Who was first? Mary Magdalene, Peter and the Ending of Mark

  • Johanna Gertrud Tönsing University of South Africa
Keywords: Ending of Mark, Mark 16, Mary Magdalene, Resurrection, Empty Tomb, Easter, Mark 16:8


This article discusses one of the most perplexing questions in textual criticism – the wide variety of endings for the gospel of Mark. The most reliable early manuscripts end at verse 8, but this is a very strange ending, and other endings seem to have been added later: the shorter and the longer ending. The article discusses various hypotheses about whether an original ending was lost or whether this ending was deliberate and concludes that Mark decided to end this way because of conflicting versions of the Easter story circulating in his community: One was the early traditional version, probably proclaimed by the Jerusalem apostles and taken up by Paul, that Peter was the first one to see the risen Christ. The other was more controversial and had implications for questions of authority and leadership in the church: the testimony that Mary Magdalene, or several women, were first. Mark chose to allow the women the place of first witnesses to the empty tomb, but to leave open the question of who had the first encounter with the risen Christ. The different factions were then free to choose their own ending. As the empty tomb was not an integral part of the Petrine resurrection narrative, Mark’s version did not undermine this early Easter account, but opened the way to integrate the women’s story in official Christian tradition.

Author Biography

Johanna Gertrud Tönsing, University of South Africa
Senior Lecturer Department of Biblical and Ancient Studies