When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”
Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. (Mark 16:1-8)
If you are like most people, your Bible has a note saying that the earliest manuscripts do not have verses 9-20 before the rest of the chapter. What do you do with this?
There are two possibilities here. The first is that Mark intended his Gospel to end at verse 8. The additional verses are the attempt of later writers to correct what they saw as an abrupt and awkward ending. This is possible; he may have intended to send a message to his audience. “This is how these women reacted to the news that Jesus had risen. What will you do with it? Will you be afraid like them, or will you believe?”
Still, such an ending would have been a massive cliffhanger. The Gospel would have ended without any appearance from the resurrected Jesus. Considering the audience that Mark was addressing–a community of believers facing serious persecution for their faith–would Mark have really intended to end his Gospel that way, when seeing the resurrected Jesus, seeing that even death itself could not defeat Him, would have given them confidence to go out and face whatever may befall them.
The more likely possibility is that there is more to Mark’s Gospel, but this got lost over time and the additional verses are the attempt of later writers to reconstruct this lost ending.
But such a possibility would drive proponents of Biblical inerrancy completely and totally out of their minds. What–you mean that a whole section of the Bible has dropped completely and totally off the face of the earth? That would make the Bible a flawed book. And we know that a perfect God cannot and would not give us anything less than a perfect Book. If we cannot trust that the Bible is perfect, then we cannot trust anything that it says. More to the point, we cannot trust that Jesus rose from the dead.
The whole point of the Bible is to point us to Jesus Christ. Jesus said so himself: “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (John 5:39-40)
We don’t have a perfect Book because we don’t need a perfect Book. What we have is exactly what we need–a book that points us to a perfect Savior.