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Mark 16:8

ESV 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.
NIV Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
NASB And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had gripped them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
CSB They went out and ran from the tomb, because trembling and astonishment overwhelmed them. And they said nothing to anyone, since they were afraid.
NLT The women fled from the tomb, trembling and bewildered, and they said nothing to anyone because they were too frightened. [The most ancient manuscripts of Mark conclude with verse 16:8. Later manuscripts add one or both of the following endings.] [Shorter Ending of Mark] Then they briefly reported all this to Peter and his companions. Afterward Jesus himself sent them out from east to west with the sacred and unfailing message of salvation that gives eternal life. Amen. [Longer Ending of Mark]
KJV And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid.

What does Mark 16:8 mean?

Mary Magdalene does tell the disciples that Jesus' body is gone and she doesn't know where it is (Luke 24:9 and John 20:2). After Peter and John check the tomb for themselves (John 20:3–9), Jesus meets Mary by the tomb (John 20:11–18). She then returns and tells the disciples Jesus has risen. There's no account that the women told anyone else along the way, however.

"Trembling" is from the Greek root word tromos. It can mean literally shaking with fear, but it can also refer to someone trying to complete a task they feel unqualified to perform. "Astonishment" is from the Greek root word ekstasis. It means to be jolted out of position, like someone whose entire worldview has been shattered. "Afraid" is from the Greek root word phobeo, from which we get the suffix "phobia." It can mean to be scared into fleeing or to be struck with reverential awe.

The women feel this way because Jesus is gone, replaced by two angels (Luke 24:4). The angels tell them Jesus is risen. None of these things make sense. These women saw Jesus' scourged body. They watched Him die (Mark 15:40–41). They watched the soldier pierce His side, letting blood and water gush from His torso (John 19:33–34). Then they followed Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus to the tomb and heard the giant stone cover the opening (Matthew 27:59–61). They have had two days to think of nothing else but that Jesus is dead. He must be wrapped in linen, lying in the tomb. But He's not.

On this day, the women and disciples have to deal with very simple truths: Jesus is alive and His body is healed and glorified. Two thousand years later, understanding this moment includes several more facets: Jesus is God and God's Son. His death on the cross and resurrection is the work that will forgive our sins and reconcile us to God.

How do we respond to this information? It's possible to explore parallels to how humanity processes such a claim, using the reactions seen in the women at the tomb:

  • Tremble or tromos: there is an appropriate response to the good news of Jesus, and although we cannot do it on our own, we must try. The magnitude of the idea can inspire trembling, for good or for bad. It can be daunting, but it's possible.
  • Astonishment or ekstasis: we can shift our worldview to that of God's. We need to realize that what we naturally believe about the world is horribly incomplete and misinterpreted. Only the Holy Spirit can set us straight.
  • To be afraid or phobos: in this specific context, we should be encouraged to flee from our old life of sin and sit in awe of God.
The most reliable manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark leave us here, in a mix of confusion, fear, and hope. In a way, this is where the church lives. We have been told that Jesus lives, but we have not seen Him yet. We've been promised that He will meet us soon. We have the work of spreading the gospel before us, and although we know we are not up to the task, we step out in faith, anyway. If we pay attention, every day we are faced with ways that God's worldview shakes our own.

Less reliable manuscripts add to Mark 16:8: "But they reported briefly to Peter and those with him all that they had been told. And after this, Jesus himself sent out by means of them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation." The other Gospels affirm that the women report to Peter (John 20:2; Luke 24:9). The book of Acts and the history of the church show the last part is true. But Mark, the man of action, leaves us here, on the brink of a completely new world.
What is the Gospel?
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