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An Introduction to the Gospel Of Mark

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I. AUTHOR: JOHN MARK

A. Strictly speaking, the Gospel is anonymous

B. EXTERNAL EVIDENCE strongly supports John Mark as the author of the Gospel of Mark in association with the Apostle Peter1

1. Pseudo-Barnabas ([5:9; Mark 2:17] c. A.D. 70-130)

2. Polycarp (c. 110-150)

3. Hermas (c. 115-140)

4. Papias (the bishop of Hierapolis A.D. 140) wrote in his last work (Exegesis of the Lords Oracles) the strongest evidence for Marcan authorship tied to Peter:2

The Elder said this also: Mark, who became Peter’s interpreter, wrote accurately, though not in order, all that he remembered of the things said or done by the Lord. For he had neither heard the Lord nor been one of his followers, but afterwards, as I said, he had followed Peter, who used to compose his discourses with a view to the needs of his hearers, but not as though he were drawing up a connected account of the Lord’s sayings. So Mark made no mistake in thus recording some things just as he remembered them. For he was careful of this one thing, to omit none of the things he had heard and to make no untrue statements therein.3

5. Irenaeus (c. 130-202) also agrees with the Mark-Peter correlation:

“And after their [Peter’s and Paul’s] death, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, himself also handed down to us in writing the things preached by Peter”4

6. Justin Martyr ([Dialogue, 106.3] c. 150-155)

7. Clement of Alexandria ([preserved in Eusebius’ Historia Ecclesia, vi.14.6ff] c. 150-215)

8. Tertullian ([Adv. Marcion, iv.5] c. 150-220)

9. Origen (c. 185-254)

10. Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 315-386)

11. Eusebius (c. 325-340)

12. Jerome (c. 340-420)

13. Augustine (c. 400)

14. The Anti-Marcionite Prologue to Mark (A.D. 160-180) mentions Mark as the Gospel writer and connects him with Peter:

“...Mark declared, who is called ‘stumb-fingered’ because he had short fingers in comparison with the size of the rest of his body. He was Peter’s interpreter. After the death of Peter himself he wrote down this same gospel in the regions of Italy.”5

15. Murtatorian Canon (c. 170)

C. INTERNAL EVIDENCE is the realm where some questions are raised, but they are not determinative to overthrow Marcan authorship

1. John-Mark is mentioned elsewhere in the biblical material:

a. He was a Jewish Christian whose mother, Mary, owned a home in Jerusalem where the early church met (Acts 12:12)

b. He was a cousin of Barnabas (Col. 4:10)

c. He was added to Paul and Barnabas’ party when they visited Jerusalem for the famine relief (Acts 12:25)

d. He went with Barnabas and Saul (Paul) on the first missionary journey, but turned back to Jerusalem when they went inland to Asia at Perga in Pamphylia (Acts 13:5,13)

e. On the second missionary journey Barnabas wanted to take John-Mark along, but Paul refused because of his earlier defection, so Barnabas took Mark to Cyprus where he probably encouraged him (Acts 15:36-41)

f. Paul was later reconciled with Mark:

1) Mark was with Paul during his imprisonment in Rome and served as his delegate in Asia Minor (Philemon 24; Col. 4:10)

2) Paul instructed Timothy to send Mark to Rome to be with him during his final imprisonment because he was useful to him for service (2 Tim. 4:11)

g. When 1 Peter was written, Mark was with Peter in Rome and regarded as Peter’s spiritual son (1 Peter 5:13)

2. It is unlikely that the early church would have assigned the authorship of a Gospel to a person of secondary, and even “questionable” history as John Mark since he was neither an apostle, nor a person of prominence in the early church

3. Luke may possibly have developed John Mark in the book of Acts not only for literary reasons within the book, but because he was a source which Luke used

4. There is evidence in Mark that it was written for Gentiles (perhaps from Rome):

a. Mark does not include a genealogy

b. Mark interprets Hebrew (Aramaic) words (5:41; 7:11,34; 14:36)

c. Mark uses Roman time rather than Hebrew time (6:48; 13:35)

d. Mark uses Latin (5:9; 6:27; 12:15,42; 15:16,39)

e. Mark explains locations and places

5. There is evidence that the writer was from Palestine:

a. He is familiar with the geography of Palestine, especially Jerusalem (5:1; 6:53; 8:10; 11:1; 13:3)

b. He knew Aramaic, the common language of Palestine (5:41; 7:11,34; 14:36)

c. He understood Jewish institutions and customs (1:21; 2:14,16,18; 7:2-4)

6. There is evidence that the author was connected with Peter:

a. The vividness and detail suggest reminiscences of a close eyewitness such as Peter (1:16-20,29-31,35-38; 5:21-24,35-43; 6:39,53-54; 9:14-15; 10:32,46; 14:32-42)

b. The use of Peter’s words and deeds (8:29,32-33; 9:5-6; 10:28-30; 14:29-31,66-72)

c. The inclusion of the unique words “and Peter” in 16:7

d. The similarity between the broad outline of this Gospel and Peter’s sermon in Caesarea [Galilee, Jerusalem, Passion, Resurrection, Commission] (Acts 10:34-43)

II. DATE: Although the problem is complex, it is plausible that Mark was written sometime between A.D. 64-69

A. The usual discussion of date revolves around the synoptic problem and especially Marcan priority. In view of the historical identification of Matthew, a possible plurality of sources used by all of the synoptic writers, and the Jewish need for Matthew, it is possible that Matthew preceded the Gospel of Mark. Therefore, Mark need not be the first Gospel account

1. Mark was considered to be an abstract of Matthew from Augustine until the early part of the nineteenth century (Guthrie, p. 133)

2. Even though the parallels of “Mark” in Matthew and Luke are striking, it is entirely possible that they are using a similar source which Mark used (Ur-Mark/pre-Marcan)

3. Matthew was an Apostle, so one wonders why in his composition of a gospel account he would depend so heavily upon another’s eyewitness account (e.g., the banquet held in his own house (Matthew 9:9-13; Mark 2:13-17) see Toussaint, Behold the King p. 330)

4. Since the first church was Jewish and Matthew’s gospel is characteristically Jewish, it is reasonable to consider Matthew as the first gospel designed to address the early concerns of the Jews

B. The description of Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem suggests that Mark’s Gospel was written before A.D. 70 (Mk. 13:2,14-23)

C. Early testimony of the church is divided about when Mark was written (e.g., before or after the martyrdom of Peter, A.D. 64-68):

1. Irenaeus and the Anti-Marcionite Prologue affirmed that Mark wrote after the death of Peter and Paul (see above) thus, placing the date of the epistle between A.D. 67-69 (Paul was probably martyred A.D. 67/68)

2. Clement of Alexandria and Origen affirmed that Mark wrote during Peter’s lifetime with Peter’s ratification,6 thus placing the date of the epistle between A.D. 64-68 (Peter was probably martyred A.D. 64)

3. It is possible that the statements are not contradictory:

a. Perhaps Mark began his gospel before Peter’s death, and completed it after Peter’s death

b. It is also possible that Irenaeus is not referring to the death of Peter so much as to his departure (fѪ¢ª*) from the place where Mark was

c. If the statements are not contradictory than a date would be in the early to mid-sixties

4. Because Marcan priority is not a necessary prerequisite to the synoptic problem, either option is possible allowing for all of the synoptics to have been written before A.D. 70:

a. Matthew could have been written c. A.D. 50

b. Luke could have been written c. A.D. 60

c. Acts could have been written c. A.D. 64/65

III. PLACE OF ORIGIN AND DESTINATION: Rome to Gentile, Roman Christians

A. The church fathers (see above under “Author”) affirm that Mark’s Gospel was written in Rome for Gentile, Roman Christians

B. Evidence from the Gospel supports the affirmations of the church fathers:

1. Aramaic expressions are translated (3:17; 5:41; 7:11,34; 9:43; 10:46; 14:36; 15:22,34)

2. Jewish customs are explained (7:3-4; 14:12; 15:42)

3. Latin terms are used rather than Greek equivalents (5:9; 6:27; 12:15,42; 15:16,39)

4. Roman reckoning of time is used (6:48; 13:35)

5. He alone identifies Simon of Cyrene as the father of Alexander and Rufus (15:21; cf. Rom. 16:13)

6. Few OT quotations or references to fulfilled prophecy are used

7. Mark is concerned for all of the nations and has a gentile, Roman centurion proclaim Jesus’ deity at the end of the Gospel (5:18029; 7:24--8:10; 11:17; 13:10; 14:9; 15:39)

8. The tone and message of the Gospel are encouraging to Roman believers who were encountering persecution and expecting more (8:34-38; 9:49; 13:9-13)

9. Mark assumes that his readers are familiar with the main characters, so he writes with more of a theological interest rather than a biological interest

10. Mark addresses his readers more directly by explaining the meaning for them of particular actions and statements (2:10,28; 7:19)

11. Mark does not include a genealogy as Matthew and Luke do

IV. OUTSTANDING CHARACTERISTICS OF MARK

A. In view of Christian martyrdom, Christ is presented as the One who continues to speak and act meaningfully in the context of crisis

B. Mark is simple and straightforward:

1. The language is less elaborate and more popular than Luke or Matthew

2. Mark uses “and” a lot

3. Mark uses “immediately” intimating vividness and excitement to the action

4. Mark uses the historical present over 150 times making Jesus a contemporary of those reading (narrative tells what happens, not simply what happened)

5. Mark uses detail in his narrative to heighten the sense of being there (names, pillow in the boat, wild beasts in the wilderness, nicknaming of James and John, etc.)

6. Mark puts his readers in the scene where they may visualize and feel what the evangelist has described: especially by making parenthetical statements (13:37; 4:41, etc.)

C. Mark is seeking for his readers to make a decision (cf. 3:7-9 [public] with 3:20-35 [private])

D. Mark is the shortest of the Gospels

E. Mark emphasizes Jesus’ action more than his teaching (18 miracles, and 4 parables). Jesus has sovereign power over all: disease, disability, demons, nature. This is evidence that Jesus’ kingdom has come near to those people

F. Mark’s subjects are related with unusual candor and vividness (Jesus’ hearers who are amazed, disciples who do not understand, Jesus who has emotions and compassion)

G. There is a dominate movement of Jesus toward the cross. From Mark 8:31 onward Jesus and his disciples were “on the way” (9:33; 10:32) from Caesarea Philippi in the north through Galilee to Jerusalem in the south. The rest of the narrative (36%) is devoted to events of the Passion Week (11:1--16:8). Mark has been called a Passion story with an introduction

H. Mark presents Jesus as the Son of God (1:1,11; 3:11; 5:7; 9:7; 13:32; 14:36, 61-62)

I. Barclay calls Mark the closest thing we have to a biography of Jesus’ life (p. xviii)

V. PURPOSES OF MARK

A. To encourage Roman Christians:

1. To demonstrate in an active way how to suffer during persecution--as Jesus did! Jesus is constantly presented as one who speaks and acts meaningfully in the context of crisis. This “present” aspect of the gospel (tenses, “immediately”, and miracles et cetera) was for this purpose7

2. To demonstrate how to be a disciple to Christians in Rome:

a. Mark explains Jewish customs (Pharisees 7:2; the preparation day 15:42)

b. This is portrayed through many of the portraits of Jesus and the Twelve

c. Jesus as Messiah is being portrayed as caring for his children--the disciples

d. Jesus teaches about discipleship in light of his death and resurrection

B. To fight the emergence of heretical, theological teachings8

If Mark is a later gospel (see above), than it follows that he in narrative form would be addressing similar difficulties addressed more directly by the letters of Paul and Peter

C. To emphasize Jesus as a servant:

1. Jesus proclaims himself as a servant 10:45

2. Matthew identifies Jesus as King, Messiah, but Mark focuses upon Jesus as servant:

a. He is the Servant of YHWH

b. Mark emphasizes what Jesus does rather than what Jesus says as in Matthew


1 Norman Geisler, A General Introduction to the Bible, pp. 186, 193.

2 This is preserved in Eusebius’ Historia Ecclesia (HE), iii.39.15.

3 Cited from Wessel, “Mark” in EBC, p. 605.

4 Contra Haereses 3.1.3.

5 Cited from Wessel, “Mark” in EBC, p. 606.

6 Historia Ecclesia, vi.14.6ff.

7 Lane, p. 25.

8 cf. Wessel, p. 610.

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines