Introduction to Mark’s Gospel

As our church begins a journey through Mark’s Gospel, I wanted to present a very brief introduction. JED

Getting Acquainted With The Gospel of Mark

1. The Gospel of Mark was written by John Mark. As with the other Gospels, The Gospel of Mark is anonymous. Early tradition is unanimous that the author of this Gospel was John Mark.. According to church tradition, John Mark wrote the Second Gospel from Rome, using Peter as his primary source. (Holman Bible Handbook) John Mark came from a religious home. We know that his mother hosted a Jerusalem house church (Acts 12:12). He ministered alongside his cousin Barnabas (Acts 12:25; 15:37, 39), and also Paul (Col 4:10; 2 Tim 4:11; Phil 24). On an ill-fated missionary journey, John Mark departed from them and was the source of a dividing of the ways between Barnabas and Paul. Later he was a close associate of Peter (1 Pet. 5:13 “… Mark, my son.”) Peter, of course, was no stranger to failure himself, and his influence on the younger man was, no doubt, instrumental in helping him out of the instability of his youth and into the strength and maturity he would need for the work to which God had called him. (MacArthur) Justin Martyr, writing about a.d. 150, referred to the Gospel of Mark as “the memoirs of Peter” and suggested that Mark wrote his gospel in Italy.

2. Mark is the Earliest of the Four Gospels. The church fathers state that the Gospel of Mark was written after Peter’s death, which occurred during the persecutions by the Emperor Nero in about A.D. 67. The Gospel itself, particularly chapter 13, indicates that it was written before the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70. The bulk of the evidence supports a date between A.D. 65 and 70.

3. Mark’s Gospel Sought to Strengthen the Church in Time of Suffering. In A.D. 64 Nero accused the Christian community of setting the city of Rome on fire, and thereupon instigated a fearful persecution in which Paul and Peter perished. During a time when the church was persecuted, living constantly under the threat of death, the evangelist Mark writes his “good news.” Clearly he wants his readers to draw encouragement and strength from the life and example of Jesus. What was true for Jesus was to be true for the apostles and disciples of all ages. When Roman believers received the Gospel of Mark they found that it spoke to the situation of the Christian Community in Nero’s Rome. (Lane) Reduced to a catacomb existence, they read of the Lord who was driven deep into the wilderness (1:12). Only Mark says that in the wilderness Jesus was with the wild beasts (1:13), of significance for those called to enter the arena where they stood helpless in the presence of wild beasts. In Mark’s gospel they found that nothing they could suffer from Nero was alien to the experience of Jesus. Like them, he had been misrepresented to the people and falsely labelled (3:21f). And they knew the experience of betrayal from within the circle of intimate friends. It was sobering to recollect that one of the Twelve had been “Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him” (3:19).

4. Mark is the shortest of the Gospels. It containing no genealogy and no account of the birth and early Judean ministry of Jesus. Mark omits the lengthy discourses found in the other gospels, often relating only brief excerpts to give the gist of Jesus’ teaching.

5. Mark is the Gospel of action. He is focused on the deeds of Jesus more than His teaching, particularly emphasizing service and sacrifice. Mark accents the activity he records by the use of the word usually translated “immediately.” The word occurs forty-two times in Mark. More than in all the rest of the New Testament. 

6. Mark is the Gospel of vividness. Graphic, striking phrases occur frequently to allow the reader to form a mental picture of the scene described. The looks and gestures of Jesus receive unusual attention. Barclay says that no one tells us so much about the emotions of Jesus as Mark does. Jesus sighed deeply in his spirit (7:34; 8:12). He was moved with compassion (6:34). He marveled at their unbelief (6:6). He was moved with righteous anger (3:5; 8:33; 10:14). Only Mark tells us that when Jesus looked at the rich young ruler He loved him (10:21). Jesus could feel the pangs of hunger (11:12). He could be tired and want to rest (6:31).

7. Mark places little emphasis on Jewish law and customs. He always interprets them for the reader when he does mention them. There are many Latinisms in the Gospel (see 4:21; 12:14; 6:27; 15:39).  This feature tends to support the tradition that Mark wrote for a Gentile, Roman audience.

8. Mark offers one of the most highly disputed texts in the New Testament – Mark 16:9-20. The external evidence strongly suggests that these verses were not originally part  of Mark’s gospel. The earliest and most reliable manuscripts do not contain this passage. Perhaps a scribe or copyist added this ending some years later. Barclay exclaims, “But the Gospel cannot have been meant to stop at Mark 16:8. What happened?” Perhaps Mark died – perhaps was even martyred – and could not finish the manuscript. More likely it could be that only one copy of the gospel remained and that the part with the last of the Gospel had been torn off. The oldest manuscripts of Mark end with the fear and silence of the women in 16:8. This puzzling ending reminds contemporary disciples that the Jesus story is unfinished until we share the message boldly with our generation. Caution should be exercised in formulating doctrine solely from this passage.

9. Discipleship is the central theme of Mark’s Gospel. (Holman Bible Handbook) Of all the Gospels, Mark is at once the most frankly realistic in assessing the difficulties of discipleship and the most hopeful.  Discipleship is costly (8:34–37; 12:44; 14:3–5), and persecution comes with the territory (10:30; 13:9–13). Mark’s Gospel teaches that the life of discipleship means following Jesus along the same path of misunderstanding and rejection that He encountered. Mark encouraged Christians to courageous witness. Mark encouraged witness in the face of Jewish opposition through the thirteen “conflict stories” illustrating Jesus’ authority (2:1–3:6; 3:20–35; 7:1– 23; 10:1–12; 11:27–12:37).  Mark likewise encouraged witness through the example of his characters.

10. A Short Outline of Mark

          I.      Introduction (1:1–13)

          II.      Jesus’ Authority Revealed (1:14–3:6)

          III.      Jesus’ Authority Rejected (3:7–6:6a)

          IV.      Gathering a New Community (6:6b–8:21)

          V.      Equipping the New Community (8:22–10:52)

          VI.      Judgment on Jerusalem (11:1–13:37)

          VII.      Judgment on Jesus: Passion and Resurrection (14:1–16:8)

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Sources

Hayford, J. W., Thomas Nelson Publishers. (1995). Hayford’s Bible handbook. Nashville, TN; Atlanta, GA; London; Vancouver: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Dockery, D. S., Butler, T. C., Church, C. L., Scott, L. L., Ellis Smith, M. A., White, J. E., & Holman Bible Publishers (Nashville, T. . (1992). Holman 

Bible Handbook (pp. 569–570). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

MacArthur, J. (2000). Mark: The Humanity of Christ (p. 1). Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group.

Shelly, Rubel. A Book-By-Book Study of the New Testament. (1982) 20th Century Christian Foundation, Nashville, TN.

Barclay, William. The Gospel of Mark (1954), The Daily Bible Study Series, Westminster Press.

Lane, William L. The New International Commentary of the New Testament: The Gospel of Mark. Eerdmans. 1974.