The World Itself Could Not Contain the Books!

I am trying not to steal Debi’s Thunder, so I will address part of the scripture this week that I am fairly certain she won’t touch. The last two weeks of scripture lessons have had something interesting in common that you may not know about—both of them were the original endings to the gospel stories of Mark and John ! That’s right, the extra verses that come after Mark 16:1-8a and John 20:16-30 were later additions. You can take a look at those extra verses in your own bible to see what they are.

How do we know that these are later additions? We have copies of early manuscripts that don’t have those verses added on. Also, the writing style and verse change. If you look at the additions to Mark, you notice that the extra verses were added to attempt to make Mark fit with the endings of the other gospel stories.

So what do we make of the fact that our Bibles contain material that wasn’t there originally? Was there malicious intent by adding these verses? Should these added verses be treated differently? Should they be removed?

Let me propose one thought to you. We believe in the divine inspiration of scripture. As 1 Timothy 3:16 says, “All scripture is divinely inspired and profitable for teaching…” I think this extends to these verses as well. If we believe that the Holy Spirit had a hand in the writing of scripture, it would be sensible to think that the Spirit had a hand in what ended up in the book as well.

That being said, the ways in which we see these passages must also reflect the knowledge of where they came from. If the Spirit had a hand in inspiring scripture, it must also be acknowledged that fallible human beings had a hand in the writing and compiling of scripture as well. I think this means that we have to understand the context of where scripture comes from, and allow that to guide how we understand the meaning of these passages and how we teach with them..

In this case, I think we look at the ending to Mark and realize that someone was concerned that the gospels each have different endings—that’s right, the gospels disagree about how the resurrection happened. Does that mean someone was lying? Does that mean this is false or inaccurate? I don’t think so. I think it means that the scripture writers all had different guidance from the Holy Spirit about what this story had to teach their community (remember Timothy and the profitable teaching thing?). In the case of the ending of the Gospel of John, I think there were still unanswered questions and other stories that still needed to be told. The extended version of John ends with this statement, “But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” What a fabulous statement to keep in mind when dealing with multiple, and sometimes conflicting, accounts in scripture.

At the end of the day it is not a question of which one is right and which one is wrong, it is a question of what is the Spirit of God trying to teach us. Mark spoke to a community that was scared and unsure how to proceed. Matthew spoke to a community that was trying to figure out how they relate to other Jews. Luke spoke to a community that was trying to figure out what this story meant for people outside of the Jewish community. John wanted to plumb the depths of what the resurrection meant to us philosophically and theologically. There is a use and great meaning behind each of these. What’s more, as John reminds us, those are just the beginning of the stories that could be told about Jesus.

In a very real way, each of us are a continuing part of the story of Christ’s resurrection. Last week, we each put promises on the communion table of how we want to live the resurrection in our own lives going forward. Christ’s resurrection story is being lived out through each of us—what does your story say about the resurrection?

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