Bible: Ridiculous Ending to the Gospel of Mark

The tactics section consists of quick examples of a specific technique that can be employed during the course of a debate or discussion to help give you an advantage.

Tactic: Accept a falsehood that your opponent believes for the sake of argument if it quickly leads to a demonstrably wrong conclusion.

If you are going to get into religious discussions with Christians, biblical arguments are bound to arise. Biblical arguments come in a variety of types: many types are never productive, but there are a few types of biblical arguments that I've found can be productive.

Here's an argument that I've had with positive results.

An interesting fact: the end of the Gospel of Mark, everything in Chapter 16 after verse 8 (verses 9-20) is a later addition. Many Bibles (not all) actually include this helpful fact in the Bible itself.

This curious fact means that the Gospel of Mark originally ended with the frightened women who find the empty tomb running away and not telling anyone what they saw. There are no post-resurrection appearances made by Jesus.

Weird ending.

There are really only two responses a Christian can have to this fact:

  1. To remain steadfast and insist that the ending is legitimate.
  2. To agree that the ending is a later addition.

Option 1: The ending to Mark is legitimate:

So a Christian maintains that the ending to Mark is legitimate -- the word of God no matter what "secular historians" want to write about. One option is to try to convince this Christian the truth of the matter. The tactics page links here because it demonstrates another way of dealing with this kind of situation.

Acknowledge the truth of the matter, but for the sake of argument, accept their position as true because it immediately forces them into a demonstrably ridiculous situation.

So say something like, "For the sake of argument, let's accept that the ending is legitimate.  Let's say that Jesus actually makes the following claims:"

Mark 16:15-18 (NRSV)

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.’

Jesus is allegedly making testable claims.

What signs accompany those who believe? 5 things.

  1. Cast out demons
  2. Speak in new tongues
  3. Pick up snakes
  4. Drink any deadly thing -- and it will not harm them
  5. Lay hands on the sick and they will recover

Suggest testing claim sign number 4 with bleach from the local grocery store. The nice thing about the fourth one is that it is completely inclusive -- any deadly thing -- and the believer will not merely "survive"  but it won't even harm him.

There are several types of responses that you'll have to this challenge.

The Christian you are talking with could potentially accept the challenge, in which case you'll either see a Christian go to the hospital because he drank bleach -- or you'll see a miracle occur. Hey, keep an open mind, you never know!

The more common response is something like: "These things were for a specific time, and these claims did come true for the people who did them..."

Counter this by going through each statement and ask who is being talked about.

When Jesus says, "Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation." -- He's commissioning all Christians, right?

When Jesus continues with, "The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned."

Jesus continues by talking about those who believe and those who don't saying that "those who believe ... go to heaven" -- and presumably the Christian you're talking to thinks of himself as one of these heaven-bound believers.

When Jesus continues even further with, "And these signs will accompany those who believe..." He's continuing to talk to those that,

  1. should go into all the world proclaiming the good news, and
  2. those baptized believers that are saved.

The point that if these signs are only supposed to follow believers for a specific time, if baptized believers who are alive today will go to heaven -- or only the baptized believers who lived at that special time are called to spread the Gospel.

It is, however, considerably more likely that the Christian will resort to a "Don't put God to the test" type response.

I will post a full response to this common evasive move in the future, but in this case Jesus is giving people a way to identify believers -- they will be able to do these things. So He is encouraging the testing in this case.

And if you want to be really conciliatory, ask if it's impossible for a Christian to ever even accidentally be poisoned.

Of course, more sophisticated Christians will accept that the ending of Mark is a later addition and will sidestep the above line of attack.

Option 2: The ending to Mark is a later addition:

Now, for the Christian who recognizes that this ending was a later addition you have another fun argument at hand.

Mark has Jesus saying something rather important: "The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned."

Also realize that neither Matthew nor Luke ever quote Jesus saying anything like it.

This is not a trivial statement; a statement like this should be considered among the most essential messages that Jesus taught.  The implications should be sobering: false words can be put into the mouth of Jesus. And not just about a trivial matter, about the most essential thing Jesus could possibly teach about -- a Christian's salvation. The 'Gospel truth' is something that at least a few editors of the Bible felt fine with 'improving' as they saw fit.

Conclusion:

The ending of Mark is an essential problem to Christians of all types.

A Christian who doesn't accept that the ending is illegitimate has to contend with the fact that his inability to drink bleach without harm either shows Jesus a liar, or himself a non-believer.

A Christian who accepts that the ending is illegitimate has to contend with the fact that at minimum false statements about salvation can be put in the Gospel accounts.

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