness into sinners, but the transference of sinners INTO Christ. The preconditions upon which Christ promised to transfer sinners into himself are here stated as faith and baptism. For extended discussions of the theological questions involved in such considerations, see my Commentary on Romans, Romans 3. Since Christian baptism is the initiatory rite by which the sons of Adam are inducted into Christ, it was absolutely correct for the Lord to have linked it with faith in this passage as a prerequisite of salvation. There is no way that people can remove this teaching from the doctrine of Christ; but that they are able to get it out of THEIR doctrine is evident everywhere. What this passage does to the theory of salvation by "faith only" is the inherent reason for the "reservations" that some have as regards the authenticity of this passage.
He that believeth not shall be condemned ... Ah, but this does not say, "He that believeth NOT and is NOT baptized shall be condemned." True enough, but that is exactly what it means. The quibble raised by such a question is unworthy of intelligence and faith alike, it being implicit in the nature of baptism that, unless one believed, he COULD NOT be baptized.
The close resemblance between the words of the Great Commission, as stated here and as recorded in Matthew, makes it clear that Mark is here relating events of the great Galilean appearance referred to in Mark 16:7, the same being further strong evidence of the unity of the entire chapter.
And these signs shall accompany them that believe: in my name shall they cast out demons; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall in no wise hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.
SIGNS WHICH WERE PROMISED TO THE BELIEVING APOSTLES
In this passage lies the probable explanation of why the unknown scribe of the Vatican manuscript omitted to write these words, yet left a space for them. Having read it, and knowing it to be untrue in the sense in which he read it, he skipped these verses, intending to put them in as soon as he could be sure they belonged. This is speculative, of course, but it is only one-hundredth as speculative as the wild reasons alleged by radical critics. What that ancient scribe thought he read in this place was exactly what some moderns are reading into the passage, understanding it as a promise that ALL BELIEVERS in Jesus Christ shall be empowered to cast out demons, take up serpents, drink deadly poison without harm, and recover the sick by the laying on of their hands. There was one significant difference: that ancient scribe knew that such a reading of the passage is a lie, that it was not true then, nor was it ever true that all Christians can do such things. What a pity it is that some present-day readers of this place are not so perceptive. What, then, does this passage say?
These signs shall accompany ... The word "accompany" here is significant, meaning to "go along with one on a journey," the journey in view here being the travels of the apostles in the carrying out of the great commission just spoken. There was nothing in the use of this word to be construed as an endowment of permanent settlers not going anywhere, and provided merely for their benefit and comfort.
Them that believe ... The antecedent of "them" is "the eleven themselves" (Mark 16:14); and the only way this can be avoided is to change the singular pronouns in Mark 16:15-16 into plural pronouns contrary to the Greek text. There is nothing difficult in this interpretation, since it is simply basic English.
They shall cast out demons, etc. ... The antecedent of "they" is likewise "the eleven apostles themselves," determined by the primary allusion to "them" in the same clause. There is no grammatical device by which this word may be understood as reference to any persons whomsoever except the eleven apostles.
From these observations it is clear that the utmost importance must be attached to the preservation of the singular pronouns in Mark 16:15-16; because, once these are changed, whether by alteration of the text or by a subjective projection into the passage of "them that shall be saved" through the preaching of the commission, the denotation of Mark 16:17-18 is thereby perverted and contradicted.
Note the following example of such a perversion:
Those who believe it and receive baptism will find salvation; those who not believe will be condemned. Faith will bring with it these miracles: believers will cast out devils ... speak in strange tongues, etc. - New English Bible (1961).
Take another example:
Those who believe and are baptized will be saved, and those who refuse to believe will be condemned, etc. - Living Word Bible (a paraphrase).
The tragedy of such corrupt renditions of the sacred text is that they so pervert the Word of God as to make it teach a lie. In either of the two examples here cited (and there are many others), the Gospel of Mark is made to say categorically that every believing Christian shall be able to do the signs mentioned in this passage. The proof that such a thing is untrue lies in the obvious fact that the truest Christians in our whole generation cannot do these things. The news media, this very week (at the time of this writing), are carrying another story of a preacher in Tennessee who was killed by a large rattlesnake while attempting to demonstrate his ability to do these signs. But why not? Any one of a dozen so-called translations of the New Testament assured him that he could do so; but they "lied unto him" (1 Kings 13:18). Any translation of the New Testament that substitutes PLURAL for singular pronouns in Mark 16:15-16 is false. There is no Greek scholar who ever lived who could justify such a rape of the sacred text!
Churches that pass out these "translations" to their young people, or read them from their pulpits, should not be surprised at all to see their youth swept away in some charismatic movement, relying on the perverted text here as their "authority" from God. May God open the eyes of the elders of his churches!
The Book of Acts affords many examples of how most of the signs mentioned here were indeed "accompanying" gifts of the apostles. Peter even raised the dead; Paul shook off a poisonous viper into the fire; and the eleven spoke with new tongues on Pentecost. There is no Scriptural report of their being unharmed by poison; but the Saviour's word in this passage is sufficient for assuming that this sign was also fulfilled in the apostles.
So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God.
In the year 177 A.D., Irenaeus quoted this verse and another from the beginning of this gospel, thus proving that this passage was received as a part of God's word at that early date, long before the Sinaiticus or Vaticanus manuscripts were written, and indicating the rightful place of this portion of Mark in the sacred canon, independently of these manuscripts. See the introduction.
Here Mark did not state exactly where the ascension occurred; and the alleged contradictions regarding this event as having occurred in Galilee, or in Bethany, are of no weight at all. There is every likelihood, if not certainty, that the actual ascension to God was unseen by human eyes, just as the resurrection was not actually seen; and there could have been more than one (there certainly were) instance of Jesus' "going up" in the presence of his disciples, just as he disappeared in the interview with the disciples at Emmaus, or later with the eleven.
At the right hand of God ... Our flesh, in the person of Jesus, is upon the throne of God, henceforth called the "throne of God and of the Lamb," and herein is the basis for the uttermost of human hopes and aspirations.
And they went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word by the signs which followed. Amen.
Confirming the word ... In this appears the reason for the "signs" Jesus promised to "accompany" the apostles on their worldwide mission; they were given for the purpose of confirming the Word of God. Just what, it may he inquired, could be the purpose of any such signs in our own generation? Does the Word of God need confirming? And how is it that the religious sects claiming to work such signs are as contradictory as a barrel of scorpions? Can anyone really believe that God is "working with them," confirming every sort of religious error ever known? Believe it who can!
Amen ... Thus concludes the magnificent Gospel of Mark and its authentic witness of the power and Godhead of Jesus Christ the Son of God. May the Father help all who read it to receive and obey its glorious message unto eternal life.
Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Mark 16". "Coffman Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25