MENU

Where the world comes to study the Bible

Introduction to Mark

OPENING STATEMENT

A. The ancient church usually bypassed copying, studying, and teaching Mark in preference to Matthew and Luke because they saw Mark as a "reader's digest" version (i.e., abridged Gospel), a view which is specifically stated later by Augustine.

 

B. Mark is not often quoted by the early Greek church fathers or the second century apologists (defenders of the faith).

 

C. Since the rise of the modern historical-grammatical approach to biblical interpretation, the Gospel of Mark has taken on new significance because it is viewed as the first written Gospel. Both Matthew and Luke use its outline in their presentations of Jesus' life and significance. Thereby Mark becomes the foundational document of the church, the first official written account of Jesus' life.

 

GENRE

A. The Gospels are not modern biographies or histories. They are selective theological writings used to introduce Jesus to different audiences and bring them to faith in Him. They are "good news" accounts of Jesus' life for the purpose of evangelism (cf. John 20:30-31).

 

B. Mark addresses four distinct historical settings and four theological purposes

1. the life and teachings of Jesus

2. the life and ministry of Peter

3. the needs of the early church

4. the evangelistic purpose of John Mark

 

C. The four Gospels are unique in Near Eastern and Greco-Roman literature. The inspired authors had the Spirit-led task of selecting Jesus' teachings and actions which clearly revealed His character and/or purpose.

They arranged these words and actions in different ways. One example would be in comparing Matthew's

Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) with Luke's Sermon on the Plain (cf. Luke 6:20-49). It becomes obvious that Matthew tended to collect all of Jesus' teachings into one long sermon, while Luke spread these same teachings throughout his Gospel. This same thing could be said about Matthew putting Jesus' miracles together, while Luke spreads them throughout his Gospel.

This implies the Gospel writers' ability not only to select and arrange Jesus' teachings, but also to adapt them for their own theological purposes (read Fee and Stuart's How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth, pp. 113-134). When reading the Gospels one must continue to ask what theological point these writers are trying to make. Why include this particular event, miracle, lesson at this point in their presentation of Jesus?

D. Mark's Gospel is a good example of Koine Greek as a second language of the people of the Mediterranean world. Mark's mother tongue was Aramaic (as was Jesus' and all Jews in first century Palestine). This Semitic flavor is often evident in Mark's Gospel.

 

AUTHORSHIP

A. John Mark has traditionally been identified with the Apostle Peter in writing this Gospel. The work itself (like all the Gospels) is anonymous.

 

B. Another evidence of Peter's eyewitness account is the fact that Mark does not record three special events in which Peter was personally involved.

1. his walking on water (cf. Matt. 14:28-33)

2. his being the spokesperson at Caesarea Philippi for the faith of the Twelve (cf. Matt. 16:13-20), in Mark only 8:27-30 and the "on this rock" and "keys of the kingdom" passages are omitted.

3. his procurement of the temple tax for himself and Jesus (cf. Matt. 17:24-27)

Perhaps Peter's modesty motivated him not to emphasize these events in his sermons in Rome.

 

C. Early church tradition

1. I Clements, written from Rome about a.d. 95, alludes to Mark (as does Shepherd of Hermes).

2. Papias, the bishop of Hierapolis (about a.d. 130), wrote Interpretation of the Lord's Sayings, which is quoted by Eusebius (a.d. 275-339) in his Ecclesiastical History 3:39:15. He asserts that Mark was Peter's interpreter who recorded accurately, but not chronologically, Peter's memories of Jesus. Apparently Mark took and adapted Peter's sermons and organized them into a Gospel presentation. Papias claims to have received this information from "the elder," which could refer to the Apostle John.

3. Justin Martyr (a.d. 150), in quoting Mark 3:17, adds that it comes from Peter's memory.

4. The Anti-Marcionite Prologue to Mark, written about a.d. 180, identifies Peter as the eyewitness of Mark's Gospel. It also states that Mark wrote the Gospel from Italy after Peter's death (traditionally in Rome around a.d. 65).

5. Irenaeus, writing about a.d. 180, mentions John Mark as Peter's interpreter and compiler of his memoirs after his death (cf. Contra Haereses 3:1:2).

6. Clement of Alexandria (a.d. 195) asserts that those who heard Peter preach in Rome asked Mark to record these sermons.

7. The Muratorian Fragment (i.e., a list of accepted books), written about a.d. 200 from Rome, although the text is incomplete, seems to affirm John Mark's recording Peter's sermons.

8. Tertullian (a.d. 200) in Against Marcion (4:5) says Mark published Peter's memories.

9. In The Expositor's Bible Commentary Vol. 8, p. 606, Walter Wessel makes the interesting comment that the above early church traditions are from geographically diverse church centers

a. Papias from Asia Minor

b. Anti-Marcion Prologue and the Muratorian Fragment both from Rome

c. Irenaeus (cf. Adv. Haer. 3:1:1) from Lyons in France. Irenaeus' tradition is also found in Tertullian (cf. Adv. Marc. 4:5) from north Africa and Clement of Alexandria, Egypt (cf. Hypotyposeis 6, quoted by Eusebius, Eccl. His. 2:15:1-2; 3:24:5-8; 6:14:6-7). This geographical diversity gives credence to its trustworthiness because of the tradition's wide acceptance in early Christianity.

10. According to Eusebius' Eccl. His. 4:25, Origen (a.d. 230) in Commentary on Matthew (there is no known commentary on Mark by anyone until the fifth century) says Mark wrote the Gospel as Peter explained it to him.

11. Eusebius himself discusses the Gospel of Mark in Eccl. His. 2:15 and says Mark recorded Peter's sermons at the behest of those who heard them so that they could be read in all the churches. Eusebius bases this tradition on the writings of Clement of Alexandria.

 

D. What do we know about John Mark

1. His mother was a well known believer in Jerusalem in whose house the church met (possibly the night of the Lord's Supper, cf. Mark 14:14-15; Acts 1:13-14; Acts 12:12). He was possibly the unnamed man who fled "naked" from Gethsemane (Mark 14:51-52).

2. He accompanied his uncle Barnabas (cf. Col. 4:10) and Paul back to Antioch from Jerusalem (Acts 12:25).

3. He was a companion of Barnabas and Paul on the first missionary journey (Acts 13:5), but returned home suddenly (Acts 13:13).

4. Later Barnabas wanted to take Mark on a second missionary journey, but this caused a terrible disagreement between Barnabas and Paul (Acts 15:37-40).

5. He was later reunited with Paul and became a friend and co-worker (Col. 4:10; 2 Tim. 4:11; Philemon 24).

6. He was a companion and co-worker with Peter (1 Pet. 5:13), possibly in Rome.

 

E. Mark's personal knowledge of the life of Jesus seems confirmed by Mark 14:51-52, where a man flees naked from the garden of Gethsemane just after Jesus' arrest. This unusual and totally unexpected detail seems to reflect Mark's personal experience.

 

DATE

A. The Gospel is the eyewitness account and interpretation of Jesus' life, actions, and teachings, apparently taken from Peter's sermons. They were compiled and distributed after his death, so says the Anti-Marcionite Prologue and Irenaeus (who also adds after the death of Paul). Both Peter and Paul were martyred under Nero (a.d. 54-68) in Rome (church tradition). The exact dates are uncertain, but if true, then probably the date of Mark was in the mid sixties.

 

B. It is possible that the Anti-Marcionite Prologue and Irenaeus do not refer to Peter's death, but his departure (i.e., exodus) from Rome. There is some traditional evidence (i.e., Justin and Hippolytus) that Peter visited Rome during the reign of Claudius (a.d. 41 to 54), (Eusebius' Eccl. His. 2:14:6).

 

C. It seems that Luke concludes Acts with Paul still in prison in the early sixties. If it is true that Luke used Mark in his Gospel, then it must have been written before Acts and, therefore, earlier than the early sixties.

 

D. The authorship and date of Mark does not in any way affect the historical/theological/evangelistic truths of this (or any) Gospel. Jesus, not the human author, is the key figure!

 

E. It is surprising that none of the Gospels (even John, written a.d. 95-96) refers or alludes to the destruction of Jerusalem (cf. Matt. 24; Mark 13; Luke 21) in a.d. 70 by the Roman general, later Emperor, Titus. Mark was probably written before this event. It is even possible that Matthew and Luke were written before this major judgment on Judaism. It simply must be stated that the exact dates for the composition of the Synoptic Gospels are uncertain at this time (as is their literary relationship to one another).

 

RECIPIENTS

A. Mark is connected to Rome by several early church writers

1. 1 Peter 5:13

2. Anti-Marcionite Prologue (Italy)

3. Irenaeus (Rome, cf. Adv. Haer. 3:1:2)

4. Clement of Alexandria (Rome cf. Eusebius Eccl. Hist. 4:14:6-7; 6:14:5-7)

 

B. Mark does not specifically state his purposes in writing the Gospel. There have been several theories.

1. an evangelistic tract (cf. Mark 1:1) written specifically to Romans (cf. Mark 1:15; 10:45)

a. Jewish elements interpreted (cf. Mark 7:3-4; 14:12; 15:42)

b. Aramaic words translated (cf. Mark 3:17; 5:41; 7:1,34; 10:46; 14:36; 15:22,34)

c. use of many Latin words (cf. executioner, Mark 6:27; sextanus, Mark 7:4; census, Mark 12:14; quadrans, Mark 12:42; praetorium, Mark 15:16; centurio, Mark 15:39; flagellare, Mark 15:42)

d. inclusive language in relation to Jesus

(1) inclusive language relating to those in Palestine (cf. Mark 1:5,28,33,39; 2:13; 4:1; 6:33,39,41,55)

(2) inclusive language relating to all people (cf. Mark 13:10)

2. persecution following the fire in Rome in a.d. 64, which Nero blamed on the Christians, initiated a terrible wave of persecution towards believers. Mark often mentions persecution (cf. Jesus' suffering 8:31; 9:39; 10:33-34,45 and His followers' suffering 8:34-38; 10:21,30,35-44).

3. the delayed Second Coming

4. the death of eyewitnesses to Jesus, especially the Apostles

5. the rise of heresies within the wide-spread Christian churches

a. Judaizers (Galatians)

b. Gnostics (1 John)

c. the combination of a. and b. (i.e., Colossians and Ephesians; 2 Pet. 2)

 

STRUCTURAL OUTLINE

A. Mark is structured in such a way that the last week of Jesus' life is the focus of over one-third of the book. The theological significance of the Passion Week is obvious.

 

B. Since Mark is, according to early church tradition, taken from Peter's sermons, (i.e., probably in Rome) it becomes evident why no birth narratives were included. Mark begins where Peter's experience starts, with Jesus as an adult, and is theologically related to John the Baptist's message of repentance and faith in preparation for the work of Messiah.

Peter's sermons must have used the concepts of "Son of Man" and "Son of God." The Gospel reflects Peter's own theology of Jesus' person. At first He was a great teacher and healer, but it became obvious He was the Messiah! This Messiah was not the expected conquering military general, but a Suffering Servant (cf. Isaiah 53).

C. Mark's basic geographical structural outline is shared by the other Synoptic Gospels (i.e., Matthew and Luke)

1. a Galilean Ministry (Mark 1:14-6:13)

2. ministry outside Galilee (Mark 6:14-8:30)

3. the journey to Jerusalem (Mark 8:31-10:52)

4. the last week in the Jerusalem area (Mark 11:1-16:8)

 

D. It is even possible that Mark's structure emulates the basic pattern of early Apostolic preaching (i.e., Acts 10:37-43, cf. C. H. Dodd's New Testament Studies pp. 1-11). If this is true then the written Gospels are the culmination of a period of oral traditions (i.e., kerygma). Judaism considered oral teaching to be superior to written texts.

 

E. Mark is characterized by a fast moving account (i.e., "immediately," cf. Mark 1:10) of the life of Jesus. Mark does not record long teaching sessions, but moves rapidly from event to event (i.e., his repeated use of "immediately"). Mark's Gospel reveals Jesus by His actions. However, this fast-paced account is strewn with vivid eyewitness details (i.e., Peter).

 

READING CYCLE ONE  (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the entire biblical book at one sitting. State the central theme of the entire book in your own words.

1. Theme of entire book

2. Type of literature (genre)

 

READING CYCLE TWO (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the entire biblical book a second time at one sitting. Outline the main subjects and express the subject in a single sentence.

1. Subject of first literary unit

2. Subject of second literary unit

3. Subject of third literary unit

4. Subject of fourth literary unit

5. Etc.