How Mark’s Gospel Originally Ended

How Mark’s Gospel Originally Ended November 2, 2007

I have posted before (twice, in fact) on the question of how Mark’s Gospel originally ended, but without really discussing in depth what I think or why I think it. I am persuaded that the original Gospel of Mark did not end abruptly in 16:8 (as our earliest evidence would suggest). The ending is awkward, and no amount of postmodern literary criticism will make it seem better. It promises that the disciples will see Jesus but the women at the tomb must tell them where to go. Unfortunately, they say nothing to anyone, because they are afraid. Satisfactory ending? Not at all. It might just work as an ending to the Jefferson Gospel, perhaps, but unless one argues that the Gospel of Mark was written by an early Christian author who thought that no one saw Jesus after the crucifixion, then the best explanation is that the original ending has been lost. Clearly this is what many of the earliest Christians thought, since at least two different scribes improved the ending by adding additional material, and Matthew and Luke did so too (and some might even add John here, if they think the author of the Fourth Gospel knew Mark’s).

The ending may well have been lost before Matthew or Luke used Mark as a source, since Matthew and Luke diverge significantly both from Mark and from each other at this point. Matthew adds joy to the fear the women feel, and ensures they do in fact deliver the message by having Jesus himself appear in Jerusalem (which fits awkwardly after a promise that he’ll be seen in Galilee). Luke moves the appearances to Jerusalem.

But what was in that missing ending? I think I know. The answer is to be found, interestingly enough, by looking at two significantly later Gospels, one from outside the canon, the Gospel of Peter, the other the Gospel of John.

The Gospel of Peter is likewise missing its ending (as well as most of its beginning, presumably), but we have enough to have a sense of how it continued past the parallel passage in Mark 16:8. It went from the women’s fear to the disciples in Galilee fishing by the sea. This is a natural progression in terms of the flow of Mark’s Gospel. The women do not deliver the message, yet the disciples saw Jesus (as was widely circulated already in Paul’s time – see 1 Corinthians 15). Presumably the Twelve and many other disciples returned to their earlier lives, but Jesus graciously encountered them there. It is hard to explain why the Gospel of Peter, which is clearly influenced by details from Matthew’s Gospel (although not necessarily through knowledge of that Gospel in written form), does not ‘improve’ the ending as Matthew did. Presumably the author of the Gospel of Peter knew a story like that originally found in Mark, and this version was sufficiently well established that later developments could not unseat that tradition.

The final chapter of the Gospel of John, chapter 21, is often thought to be an epilogue added later. Regardless whether that is the case, it certainly does strike some readers as more like an account of a first encounter of the disciples with Jesus after the resurrection than a later one. For them to be commissioned in Jerusalem only to be then found fishing in the next chapter seems awkward. Thus this part of the Gospel of John most likely reflects the story that was in Mark’s original ending (although I doubt the author was actually using a copy of Mark, truncated or untruncated, as a source). The male disciples know nothing of an empty tomb. They return to their earlier lives in Galilee, and it is there that they have the experiences that change the direction of their lives, and of the world, forever.

A final meeting with Jesus by the seashore while fishing would naturally form an inclusio with the first encounter between Jesus and his most prominent disciples in Mark. (Indeed, Luke may have known details from the story about the post-Easter encounter and, not knowing where else they might belong, have placed them in his account of the first meeting of Jesus with Peter and the others).

All of this evidence hangs together plausibly enough that I feel confident that these other Gospels give us a clear idea of how Mark’s story continued. The challenge now is to address the historical questions in light of this evidence. How does this affect our understanding of the origins and development of the early post-Easter Christian movement? How does this potentially change our view of the reinterpretations of and additions to the resurrection story found in later sources? This line of reasoning based on the available evidence is hinted at by B. H. Streeter in a famous volume on Mark’s Gospel decades ago, but rarely discussed in our time. I am persuaded that it is time for it to be reconsidered.

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  • I don’t know if you are aware of this, but Evan Powell has outlined a very similar proposal in his book, “The Unfinished Gospel“. I read it years ago. Your post made me dig it out of my shelf. It’s not an untenable scenario, but it’s hard to imagine how they could have “switched endings” like that with nobody commenting?Any ideas?Ó

  • I didn’t mean to suggest that any two Gospels ‘switched endings’, nor that what we find in the Gospel of John is exactly the ending of Mark, removed from there and pasted onto John. All I am claiming is that the ending of the Gospel of John reflects knowledge of the story that was in the part of Mark that is now missing. If I had to come up with a plausible scenario for how it ends up in John 21, it would probably be to suggest that the community that produced the Gospel encountered this other story, significantly different from its own version (in which Jesus appears in Jerusalem) and decided to find a way to incorporate it into their own tradition, to ‘harmonize’ it with the story they already knew.

  • Perhaps Mark originally ended at 15:39, with the inclusio being 1:1b, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, Son of God.” and 15:39, “And the Centurion, having stood nearby opposite him, having seen that he died this way, said, ‘Truly, this man was Son of God!'” If so, then the original Mark covered from the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry in his baptism by John to its very end at his death on the cross. If so, why was 15:40-16:8 later added as an appendix?A clue perhaps comes from the original ending to John in 20:26-31. As Elaine Pagels and a number of other scholars have noted, it is possible that this “doubting Thomas” scene is a polemic against the Thomas group’s position that there is no bodily resurrection of the dead.Therefore, I propose this hypothesis: Mk 15:40-16-8 is a polemic against two Thomasine themes that come to a climax in Saying 114, the ending to Thomas. The first is a pro-James and anti-Peter theme that begins in 12 with James identified as being Jesus’ legitimate earthly successor, continues in 13 with a slam of Peter and ends in 114 with another slam of Peter. The second is a pro-woman theme that begins in 21 with a woman named Mary speaking directly to Jesus, continues in 61 with a woman named Salome proclaiming herself to be a disciple of Jesus and ends in 114 with Jesus declaring that he will make a woman named Mary a male in some sense, so she can be just like his male disciples.In the first place, there are three women who named in Mk 15:40-16:8–two named Mary and one named Salome. Is this coincidence or is this an allusion to Thomas where two women named Mary and a third woman named Salome appear?Second, in Mark 15:40-16:8, it is stressed that the sole role for these women had been to serve (in the sense of diakanos) Jesus and the one and only time they were given an empowered role (which was when they were given the responsibility to convey the message of the young man to Jesus’ disciples) they blew it. I suggest that this is all a polemic against the Thomasine position that women deserve the right to be empowered.Third, one of the two women named Mary is the mother of Jesus: who is called the mother of James the Little and Joses–a reference back to 6:3 where the first three people explicitly named are Mary, her son James and her her son Joses. That James is called the Little here is hardly complimentary.Fourth, while speaking to the three women, a young men tells them, “But go, tell his disciples and Peter…” This is very strange, even weird–for, after all, Peter had been one of his disciples! Why, then, does it not read, “But go, tell his disciples…”? The reason, I strongly suggest, is to indicate that Peter is no longer one of his disciples. Rather, he has now been elevated about his disciples into the unique status of being the legitimate successor to Jesus as the earthly head of his movement.Seen as an anti-Thomasine polemic, Mk 15:40-16:8 is a satisfactory end to Mark, ending on the two notes that Peter, rather than that lesser person, that nobody, named James, was the legitimate successor to Jesus as the head of his movement and that women shouldn’t be empowered because they cannot handle responsibility.

  • James:I wasn’t trying to put words in your mouth; your proposition just instantly recalled a book I had read some time ago (published in 96, I think) which described a strinkingly similar scenario to the one you briefly described in your post. You should check it out. I think you’ll be surprised at how closely it follows your logic.The main problem I find with that scenario, though, is that it requires Johannine priority at a couple of crucial points (something which I think is unlikely for various reasons). Principally, I reject the notion that John’s more prominent use of narrative detail in his gospel is indicative of its priority. Your reasoning for “how it was switched” has me thinking about several things regarding the redaction of John and Mark and even the others . . . . (segue to the sound of screechy gears turning …)Frank:You make some very interesting suggestions, but, while I find your postulation that Mark originally ended with the centurion’s affirmation to be a very creative interpretation—and I’ll even drink to the anti-Thomasine traces you highlight—I find that this could only be a conjecture until some textual evidence shows up to defend it. The fact remains that the earliest complete manuscripts end at 16:8. None end at 15:39. ‘Nuff said.Further, if the reason for choosing this verse is simply because it would make for a literally-appropriate bookend, an inclusio, that opens up a whole can of questions to be begged. I think that such braistorming is crucial for insight, but without any extant texts to support it . . . .This kind of “inclusio hunting”, by the way, is reflective of the influence that Bauckham has had on the field. I personally think that the Bauckham “eyewitness” theory is unconvincing, but it’s interesting to see its effect on folk’s perspectives.peaceÓ

  • James:I’m a late reader of this post. I hadn’t heard this bit of speculation before, but it strikes me as a plausible reconstruction, particular with the collaborating evidence from the Gospel of Peter. Thank you for drawing it to our attention.

  • Oops — make that “corroborating” evidence. Chris Tilling made the same mistake earlier today. I blame my mistake on his corrupting influence. 😉

  • Hi James, Sorry to dive right in, but…HOW was the ending “lost?” It was probably written on a scroll and so would have been rolled up FIRST and tucked inside the whole scroll. To that easy to “lose.” And if it was “lost” then God doesn’t take care to preserve what He inspires, including the ending of the earliest Gospel. I guess it doesn’t matter whether Christians simply make up their own ending later. It’s all the same to God. As for finding the original ending of Mark in the catch of fish in John, well, hypothesize away. Perhaps John’s ending is simply later literary redaction and meant to round off the calling of the disciples and Jesus’s first meeting with them at the sea of Galilee catching fish with a final meeting at Galilee catching fish. Actually, the progression makes perfect sense, from Paul’s bare list of “appearances” and no mention of an “empty tomb.” Then we go to Mark with an “empty tomb” narrative and the “women told no one,” which I suspect implies that the story about an “empty tomb” came later, and people didn’t hear about it because the women didn’t tell anybody as it says. Matthew and Luke and John fill in the empty tomb narrative, each increasing the number of words spoken by the raised Jesus. Matthew has the least number, a few sentences. Luke includes more words of the risen Jesus. John even more in his Gospel. I submit that the evidence of a literary progression, and the growth in resurection tales about Jesus and growth in the number of words the raised Jesus speaks in each Gospel, makes as much sense as your own hypothesis.

  • I go into more detail in my letter to Christian apologist Gary Habermas online.Google: Babinski Habermas resurrectionThe Gospel of John is also pretty much some sort of redaction of earlier Christian tales. Concerning Jesus’s raising of people other than Lazarus, the Gospel stories are few and unspectacular. For instance in Mark the synagogue ruler’s daughter was “at the point of death,” or in Matthew “had just died” when Jesus healed/raised her. Such things seem possible. For instance in a book on Near Death Experiences I read that a man had been declared dead in the hospital, then a little while later he woke up alone on a stretcher in the hallway. According to another book, Dannion Brinkley was struck by lightning, declared dead, but returned to life. But none of those people had been dead for long. The Lazarus story involves someone dead for “four days,” whose body “stinketh.” Are there any good reasons why someone should believe such a story? Let’s begin with another story in The Gospel of John, the story of Lazarus’s alleged sisters, “Mary and Martha,” and how “Mary sat at Jesus’s feet,” “anointed them” with perfume, and “wiped them with her hair” in the town of “Bethany.” (John 12) Stories similar to that one are found in the earlier three Gospels, but with a few differences:Mark 14:3–An unnamed woman anointed Jesus’s head in Bethany at the house of Simon the Leper.Luke 7:37-38–An unnamed sinner anointed Jesus’s feet and wiped them with her hair in Nain at the house of a Pharisee.Luke 10:38-39–Mary, the sister of Martha, listened at Jesus’s feet in an unnamed town at her house.Did you ever get confused about similar events like those listed above? Say, in a Sunday School discussion, you mixed up the name of the town where the woman anointed Jesus’s “head” with the name of the town where the woman anointed Jesus’s “feet.” Was it Nain or Bethany? Or you confused the woman who “listened” at Jesus’s feet with the woman who “anointed” Jesus’s feet? The unnamed sinner lady in Nain, became, until you looked it up, Mary, sister of Martha? Well, something like that appears to have happened in the minds of Christians before the Gospel of John was composed, the last written of the four Gospels. By that time, similar persons and events from the earlier Gospels had become amalgamated in people’s minds. In John 12:3, Mary, the woman who simply “listened” at Jesus’s feet is now also anointing them and wiping them with her hair. Thus the unnamed woman of the town of Nain became amalgamated in people’s minds with “Mary, Martha’s sister.” And the unnamed town where Mary lived became amalgamated with the town where the woman who anointed Jesus’s “head” lived, “Bethany.” And Mary used expensive “spikenard ointment” on them, as the lady in Mark (and possibly Luke) did. Only this time it is not at Simon the Leper’s house, nor at the house of a Pharisee, but at “Mary’s house.”What does the above discussion have to do with the “resurrection of Lazarus” story? Well, it shows how the Gospel of John amalgamates things from earlier Gospels. And only the Gospel of John depicts Lazarus as a real person. Luke mentions a real Mary and Martha, but says nothing about them having a brother, nor in which town they lived. So the author(s) of the Gospel of John appear to have amalgamated Mary and Martha, the town of Bethany, and the “Lazarus” from a parable in the Gospel of Luke–a parable in which a poor beggar named “Lazarus” dies and goes to “Abraham’s bosom,” while a rich man suffering in nearby “Hades” sees Lazarus and pleads with Abraham to “send Lazarus to my Father’s house, to warn my brothers…so they may repent [and avoid going to Hades],” to which the answer was, “… neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.”Think about it… a “Lazarus” who dies and someone who hopes Lazarus will be “raised from the dead” to “persuade others” “to repent.” But such persuasion is predicted not to work. Where does that appear outside of Luke?Why in John. John’s “Lazarus” is now a concrete person, the “brother” of Mary and Martha from Luke. (Neither is this Lazarus a poor “beggar,” since he’s rich enough to have his own tomb and live in a house with his “sisters.”) He is “raised from the dead”–a parable come true. And, as predicted in the parable, such a miracle fails to persuade those who refuse to listen to Moses and the prophets, namely the Pharisees: “Many therefore of the Jews, who had come to Mary and beheld what He had done, believed in Him. But some of them went away to the Pharisees, and told them the things which Jesus had done.” The Pharisees refuse to repent, and even decide, after hearing of this great miracle, to seize Jesus and have him executed. What a coincidence. Two “Lazaruses,” one in Luke and one in John, both die, both illustrate that “even though he be raised from the dead, they will not be persuaded,” in fact, “Lazarus’s resurrection” in the Gospel of John elicits even a stronger negative response.Not surprisingly, when you add a whole new miracle found in none of the other Gospels, and make it the focal point for the Pharisees’ decision to have Jesus seized and executed, you have to do something with the fact that all three of the earlier Gospels agreed that it was Jesus’s overturning of the tables in the Temple that made the Pharisees decide to have Jesus crucified. So the author(s) of John decided to remove the table-turning episode from the end of Jesus’s ministry and move it to the beginning of Jesus’s ministry. All so that the Pharisees would decide to have Jesus seized and killed due to the unsettling nature of the stunning resurrection miracle that was added to the last Gospel. The question remains, did the “raising of Lazarus” actually take place or might the story have been a later invention, based on an amalgamation of information and names found in earlier Gospels? The moving of Jesus’s “table-turning” episode from the end of the earlier Gospels to the beginning of the last written Gospel adds to the force of such a question, since the author(s) of John made it appear quite obvious that it was now necessary to make room at the end of their Gospel to display the totally new miracle and make it the new reason why the Pharisees decided to seize and crucify Jesus. And there is also the even wider question raised by the fact that the Gospel of John concentrates on a handful of major miracles in Jesus’s ministry, the Lazarus miracle being used to illustrate that Jesus was “the resurrection and the life.” The author has Jesus speak those very words, along with a lot of “I ams,” one after each major miracle. How unlike the Jesus who is portrayed in the earlier three Gospels, who asked his disciples not to tell anyone he was the Messiah, and who did not speak in such an “I am” manner even after healing people, performing exorcisms, or raising the synagogue ruler’s daughter who was “at the point of death” (in Mark’s version) or who had “just died” (per Matthew’s version). The Gospel of John is primarily a theological creation. It does not begin with the words of Jesus, but with the author’s theological claim about Jesus’s identity (“In the beginning was the Word…”). The Gospel of John is also the only one that includes Jesus’s long-winded prayer in the garden, allegedly spoken on the eve of his death. Keeping in mind that the latter prayer was uttered only once in Jesus’s life, and while the apostles were all asleep, or at least falling in and out of sleep, it seems quite a feat to be able to write down all twenty-six verses of it (chapter 17). The Gospel of John also contains a long sermon by John the Baptist, but it sounds more like the author’s introduction to the Gospel than any of the Baptist’s spoken words in the three earlier Gospels. Scholars also point out that for a work allegedly produced by John the apostle it’s odd that it fails to include any mention of “the transfiguration,” an event that only John and two other apostles allegedly witnessed according to the earlier three Gospels. Lastly, the Gospel of John ends by stating that it was written “that ye may believe.” How objective could such a work be?E.T.B.____________________________JESUS’ PARABLE IN LUKE ABOUT “A RICH MAN AND BEGGER DYING, AND THEIR SITUATIONS BEING REVERSED IN THE NEXT LIFE” WAS NOT UNIQUEIt is quite possible that a version of the Egyptian and Jewish story was current in first-century Palestine and that Jesus would have known it. Richard Bauckham, “The Rich Man and Lazarus: The Parable and the Parallels,” New Testament Studies, Vol. 37, 1991, p.225-246

  • The Missing Ending of MarkBy the close of the second century, Tatian and Irenaeus had already started using expansions like “Son of God” (1:1) and the whole post-resurrection story (16:9-20). We now know that Mark ended at 16:8… or do we?Evan Powell claims to see the ending of Mark in John 21. While I do not accept his conclusions – that John was the first Gospel – his theory that John 21 belongs to Mark is a strong one.John 21 has synoptic affinities which do not appear in John 1-20 (p. 58, 76-78). The sons of Zebedee appear (John 21:2). The disciples are fishing (John 21:1-3). 28 words in John 21 do not appear elsewhere in John, but only in the synoptics. Not all of these are situation-specific: * epistrefein, (John 21:20), a verb for “to turn” which occurs twice in Mark. * apo is used in a partitive sense in John 21:10 as in Mark; John 1-20 uses ek instead, 57 times. * icquV for “fish” is another Marcan word which does not appear in John 1-20; John 1-20 uses instead oyarion, “cooked fish”, twice. As for Johannine language, John 21:10 misuses oyarion when they are directly caught from the Sea of “Tiberias”.Moreover, John 1-20 and Mark have diametrically opposed aims with respect to Simon Peter. In John 1-20, Peter is described as a traitor to the movement: * John 6: “Simon Peter”‘s Confession of Faith (68) sandwiched between nonbelievers, foretelling of treason (64) and mention of the devil and “Judas son of Simon Ischariot” (70). Jesus’s response is to all twelve, not to Peter; he has not chosen Peter. Compare with Matt 16:15-20. (p. 60-62) * John 13: “Simon Peter”‘s failure to understand Jesus’s service (6-9) sandwiched between the devil and “Judas son of Simon Ischariot” (2) and betrayal (11). (p. 62-63) * And again: “Simon Peter” has to ask the Beloved Disciple what his master means by betrayal (23). Sandwiched between betrayal (21) and “Judas son of Simon Ischariot” and Satan (26-27). (p. 63-64) * John 18: Returns to the theme. 7-11 repeats 4-5, but Simon Peter’s actions conclude in place of Judas’s. (p. 67) * The beloved disciple appears with Jesus (15) in contrast with Simon Peter who denies Jesus while warming himself with the servants and guards (18, 25). In between 18 and 25, Jesus (with the beloved disciple) called for witnesses among his “hearers” (21). Peter ignores him. (p. 69-70) * John 20:1-20: Simon Peter was still confused when we see him for the last time (p. 71). * At the end of John 20, not all the disciples are in one place. Thomas, for one, is explicitly missing (at first). Moreover, the disciples are not called “the twelve” when they meet. Neither Judas nor Peter are mentioned as part of this group. Whoever appended John 21 assumed that in John 1-20, Peter had not met the risen Christ in Jerusalem. Mark complains about Peter too, but with mitigating factors: * In John 13:36-38, Simon Peter alone is attacked for claiming he will follow Jesus to death. In Mark 14:27-31, Jesus prophesies that “the sheep will scatter”; and indeed all the disciples “say the same” in erring with Peter. (p. 64-65) * John’s three foreshadowings of betrayal all implicate Peter as the one who does not understand. Mark’s passion prophecies precede only one indictment of Peter (8:33), and then an indictment of all the disciples (9:32) and finally (pointedly?), James and John (10:35-45). * John 1-20 links his accusations of betrayal with Simon Peter’s three denials. In Mark, these accusations of betrayal are replaced with three predictions of the Passion. Insofar as Peter’s denials matter to Mark, they are only one part of the Passion; Peter does not have free will. * Peter weeps when he learns he has denied Jesus (Mark 14:72). (p. 70) * Jesus does not call for witnesses. In Mark, Peter cannot be accused of ignoring his Rabbi’s pleas. (p. 70) Where John 1-20 does not allow for a rehabilitation of Peter, Mark does. Not only does Mark seek to make Peter look sympathetic, but Mark 14:27-28, 16:7 states that Jesus will reappear in Galilee. Moreover, the reappearance is linked with Peter’s triple rejection (p. 103-105), and with Jesus’s prophecy that “the sheep will be scattered” in Mark 14:27-30 (p. 111). John 21 provides the expected reunion in Galilee, in which Jesus issues Peter three demands to “feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17).This is not the only loose end tied up here. The “fishing” motif and “Follow me” as the last words to Peter in John 21 (verse 19 or 23) form a concluding bracket to the same themes in Mark 1:17, where “follow me” are the first words (p. 114-5). In Mark 1:19, the sons of Zebedee are mending their nets; in John 21:11, the nets are in danger of tearing.There are other clues that Mark foreshadows John 21. The disciples will be unaware of the empty tomb, because the women told no-one of what they saw (16:8). In John 21, Peter and other disciples have lost hope and returned to the lake; they do not realize Jesus is present in 21:4. The whole story is more like a first appearance to the disciples than a “third” (21:14).Powell further noted evidence that Luke knew Original Mark complete with John 21. Luke 5:3-10 merged Mark’s story of how Jesus met Peter with a tale of a miraculous catch of fish (p. 113-4). This is also the only point in Luke (or Mark) in which Peter is “Simon Peter”. The Jesus Seminar’s Acts of Jesus, p. 279, laid this out independently:the disciples include Peter and the sons of Zebedee but not Andrew (contrast Mark 1:16, Gospel of Peter) Luke 5:3, 10 John 21:1″the disciples have fished all night and caught nothing” Luke 5:5 John 21:3″Jesus instructs the disciples to cast their nets (ta/to diktua/-on)” Luke 5:4 John 21:6″The result is an extraordinarily large catch” Luke 5:6-7 John 21:6″Simon Peter” falls down in response Luke 5:5 John 21:3The nets are close to breaking Luke 5:6 John 21:11″The other disciples assist with the catch but say nothing in response” Luke 5:9-10 John 21:8″The huge catch symbolizes the success of the missionary endeavours of the Jesus movement” Luke 5:9-10 John 21:11Powell concluded that John 21 is foreign to John. Instead, it is the missing ending of Mark which has been redacted to look Johannine. There is in fact much more evidence to support Powell’s thesis than even he saw.First, Matthew knew John 21 too, although he did not use it as obviously as Luke did. Another book – Peter by Pheme Perkins – noted that Matthew has an addition to the water-walking story, 14:28-33, where Peter leaves the boat to follow Jesus (p. 19) as in John 21:7. For Matthew, Peter is almost ready to take over Jesus’s job, symbolised by his own start at walking on water. John 21 made no supernatural claims about Peter’s swim. Quite the opposite – Peter got himself all wet because he was once more acting before thinking, not because he was trying to follow in Jesus’s footsteps. John 21 derived this event from Peter’s behaviour elsewhere in the Gospels – any Gospel.Matthew’s hint that Peter is in training to be Jesus’s successor is made explicit in Matthew 16:16-18. There, Jesus promises Peter the keys to the Kingdom. Like Luke 5:5, Matthew 16:16-18 is also the only point in its Gospel in which Peter is “Simon Peter”.If John 21 is following Matthew here, I have to assume that it was employing irony, and an irony dependent in part on Matthew 14:28-33, an event not found anywhere in John 1-20. I also have to assume that “Simon Peter” in Matthew 16:16-18 was just a quirk of the author. It is easier for me to imagine that Matthew may have found in John 21 the clumsiness to add to a lake scene, and the “Simon Peter” to a recognition scene. Both scenes were originally taken from Mark, and Matthew’s changes serve to point to Simon Peter as Jesus’s chosen successor. I conclude that John 21 was part of this version of Mark as well.Powell knew about the eighth-century Akhmim Fragment, but he only used it as an independent tradition for the crucifixion (p. 321). Even if it is independent, it is certainly a witness to the traditions which Mark used. Parts of it are also contained in the second-century Pap Oxy 2949. Although it is not labelled as such, its discoverers called it the “Gospel of Peter” and the name has stuck. * (57) Then, the terrified women fled. * (58) It was the last day of the feast of the unleavened bread and many people were going out, returning to their houses since the festival was over. * (59) But we, the twelve disciples of the Lord, were weeping and grieving, and although everyone was mourning because of what had happened, each departed for his own house. * (60) But I, Simon Peter, and my brother Andrew took our nets and went out to the sea. And with us was Levi, the son of Alphaeus, whom the Lord [. . .] The Gospel of Peter, 57-60, transl. Andrew BernhardKoester claimed, “the discrepancies in the list of names argues against any dependence of this last epiphany story [in Peter] upon the supplemental chapter of the Gospel of John” (p. 240), but this only applies to John 21 as it now stands. Who knows what names were cited in John 21 before the Johannine redaction? In addition, here is a mention of nets and going out to the sea, anticipating two themes of John 21. This is a midrashic expansion of the narrative gap between Mark 16:8 and John 21:1 – probably before it became John 21:1.In addition, the earliest attestation for John 21 as part of John is the papyrus P66 from around 200 CE (containing John 20:25 – 21:9, among others). Before that, patristic authors never quoted from it, and immediately afterwards the patristic witness is decidedly ambiguous. Some bear witness to a text of John which ended at chapter 20, some bear witness to both versions, and one cites it shorn of its Johannine context.Irenaeus quoted liberally from John 1-20 (including 20:31 – III.16.5), but he did not quote from chapter 21. He thought that Luke 5 was the only place to find a story on Jesus commanding a miraculous catch of fish: All things of the following kind we have known through Luke alone (and numerous actions of the Lord we have learned through him, which also all [the Evangelists] notice): the multitude of fishes which Peter’s companions enclosed, when at the Lord’s command they cast the nets; … Irenaeus Adv. Haer. III.14.3Tertullian was the first church father to quote John 21 within said Johannine context: Even John underwent death, although concerning him there had prevailed an ungrounded expectation that he would remain alive until the coming of the Lord. A Treatise on the Soul 50Compare with John 21:21-23, especially verse 23: This saying became current in the brotherhood, and was taken to mean that that disciple would not die. But in fact Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If it should be my will that he wait until I come, what is it to you? New English BibleThis unnamed “disciple” was the gospel’s Beloved Disciple, which by Tertullian’s day had been identified with the synoptic disciple John, as Irenaeus attests in Against Heresies III.1.1: “John, the disciple of the Lord, … also had leaned upon His breast” (c.f. John 13:23). Tertullian’s citation is therefore most likely to stem from a combination of John 21:23 and the tradition that the Beloved Disciple was the Apostle John. Additionally, John 21:23 is a secondary interpretation – actually a refutation – of a pro-Johannine Jesus saying, and therefore belongs to a late stage of redaction. I would conclude that Tertullian had a version of the Gospel of John which included John 21 more or less as it appears in the received text.But this was not Tertullian’s only copy of the Gospel. Tertullian went on to convert to the “new prophecy” of the Montanist denomination, a group which believed that its members were prophets inspired by the Holy Spirit. Their name for the Holy Spirit was “Paraclete”, taken from the Gospel of John. But not the John we know. In Against Praxeas, Tertullian did not quote John 21 (or Mark!); his new edition, like Irenaeus’s, had its “very termination” at John 20:31a, indeed “the definite purpose of the Gospel”: Wherefore also does this Gospel, at its very termination, intimate that these things were ever written, if it be not, to use its own words, “that ye might believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God”? Against Praxeas XXV.17-18Clement of Alexandria also had a tradition close to that of John 21 in mind when he wrote: And “whether ye eat or drink, do all to the glory of God,” aiming after true frugality, which the Lord also seems to me to have hinted at when He blessed the loaves and the cooked fishes with which He feasted the disciples, introducing a beautiful example of simple food. That fish then which, at the command of the Lord, Peter caught, points to digestible and God-given and moderate food. And by those who rise from the water to the bait of righteousness, He admonishes us to take away luxury and avarice, Paedagogus II (On Eating).1Jesus commanded Peter to catch fish twice in the surviving Gospels: in Luke 5:1-11 and in John 21. Clement calls Jesus “Lord” here, as did Peter in Luke 5:8 and both Peter and the Beloved Disciple in John 21. This breakfast of loaves and cooked fish does not appear in Luke 5:1-11, though, but only in John 21:9-13. “Those who rise from the water” must also be an echo both of common Christian baptism and of Peter’s metaphoric baptism in John 21:7b.However, Clement gave no hint as to in which Gospel he found this story. Unlike Tertullian’s citation, Clement’s contains no uniquely Johannine elements; in particular, Clement named Peter but not the Beloved Disciple.I have argued that, in Clement’s time, there were two Gospels extant which laid claim to John 21. It appears that Tertullian and Clement both knew this. Tertullian made his choice depending on his rhetorical stance at the time. Clement on the other hand deemed it politic not to make a choice at all.As late as 231-238 CE, John 20 was considered the end of the Gospel: They say, those are more blessed who have not seen and yet believe, than those who have seen and have believed, and for this they quote the saying to Thomas at the end of the Gospel of John, “Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed.” Origen, Commentary on John X.27Finally, both Luke and Matthew had the motive to change the Marcan story. Luke (who certainly knew the Miraculous Catch epiphany story) believed that the resurrection would occur in Jerusalem. Matthew on the other hand believed Jesus was a second Moses. The fishing story would have been too humble a climax for his gospel. As a result, although Matt 28:16-20 did have him meet his disciples in Galilee, he gave the Great Commission at a mountain.

  • Can you really trust your English Bible to be God’s true Word?

    Have you ever had an evangelical or Reformed Christian say this to you:

    “THAT passage of the Bible, in the original Greek, does NOT mean what the simple, plain reading of the passage seems to say in English.”

    It happens to me all the time in my conversations with Baptists, evangelicals, and fundamentalists on my blog. They state: “Repent and be baptized…for the forgiveness of sins” was mistranslated. “This is my body…this is my blood” is a metaphorical expression, “Baptism does now save us” is figurative speech for what happens to us spiritually when we ask Christ into our hearts.

    What they are basically saying is that unless you speak ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek…you can’t read and really understand the Bible without the help of an educated Churchman!

    This morning I came across an excellent article on this subject, written by Jordan Cooper, a Lutheran pastor. I am going to give the link to his article below. I have copied a couple of his statements here:

    “So here is a question that we all need to ask ourselves when doing this (refusing to accept the simple, plain, English translation of a passage of Scripture): If a verse seems to disprove your theological beliefs, and you translate it in some way that doesn’t fit with any of the dozens of major English translations of the Bible, and that unique translation just happens to fit your own theological biases, could it be that it is in fact you who are in the wrong? Could you be reading your own preconceived theological convictions back into the text?”

    “I know it can be frustrating when you are constantly told that Scripture can’t be understood unless you learn (an ancient) language or read ancient documents that you don’t have either the time or the energy to study. Honestly, if you have a few good English translations at your side, and you take the time to compare them to one another, you have all the tools you need to understand the meaning of the Bible.”

    Link to Pastor Cooper’s original article:

    • There tends to be a double standard. When the English text says something that is not what they want the text to say, then appeal is made to the Greek or Hebrew. When the English says what they want it to say, appeals to the Greek or Hebrew meaning something different are ignored or dismissed. 🙂

      • The most common response I receive from them is then this:
        “Only true believers can understand the true meaning of Scripture. The Holy Spirit tells us the truth in our hearts. The reason you “orthodox” do not see the truth, is because you are blinded. (You are not true believers.)