Gospel of Mark

MARK, GOSPEL OF. The shortest of the four Gospels. In comparison with Matthew and Luke, it contains relatively little of the teachings of Jesus and nothing at all about his birth and childhood. Starting with the ministry of John the Baptist, it comes immediately to the public ministry of Christ, ending with his death and resurrection.

I. Authorship. On two points the tradition of the early church is unanimous: the Second Gospel was written by Mark and presents the preaching of Peter. Papias (c. a.d. 140) is quoted by Eusebius as saying, “And John the presbyter also said this, Mark being the interpreter of Peter, whatsoever he recorded he wrote with great accuracy...he was in company with Peter, who gave him such instruction as was necessary, but not to give a history of our Lord’s discourses” (Eccl. Hist., 3.39). This suggests that Mark has given us a summary of the message of Peter.

Justin Martyr (c. a.d. 150) quotes Mark.3.17 as from “Peter’s Memoirs.” Irenaeus (c. 185) writes that after the departure (exodus) of Peter and Paul from Rome, “Mark the disciple and interpreter of Peter, also transmitted to us in writing what had been preached by Peter” (Eusebius, Eccl. Hist., 5.8). Most scholars hold that “departure” means “death.” Clement of Alexandria, however, affirms that the Gospel was written during Peter’s lifetime. Here is his statement: “When Peter had proclaimed the word publicly at Rome, and declared the Gospel under the influence of the Spirit; as there was a great number present, they requested Mark...to reduce these things to writing, and that after composing the Gospel he gave it to those who requested it of him. Which when Peter understood, he directly neither hindered nor encouraged it” (ibid., 6.14). In spite of this minor confusion, the early church fathers, including specifically Tertullian (c. 200) and Origen (c. 230), unite in affirming that Mark’s Gospel gives us the preaching of Peter. Such strong tradition can hardly be discounted, though some recent scholars have sought to do so. The traditional authorship of the Second Gospel is accepted more universally today than is the case with any of the other three Gospels.

II. Date. Most scholars today place the writing of Mark between a.d. 65 and 70, shortly before the destruction of Jerusalem in the latter year. Conservatives commonly hold to a date in the 50s. Of course, if one accepts the tradition that Mark wrote after Peter’s death, the later dates would have to be adopted.

III. Place of Writing. About this there is little question. From the early church—with the exception of Chrysostom—to the present it has been held that Mark’s Gospel was written at Rome. Several distinctive features point in this direction. Mark uses ten Latin words, some of which do not occur elsewhere in the NT. He explains Jewish customs because he is writing to Gentiles. To his Roman readers he presents Jesus as the mighty conqueror and the suffering servant of the Lord. Because of this purpose no genealogy nor infancy narratives are given. These are found only in Matthew and Luke.

IV. Character. In addition to those just mentioned, there are three main characteristics of this Gospel. The first is rapidity of action. The narrative moves quickly from one event to the next. This probably reflects the impulsive personality of Peter. Over forty times we find the Greek word euthys, translated (kjv) “immediately,” “straightway,” “forthwith.” As Vincent aptly says, “His narrative runs” (Word Studies, I, 160). The second characteristic is vividness of detail. Mark often includes details omitted by the other Synoptics that make the narrative more alive. He gives special attention to the looks and gestures of Jesus. The third characteristic is picturesqueness of description. Mark’s is preeminently the pictorial Gospel. He describes, for instance, the five thousand sitting on the green grass in “groups” (literally, “flower beds”). Peter evidently was impressed with the striking scene of the groups of people in brightly colored Oriental garments of red and yellow sitting on the green hillside, and Mark has preserved the picture for us.

Mark’s is the Gospel of action. Only one long message of Jesus is recorded, the Olivet Discourse (Mark.13.1-Mark.13.37). Mark includes eighteen miracles of Jesus, about the same number as Matthew or Luke. In contrast he has only four of the parables, compared with eighteen in Matthew and nineteen in Luke.

V. Content. The period of preparation (Mark.1.1-Mark.1.13) for Jesus' public ministry is described very briefly. It consists of three items: the min- istry of John the Baptist (Mark.1.1-Mark.1.8), the baptism of Jesus (Mark.1.9-Mark.1.11), and the temptation of Jesus (Mark.1.12-Mark.1.13). After an introduction of only 13 verses—in contrast to 76 in Matthew and 183 in Luke—Mark plunges immediately into the public ministry of the Master.

First comes the great Galilean ministry (Mark.1.14-Mark.9.50). This is commonly thought to have lasted about a year and a half. It may be divided into three sections. The first period (Mark.1.4-Mark.3.12) was a time of immense popularity. Jesus called four fishermen to follow him—and later Levi—and engaged in a vigorous healing ministry. This was the time when large crowds thronged about him.

In the second period (Mark.3.13-Mark.7.23) he appointed the twelve apostles, and opposition began to show itself. The Pharisees clashed with Jesus over questions about Sabbath observance and ceremonial cleansing. He healed the Gerasene demoniac and the woman with the issue of blood and raised Jairus’s daughter. He sent out the Twelve and fed the five thousand.

In the third period (Mark.7.24-Mark.9.50) Jesus gave more attention to his disciples. Three times he is described as withdrawing from the crowd to teach the disciples. After Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi he began a new phase of teaching: predicting his passion.

The great Galilean ministry was followed by the briefer Perean ministry (Mark.10.1-Mark.10.52), and then by Passion Week (Mark.11.1-Mark.15.47) and the Resurrection (Mark.16.1-Mark.16.20).

VI. Ending. A word must be said about the last twelve verses of Mark (Mark.16.9-Mark.16.20). The two oldest Greek manuscripts, Vaticanus and Sinaiticus (both fourth century a.d.), and the Sinaitic Syriac end the Gospel at Mark.16.8. The majority of scholars now believe that these last twelve verses are not a part of the original Gospel of Mark, although the matter is not settled conclusively.

VII. Priority. Most scholars today favor the theory that Mark’s Gospel was written first and was used by Matthew and Luke when they composed their Gospels. The fact is that about 95 percent of Mark is found in Matthew and or Luke. The freshness and vividness of Mark’s language suggest it was written first. It should be noted, however, that this position is still being challenged.

VIII. Evaluation. In the early church the Gospel of Mark received the least attention of any of the four. This is not true today. The importance of Mark as giving us the basic message of the primitive church (cf. Acts.1.22; Acts.2.22-Acts.2.24, Acts.2.36) is increasingly recognized. The theological as well as historical value of this Gospel is widely appreciated. It is the logical place to start one’s study of the four Gospels.

Bibliography: Vincent Taylor, The Gospel According to St. Mark, 1952 (on the Greek text); C. E. B. Cranfield, The Gospel According to Saint Mark (CGTC), 1959 (on the Greek text); C. F. D. Moule, The Gospel According to Mark (CBC), 1965; E. Schweizer, The Good News According to Mark, 1970; R. P. Martin, Mark: Evangelist and Theologian, 1972; W. L. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark (NIC), 1974.——RE


MARK, GOSPEL OF (κατά Μάρκον, “According to Mark”). Second gospel in NT today.

Background

Geographical.

The geographical setting of Mark’s gospel is mainly the Pal. of Jesus’ day. Palestine proper, between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan Valley, consisted of Galilee in the N, Samaria in the center, Judea in the S and Idumea below this. On the other side of the Jordan, E of Judea, was Perea (from Gr. pēran “across”). N and E of Perea was the Decapolis (“Ten Cities”). W and N of Galilee was Phoenicia (modern Lebanon), with its two main cities of Tyre and Sidon.

Historical.

Practically all of Mark’s gospel relates to the public ministry of Jesus. During this period Galilee and Perea were ruled by Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great. Judea, Samaria and Idumea were governed by the Rom. procurator (or, prefect) Pontius Pilate, who had been directly commissioned by the Emperor Tiberius.

Roman domination of Pal. had begun in 63 b.c., when Pompey took Jerusalem, by which time the Jews were accustomed to paying taxes to their foreign rulers. These taxes were somewhat oppressive. Everything, it seemed, was taxed—animals, fruit trees, homes, whatever a man owned. This is one reason why the tax collectors (called “publicans” in KJV) were hated by their fellow Jews. They symbolized foreign oppression, and their business contacts with Gentiles rendered them ceremonially unclean. They were despised and ostracized by the pious “people of God.”

Religious

The synagogue.

Solomon’s Temple was destroyed in 586 b.c. The Jewish captives in Babylonia would naturally wish to assemble for worship and the reading of their sacred Scriptures. Probably the earliest beginnings of the synagogue are to be found in this period, but the wide spread of this new institution seems to have taken place in the Pers. period, as a result of Ezra’s work.

By the time of Christ the number of synagogues had multiplied greatly. According to rabbinic tradition there were 480 of them in Jerusalem when the Temple was destroyed in a.d. 70. Many of them were built for the convenience of Jewish pilgrims coming from various foreign countries. On the hill Ophel, just S of Jerusalem, an inscr. was found that describes such a place. The Theodotus Inscription reads thus: “Theodotus, son of Vetenus, priest and archisynagogos [synagogue-ruler] grandson of an archisynagogos, built the synagogue for the reading of the Law and for the teaching of the commandments and the guest house and the rooms and supplies of water as an inn for those who are in need when coming from abroad, which synagogue his fathers and the elders and Simonides founded.”

Wherever there were ten adult male Jews in a town or village, a synagogue was to be established. Since the Jews were widely scattered over the Mediterranean world and the Mesopotamian region after the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem, synagogues were found almost everywhere. In the Book of Acts are mentioned two cities apparently without synagogues—Lystra and Philippi.

The synagogues were centers of education as well as places of worship. The public reading and expounding of the law was the leading function that took place.

The Sabbath.

The main thing that outwardly distinguished Jews from all others was their observance of the Sabbath day. This lasted from sunset Friday night until sunset Saturday. During this time no work was to be done. No devout Jew was permitted to walk more than the “sabbath day’s journey” (Acts 1:12), which was about half a mile. Sabbath observance was one of the crucial issues that the Pharisees raised with Jesus.

The sects.

There were three main religious sects in the Judaism of Jesus’ day. The dominant one was the Pharisees, mentioned 100 times in the NT. The Sadducees were second in importance, named fourteen times. The third sect, the Essenes, is not mentioned at all. In general it may be said that the Sadducees held control of the Temple worship, the Pharisees of the teaching in the synagogues, while the Essenes preferred to live in secluded groups.

a. The Pharisees. These were the men who came into most frequent conflict with Jesus. This was because they were legalists, giving undue emphasis to minute rules and regulations governing the everyday life of the people. They were “separatists,” the Puritans of their day. They emphasized the importance of almsgiving, fasting and public prayers. Jesus called them hypocrites because much of this was done for outward show. Theirs was largely a religion of outward action, His of inner attitude.

After the Babylonian exile there was a group in Judea known as the hasidim, or “pious ones.” Out of this apparently came the Pharisees in the Gr. period. They emphasized strict separation from all uncleanness, including unclean people. The latter would embrace not only Gentiles but also Jews who failed to observe the law meticulously. For the Pharisees, perfection meant purity from all ceremonial defilement.

Of course, not all the Pharisees were hypocrites. Many were sincerely pious. But Jesus charged many of them with inconsistency and insincerity.

The Pharisees accepted the whole of the OT as their sacred Scriptures. In addition, they gave great authority to “the tradition of the elders.” These were rabbinical interpretations and applications of the Mosaic law. They covered every aspect of the daily life of the people. Jesus accused the Pharisees of making the tradition of the elders more binding than the law that God gave to Moses (Mark 7:9-13).

b. The Sadducees. It was not until near the close of His ministry that Jesus came into direct conflict with the Sadducees. When He cleansed the Temple He threatened their prestige as well as their pocketbooks. Actually it was a clash of authority. So in the last hours before Christ was condemned and crucified the Sadducees, particularly the chief priests, led the opposition. They were the ones who agitated the people to demand His death (see Matt 27, passim).

It is thought that the name Sadducee was derived from Zadok, a priest in the time of David and Solomon. He was thought of as the father of the Jerusalem priesthood. The Sadducees prob. arose as a party in Judaism during the Maccabean period. They are first mentioned by Josephus in the days of John Hyrcanus (135-104 b.c.).

Josephus also states that the Sadducees denied the resurrection of the body (cf. Matt 22:23; Mark 12:18; Luke 20:27), as well as all future punishments and rewards. They held that the soul perishes with the body. Acts 23:8 states that they denied the existence of angels and spirits. They also rejected the oral law, or “the tradition of the elders” (Mark 7:3) giving almost exclusive attention to the Torah (the Pentateuch).

After the destruction of the Temple in a.d. 70, the Sadducees largely disappeared. The Judaism that survived was Pharisaic. With the Temple gone, the Jews turned with increased zeal to the study of the Scriptures. They became the people of the Book.

c. The Essenes. This sect is described by Philo, the famous Alexandrian Jew (30 b.c.-a.d. 45). Most of the early information about them comes from Josephus (c. a.d. 37-100). In his autobiography (Life) he tells how at the age of sixteen he decided to investigate the three main sects of Judaism. After three years in the Judean wilderness, where he may well have visited the Essenes, he returned to Jerusalem and joined the Pharisees. The Essenes, like the Pharisees, were successors of the Hasidim. But the Essenes were more ascetic and rigid than the Pharisees.

With the discovery of the DSS in 1947 the knowledge of the Essenes was greatly broadened. They practiced a communal ownership of property. Celibacy was common, although marriage was evidently permitted. The members of the community were governed by strict rules of conduct. They avoided the Temple at Jerusalem as being unclean. The Scriptures were studied daily and esp. on the Sabbath. The Essenes had a strong Messianic hope.

Unity

It is popular today to talk about the sources of the second gospel. But most scholars agree that it comes from the hand of one author. The last twelve vv., as will be noted, were perhaps not a part of the original gospel of Mark. Aside from those, no serious question is raised as to the unity of the book.

Authorship

All four gospels are anonymous; so the matter of authorship can be established only by careful investigation.

External evidence.

By external evidence is meant the testimony of Early Church writings as to who wrote this gospel.

Second century.

The only certain non-canonical Christian writing from the 1st cent. is Clement of Rome’s First Epistle to the Corinthians (a.d. 95). One of Clement’s quotations (1 Clement 46:8) bears a resemblance to Mark 9:42, but direct quotation cannot be proved. The earliest certain witness to the authorship of Mark’s gospel comes from the 2nd cent.

The Early Church historian Eusebius (a.d. 326) quotes Papias (c. a.d. 140) as saying: “And John the presbyter also said this, Mark being the interpreter of Peter, whatsoever he recorded he wrote with great accuracy, but not however, in the order in which it was spoken or done by our Lord, but as before said, he was in company with Peter, who gave him such instruction as was necessary, but not to give a history of our Lord’s discourse: wherefore Mark has not erred in any thing, by writing some things as he has recorded them; for he was carefully attentive to one thing, not to pass by any thing he had heard, or to state any thing falsely in these accounts” (Ecclesiastical History, III, 39).

Six statements are made here by Papias: (1) Mark was the “interpreter” (perhaps, tr.) of Peter; (2) he wrote accurately, but not necessarily in chronological order; (3) he was not himself a follower of Jesus; (4) he was a companion of Peter; (5) he has not recorded the discourses of Christ; (6) his account is reliable.

nodetitle (c. a.d. 150) quotes Mark 3:17 as from “Peter’s Memoirs.”

The Anti-Marcionite Prologue to Mark (a.d. 150-180) has an interesting reference. It says that Mark was called “stump-fingered,” because he had small fingers, and then adds: “He was the interpreter of Peter. After the death of Peter he wrote down this same Gospel in the regions of Italy.”

Irenaeus (c. a.d. 185), as quoted by Eusebius, says that after the “departure” (death?) of Peter and Paul, “Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, also transmitted to us in writing what had been preached by Peter” (op. cit., v. 8). Just before this Irenaeus discusses the gospel of Matthew, and afterward the gospels of Luke and John. So he is clearly talking about the second gospel.

nodetitle (c. a.d. 195) has this to say about the origin of the nodetitle: “When Peter had proclaimed the word publicly at Rome, and declared the gospel under the influence of the spirit; as there was a great number present, they requested Mark, who had followed him from afar [for a long time], and remembered well what he had said, to reduce these things to writing, and that after composing the gospel he gave it to those who requested it of him. Which, when Peter understood, he directly neither hindered nor encouraged it” (ibid., VI, 14). There are two other similar statements by Clement.

Tertullian (c. a.d. 200), in his book Against Marcion (IV, 5), says that the gospel “which Mark published may be affirmed to be Peter’s, whose interpreter Mark was.” See John Mark.

Third century.

It is generally agreed that the greatest Bible scholar in the Early Church was Origen (c. a.d. 230). In his Commentary on Matthew he declares that “the four gospels...are the only undisputed ones in the whole church of God throughout the world.” After discussing Matthew, he writes: “The second is according to Mark, who composed it as Peter explained to him, whom he also acknowledges as his son in his general Epistle, saying, ‘The elect church in Babylon salutes you, as also Mark my son’” (Eusebius, VI, 25).

Fourth century.

The year after the famous Council of Nicea (a.d. 325), Eusebius wrote his Ecclesiastical History (326), the most important single sourcebook for the history of the Early Church. It has an entire ch. on the gospel according to Mark. Eusebius writes: “So greatly, however, did the splendour of piety enlighten the minds of Peter’s hearers, that it was not sufficient to hear but once, nor to receive the unwritten doctrine of the gospel of God, but they persevered in every variety of entreaties, to solicit Mark as the companion of Peter, and whose gospel we have, that he should leave them a monument of the doctrine thus orally communicated in writing. Nor did they cease their solicitations until they had prevailed with the man, and thus became the means of that history which is called the gospel according to Mark. They say also that the apostle (Peter), having ascertained what was done by the revelation of the spirit, was delighted with the zealous ardour expressed by these men, and that the history obtained his authority for the purpose of being read in the churches” (II, 15). Eusebius says he learned this from Clement of Alexandria’s writings.

Jerome, in his Commentary on Matthew (c. a.d. 380) writes: “Second, Mark, the interpreter of the Apostle Peter and the first bishop of the church of Alexandria, who himself did not see the Lord the Saviour, but narrated those things which he heard his master preaching, with fidelity to the deeds rather than to their order.” It is generally agreed that Jerome is mistaken in saying that Mark was the first bishop of Alexandria. But the rest of his statement agrees with the previous ones we have noted.

In all of these quotations, there is a general agreement on two matters: (1) the second gospel was written by Mark; (2) this gospel gives us the preaching of Peter. The point on which there is some difference of opinion is as to whether Mark wrote his gospel before or after the death of Peter. This affects the date, as will be noted later, but the matter of authorship is unaffected. Vincent Taylor declares: “There can be no doubt that the author of the Gospel was Mark, the attendant of Peter” (The Gospel According to Mark, p. 26).

Internal evidence.

This deals with what we find in the gospel of Mark itself. Does it point to Mark as the writer?

Petrine characteristics.

There is general agreement among the Early Church Fathers that Mark’s gospel reproduces the preaching of Peter. When one turns to the gospel he can find Peter’s personality on almost every page. Peter was impulsive, aggressive, active. That is the character of the gospel.

Undoubtedly the main characteristic of Mark’s gospel is action. If one examines carefully a harmony of the synoptic gospels, he will soon discover that Mark has most of the miracles but few of the parables. Long sections of the harmony have parallel columns of material from Matthew and Luke, with nothing from Mark. In such cases the material almost always consists of the sayings of Jesus. Matthew and Luke devote much of their gospels to Jesus’ teachings; Mark majors on action. This is what one would expect if Mark is reproducing the preaching of Peter.

This rapidity of action is highlighted by the frequent use of the Gr. word ευθυς, meaning “straightway” or “immediately.” It occurs forty-two times in this short gospel, as against seven times in the much longer Matthew, three times in John and only once in Luke. In two passages in the gospel of Mark the word is repeated three times in three consecutive verses. A glance at the first chapter of Mark shows that almost every verse begins with “and.” As someone has said, “The narrative almost runs.” It might well be suggested that while John in his gospel gives us a studied portrait of Jesus, and Matthew and Luke offer a series of colored slides, Mark gives a moving picture of His public ministry.

Another characteristic is vividness of detail. While Mark’s gospel is the shortest, its individual narratives are usually longer than the corresponding accounts in Matthew and Luke, sometimes two or three times as long. This is due to the addition of details that add vividness to the narrative. (Some of these will be noted under “Content.”) This is what one would expect from Peter. He was a man of the out-of-doors and thus more observant than a bookish person.

A third characteristic is picturesqueness of description. Peter might be expected to use colorful words in his preaching, and this is what one finds in Mark’s gospel. In connection with the feeding of the 5,000, Mark alone observes that the people reclined on the green grass. The word he uses for “ranks” (6:40 KJV) literally means “flower beds.” Thousands of people in bright-colored Oriental garments of red, yellow and blue seated in groups on the green grass of the hillside—it was a picture photographed on Peter’s memory. He prob. used this expression in his preaching and Mark has retained it for us in his gospel.

Roman characteristics.

Perhaps one reason that Mark majors on Jesus’ activity rather than His teachings is that, according to Early Church tradition, he was writing at Rome. The Romans glorified action. The Greeks gave primary emphasis to intellectual pursuits, but the Romans sought military conquest.

Mark presents Jesus to the Romans as a man of action. They were not so much concerned about a man’s ancestry as his ability. Mark has no genealogies of Jesus as in Matthew and Luke. Similarly, he omits all reference to Jesus’ birth and childhood. With only a brief introduction—nodetitle’s ministry, Jesus’ baptism and temptation—he plunges immediately into the public ministry of the Master. In Mark’s gospel there are only thirteen vv. of introduction, compared with 76 in Matthew and 183 in Luke. The Romans did not ask “Where did He come from?” or “What did He say?” but “What has He done?” That is the question that Mark answers for them regarding Jesus. He presents Christ as the mighty Conqueror over demons, disease, and death. Even the winds and the waves were subject to His “Peace, be still.”

In keeping with the tradition that this gospel was written in Rome is the fact that it contains more Latinisms than any other book in the NT. Three of the ten terms of Lat. origin that he uses are in his gospel only. He also has some distinct Lat. idioms and trs. Jewish terms into Rom. equivalents (e.g., 12:42). He explains Jewish customs for his Rom. readers. An outstanding example is that of the ceremonial washing before eating (7:3, 4). Other examples are the beliefs of the Sadducees (12:18) and the custom of fasting (2:18). All these Markan items fit in well with the tradition that he wrote his gospel in Rome.

The author.

The first mention of Mark (the person) is in Acts 12:12. When Peter was released from prison, he went “to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying.” This was in Jerusalem, fourteen years after Jesus’ death. It is thought by some that this home may have been the place of the Last Supper and Pentecost.

When Barnabas and Saul returned to Antioch from their “famine visit” to Jerusalem (Acts 11:27-30), they took John along with them (12:25). Here again it is added: “whose other name was Mark.” He accompanied the two leaders on their first missionary journey. He is described in KJV as their “minister” (13:5), but the Gr. word means “subordinate” or “attendant.” John acted as their assistant, not as their preacher.

But at Perga in Pamphylia John turned back to Jerusalem (13:13). His action was due prob. to a combination of homesickness, fear of the dangers in the mountains ahead and resentment that Paul had become the leader of the party instead of John’s relative Barnabas. When they started out it was “Barnabas and Saul” (13:2). When they left Cyprus it was “Paul and his company” (13:13). This change of leadership was hard for the young man to take, and he failed.

When Paul suggested a second missionary journey, Barnabas wanted to give John another chance, but Paul said, “No!” The result was that Barnabas took John and returned to Cyprus, where he disappears from the Biblical narrative. Paul chose a new associate, Silas, and went overland to Galatia (15:36-41).

Fortunately, the story of Mark does not end there. Paul speaks of Mark as his companion in Rome (Col 4:10; Philem 24). And finally in 2 Timothy 4:11 the apostle pays high tribute to Mark’s service. He also is mentioned by Peter as “my son Mark” (1 Pet 5:13). John was his Jewish name, Mark his Rom. name.

Date

There is general agreement today that Mark’s gospel is the earliest of the four. When was it written?

Traditional view.

Adolph Harnack, in The Date of the Acts and the Synoptic Gospels (1911), presents the classical argument for dating Mark in the 50s. It starts with the date of Acts, which closes with Paul’s two years’ imprisonment in Rome (a.d. 59-61 or 60-62). Since the story stops at this point, the natural deduction is that the Book of Acts was completed at this time (c. a.d. 62). Unquestionably Luke’s gospel is “the former treatise” (Acts 1:1) and so was written about a.d. 60. Presumably Matthew appeared in the same general period of time. According to the almost universal theory today of the priority of Mark’s gospel, then this shortest of the gospels must have been written in the 50s.

It must be recognized that there are still some scholars who hold that Matthew’s gospel was written first. Among the more recent exponents of this view is W. R. Farmer, in The Synoptic Problem (Macmillan, 1964). He has sought also to demonstrate this more fully in Synopticon (1969). But at present the vast majority of NT scholars hold to the two-document theory—that Matthew and Luke made use of Mark as a historical source.

Today’s view.

It already has been noted that there is a discrepancy at one point in the witness of the Early Church Fathers to Mark’s gospel. Some say it was written before Peter’s death, others after his death.

Today the majority of NT scholars in Britain and the United States agree in dating the gospel of Mark at a.d. 65-70. Matthew and Luke are placed ten or twenty years later. For Mark’s gospel, D. A. Hayes says: “Some time between a.d. 60 and 70 it is possible that the work was begun and revised and completed” (The Synoptic Gospels and the Book of Acts, p. 123). Donald Guthrie writes: “It is not in fact impossible to regard both Clement and Irenaeus as correct, if Mark began his Gospel before and completed it after Peter’s death; a suggestion which merits more consideration than it generally receives.” He goes on to say: “Another possibility is that Irenaeus was not referring to Peter’s death at all, but to his departure from the place where Mark was....In this case it would also be possible to accept the statements of both Irenaeus and Clement, and this solution seems the more preferable” (New Testament Introduction: Gospels and Acts, p. 69). That is, Mark wrote his gospel after Peter’s departure from the city but before Peter’s death. This would be in the 50s or early 60s.

The dating of the gospels is not a matter of primary importance. The earlier the dates, the nearer the gospels come to the actual time of Jesus’ earthly ministry. It should be remembered, however, that most conservative scholars agree in dating John’s gospel about a.d. 85 or 95. The essential factor is the recognition of the divine inspiration of these accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry. Since they were written by men, it is our responsibility to investigate as carefully as possible the details of their human origin. It is obvious that the Early Church was interested in this matter, and so should we be.

Place of origin

The majority voice of the Early Church says, “Rome.” The character of the book fits well with this tradition. Chrysostom does say that Mark’s gospel was written in Egypt, but few modern scholars have accepted this suggestion. J. V. Bartlet even suggested Antioch (St. Mark, pp. 35-38), but his arguments do not seem convincing. Rome still holds the field.

Destination

Mark’s gospel was intended clearly for Gentile readers. Not only does the author explain Jewish customs and use a high number of Latinisms, but also trs. the numerous Aram. terms he uses (cf. 3:17; 5:41; 7:11, 34; 10:46; 14:36; 15:22, 34). These Aram. words give a primitive touch to this gospel and lend some weight to the idea of an early date.

One cannot be certain of a definite locality for the destination of Mark’s gospel, but it can be safely assumed that it was written for Gentiles, not Jews.

Occasion

It is obvious that the matter of the occasion for the writing of Mark’s gospel cannot be settled dogmatically as long as there is uncertainty as to whether Mark wrote before or after Peter’s death. In either case the occasion was prob. the desire of the Christians to have the substance of Peter’s preaching in written form.

Purpose

The first v. of this gospel indicates its purpose: to give the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It has been increasingly recognized in recent years that Mark has a theological purpose. This does not in any way call in question the historicity of the narrative. It simply means that the author had in mind a definite doctrinal aim. He is writing history. At the same time he is writing more than history; his gospel has a strong theological thrust. It was written to proclaim the fact that Jesus Christ is Son of God and Savior. So Mark’s main purpose was evangelistic, as is true of the other gospels.

Canonicity

By canonicity is meant acceptance by the church at large. This judgment was finally expressed officially in its councils.

Second century.

In 1740 L. A. Muratori discovered and published a descriptive list of books of the NT recognized in Rome near the end of the 2nd cent. (a.d. 170-190). The list was in a badly mutilated MS from the 7th or 8th cent., kept in the Ambrosian Library at Milan.

Unfortunately, the first part is broken off, so that it often is referred to as the Muratorian Fragment. The opening incomplete sentence reads: “...at which, however, he was present, and so set them down.” Since the Fragment goes on to say: “The third of the Gospel (according to Luke)...” and then next discusses John’s gospel, there seems to be no reasonable doubt that the first two books discussed were the gospels of Matthew and Mark. This constitutes evidence that these four gospels were all accepted in Rome at the end of the 2nd cent. This is corroborated by quotations from Justin Martyr and Irenaeus.

Third century.

By the end of the 2nd cent. and beginning of the 3rd cent. it is obvious that Mark’s gospel was accepted throughout Christendom. We have testimonies, given above, from North Africa, Egypt and Italy to this effect. It was given apostolic authority as representing the preaching of Peter.

Fourth century.

When Athanasius sent out his Easter Letter in a.d. 367 he listed exactly the twenty-seven books of the NT as sacred Scripture to be read in the churches of his diocese. In 397 the Council of Carthage made this official. From that time until the Reformation the canon of the NT was settled and stable. Mark was included.

Text

The main textual problem relating to Mark’s gospel concerns the last twelve verses (16:9-20). These—called the Long Ending—are not found in the two oldest Gr. MSS, Codices B and Aleph from the 4th cent. They also are omitted in one of the oldest MSS of the VSS, the Sinaitic Syriac, as well as most of the Armenian MSS. Clement of Alexandria and Origen evidently had no knowledge of these verses.

Several uncial MSS of the 7th, 8th and 9th centuries have an alternative, shorter ending. It is found also in a few minuscules and several ancient VSS. It reads: “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.” Anyone familiar with the Early Church will easily recognize that this reading is not genuine. Its last sentence is simply not in the language of the 1st cent.

Several MSS have both the Long and the Short Ending. This fact militates somewhat against the genuineness of either one.

The prize MS in the United States (W, 5th cent.) has a long insertion after v. 14 in the Long Ending. It reads: “And they excused themselves, saying, ‘This age of lawlessness and unbelief is under Satan, who does not allow the truth and power of God to prevail over the unclean things of the spirit. Therefore reveal thy righteousness now’—thus they spoke to Christ. And Christ replied to them, ‘The term of years for Satan’s power has been fulfilled, but other terrible things draw near. And for those who have sinned I was delivered over to death, that they may return to the truth and sin no more; that they may inherit the spiritual and incorruptible glory of righteousness which is in heaven’” (B. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament, p. 57). It hardly needs to be said that this is spurious. Its language clearly condemns it.

Regarding the last twelve vv. found in the KJV, H. B. Swete writes: “As to the origin of this ending there can be little doubt. It has been written by some one whose copy of the Gospel ended at ephobounto gar [“for they were afraid”], and who desired to soften the harshness of so abrupt a conclusion, and at the same time to remove the impression which it leaves of a failure on the part of Mary of Magdala and her friends to deliver the message with which they had been charged” (St. Mark, p. ci.).

Two other factors argue against the genuineness of this Long Ending. One is that the language of the original does not fit Mark very well. The other is a somewhat awkward connection between vv. 8 and 9. Guthrie notes that vv. 9-20 “seem to be composed from material drawn from the other three Gospels,” and so “this ending wears the appearance of compilation distinct from the rest of the Gospel” (op. cit., p. 73). His conclusion is: “It would seem that the only course open is to admit that we do not know the original ending” (ibid., p. 74).

Special problems

Aside from the matter of the ending of Mark, there are not many crucial problems connected with this book. One point that has been raised is this: If Mark is giving us Peter’s preaching, why does he omit three striking incidents about Peter that are narrated in Matthew’s gospel? These are Peter’s walking on the water (Matt 14:28-33), paying the Temple tax (17:24-27), and being given the keys to the kingdom of heaven (16:19). These omissions may reasonably be explained as due to modesty on Peter’s part. In his preaching he was concerned to exalt Christ, not himself. It is worth noting that in Mark’s gospel Peter is never mentioned alone except in connection with his being rebuked by Jesus. This is the kind of humility that one would expect to find in Peter after Pentecost.

The incident of the young man in Gethsemane has caused considerable comment. Mark records: “And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body; and they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked” (Mark 14:51, 52).

This little item seems like a senseless intrusion into the account of Jesus’ agony and arrest in the garden. The only logical deduction would seem to be that the young man was John Mark. This is his modest way of saying, “I was there.” Rawlinson (Mark, p. 215) says: “The story certainly reads like a personal reminiscence.”

It is not difficult to make a possible reconstruction of what happened that night. If the Last Supper took place in the home of John Mark’s mother, one may assume that Judas Iscariot, who had left the table early, would lead the mob back there to arrest Jesus. When he arrived he discovered that the Master and His disciples had already left, so he went on to the Mount of Olives to find Him.

Wakened by the noise and seeing the torches and weapons, young John Mark could easily sense the situation. He hastily threw a linen cloth around himself and hastened out into the night to warn Jesus. By the time he arrived at the garden the soldiers were already there, and he himself was almost arrested.

Content

The gospel of Mark may be divided into six main sections:

The period of preparation (1:1-13).

The 1st v. seems to be a sort of title: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Many of the Early Church Fathers took this to be a heading for the ministry of John the Baptist, as being the beginning point in the gospel story. A considerable number of modern scholars (e.g., Zahn, Swete, Plummer, Klostermann, Lagrange, Vincent Taylor) think of it as a title to the entire gospel. The “beginning of the gospel” is the ministry of Jesus, including His death and resurrection.

The word “gospel” means “good news.” It was not used for a book of the NT until the time of Justin Martyr, in the middle of the 2nd cent. In the 1st cent. it meant the oral message of salvation through Jesus Christ. The earliest Gr. MSS label this book simply kata Markon, “According to Mark.” The Early Church spoke of one gospel, narrated “according to” Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

The phrase, “the gospel of Jesus Christ,” prob. means “the Good News about Jesus Christ” (objective genitive) rather than the Good News preached by Jesus (subjective genitive). This fits the character of this gospel, which gives a minimum of the teachings of Christ, but rather portrays His redemptive ministry.

The last phrase, “the Son of God,” is omitted in some MSS (e.g., Aleph, Theta) and so is not in the Gr. text of Nestle or of Westcott and Hort, but most modern scholars accept it as genuine. It fits in with Mark’s consistent emphasis on the deity of Jesus as demonstrated in His ministry. The Good News is not about a mere man—His human birth is not mentioned in this gospel—but about the Son of God who became the Savior.

Mark’s account of the ministry of John the Baptist (1:2-8) is briefer than Matthew’s or Luke’s. He does not tell of John’s discussion with various groups.

Peter’s forceful personality is prob. reflected in the stronger terms that Mark uses, as compared with Matthew and Luke. A case in point is his description of the heavens being “split open” (σχιζομένους) at the time of Jesus’ baptism (1:9-11). Matthew and Luke use the weaker verb ἀνωίγω, “open.”

The temptation of Jesus is recorded in two short vv. by Mark (1:12, 13), whereas Matthew and Luke spell out the three specific attacks of “the devil.” (Mark prefers “Satan.”) Even in this brief account Mark adds the graphic detail: “and he was with the wild beasts.” And again he uses a stronger term than Matthew and Luke: “the Spirit driveth (ἐκβάλλει) him” (KJV). This also illustrates Mark’s fondness for the historic present to add vividness to the narrative—prob. reflecting Peter’s frequent use of it in his preaching. There are 151 historic presents in Mark’s gospel; Matthew retains only 21 of these.

The Galilean ministry (1:14-9:50).

Matthew and Mark (1:14, 15) agree that Jesus began His great Galilean minstry after the arrest and imprisonment of John the Baptist. They also indicate that Christ’s opening message was: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven [God] is at hand” (Matt 4:17)—an echo of John the Baptist’s preaching.

The call of the first four disciples is recorded similarly in Matthew and Mark. Typically the latter adds a slight touch. He says that James and John left their father Zebedee in the boat “with the hired servants” (1:20). This assures us that the father was not left helpless, to carry on alone. It also suggests that he was fairly well off financially. It was successful businessmen that the Master called to work with Him.

The account of Jesus casting a demon out of a man in the synagogue on the Sabbath day (1:21-28) is closely paralleled in Luke. The healing of Peter’s mother-in-law (1:29-31) is recorded in all three synoptics. Twice in this brief memo Mark uses his favorite word “immediately” (εὐθύς).

The account of the sunset healing service (1:32-34) prob. preserves Peter’s reaction to the vast crowd outside: “And the whole city was gathered together about the door.” This, of course, is hyperbole, but that is the way it looked to Peter as he stood in the doorway of his house, which Jesus made His home when in Capernaum.

Typical of Mark’s (Peter’s) graphic language is the wording of 1:35. Mark uses three adverbs to emphasize how early it was when Jesus rose and went out to a quiet place to pray. This may well reflect Peter’s consternation when he wakened in the morning and found the Master gone. He alone says that they “hunted him down”—another of those forceful expressions.

The Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7) is omitted by Mark, although a few of its sayings are paralleled in his gospel. Mark has only one of the long discourses of Jesus, the so-called Olivet Discourse.

The healing of the leper (1:40-45) has a verb, σπλαγχνίζομαι, G5072, that occurs four times in Mark (five times in Matt. and two in Luke). Here it is the aorist passive participle σπλαγχνισθείς, “moved with compassion.” But the force of the aorist tense is brought out better by rendering it “gripped with compassion.” It describes vividly Jesus’ immediate reaction to human need.

The healing of the paralytic (2:1-12) has two added touches in Mark, as compared with Matthew and Luke. So large a crowd had gathered “that there was no longer room for them, not even about the door” (v. 2). This was doubtless Peter’s house, where Jesus was “at home” (v. 1), and the apostle had clear recollections of the crowded conditions. Also Mark says that they “removed the roof” (v. 4), making a hole through which to lower the paralytic in front of Jesus. Peter would not forget the damage to his house! (Luke mentions “tiles” [Luke 5:19], which suggests that it was an expensive roof.) Another added detail in Mark is the fact that the paralytic was carried by “four men” (Mark 2:3). This gives the clear picture of four men each taking hold of a corner of the pallet on which the man lay, and using it as a stretcher to carry him to Jesus. There is a Rom. touch here. Mark alone uses for “bed” (KJV) a Lat. term (κράβατον), which originally meant the bed roll of a Rom. soldier. It should be tr. “pallet” (Mark 2:4), being nothing more than a padded quilt.

The call of Levi (2:13-17) is recorded in all three synoptics, as also the question about fasting (2:18-22). Typically Mark says that John’s disciples and the Pharisees “were fasting” (v. 18). This pinpoints the incident as occurring on a fast day and thus indicates the occasion for the question. Those who were fasting saw Jesus’ disciples eating. They wanted to know why.

In Mark 2:1-3:6 are five incidents in which Jesus ran into conflict with the Pharisees. In connection with His healing the paralytic (2:1-12), He was criticized for declaring the man’s sins forgiven; only God had this authority. Then He was castigated for eating with tax collectors and sinners (2:15-17). The Pharisees prob. thought Jesus was less religious because His disciples were not fasting (2:18-22). The fourth conflict concerned the disciples working on the Sabbath day, because they picked some heads of wheat, rubbed off the husks in their hands, and blew away the chaff (2:23-28). They were harvesting, threshing and winnowing! The fifth was a criticism of Jesus for healing on the Sabbath (3:1-6). The Pharisees allowed such healing only in case of an emergency, if the afflicted person might die before the next day.

Mark 3:7-12 has a summary statement about Jesus healing many people on the shores of the Lake of Galilee. Mark adds the picture of Jesus sitting in a boat a little offshore so as not to be crushed by the large crowd (v. 9). This is followed by the call of the twelve apostles (3:13-19). Mark adds the twofold purpose of their appointment: “to be with him, and to be sent out to preach” (v. 14). Preparation must precede preaching.

It often has been pointed out that Mark’s gospel portrays the strenuous life of Jesus more forcibly than the other gospels. An example of this is the unique item in 3:20, 21; “And the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. And when his friends [family] heard it, they went out to seize him; for they said, ‘He is beside himself.’” At the same time Mark gives more emphasis than the other gospels to the rest Jesus sought to take. Five times He is described as withdrawing from the crowds and seeking a quiet place outside Galilee.

Another characteristic of Mark’s gospel is its emphasis on the looks and gestures of Jesus. A good example is 3:5, “And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart.” Incidentally, the Gr. tenses indicate a rather momentary flash of anger, but a continuing attitude of grief. Another example is Mark’s added phrase: “And looking around on those who sat about him” (3:34)—literally, “in a circle.” Observant Peter caught these items and wove them vividly into his preaching. We are indebted to Mark for communicating them.

The 13th ch. of Matthew gives seven of Jesus’ parables of the kingdom. Mark has two of them—the sower (4:1-20) and the mustard seed (4:30-32). In addition it has the seed growing secretly (4:26, 27), the only parable found in this gospel alone. Altogether Mark has only four parables, as against fifteen in Matthew and nineteen in Luke. (This enumeration is based on Trench’s list of thirty in his Notes on the Parables.) In contrast there are eighteen miracles in the short gospel of Mark, compared with twenty-one in Matthew and twenty in Luke—both much longer books. Mark majors on action.

In the stilling of the storm (4:35-41) Mark adds that Jesus was “in the stern” (v. 38) of the boat, asleep “on the cushion”—the steersman’s leather-covered pad.

The story of the Gerasene demoniac (5:1-20) offers a good example of how Mark often gives a much fuller record of an incident. Mark’s account has 325 words, as against 136 in Matthew. The description of the demoniac (vv. 3-5) is far more vivid than that found in the other two gospels.

Much the same holds true for the twin miracles (told together) of the healing of the woman with a hemorrhage and the raising of Jairus’ daughter (5:21-43). Once more, Mark has 374 words, Matthew 135. A significant Markan addition is found in vv. 29b, 30: “and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone forth from him, immediately turned about in the crowd.” Christ paid a price to heal people; He was conscious that power went out of Him. Mark also adds here the Aram. expression, Talitha cumi, and then trs. it for his Rom. readers: “Little girl, I say to you, arise” (5:41).

In connection with Jesus’ rejection by His neighbors at Nazareth, Mark alone records that “he marveled because of their unbelief” (6:6). In only one other instance is it stated that Christ marveled, and that was at the faith of a foreigner, a Rom. centurion (Matt 8:10; Luke 7:9).

The mission of the Twelve (6:7-13) is found in all three synoptics. Mark adds the interesting detail that Jesus sent them out “two by two” (v. 7). There are obvious advantages in companionship and encouragement, as well as protection.

In the account of John the Baptist’s death (6:14-29) Mark refers to the ruler of Galilee as “King Herod” (v. 14). Matthew and Luke more correctly call him “Herod the tetrarch”—literally, one of four rulers (as successors of Herod the Great, who ruled all of Pal.). At Rome all rulers in the E were called kings—and Mark was writing in Rome.

Mark’s account, again, is much longer than the only parallel (Matt 14:1-12). The vividness of his narrative shows up esp. in his addition (Mark 6:19, 20), “And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and kept him safe. When he heard him, he was much preplexed; and yet he heard him gladly.”

In the feeding of the five thousand (6:30-44), the only miracle of Jesus recorded in all four gospels, Mark has some typical additions. He tells how Jesus said to the Twelve: “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while” (6:31). Then he adds this explanation: “For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat” (v. 31). He alone gives the question of the disciples: “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?” (v. 37).


Matthew and Mark (7:24-30) both record the miracle of Jesus casting the demon out of the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter. Mark alone notes that “he entered a house, and would not have any one know it; yet he could not be hid” (v. 24). This fits Mark’s emphasis on the Master’s attempts to get away from the crowds in order to teach His disciples privately.

There are only two miracles of Jesus recorded only by Mark. The first is the healing of the deaf mute (7:31-37). The other is the healing of the blind man of Bethsaida (8:22-26). They have some common elements. In both cases Christ took the victim aside from the crowd in order to avoid the confusion that often comes to deaf and blind people when surrounded by noise and people. The Master Healer wanted their undivided attention. In both instances, also, He used spittle and touched the afflicted part of the body. The first miracle has another Aram. word, Ephphatha, tr. “Be opened.” The second miracle has a feature not found elsewhere in the miracles of Jesus: the healing took place in two stages. Why? Alexander Maclaren suggests that Jesus was “accommodating the pace of His power to the slowness of the man’s faith.”


One of the great turning points in Jesus’ life and ministry came at nodetitle far to the N (8:27-30). Jesus had gone there to be alone with His disciples. He asked them a pertinent question: “Who do men say that I am?” They gave various answers, then He asked them: “But who do you say that I am.” As the spokesman for the apostles, Peter replied, “You are the Christ” (i.e., the Messiah).

This confession of His Messiahship was followed by Jesus’ first prediction of His Passion (8:31-33). Until they recognized Him as Messiah, He could not tell them about His coming death and resurrection. Mark says that He “began” to teach them about this. Matthew (16:21) makes it even stronger: “From that time Jesus began.” It is clear that the confession at Caesarea Philippi marks a shift in the Master’s ministry. Up to this point He had spent most of His time with large crowds—teaching, preaching, healing. From that time He gave major attention to instructing His disciples and preparing them for the day when they would take over in His place.

Peter rebuked Jesus for talking about His death. The Master, in turn, rebuked the disciple who was acting the part of “Satan” (adversary) in tempting Him to turn aside.

One of the most important of Jesus’ teachings was on the meaning of discipleship (8:34-9:1). All three synoptic gospels have the key saying of Christ: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (8:34). This is the cost of discipleship.

The first v. of the 9th ch. belongs at the end of this incident, as it is in Matthew’s gospel. Putting it first in ch. 9 suggests that it refers to the Transfiguration, a view which is rejected by practically all scholars. It more prob. was fulfilled at Pentecost and in the rapid spread of the Gospel after that.

The Transfiguration (9:2-8) was one of the high points of Jesus’ ministry. Its purpose for the disciples was prob. to confirm Peter’s confession of His deity. For Him it was a bright moment of glory before the humiliation and suffering of the cross. Only Peter, James and John were present. They were also the only disciples with Jesus at the raising of Jairus’ daughter, and when He prayed in Gethsemane.

Seeing Elijah on the mount caused the three apostles to ask Jesus about the prophecy that Elijah would come back to earth (9:9-13). Jesus indicated that the prediction had been fulfilled in the coming of John the Baptist (cf. Matt 17:13).

At the foot of the Mount of Transfiguration Jesus healed an epileptic boy (9:14-29). Once again, Mark gives by far the most graphic of the three accounts, describing the helplessness of the lad and the agony of the father (vv. 20-26). He also notes the amazement of the crowd when Christ approached (v. 15), perhaps due to the afterglow on His face.

The Transfiguration was followed by a second prediction of His Passion (9:30-32). As usual, the disciples did not understand. Their Master was trying to tell them that He was not going to Jerusalem to display His power and glory by setting up an earthly kingdom; He was going there to die!

A most pathetic incident follows. The disciples were disputing about which of them was the greatest (9:33-37). Jesus pointed out to them that true greatness is shown by humility and service—“If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (v. 35).

Mark (9:38-41) and Luke tell how John reported that he had forbidden a certain man to cast out demons in Jesus’ name, “because he was not following us” (v. 38). The Master reproved the sectarian spirit of His disciple.

Christ emphasized the seriousness of tempting others to sin (9:42-48) by saying it would be better for the tempter to be drowned in the ocean with a heavy millstone around his neck than to lead any one astray. He also said that it would be better for a man to lose a hand, foot or eye than to be cast into hell.

The short saying about salt (9:49, 50) is paralleled in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:13). Salt is a type of the saving grace of God.

The Perean ministry (10:1-52).

The beginning of ch. 10 narrates Jesus’ leaving Galilee for the last time and going SE to Perea (across the Jordan). Here the Pharisees questioned Him on the matter of divorce (10:1-12). This was a perennial problem in Judaism. Christ emphatically asserted that God’s will was marriage for life. He said: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her” (v. 11). Then Mark adds a Rom. touch: “and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (v. 12). Matthew omits this, because Jewish women could not divorce their husbands but Rom. women could.

All three synoptics tell of Jesus reproving the disciples for rebuking mothers who brought their children to Him. Mark (10:13-16) adds a characteristic detail: “he took them in his arms and blessed them.”

The story of the rich young ruler (10:17-31) evidently made a profound impression, for it is recorded at length in all three synoptic gospels. Typically, Mark says: “a man ran up and knelt before him” (10:17). Matthew simply says that he “came up to him.” Mark’s pictures are so graphic that an artist could draw them. The three accounts portray the sadness of the ardent young seeker as he refused to pay the price of discipleship—leaving all to follow Jesus.

Perhaps significantly—by way of contrast—this incident is followed by Christ’s third prediction of His Passion (10:32-34), somewhat more detailed than the previous two. Graphically Mark describes how, as they were on the road to Jerusalem, “Jesus was walking ahead of them; and they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid” (v. 32). The set look of determination on His face frightened them.

The tragic story that follows (10:35-45) is almost unbelievable in the light of these three passion predictions. James and John, who had seen Jesus’ glory on the mount, had become obsessed with the idea that the King was about to take His throne at Jerusalem. They wanted the highest places of honor on either side of Him. The Master had to rebuke this self-seeking spirit of His two disciples. He warned them that suffering, not glory, lay just ahead. He also had to rebuke the self-righteous indignation of the other ten disciples. Again He declared: “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all” (v. 44). Perhaps no other virtue was emphasized by Jesus more frequently than humility. This and service are the two signs of real greatness.

As He left Jericho for Jerusalem, Christ healed blind Bartimaeus (10:46-52). Typically, Mark gives and explains this Aram. name (bar means “son”). As usual, Mark adds a vivid touch: “And throwing off his mantle he sprang up and came to Jesus” (v. 50). The reader can easily visualize the scene.

The Judean ministry (11:1-13:37).

The so-called Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem (11:1-10) is recorded in all three synoptic gospels. It was a Messianic act, the King offering Himself to His nation in fulfillment of the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9.

Mark spells out more carefully than the others the sequence of events at the beginning of Passion Week. The Triumphal Entry on Sunday ended with Jesus surveying the Temple and then going out to Bethany for the night. On Monday morning, on the way back into the city, He cursed the barren fig tree (11:12-14). Entering Jerusalem, He cleansed the Temple (11:15-19), driving the dirty, noisy, smelly market out of the Court of the Gentiles. Tuesday morning the disciples noticed that the fig tree had withered, and Jesus taught them an important lesson of faith and forgiving prayer (11:20-25). When He reached the Temple, the members of the Sanhedrin demanded that He tell them where He got His authority to cleanse the Temple (11:27-33). After disposing of them, Jesus told the parable of the wicked husbandmen (12:1-12), which the religious leaders realized was aimed at them (v. 12).

Probably on Wednesday, Christ was asked three questions, noted in each of the synoptics. First came the Pharisees and Herodians, asking whether they should pay taxes to the emperor (12:13-17). Whichever way Jesus answered, He would be trapped. His well-known handling of this problem is a classic.

Next came the Sadducees, with a catch-question about the resurrection (12:18-27) in which they did not believe. After Jesus had pointed out the absurdity of their reasoning, a scribe asked Him which was the chief commandment (12:28-34). For good measure the Master defined both the “first” and “second” commandments. Mark alone portrays this scribe as being friendly to Jesus (vv. 32-34).

When He had been questioned three times, Christ proceeded to ask His opponents a question: How could the Messiah be David’s son and lord at the same time? (12:35-37). The answer is clear to us now, but it was not to the religious experts of that day.

Jesus warned the people against the hypocrisy of the Pharisees (12:38-40). Then He sat down opposite the treasury in the Women’s Court of the Temple and watched a poor widow put in two tiny copper coins (12:41-44), all that she had. The lesson is clear. One’s giving is measured not by the amount he gives but by how much he has left over.

The 13th ch. of Mark often is called “The Little Apocalypse.” Jesus predicted the destruction of the Temple, which took place in a.d. 70, and discussed the signs of His Second Coming. This so-called Olivet Discourse is the only long discourse of Jesus found in all three synoptic gospels.

The Passion narrative (14:1-15:47).


The resurrection (16:1-20).

As noted under the discussion of “Text,” the last twelve verses (16:9-20) are prob. not a part of the original gospel of Mark. That would leave only the first eight vv. of this ch. These tell of Mary Magdalene and three other women coming to the tomb on Sunday morning. A “young man” (angel) was sitting in the tomb and told them that Jesus had risen. The women were to tell His disciples “and Peter” that He would meet them in Galilee. The Markan addition of Peter’s name fits this gospel well. Peter would never forget how Jesus had sent this comforting word specifically to him.

Because no post-resurrection appearances of Jesus are mentioned in these first eight vv., the various endings of the gospel (16:9-20 and others) were evidently added to fill up the gap.

Theology

It used to be said that Mark was the historical gospel and John the theological one. But in recent years increasing attention has been given to the fact that there is a strong theological thrust in Mark’s gospel. This is found esp. in two fields.

Christology.

The first v., which is prob. the title of the gospel, reads: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” This implies that one of Mark’s main purposes was to demonstrate the deity of Jesus. This he does by showing that Christ exercised authority over demons, disease and death, as well as the physical elements.

Of the expression “Son of God” Vincent Taylor writes: “Beyond question this title represents the most fundamental element in Mark’s Christology” (St. Mark, p. 120). It occurs five times (1:1; 3:11; 5:7; 14:61; 15:39). Taylor also makes the startling statement: “Mark’s christology is a high christology, as high as any in the New Testament, not excluding that of John” (ibid., p. 121). Along with the other two synoptics, Mark records the Father’s voice at the baptism and on the Mount of Transfiguration identifying Jesus as “my beloved Son.” There is no doubt here about a clear affirmation of the full deity of the One who was both Son of man and Son of God.

Soteriology.

The main passage on this subject is Mark 10:45, the greatest theological passage in this book. It reads: “For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus did not come to sit on an earthly throne, surrounded by a host of servants to wait on Him. He came to be the Servant of humanity, but more than that, its Savior.

The word for ransom here, λύτρον, G3389, was used in the 1st cent. for the ransom price paid to free a slave. So Jesus paid the ransom price to free men from the slavery of sin. Also the word tr. “for” (“for many”) is ἀντί, G505. In the papyri of that period this term regularly carried the meaning “instead of” or “in place of.” Jesus’ atonement “for” us was not only vicarious but substitutionary. He died in our place, taking our guilt upon Himself. This truth is briefly but beautifully expressed by Mark in this great soteriological passage.

Bibliography

Introductions. D. A. Hayes, The Synoptic Gospels and the Book of Acts (1919); B. H. Streeter, The Four Gospels, rev. (1930); D. Guthrie, New Testament Introduction (1961-1965); E. F. Harrison, Introduction to the New Testament (1964); G. W. Barker, W. L. Lane, and J. Ramsey Michaels, The New Testament Speaks (1969).

Commentaries. H. B. Swete, The Gospel According to St. Mark, Greek text (1898); A. E. J. Rawlinson, St. Mark, “Westminster Commentaries” (1925); V. Taylor, The Gospel According to St. Mark, Greek text (1952); C. E. B. Cranfield, The Gospel According to St. Mark, “Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary” (1959); R. A. Cole, The Gospel According to St. Mark, “Tyndale New Testament Commentaries” (1961).

See also

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