The Only Sign Given
Mark 16:9 plays a pivotal role in our understanding of the timing of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. It tells us exactly when Jesus was resurrected. However, to get at this time, we are going to have to dig below the surface.
Now when he was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.
The translation and interpretation of this verse hinges upon two factors. Primary is the translation of the phrase, 'early on the first day of the week', secondary is the placement of the comma.
The prwth Factor
The proper understanding of this verse lies in the Greek phrase, prwth sabbatou, translated here as 'first day of the week.' Mark is the only writer to use this phrase and only here. It is different from the typical phrase used for first day of the week, mia sabbaton.
Prote (prwth) is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word, Rosh. Both have the same basic meaning, which is; head, beginning, or that which is first, chief, and principal. Most have heard of the term, Rosh HaShanah, which is the Jewish New Year. It literally means, 'head of the year.' When this word is used with time, it takes the meaning; head or beginning.
Mark also uses prwth at 14:12, to denote the beginning day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Matthew, in his account of the same time (26:17), uses the same construction as Mark, except he omits the Greek word for 'day.' Matthew's text would read, On [or 'at'] the beginning (protos) of the [feast] of the Unleavened [bread].
This phrase used by Mark denotes the head or beginning of the week. As already shown, the actual beginning of the week occurred at the close of the Sabbath at sunset (our Saturday @ sunset).
The Greek for 'early' (prwi pronounced pro-ee) is normally used to denote the early portion of the day, such as morning. However, its function as an adverb, is to mark the earliest portion of the time it is connected with. So in our context, it denotes the earliest portion of the beginning of the week, i.e., the earliest time that can be considered the first day of the week.
The Comma Factor
Many arguments have erupted over the placement of the comma in this verse, because depending on where you place it, will render a different meaning. However, if one translates the primary phrase of this verse properly, the placement of the comma is apparent.
The other gospels witness to the fact that Jesus appeared to Mary M. in the early morning hours of the first day of the week. Since this verse in Mark is not pointing to the morning hours of the first day, but to the very beginning of the first day, at sunset, we can properly place the comma after the word for week, as it is in the AV.
Once it is understood that Jesus had already risen from the dead at the head or beginning of the week (sunset at the end of the Sabbath), it really matters not where you place the comma. The comma was inserted by the translators to give the English a better reading and make sense. An argument can be made that the primary thought of this verse is not the resurrection of Jesus, but the fact that He appeared first to Mary, a woman. It would be an astounding fact to the readers that the risen Messiah would appear first to a woman, instead of any of His eleven.
The phrase 'when he had risen', is actually just one Greek word,
anisthmi. Due to the proper parsing of the word, which is a participle, not an actual
verb, it should be rendered, 'having already risen'. Hence, the proper translation of this verse should
be as follows,
"Now having already risen at the head of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom He had cast out seven demons."
Sayings of Jesus Converge
To be completely accurate about this time, there is an overlapping of time of the end of the Sabbath and the beginning of the first day of the week. Remember earlier we noted that the new day would technically begin with the appearance of the first three stars in the sky.
Knowing that these stars would likely become visible before the actual setting of the sun and assuming a clear enough sky to see them, there would be a period that would belong to both the first day of the week and the Sabbath. That time being from the appearance of the first three stars in the sky and the actual setting of the sun below the horizon. This period would likely be the actual time of the resurrection of Jesus.This is the only period that fits ALL THE SAYINGS OF JESUS, concerning the three days.
Whether it is "on the third day," "after three days," "in three days" or "three days and three nights." This period fulfills all of these requirements. With this understanding, Mark 16:9 tells us that Jesus rose from the dead at the head of the week, that is, at the earliest portion of the time that marks the beginning of the first day of the week. This would also coincide with the time when the Sabbath is closing.
Now that we have discovered the exact time of Jesus' resurrection, we can use this to count backward three days and three nights, a full 72 hour period, to verify our chronology of the whole Passion event.
If Jesus was raised from the dead at about sunset at the end of the weekly Sabbath, which corresponds with the Julian date of Saturday, April 8, then we must count back three full days. This would take us to Wednesday, April 5 or the time of sunset, on the Fourteenth/Fifteenth of Nisan. This means that Jesus was crucified during the day of Wednesday, April 5.
"Not in the earliest manuscripts"
I can hear some saying, "My Bible says that this portion of Mark is not in the earliest manuscripts of the Bible, so it shouldn't be relied upon." I am aware of this, so . . .
It would be prudent to give some brief explanation here, concerning the abandonment of most modern translations of this text in Mark. One will notice, if you use a modern translation that has been published within the last hundred years, that this text is either,
- completely left out of the gospel,
- is in parenthesis, or
- a footnote is given, stating "The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20" ( the NIV).
Most, if not all modern translations (those published since the early twentieth century), were translated using different manuscripts than that of the King James Bible and other older translations.
The KJV used what is called the Textus Receptus as the basis of translation, whereas the modern translations used the Alexandrian Text, based upon a Greek New Testament compiled by Westcott and Hort, in the late Nineteenth century.
These Alexandrian manuscripts of Westcott and Hort, are purported to be the earlier or oldest manuscripts available. The logic is the older, the better. However, there is much debate whether these manuscripts really are older.
In addition, when these manuscripts were found, they were not revered as manuscripts of worth. One was found in the Vatican library collecting dust and the other was reportedly found in a trash basket at a monestary in the Sinai, where it was being used as fire-starter. The one found in the Vatican library (referred to as the Vaticanus) cannot be dated any earlier than the 15th century. The other one, called Sinaticus, was found by Tischendorf, over a period of years, which seems very suspect.
The best known defenders of the Alexandrian camp, are those who played an instrumental part in the creation of this 1881 Alexandrian based Greek text, two English Churchmen named, Brooke Foss Westcott and Fenton John Anthony Hort. Those who defend the KJV have loaded guns, ready to fire on Westcott and Hort. Their ammunition consists of claims that Westcott and Hort deny the deity of Christ, the sufficiency of the atonement of Christ, the second coming, being Romanists and Mary-worshippers, along with an acceptance of Darwinism over the creation account in Genesis.
Having looked into these accusations against Hort and Westcott, I concluded that where there is smoke, there is fire. However, I will leave it to the individual reader to investigate these claims on their own. The scale of this debate is well outside the scope and intention of this writing.
However, what information could be gleaned concerning the integrity of the Textus Receptus, I have deduced from the evidence at hand, that there is not found one sufficient reason, nay, not one scintilla of an excuse, to exclude this passage in Mark, nor any of the others left out of the text of the New Covenant Writings, by the Alexandrian proponents and their texts.
Therefore, it stands as a witness to resurrection power of God, despite those who would take the scribe's penknife to it, and carve it down to their own liking.
Ancient Witness To Mark's Long Ending
Now, regarding this issue of whether the ending of Mark was in the earliest texts of this gospel, there is an interesting document that is admitted to have been written from at least the third century (AD 200 - AD 300). That document is known as The Gospel of Nicodemus.
Now, we are not going to get into an argument of whether this document is real or fake. That is of little importance to the issue here. The interesting part is that it quotes the ending of Mark that has been called into question.
In this Gospel of Nicodemus, section 14, there is an account of three men, a priest, a teacher and a levite, who are giving witness to the ascension of Jesus. In their testimony, they say this,
We saw Jesus and his disciples sitting upon the mountain which is called Mamilch (Mambre or Malech lat., Mabrech Copt.), and he said unto his disciples: Go into all the world and preach unto every creature (the whole creation): he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned. And these signs shall follow upon them that believe: in my name they shall cast out devils, they shall speak with new tongues, they shall take up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them: they shall lay hands upon the sick and they shall recover. And while Jesus yet spake unto his disciples we saw him taken up into heaven.
This is almost word for word what we see in Mark 16:15-19. So what does this tells us? It says to us that this ending in Mark, was known at least as far back as the second or third century. As far as I am aware, there are not any manuscripts in existence today, that can claim to be this old. So we know that as far back as at least the third century, which is only 200 years at most after the Gospel of Mark was written, this saying of Jesus was known and quoted.
Also we have an even earlier testimony from the second century Church Father, Irenaeus. In his work, Against Heresies, book 3, sec. 5, he says this,
Also, towards the conclusion of his Gospel, Mark says: "So then, after the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God; "
If we look at Mark 16:19 in the KJV (the Textus Receptus), we read, "So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God." Irenaeus says this portion was "towards the conclusion" of Mark's Gospel. Indeed it is, because the gospel ends in the very next verse. How could Irenaeus quote a portion from Mark's gospel, if it didn't exist? The answer is, he couldn't.
Now that we have looked at the text of Mark 16:9 and its proper Greek construction and translation, there are more issues that need to be dealt with to gain a clearer picture of this event, of the three days of Jesus' burial and resurrection.