What exactly is the ending of the Gospel of Mark? Does it end at Mark 16:8 or at Mark 16:20?
“Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept. But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it. After these things he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them. Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues;they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.” (Mark 16:9–20 ESV)
Most Bibles will make a note that this is not in the earliest and most reliable manuscripts. The question to be asked is, was this passage added or omitted? Since it is not there in the earliest manuscripts and then suddenly appears, it is most likely that it was added.
There seems to be a good reason for it to be added. This is how Mark ends:
“And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” (Mark 16:8 ESV)
The Gospel ends with fear which is not a very inspiring way to finish. If you look at the longer ending, that is something for Christians to get excited about. Mark 16:8 not so much. How could Mark have ended his Gospel with fear?
What we must realize is that the fear that the women have is not the fear of persecution or the fear of being mocked. This is the fear of being in the presence of a powerful work of God. Elsewhere we see in Mark some other interesting stories. When Jesus calmed the storm, notice what happened.
“And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”” (Mark 4:41 ESV)
And when the woman was healed from her many years of bleeding what happened?
“But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth.” (Mark 5:33 ESV)
Neither of these stories seem to be about fearing that Jesus might get angry and hurt them. Rather they had just witnessed something incredible and the natural reaction was fear. This is what happened with the women at the tomb.
Of course this does not mean that Mark denies the resurrection as some critics claim. Mark makes it extremely clear what happened to Jesus.
“And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”” (Mark 16:6–7 ESV)
Of course the real question you are wondering is about your future in snake handling. I don’t see even the longer ending as promoting snake handling as we see it today. Not only that, it is not likely that Mark 16:9-20 either is inspired or belongs to Mark. If you are considering snake handling, I would suggest you look rather to liturgical dancing.