The Gospel of Mark



Fast Facts on the Book of Mark

Length

16 chapters

Probable author

John Mark, a companion of the Apostle Peter

Date

Either 50s AD or shortly before 70 AD.

Place of Origin

Rome

Recipients

Gentiles, probably at Rome

Purpose

To encourage believers under threat of persecution and martyrdom

Emphases

The crucifixion, discipleship, suffering, Jesus as teacher, Jesus as the Son of God, the Messianic secret

Early references

"Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, also handed down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter." (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.1, c. 180 AD)

"...the Gospel according to Mark was composed in the following circumstances: Peter preached the word publicly at Rome. By the Spirit, he proclaimed the Gospel. Those who were present (who were numerous) urged Mark to write down what had been spoken. For he had attended Peter from an early period and remembered what had been said. On his composing the Gospel, Mark handedit to those who had urged him. When this came to Peter's knowledge, he neither hindered nor encouraged it." (Clement of Alexandria, c. 195 AD, quoted by Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.14)


The Gospel of Mark is the second gospel in the New Testament, but it was probably written first. It is a short, succint and fast-moving narrative, often using words like "immediately." Mark's narrative has 16 chapters and begins not at Jesus' birth, as in the book of Matthew and and the book of Luke, but at Jesus' baptism as an adult. Mark's central themes are the death of Jesus, discipleship, Jesus as teacher, Jesus as the Son of God and the "messianic secret."






St. Mark's symbol is the winged lion.

Although the Gospel of Mark was circulated under the name kata markon ("According to Mark") at a relatively early date, the first sentence of the gospel may well have been intended as its title. Mark 1:1 is an incomplete sentence that sounds much like a title: "The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ." Because a similar phrase is found in Hebrews 5:12 ("the elements of the beginning of the oracles of God") and in a third-century papyrus which speaks of a "catechumen in the beginning of the gospel," it is possible that the Gospel of Mark was intended as a simple introduction to Jesus' life and sayings for new converts. {1}

As he was most likely the first gospel writer, "Mark is really the one that sets the stage for all the later Christian gospel writings." {2} So where did the author of Mark get the idea for the "gospel" genre? The gospels were written in Greek, so one probably answer is that the popular Greek biographical romance had an influence on the gospel writers. However, it also has been suggested that Mark was primarily influenced by the narrative cycles in 1 and 2 Kings in the Old Testament: "It is a striking fact that almost everything Jesus is reported as doing in Mark has parallels in these cycles, which it is plain had a great influence on the writer. Indeed, the shadow of Elijah or Elisha falls on almost every page of the Gospel of Mark." {3}

Content and Themes of the Book of Mark

The messianic secret is one of the most notable themes of the Gospel According to Mark. Mark's Jesus is a secretive and mysterious figure. He teaches his disciples in secret, he commands those he has healed not to tell anyone, he commands demons to be quiet when they begin to announce his identity, and his disciples seem to rarely understand what Jesus is talking about.

We can only speculate what led the author of the book of Mark to emphasize this theme, but one possibility is that he wished to correct current misunderstandings about Jesus, especially in light of the Jewish Revolt of 66-70 AD and the destruction of the Temple. "Why had it all happened? What had gone wrong? Why was Jerusalem destroyed? Mark tells the story in such a way to make sense out of that." {4}

Another reason Mark may have emphasized the messianic secret is to demonstrate that the messiah must suffer and die, which was contrary to the expectations of the vast majority of Jesus' followers. In Mark, Jesus' disciples witness his miracles and listen to his wisdom and correctly identify him as the messiah, but they never expect him to be executed at a young age. So now that Jesus has died, Mark may be trying to show that this fact is not so incongruous as it seems. With this interpretation, "the messianic secret of Jesus is that he is the son of man who has come to suffer and not the Messiah who is going to do great miracles." {5}

Another major emphasis of Mark is the death of Jesus. Of course, all four gospel writers devote significant time to the last days of Jesus. In Mark, though, Jesus' death seems to be absolutely central to the entire gospel.

Indeed, the gospel of Mark is really about the death of Jesus and the hope of his return when God brings an end to the present evil age. {6}

Finally, it is interesting to note that Mark's gospel does not include an account of the resurrection. It does include a sighting of the empty tomb, but ends on a rather disconcerting note. "Two women enter the tomb, and they see a young man dressed in white. He explains that Jesus has been raised, and he instructs the women to tell Peter and the other disciples. The women flee in terror." {7} In the earliest manuscripts, Mark's narrative ends there. The more upbeat ending that now appears in the New Testament was added by a later editor.

St. Mark writes his gospelAuthor of the Book of Mark

Early Christian authors, including Papias, Irenaeus, the author of the Muratorian Canon, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, and Jerome, were unanimous in attributing this gospel to a "Mark" who was a close associate of the Apostle Peter. {8}

The most complete external evidence for Mark's authorship and his association with Peter comes in the church historian Eusebius, who quotes Papias (c. 60-130 AD), a bishop of Hierapolis in Asia Minor, as writing:

Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered. It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him. But afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who accommodated his instructions to the necessities [of his hearers], but with no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord's sayings. Wherefore Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he remembered them. For of one thing he took especial care, not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements. {9}

In addition, Justin Martyr quotes a passage from the book of Mark that he attributes to "the memoirs of Peter," {10} and in Acts 10:34-40, Peter's speech reflects the Gospel of Mark in "beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached."

It is significant that although Mark's gospel has always been associated with the Apostle Peter, there does not seem to have been any tendency to call the work the "Gospel According to Peter." (The same is true for Luke's connection with the Apostle Paul.) This increases the likelihood that Mark was actually the author, as "it is unlikely that the early church would have assigned a gospel to a minor figure like John Mark unless he were in fact its author, since the books of the New Testament normally required authorship by an apostle to qualify for acceptance in the canon." {11}

It is generally agreed that this Mark is the same person as the John Mark mentioned in Acts (see 12:12, 12:25, 13:5, 13:13, 15:36). Traditionally, Mark's gospel is based on Peter's preaching, which was tailored to address the needs of various Christian communities and therefore not in narrative form. {12} This may be why Papias notes that Mark did not write down the events of Jesus' life "in exact order." Mark probably also used extant collections of miracle stories and sayings of Jesus to weave together his gospel.

The Book of Mark's Date of Composition

Most scholars date the Gospel of Mark to sometime between 60 AD and 80 AD. It was probably the earliest of the four gospels and a source used by Matthew and Luke.

The oldest clear evidence we have on regarding the date comes from Irenaeus of Lyons, who wrote in the second century:

.after their death [Peter and Paul], Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, transmitted to us in writing what was preached by Peter." {13}

Peter probably died around 65 AD, so if Irenaeus is right, then Mark was written after this time. {14} If Irenaeus was not correct, it may not have been composed much earlier because oral tradition would have had to develop. {15}

An additional consideration is that Mark 13 may reflect the Jewish War and the resulting destruction of the temple, which occurred in 70 AD. Many scholars conclude from this that Mark had to have been written after 70 AD:

.there is a consensus about when he wrote: he probably composed his work in or about the year 70 CE, after the failure of the First Jewish Revolt and the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple at the hands of the Romans. That destruction shapes how Mark tells his story. {16}

Of course, this argument would not be convincing to Christians who believe in the divine aspect of Jesus' teachings and the inspiration of the New Testament. For such believers, Jesus could have predicted an event that had not yet occurred, so Mark could be dated earlier than 70 AD.

An alternative non-supernatural explanation is that Mark's apocalyptic events and emphasis on suffering refer to the persecutions under Nero from 64-67. {17}

If one accepts the theory that Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source for their gospels, then the latest date Mark could have been written in about 80 AD, as the other gospels are generally dated to the last decades of the first century.

The Book of Mark's Place of Origin

Since it often explains Jewish customs and translates Aramaic words, Mark's Gospel was probably written for a Gentile audience. More specifically, it is likely that it was intended for Rome and occasioned by Nero's persecutions of 64-67 AD. Suffering and radical discipleship are major themes in Mark's Gospel. {18}

Mark is generally thought to have been written in Rome, for several reasons:

  • The intended audience is clearly Gentile, as Mark often explains Jewish terms and customs (e.g., 7:3f., 11:13, 12:42)
  • The intended audience seems to have been experiencing persecution (see 8:34-38, 10:38f., 13:9-13)
  • Peter is believed to have spent the last part of his life in Rome
  • The Anti-Marcionite Prologue, Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria all state that Mark was written in Rome. {19}
  • Other New Testament books place John Mark in Rome at the same time (e.g. 2 Timothy 4:11). {20}
  • The author of Mark apparently had no first-hand knowledge of Palestine (7:31 and 11:1 are geographical errors) {21}
  • Association with the Roman church would explain its authoritative position in the early church {22}

However, others have suggested a different provenance for Mark, such as Antioch, Syria {23} or Alexandria, Egypt.

The Book of Mark's Style

"The most distinctive feature of Mark's vocabulary, syntax and style is its almost complete lack of distinction." {24} All but 79 of the words used in Mark are used elsewhere in the New Testament and the author's Greek is not impressive. However, there are some distinguishing characteristics in the author's style that may be of interest:

  • Regular use of dimunitives and words of Latin origin (common in colloquial speech)
  • Prefers to use the imperfect tense of the verb "to be" with a participle rather than the imperfect tense of verbs (e.g., "he was going")
  • Regular use of double negatives
  • The historical present is used 151 times
  • Uses "he began to" or "they began to" 26 times
  • Most sentences start with the word "and," but the Greek word translated as "immediately" or "then" is used 46 times. {25}

Also see:

Commentaries of the Book of Mark

Commentaries on the Book of Mark (link goes to Amazon)

The Book of Mark's Outlines

There are a variety of ways to summarize the organization and structure of Mark's gospel. Two outlines are reproduced below as examples.

Robert M. Grant, A Historical Introduction to the New Testament (Harper & Row, 1963):

 
  • I. The Gospel of the Kingdom (1:1-4:34)
    • A. The proclamation of the gospel (1:1-45)
    • B. The reception of the gospel (2:1-3:35)
    • C. Teaching about the reception of the gospel (4:1-34)
  • II. The Inauguration of the Kingdom (4:35-8:26)
    • A. The incipient presence of the kingdom (4:35-5:43)
    • B. The rejection of the kingdom (6:1-29)
    • C. The kingdom anticipated (6:30-7:37; 8:1-26)
  • III. The Recognition of Jesus as the Christ (8:27-9:13)
  • IV. Through Death to Victory (9:14-16:8)
    • A. The way of the cross (9:14-10:52)
    • B. The Christ in Jerusalem (11-13)
    • C. The passion (14-15)
    • D. The resurrection (16:1-8)

Daniel B. Wallace, "Mark: Introduction, Argument, and Outline". Bible.org.

  • I. The Beginning of the Servant’s Ministry (1:1-13)
    • A. His Forerunner (1:1-8)
    • B. His Baptism (1:9-11)
    • C. His Temptation (1:12-13)
  • II. The Servant’s Ministry in Galilee (1:14–6:6a)
    • A. Cycle One: Jesus’ Early Galilean Ministry (1:14–3:6)
      • 1. Introductory Summary: Jesus’ Message in Galilee (1:14-15)
      • 2. A Call to Four Fishermen (1:16-20)
      • 3. Authority over Demons and Disease (1:21-45)
        • a. An Exorcism in the Synagogue (1:21-28)
        • b. The Healing of Simon’s Mother-in-Law (1:29-34)
        • c. A Solitary Prayer (1:35-39)
        • d. The Cleansing of a Leper (1:40-45)
      • 4. Confrontations with Religious Leaders (2:1–3:5)
        • a. Concerning the Healing and Forgiveness of a Paralyzed Man (2:1-12)
        • b. Concerning the Calling of a Tax-Collector (2:13-17)
        • c. Concerning Fasting (2:18-22)
        • d. Concerning Jesus’ Authority over the Sabbath (2:23–3:5)
          • 1) Plucking Grain on the Sabbath (2:23-28)
          • 2) Healing on the Sabbath (3:1-5)
      • 5. Conclusion: Jesus’ Rejection by the Pharisees (3:6)
    • B. Cycle Two: Jesus’ Later Galilean Ministry (3:7–6:6a)
      • 1. Introductory Summary: Jesus’ Activity in Galilee (3:7-12)
      • 2. Appointment of the Twelve Disciples (3:13-19)
      • 3. Accusation regarding Beelzebub, the Prince of Demons (3:20-30)
      • 4. Invitation to Join Jesus’ Family (3:31-35)
      • 5. Invitation to Enter the Kingdom (Parables) (4:1-34)
        • a. The Setting (4:1-2)
        • b. The Responsibility of the Hearers (4:3-25)
          • 1) The Parable of the Sower (4:3-9)
          • 2) The Purpose of the Parables (4:10-12)
          • 3) The Parable of the Sower Explained (4:13-20)
          • 4) The Parable of the Lamp (4:21-25)
        • c. The Parables of the Character of the Kingdom (4:26-32)
          • 1) The Parable of the Growing Seed (4:26-29)
          • 2) The Parable of the Mustard Seed (4:30-32)
        • d. Conclusion (4:33-34)
      • 6. Miraculous Demonstration of Jesus’ Authority (4:35–5:43)
        • a. The Calming of a Storm (4:35-41)
        • b. The Healing of a Gerasene Demoniac (5:1-20)
        • c. The Raising of Jairus’ Daughter and the Healing of a Hemorrhaging Woman (5:21-43)
      • 7. Conclusion: Jesus’ Rejection in his Hometown (6:1-6a)
  • III. The Servant’s Withdrawals from Galilee (6:6b–8:21)
    • A. The Catalyst: The News about Jesus Spreading (6:6b-29)
      • 1. By Jesus’ Activities (6:6b)
      • 2. By Jesus’ Disciples (6:7-13)
      • 3. As far as Herod (6:14-29)
        • a. The Report to Herod (6:14-16)
        • b. The Beheading of John (6:17-29)
    • B. The Withdrawals (6:30–8:21)
      • 1. To a Deserted place (6:30–7:23)
        • a. Miracles Performed (6:30-56)
          • 1) Feeding of the Five Thousand (6:30-44)
          • 2) Walking on the Water (6:45-56)
        • b. Pharisees Confronted: Clean Vs. Unclean (7:1-23)
          • 1) Confrontation with the Pharisees (7:1-13)
          • 2) Declaration to the Crowd (7:14-15)
          • 3) Instruction of the Disciples (7:17-23)
      • 2. To the Vicinity of Tyre: The Healing of the Syrophoenician Woman’s Daughter (7:24-30)
      • 3. To the Region of Decapolis: The Healing of a Deaf-Mute (7:31-37)
      • 4. To the Sea of Galilee: The Feeding of the Four Thousand (8:1-9)
      • 5. To Dalmanutha (= Magadan) (8:10-21)
        • a. The Withdrawal to Dalmanutha (8:10)
        • b. The Pharisees’ Demand for a Sign (8:11-13)
        • c. The Pharisees’ Teaching Warned Against (8:14-21)
  • IV. Revelation of the Servant’s Suffering at Caesarea Philippi (8:22-38)
    • A. Introductory Object Lesson: The Two-Stage Healing of a Blind Man at Bethsaida (8:22-26)
    • B. Peter’s Confession: Jesus is the Christ (8:27-30)
    • C. Jesus’ Disclosure: Death and Resurrection (8:31-38)
      • 1. The Statement by Jesus (8:31)
      • 2. Resistance by Peter (8:32-33)
      • 3. The Principle: Suffering before Glory (8:34-38)
  • V. The Suffering Servant’s Journey to Jerusalem (9:1–10:52)
    • A. Lessons in Galilee (9:1-50)
      • 1. The Transfiguration (9:1-13)
      • 2. The Healing of a Demon-Possessed Boy (9:14-30)
      • 3. Prediction of Death and Resurrection: Second Mention (9:31-32)
      • 4. The Greatest Disciple (9:33-37)
      • 5. Doing Good in Jesus’ Name (9:38-41)
      • 6. Stumbling Blocks (9:42-48)
      • 7. Worthless Salt (9:49-50)
    • B. Lessons in Perea and Judea (10:1-52)
      • 1. In Perea (10:1-31)
        • a. Divorce (10:1-12)
        • b. Childlikeness (10:13-16)
        • c. Riches (10:17-31)
          • 1) The Rich Young Man: Security in Riches (10:17-22)
          • 2) The Disciples: Security in Christ (10:23-31)
      • 2. In Judea (10:32-52)
        • a. Prediction Death and Resurrection: Third Mention (10:32-34)
        • b. True Leadership (10:35-52)
          • 1) John’s and James’ Request (10:35-37)
          • 2) Jesus’ Response (10:38-45)
          • 3) Jesus’ Example: Healing of Blind Bartimaeus (10:46-52)
  • VI. The Suffering Servant’s Ministry in Jerusalem (11:1–13:37)
    • A. The Presentation of the Suffering Servant: Entrance into Jerusalem (11:1-11)
      • 1. Preparation: The Unbroken Colt (11:1-6)
      • 2. Coronation: The Recognition of Jesus’ Messiahship (11:7-10)
      • 3. Prolepsis: Investigation of the Temple (11:11)
    • B. The Judgment of the Nation in Symbols (11:12-26)
      • 1. The Entrance into the Temple (11:12-19)
        • a. Proleptic Rejection of the Nation: Cursing of the Fig Tree (11:12-14)
        • b. The Cleansing of the Temple (11:15-17)
        • c. Proleptic Rejection of the Messiah: The Plot to Kill Jesus (11:18-19)
      • 2. The Withered Fig Tree (11:20-26)
    • C. Confrontations with Religious Leaders (11:27–12:44)
      • 1. The Authority of Jesus Questioned (11:27-33)
      • 2. The Parable of the Wicked Tenants (12:1-12)
      • 3. Paying Taxes to Caesar (12:13-17)
      • 4. Marriage at the Resurrection (12:18-27)
      • 5. The Greatest Commandment (12:28-34)
      • 6. Whose Son is the Christ? (12:35-37a)
      • 7. The Hypocrisy of the Religious Leaders (12:37b-44)
        • a. Condemnation of Hypocrisy (12:37b-40)
        • b. Commendation of the Widow’s Sincerity (12:41-44)
    • D. The Judgment of the Nation in Prophecy (13:1-37)
      • 1. The Setting in the Temple (13:1-2)
      • 2. The Discourse on the Mount of Olives (13:3-37)
        • a. Signs of the End of the Age (13:3-31)
        • b. The Day and Hour Unknown (13:32-37)
  • VII. The Culmination of the Suffering Servant’s Ministry: Death and Resurrection (14:1–16:8)
    • A. The Preparation for Death (14:1-52)
      • 1. The Anointing at Bethany (14:1-11)
        • a. Anointing of Jesus by a Woman (14:1-5)
        • b. Prediction of her Memorial by Jesus (14:6-9)
        • c. Agreement to Betrayal by Judas (14:10-11)
      • 2. The Last Passover (14:12-26)
      • 3. The Prediction of Peter’s Denials (14:27-31)
      • 4. Gethsemane (14:32-42)
      • 5. The Arrest of Jesus (14:43-52)
    • B. The Death of Jesus (14:53–15:47)
      • 1. The Trials of Jesus (14:53–15:15)
        • a. The Trial Before the Sanhedrin (14:53-65)
        • b. Peter Denies Jesus (14:66-72)
        • c. The Trial Before Pilate (15:1-15)
      • 2. The Crucifixion of Jesus (15:16-41)
        • a. The Mocking of the Soldiers (15:16-20)
        • b. The Actual Crucifixion of Jesus (15:21-32)
        • c. The Death of Jesus (15:33-41)
      • 3. The Burial of Jesus (15:42-47)
    • C. The Resurrection of Jesus (16:1-8)
      • 1. The Empty Tomb (16:1-5)
      • 2. The Angel's Announcement (16:6-7)
      • 3. The Open Ending (16:8)

References

  1. Robert M. Grant, "The Gospel of Mark." A Historical Introduction to the New Testament (Harper & Row, 1963), citing A. P. Wikgren, Journal of Biblical Literature 61 (1942), 11-20.
  2. L. Michael White, "The Gospel of Mark: A Story of Secrecy and Misunderstanding." From Jesus to Christ: The Story of the Storytellers. PBS Frontline, 1998.
  3. Edgar Goodspeed, "The Gospel of Mark."
  4. White, op. cit.
  5. Helmut Koester, "Jesus in Mark: The Messianic Secret." From Jesus to Christ: The Story of the Storytellers. PBS Frontline, 1998.
  6. Marilyn Mellowes, "The Gospel of Mark." From Jesus to Christ: The Story of the Storytellers. PBS Frontline, 1998.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Unknown.
  9. Ecclesiastical History, 3.39.
  10. Dialogue with Trypho, 106.3.
  11. Ronald F. Youngblood, ed., "Mark, Gospel of." Nelson's New Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995), p. 800.
  12. Kenneth Barker, ed., "Mark." NIV Study Bible (Zondervan, 1985), p. 1490.
  13. Against Heresies 3.1.1.
  14. "We are probably justified, then, in placing the gospel in the seventh decade of the first century." Grant, op. cit.
  15. Nineham, 41.
  16. Marilyn Mellowes, "The Gospel of Mark." Frontline.
  17. "Mark." NIV Study Bible (Zondervan, 1995), p. 1490.
  18. Ibid.
  19. Ibid.
  20. "The Synoptic Gospels," NIV Study Bible (Zondervan, 1995), p. 1437.
  21. Dennis Nineham, St. Mark, p. 43.
  22. Ibid.
  23. Reginald Fuller, A Critical Introduction to the New Testament, p. 107.
  24. Grant, op. cit.
  25. Ibid.

Books on the Gospel of Mark

Outlines of the book of Mark

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