Ephobounto Gar

No, the title of this post is not a typo. I didn’t mash my head against the keyboard. Instead, these two words are part of a puzzle that surrounds the Easter story as it’s found in Mark.

Actually, those two words represent the way you can tell if you have a good Bible or not. It’s a simple enough test: turn to the end of the gospel of Mark and see how the book ends. If you have a good Bible, there will be footnotes to talk about how strange the ending of Mark’s gospel really is.

Here’s what I mean: when Biblical scholars look at the oldest copies we have of Mark, the Easter story seems a bit…well, short:

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he 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. 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.” 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.

That’s it. The end. There’s no appearance by Jesus to anyone. There’s no Great Commission, no Ascension, just a group of women encountering an angel with a strange message that they keep to themselves because they’re scared out of their minds. As a matter of fact, the title for this post are the final two Greek words in Mark’s gospel, ephobounto gar, which means, “for they were afraid.”

It doesn’t seem like a good way to end the Easter story, does it? The women are terrified into silence over the strange thing they saw at the tomb? That doesn’t make for a good religious observance. Ephobounto gar doesn’t exactly inspire people. That’s why there are two additional endings for Mark. There’s the short ending:

And all that had been commanded them they told briefly to those around Peter. And afterward Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.

And then there’s the long ending:

Now after he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went out and told those who had been with him, while they were mourning and weeping. But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it. After this he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them. Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it.

It’s possible that Mark wrote one or both of these endings, but I personally think that Mark ended his gospel with ephobounto gar. Later on, someone else (or multiple someones) went back in and tried to tack on an ending. I think that’s especially true with the long ending; it seems like someone sat down with Matthew and Luke’s gospels and basically did a quick summary of what they said happened.

Now it may seem odd that I’d be okay with the non-ending of Mark. It seems like a very strange way to end a gospel (a word which means “good news”). The women being so afraid they’re effectively mute seems wrong somehow.

And yet, this is good news.

fear decision, businessman with very afraid, man in white shirtFear is a part of life. We’ve all experienced it in one degree or another. Small scares, looming dread, crippling fear. It’s camped out in our lives and, at times, paralyzed us emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, maybe even physically. Far too often, we let our fear get the last word in our lives.

And it may seem like fear got the last word in Mark’s gospel, but it really didn’t. Because the angel’s message is the last word. It doesn’t matter that the women are so very frightened, because Jesus is risen! They may not have seen Him standing in the garden, waiting for them, but that’s okay because He really was alive! That fear that they felt was not going to be their permanent status quo. Instead, that fear would give way joy and faith. Christ’s perfect love would drive out the fear and replace it with Him.

And that’s true for us. Ephobounto gar can be a reminder to us Christians that, because of the empty tomb, fear is only temporary. It’s a fleeting experience that we don’t have to live in. Because what the women at the tomb heard two thousand years ago is just as true today as it was then. He is risen, He is not in the tomb any longer. Death has been broken. Sin has been forgiven. And none of our stories need end with fear any longer.

The gospel of Mark ends strangely, but it is still good news for us! Click To Tweet

One Comment:

  1. If you ever have the inclination to discuss the inspirations of the Scriptures, I would listen to your point of view attentively. I find it refreshing to find a conservative minister who doesn’t even hesitate to point out the textual layers isolating our Bibles from the lost original manuscripts. I think the important thing is that Jesus really is the divine Son of God, that He really lived and died for our sins and was really resurrected in real history. I’m okay with the texts being messy and revised, because it’s not technically the Jesus presented in the words of the text that saves us — it’s the real Jesus who really, physically walked the Earth, and the texts are testimony to Him.

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