Book of Mark


Authorship, date, and background

Tradition has identified John Mark as the author of the second Gospel. The text itself does not mention him by name. Mark (his Roman name, John his Jewish name) came from a well-to-do family. His mother, Mary, was a friend of the apostles (Acts 12). Some think Mary's home was the site of the Last Supper and the home in which the disciples gathered at Pentecost. It was definitely the place in which the Christians gathered to pray for the release of Peter from prison and where he came when he was set free (Acts 12:12ff.). Barnabas was Mark's cousin and a fellow missionary.

Acts 12:25 states that Paul and Barnabas ministered in Antioch, and when they left that city they were accompanied by Mark as their assistant. Acts 13:1-5 details how Paul and Barnabas were called by the Holy Spirit and sent by the church on their first missionary journey. When Paul and Barnabas landed at Perga, John deserted them and returned to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13).Whatever the reason for the desertion, Paul was disillusioned with Mark (John). Later, when Barnabas and Paul were at Antioch following the Jerusalem conference, they agreed to go on a preaching mission to Turkey. Barnabas wanted to take Mark with them. Paul dissented. This broke up the team. Barnabas took Mark and went to Cyprus. Paul took Silas and went to Syria and Cilicia (Acts 15:34-41). Some time afterwards, Paul and Mark were reconciled. Paul, paid tribute to him and described him as his travelling companion (Col 4:10; Philemon 1:24; 2 Tim 4:11).

The apostle Peter spoke of Mark as his son in 1 Peter 5:13. This is important because the names of Mark and Peter have been connected together with the Gospel of Mark. Mark had not been a follower of companion of Jesus; he was too young at the time. But he was closely associated with Peter, and his Gospel is thought to be an account of what Peter preached everywhere. It was the earlier oral tradition of the church which Mark put into written form either before or after Peter's death. Many scholars think the Gospel was composed in Rome. Most certainly it was written before the fall of Jerusalem in A.D 70 and perhaps as early as A.D 50. Many scholars think it was the first Gospel to be written, and that Matthew and Luke used Mark as one of their chief resources for their own writings. Perhaps all of them had access to the oral traditions which included much of the same material. Since some scholars still regard Matthew's gospel as the earliest. Mark may have been indebted to him or both of them to others. The date is not important. What is important is that all of the Gospels were produced under the aegis of the Holy Spirit who got written what God wanted written. Certainly Mark's Gospel was intended for non-Jewish believers and was written in a Roman context.

Characteristics and content

Mark's gospel is not a biography. Nothing is said about the birth, the genealogy, or the early life of Jesus. Mark concentrated on the public ministry of Jesus. He does this in narrative style, paying attention to details in an action-packed, vivid, and colourful account of Jesus' last years. He does not concentrate so much on what Jesus said as on what He did. He pictures Jesus as the Son of God and the mighty overcomer of disease, demons, and death. The Greek word translated "straightway," "immediately," 'at once," "soon" is used more that forty times in Mark.

Mark explains Jewish customs for his non-Jewish readers. This indicates that the Gospel was intended for a non-Jewish audience. He does not hide the miracles of Jesus nor does he downplay the gospel story itself. Mark starts by declaring, "the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God" (1:1). The effect of his writing is sharpened and reinforced by the use of active rather than passive verbs. Much of what he says sounds as though it could have been taken from Peter's preaching, the substance of which he tries to preserve for the reader. While Mark's Gospel has not been thought of as being theologically oriented, it is full of basic doctrine. Almost from the beginning he makes it clear that Jesus is pressing toward His goal - the cross of Calvary and the salvation of men through faith in Him.