Living Hope Ministries Logo

NEW TESTAMENT SURVEY NewTestament Survey


STUDY 6 - THE GOSPEL OF MARK

For this study see: M.C.Tenney, pp.160-172; R.H.Gundry, pp.125-158. Further reading: D.A.Carson, et al., An Introduction to the New Testament, pp.89-109.

1. AUTHORSHIP, DATE AND PLACE OF THE GOSPEL

Authorship
The Gospel itself does not indicate its author.  "Tradition identifies him as John Mark, the scion of a Christian family in Jerusalem, the assistant and understudy of Paul, Barnabas and perhaps Peter. He was the son of Mary, a friend of the apostles, who is mentioned in Acts 12" (M.C.Tenney). [1] Note these references: Acts 12:12-25; 15:37,39; Col.4:10; Phlm.24; 2 Tim.4:11; 1 Pet.5:13.  His Gospel signature may be indicated by Mk.14:51-52.

Place of writing
The earliest witnesses connect Mark with the preaching of Peter in Rome.  Papias wrote:

"The Elder used to say this also: Mark became the interpreter of Peter and he wrote down accurately, but not in order, as much as he remembered of the sayings and doings of Christ.  For he was not a hearer or a follower of the Lord, but afterwards, as I said, of Peter, who adapted his teachings to the needs of the moment and did not make an ordered exposition of the sayings of the Lord". [2]

This observation connects the evangelist with an apostle, a fact which supports the Gospel's acceptance into the NT canon.

The readers of the Gospel
Tenney associates the place of writing with Mark's readership: "The Gospel of Mark is terse, clear, and pointed, a style that would appeal to the Roman mind, which was impatient of abstractions and literary inbreeding". [3] There are Latinisms in Mark, such as census for 'tribute' (12:14), speculator for 'executioner' (6:27), and centurio for 'centurion' (15:39,44,45). The Gospel contains little reference to Jewish law and customs, and when it does they are explained in some detail (e.g., Mk.7:1-3). [4]

Date of writing
Some scholars argue that the Gospel was written in Nero's time, that is, as the church in Rome was facing persecution. The Gospel's emphasis on the sufferings of Christ, beginning with the thought that he was 'with the wild beasts' (1:13) to his death on the cross identifies the Lord with his church.  The example of Jesus would fortify those suffering for Christ. But a date could fall between A.D. 68 (after Peter's death) and A.D. 70 (or A.D. 56-66). [5]


2. THE CONTENTS OF THE GOSPEL

"The Gospel of Mark is a historical narrative that sets forth a representative picture of the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.  It is not primarily a biography... It gives close succession, probably in general chronological order, a series of episodes in Christ's career, with some detail concerning the last week that he spent on earth.  It is almost entirely objective in its approach...  like a snapshot album devoted to one person, it gives a series of characteristic poses of Jesus without attempting close continuity between them" (M.C.Tenney). [6]

The purpose of the Gospel
The opening words, "The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God", indicate the purpose and contents of the Gospel.  The main purpose is evangelistic (cf., Jn.20:30-31). Then, unlike Matthew, which follows chiefly the theme of the Messiah, Mark is concerned with the activity of Jesus as the Son of God, who is also the Servant of God. [7] Secondary aims may be indicated, such as that of strengthening Christians who were suffering for the faith. The Gospel also demonstrates that Jesus was innocent of the charges the Jews brought against him.

An outline of the Gospel
M.C.Tenney demonstrates that Mark's basic outline is built on the different localities of Jesus' ministry, including Nazareth, Galilee, Decapolis, Tyre and Sidon, Caesarea Philippi, Judea and Perea, Jericho and Jerusalem. [8] The Gospel falls into two parts, the pivotal point being Peter's confession and the Lord's first prediction of his suffering (Mk.8:27-32). M.C.Tenney's analysis of the Gospel is involved, so here is an alternative:

  • Mark: the Gospel of the Son of God

  • The beginning (1:1-13)

  • The Galilean ministry commences (1:14-3:6)

  • Later stages of the Galilean ministry (3:7-6:13)

  • Jesus outside Galilee (6:14-8:26)

  • The way to Jerusalem (8:27-10:52)

  • Ministry in Jerusalem (11:1-13:37)

  • The passion (14:1-15:47)

  • The resurrection (16:1-20).

3. THE EMPHASIS OF THE GOSPEL

A Gospel of the Servant of the Lord
Mark depicts Jesus as the Servant of Yahweh, who features in the Servant Songs of Isaiah (e.g.. Isa.42:1-4).  The word 'immediately' (Gk. euthus) is used some 42 times. [9] Mark's observation of the servant's household role (Acts 12:13), and his position as a 'helper' (Gk. huperetes, attendant, assistant, helper) to the apostles (Acts 13:5), could enable him to reflect on the ministry of Jesus.  Mk.10:45 is a special verse: "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many".  H.F.Vos simplified outline takes Mk.10:45 to be the key verse of the Gospel:

  • Mark: The Gospel of the Servant

  • Preparation of the Servant (1:1-13)

  • Proclamation of the Servant (1:14-8:30)

  • Passion of the Servant (8:31-16:20). [10]

A Gospel of action
Mark is more interested in deeds than in speculation.  "Mark is a Gospel of action.  It has no prologue, except for the title.  Direct citations from the OT for purposes of prophetic interpretation are very few, although there are numerous quotations and allusions.  Of 70 parables and parabolic utterances in the Gospels, Mark has only 18, though some of them comprise only a sentence apiece.  For its size, however, Mark gives more space to the miracles than does any other Gospel, for it records 18 out of a possible total of 35" (M.C.Tenney). [11] This feature would be attractive to the Roman mind.  The works of Jesus are seen to triumph over the forces of darkness.  Mark illustrates how Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil (cf., 1 Jn.3:8).

A Gospel of an eyewitness
The graphic style of the Gospel suggests the evidence of an eyewitness.  Personal gestures are observed (e.g., 3:5; 5:41; 7:3; 8:23; 9:27; 10:16).  The eyes of Jesus are noted (e.g., 3:5,34).  Mark adds an important detail to the story of the feeding of the 5000 - the fact that the crowd sat down - 'in groups on the green grass' (6:39).  He also notes the reaction of people to Jesus and his ministry.  For example, they are 'amazed' (1:27), critical (2:7), afraid (4:41), puzzled (6:14), astonished (7:37) and hostile (14:1).

Material special to Mark
Some words, features, parables and stories are unique to the Gospel.  The observation that the Spirit 'drove' (Gk. ekballō) Jesus into the wilderness compares with Luke's milder 'led' (Lk.4:12).  The use of the historic present is a feature of Mark.  A number of Aramaic words are preserved and translated (see 3:17; 5:41; 7:11,34; 14:36; 15:22,34).  The Parable of the Growing Seed (4:26-29) is only found in Mark.  Collect examples for yourself.


4. THE CHARACTERS OF THE GOSPEL

"Mark does not mention as many persons as does Luke, nor does he use them as patterns to the same extent that Luke and John do.  He seems to have been more interested in the progress of his story than in the analysis of individual characters". [12] However, note his reference to Simon the leper (14:3), the young man in the Garden (14:51-52), and Alexander and Rufus (15:21; cf., "Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord" in Rom.16:13).


The messianic secret
On a number of occasions Jesus warns his disciples and others to keep silent about who he is or what he has done (e.g., 1:34,44; 3:12; 5:43; 7:36-37; 8:26,30; 9:9).  Some scholars take 'the messianic secret' to be a literary motif used by the evangelist, who believed Jesus to be the Messiah even though he did not make such a claim.  But it is possible that Jesus did not want to associate himself with contemporary concepts of the Messiah.  The Synoptic tradition is consistent in stating that Jesus did not openly refer to himself as the Messiah, and that his chief self-designation was the Son of Man (see Mk.8:27-31, par.).


5. OTHER QUESTIONS

The questions which consider the Gospel literature, the priority of Mark and the Marcan 'longer ending' (some MSS end at Mk.16:8) are dealt with in: M.C.Tenney, pp.137-147; D.A.Carson, et al., An Introduction to the New Testament, pp.19-45; 102-104.



ENDNOTES

1. M.C.Tenney, p.160.

2. Papias, Bishop of Hierapolis (c.A.D. 130), "Expositions of the Oracles of the Lord", in Eusebius, H.E.III, 39.  See: H.Bettenson, Documents of the Christian Church, 2nd edition, Oxford, OUP, 1963, p.27.

3. M.C.Tenney, p.164.

4. Sometimes a Gospel explains Jewish laws and customs to accommodate Gentile readers.

5. M.C.Tenney, p.171.

6. M.C.Tenney, p.163.

7. M.C.Tenney, p.167.

8. M.C.Tenney, pp.166-167.

9. Note kai euthus in reference to Jesus in Mk.1 (vv.10,12,21,23,28,29).

10. H.V.Vos, Beginnings in the New Testament, p.36.

11. M.C.Tenney, p.170.

12. M.C.Tenney, p.171.


Page Top

Copyright 2007 Vernon Ralphs

Website design: Copyright 2010 Living Hope Christian Ministries.