An Introduction to the Gospel of Mark, an Apostle of Jesus Christ's

 

Mark - A Chosen Personality

There are persons who have been chosen to play a role in the course time, who have devoted their time and efforts to develop intrinsic thoughts destined to master the minds of mankind. It is not necessary for these chosen persons to be great statesmen or generals. There are individuals who spoke and wrote in a certain period of time and left to future generations the seal of authority on which de­pend the principles of progress and culture. There were chosen people who became the instruments of God's Will. They were born and guided in such a way as to become the heralders of the Voice of God and the instructors of the conscience of humanity. Such writers are those who wrote the books of the Bible. It is necessary for us to know the content of the Bible in relation to the character of the writers. The more we know of the author's background, the more we understand the meaning of his work. In the New Testament there are many writers, one of them — Mark — is the writer of the second Gospel. His Hebrew name was John, and his surname was Mark, by which he is known (cf. Acts 13:5, 13; 12:12, 25; 15:37). He was the son of Mary, who offered her house for the gatherings of the Christians in Jerusalem, which made it a central locale, "He (Peter) went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying", Acts 12:12. After his miraculous escape from prison, Peter went directly to Mark's house, where many had gathered.

 

It is a strong belief that at Mark's house Christ and His disciples met for the "Mystical Supper", and that. Pentecost took place there. Peter made this house his headquarters. We knew Mark as a boy who became to him a spiritual son. Tradition holds that the man in Mark (13:14) carrying a jar of water was Mark himself, and "that the young man who followed him (Christ) with nothing but a linen cloth about his body" (14:51) was Mark also. It is strongly believed that Mark followed Peter in his missionary work and was with him during the last days of his martyrdom (1 Peter 5:13). It is Mark who wrote his Gospel according to the teachings of Peter, his teacher and spiritual father. There are many early writers of the second and third centuries who say that Mark wrote his Gospel based on what Peter taught him. The relationship between Peter and Mark was very close, that of father and son. Mark was also a cousin of Barnabas (cf. Colossians 4:10), who was a Levite from Cyprus (cf. Acts 4:36) and a co-worker with Paul. Therefore, Mark was probably a Levite him­self, because in the Acts of the Apostles he was assisting his cousin, Barnabas, in the Synagogue (cf. 13:5). When Barnabas and Paul were in Jerusalem they took "with them John whose other name was Mark", and went to Antioch, Acts 12:25. This took place approxi­mately 15 years after the Resurrection. Thus, Mark as a young man grew up in a home which was a center for gatherings of many of Christ's disciples, who came and went frequently. His childhood was enriched by this Christian atmosphere, especially under the paternal care of Peter, who called him "my spiritual son". However, trust­worthy details of his later life are lacking, including his death.

 

When Barnabas and Paul planned their first missionary journey to Cyprus, they took Mark with them. They arrived in Salamis on Cyprus and went to Paphos, where the governor, Sergios-Paul him­self, was converted to Christianity. They continued their journey to Asia Minor and arrived at Perga. Here Mark decided to leave Paul and Barnabas, either out of fear of the rough life of a missionary or because he did not agree with the unrestricted acceptance of the pagans as converts. After this problem developed Barnabas and Paul also left their mission, cutting their journey short and returning to Antioch. Here the main question of whether or not the new converts should be circumcised according to Jewish custom was discussed. This question resulted in the first Apostolic Synod in Jerusalem, where the Apostles gathered to discuss this controversy (cf. Acts 15:6ff). Apostle Paul refers to this question and the disagreement over circumcision thus: "When Cephas (Peter) came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned", Galatians 2:11. The Apostles decided in Paul's favor to accept the converted without circumcision.

 

When Apostle Paul decided on his second missionary journey, Barnabas insisted that Mark should accompany them. But Paul did not want to take him along, because he had left them on the previous journey, and probably because of Mark's close relationship with Peter (cf. Acts. 15:37-38). After this sharp difference, Barnabas separated from Paul, and took Mark with him to Cyprus again, while Paul took Silas and went to Syria and Cicilia (cf. Acts 15:38-41). After 12 years, however, we find Mark with Paul in Rome, where Paul recommended Mark to the Colossians, saying: "Mark, the cousin of Barnabas . . . if he comes to you, receive him", 4:10. Paul's recommendation of Mark in this epistle shows that they were now on good terms, and it seems that Mark has now accepted the views of Paul on Gentile conversion. This is shown when Paul wrote to Timothy "Get Mark and bring him with you; for he is very useful in serving me", 2 Tim. 4:11. It is not known, though, if Mark and Timothy reached Rome before Paul's martyrdom.

 

THE BACKGROUND OF MARK'S GOSPEL

 

The first three books of the New Testament are called Synoptic because of their common material. Although they are alike in con­tent, they have their own individual characteristics. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are separate works. The oldest is that of Mark. Matthew and Luke contain much of what is included in Mark's book. Although Mark is the first written Gospel, Matthew and Luke appear superior. Mark's Gospel was less frequently read than the other two Gospels. Up to the sixth century many com­mentaries were found on Matthew and Luke, but none on Mark. Mark's took its permanent place as second Gospel in the Church's collection from the third century on. An important reference to Mark and his Gospel is made by Papias, Bishop of Hierapolis, about 140 A.D. He quotes the testimony of an "elder" who gave him a great deal of information on the early church:

 

"The elder spoke as follows: 'Mark, who has become the interpreter of Peter, wrote accurately, but not in order, all that he remembered concerning the Lord's sayings or doings. For he did not hear the Lord or accompany him, but was later, as I said, a companion of Peter, who offered his instructions as the occasion required, without attempting to frame an ordered account of the Lord's sayings. So Mark made no mistake when he wrote some things as he recalled them. For he was intent on one aim, — not to leave out or falsify anything whatever of the things he had heard' ". This quotation is recorded by Eusebius, the 4th century his­torian, in his Church History (III. 39. 15).

 

This quotation and the teaching of Tradition clearly show that Mark brought together the reminiscences of Peter as his interpreter, or reporter, or both. The vividness and wealth of detail in Mark's narratives clearly indicate they are derived directly from an eye­witness, Peter. This affirms a close relationship between Mark and Peter. The value of Mark's Gospel has received more recognition during the last several centuries, because of its objective and simple picture of the deeds and sayings of Christ. Mark gives a vivid reality to them in a concise history. He gives the impression of material gathered in raw form without being polished, which makes it more direct. Mark deals with the official ministry of Christ without genealogy or other information on His birth. He omits the Sermon on the Mount and the Parables (referring only to four), but emphasizes the miracles of Christ to prove His divinity.

 

It is evident that Mark is not concerned with giving a chronological development, but is specifically concerned with bringing all the evidence into right sequence. The order of Mark's Gospel, more so than the others, is in keeping with historical probability, but it is more than historical information, supporting faith in Christ. Mark's Gospel has Christ as the central figure with Peter next, and fully describes scenes in which Peter had some part, especially those in Capernaum, where Christ was close to Peter's house. Although Mark's Gospel is the oldest and is the source of Matthew and Luke, it seems that he also relies on earlier sources. In this Gospel is found Peter's instruction, the earlier sources and a separate account of the Passion of Christ.

 

Mark's Passion account (16:9-20) is not found in some of the earlier manuscripts. The question is whether or not the Gospel of Mark ends with chapter 16:8 or includes verses 9-20. Most of the manuscripts of Mark's Gospel, except the Sinaiticus and Vaticanus ones, include verses 9 through 20. This passage also is included in the liturgical books of the Church. The Fathers of the Church refer to this passage as part of Mark's Gospel. The early Fathers refer also to the authenticity and integrity of the Gospel written by Mark. The reference of Papias (140 A.D.), fully quoted above, to the Gospel according to Mark is an unshakeable witness of its authen­ticity, "So Mark made no mistake when he wrote some things as he recalled them. For he was intent on one aim, — not to leave out or falsify anything whatever of the things he had heard". The early Fathers, Justin, Irenaios, Clement, Origen and others, refer to this Gospel as written by Mark. It is commonly agreed that the second Gospel presents the personality of Peter more accurately and vividly than any other, which is another verification of Mark's authorship (cf. Mark 1:16; 1:29-31; 1:35; 3:16; 3:37; 9:2; 9:5; 8:29; 8:32, 33; 10:28; 11:21; 13:3; 14:33; 14:37; 14:54; 14:66-72; 16:7, etc.). However there are other words and gestures of Peter which are not mentioned by Mark, but by the other Gospels. This suggests the humbleness of Peter of not boasting of himself to Mark, his spiritual son.

 

The Gospel according to Mark was written between 65 and 70 A.D., before the fall of Jerusalem and after the death of Peter. It is believed that Mark wrote his book in Rome, according to most of the Fathers of the Church. The Gospel is written in the Greek

 

language for the converted Gentile Christians in Rome. Mark trans­lates into Greek some of his Aramaic words and phrases (cf. Mark 3:17; 5:42; 7:11, 34; 14: 36; 15:34). He explains Jewish customs which were unknown to the Gentiles (cf. 7:3, 4; 14:12, etc.). This is also borne out by the fact that he does not explain Latin words, such as denari, centurion, kensos, praetorion, because the readers knew Latin.

 

PURPOSE AND CHARACTER OF THE GOSPEL

 

The purpose of Mark's Gospel is the formulation and preserva­tion of the instructive teachings of Peter to the Gentiles. Its content fully corresponds to that purpose. The character of this Gospel is not polemic or apologetic, but clearly instructive and historical. Mark refers to the official life of Christ and declares that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, Who reveals Himself to His Apostles through His words and deeds, His divine nature. Also that Christ sends His disciples to preach His Gospel to the whole world. Mark does not attempt to prove the genealogy of Christ from Abraham and David, because he speaks to Gentiles, not Jews. He proves that Jesus is the Son of God by stating the supernatural deeds of Christ — miracles such as the healing of the sick men, the resurrection of the dead, His authority over the elements of nature and especially the banishment of the demons. Mark recorded the Transfiguration of Christ with God the Father's declaration of His Son to prove that Jesus is the Son of God.

 

The following is an outline of the Gospel of Mark to better prepare its reader. Memorization of some of the quoted verses is suggested.

 

Outline of Mark's Gospel

 

The Gospel of Mark can be divided into two parts. The first is the narrative of Peter's confession of Jesus as the Messiah and the first prediction of His Passion; the second half of the Gospel is divided into four parts.

 

I.   Introduction, 1:1-13

Beginning of Christ's Galilean Ministry, 1:14-3:6 Later Galilean Ministry, 3:7-6:13 Outside of Galilee, 6:14-8:26

II. To Jerusalem, 8:27-10:52 In Jerusalem, chs. 11-13 Passion, chs. 14-15 Resurrection and Appearances, ch. 16

 

son of god — "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God", 1:1

john the baptist — "After me  (John the Baptist) comes he (Christ) who is mightier than I", 1:7.

 

THE BEGINNING OF GALILEAN MINISTRY OF CHRIST

 

repentance — "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the Gospel", 1:15.

calling  of  disciples  —  "Follow  me  and  I  will  make  you become fishers of men", 1:17. "And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes", 1:22.

enmities: healing — "If you will, you can make me clean . . . I will; be clean", 1:40, 41. "My son, your sins are forgiven ... I say to you rise, take up your pallet and go home", 2:5, 11.

tax collectors — "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners", 2:17.

not fasting — "New wine is for fresh skins", 2:22.

sabbath violation — "The  Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath", 2:27.

THE LATER GALILEAN MINISTRY

 

son of god — "They fell down before him and cried out, 'You are the Son of God'", 3:11.

the twelve — "And he appointed twelve, to be with him, and to be sent out to preach", 3:14.

casting out demons — "How can Satan cast out Satan?", 3:23. "If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand", 3:24. "And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end", 3:26.

unpardonable sin — "Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin", 3:29.

parable teachings — "And other seeds fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty-fold and sixty fold and a hundredfold. ... He who has ears to hear, let him hear", 4:8, 9. "To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those who are outside, everything is in parables", 4:11. "But those that were sown upon the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit", 4:20. "Take heed what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you", 4:24. "The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed upon the ground . . . and they should sprout and grow", 4:26, 27. "It is like a grain of mustard seed . . . yet when it is sown, it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs", 4:31, 32.

the storm — "And a great storm of wind arose . . . And he awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, 'Peace! Be still', And the wind ceased", 4:37, 39. "Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?" 4:41.

 

OUTSIDE OF GALILEE

 

curing demoniac and healing — "So he gave them leave. And the unclean spirits came out, and entered the swine", 5:13. "Taking her by the hand, he said . . . 'Little girl, I say to you, arise' ", 5:41. Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease", 5:34.

ministry at nazareth — "And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue", 6:2. 'And Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house' ", 6:4. "And he called to him the twelve, and began to send them out . . . and gave them authority", 6:7. "So they went out and preached that men should repent . . . and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them", 6:12, 13.

death of john the baptist — "I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter", 6:25. "When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb", 6:29.

feeding the multitudes — "And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all", 6:41. "And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men", 6:44.

walking on the sea — "He came to them, walking on the sea", 6:48. "Take heart, it is I; have no fear", 6:50.

jesus' popularity — "And when they got out of the boat, immediately the people recognized him, and ran about the whole neighborhood and began to bring sick people on their pallets to any place where they heard he was", 6:54-55. "And wherever he came . . . they laid the sick in the market places, and besought him . . . and as many as touched it (his garment) were made well", 6:56.

tradition of the elders — "This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me", 7:6. "You leave the com­mandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men", 7:8. "You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God, in order to keep your tradition!" 7:9.

healing the gentiles — "For this saying you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter", 7:29. "Be opened'. And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly", 7:34, 35. "And they were astonished beyond measure", 7:37.

lessons from miracles — "Why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread?" 8:17. "Do you not yet perceive or under­stand? . . . When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand . . . And the seven for the four thousand? ... Do you not yet under­stand?" 8:17, 19, 20, 21.

 

TO JERUSALEM

 

peter's confession — " 'But who do you say I am?' Peter answered him, 'You are the Christ' ", 8:29.

foretelling of sufferings — "And he began to teach them that the Son of man must suffer many things", 8:3, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me", 8:34. "For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?" 8:36.

transfiguration — "And he was transfigured before them, and his garments became glistening, intensely white, as no fuller on earth could bleach them", 9:2, 3. "And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses; and they were talking to Jesus", 9:4. "And the voice came out of the cloud, 'This is my beloved Son; listen to him' ".

healing of epileptic — "All things are possible to him who believes", 9:23. "Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose", 9:27. "This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer", 9:29.

hinderances — "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believes in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea", 9:42. "And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out", 9:47. "Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its saltness, how will you season it? Have salt in yourself, and be at peace with one another", 9:50. "Let the chil­dren come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God", 10:14.

great refusal — "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 10:17. "You know the commandments. . . . Teacher, all these I have observed from my youth' . . . 'You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, and come, follow me", 10:19, 20, 21. "How hard it will be for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God ... It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God", 10:23, 25. third prediction of suffering — "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes", 10:33. "And they will condemn him to death, and deliver him to the Gentiles . . . and after three days he will rise", 10:33, 34.

 

IN JERUSALEM

 

triumphal entry — "And those who went before and those who followed cried out, 'Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!'" 11:9. "And he entered Jerusalem, and went into the temple", 11:11.

cleansing of temple — "And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought", 11:15. "Is it not written, 'My house shall be calk d a house of prayer for all the nations?'" 11:17.

cursing of fig tree — "Master, look! The fig tree which you cursed has withered", 11:21. "Have faith in God. ... I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you receive it, and you will", 11:22, 24. "And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against any one; so that your Father . . . may forgive you your trespasses", 11:25.

jesus' authority — "And they said to him, 'By what authority are you doing these things?'"  11:28.  "And Jesus said to them, 'Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things' " 11:33.

parables of wicked vinedressers — "A man planted a vine­yard . . . and let it out to tenants", 12:1. "The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner", 12:10.

taxes to caesar — "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's, 12:17.

resurrection of dead — "And as for the dead being raised, have you not read ... 'I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. He is not God of the dead, but of the living'", 12:26, 27.

greatest commandment — "The first is, 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soui, and with all your mind, and with all your strength'. The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these", 12:29-31.

signs of the end — "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign when these things are all to be accomplished?' 13:4. "Many will come in my name, saying, T am he!' and they will lead many astray", 13:6. "And the gospel must first be preached to all nations", 13:10. "And brother will deliver up brother to death", 13:12. "For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of creation which God created until now, and never will be", 13:19. "False Christs and false prophets will arise and show signs and wonders to lead astray, if possible, the elect", 13:22. "And then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory", 13:26. "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away", 13:3. "Watch, there­fore — for you do not know when the master of the house will come . . . And what I say to you I say to all: Watch", 13:35, 37.

 

THE PASSION

 

plot to kill jesus — "And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth, and kill him", 14:1. "Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray be", 14:18. "For the Son of man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed", 14:21.

the last supper — "Take; this is my body . . . This is my blood of the covenant", 14:22, 23.

peter's denial — "Truly, I say to you, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times", 14:30.

jesus in gethsemane — "My soul is very sorrowful, even to death", 14:34. "Abba, Father, all things are possible to thee; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what thou wilt", 14:36. "The hour has come; the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners", 14:41. "Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, The one I shall kiss is the man' " 14:44.

His trial — "And they led Jesus to the high priest", 14:53. "We heard him say, 'I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands' ", 14:58. "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? And Jesus said, 'I am . . . Why do we still need witnesses?'" 14:61, 62, 63. "And they all condemned him as deserving death", 14:64.

last days on earth — "And Pilate asked him, 'Are you the King of the Jews? . . . Have you no answer to make?'" 15:2, 4. " Then what shall I do with the man whom you call the King of the Jews?' And they cried out again, 'Crucify him'", 15:12-13. "And they crucified him, and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them", 15:24. "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" 15:34. "And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed his last", 15.37. "Truly this man was the Son of God!" 15:39. "He granted the body to Joseph . .  and laid him in a tomb", 15:45, 46.

 

THE RESURRECTION AND APPEARANCES

 

resurrection — "Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Naza­reth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him", 16:6.

appearances —  "Afterward he  appeared to the  eleven them­selves as they sat at table", 16:14. "He said to them, 'Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation' ", 16:15.

ascension — "After he had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven", 16:19.

the commission — "And they went forth and preached every­where", 16:20.

 

ACCORDING TO MARK

 

According to tradition, Mark is the founder of the Church at Alexandria, and its first bishop. Mark is one of the four Evangelists, and proclaims Jesus Christ as Savior and King. This is why Mark is portrayed with the image of a lion, testifying to Christ's royal dignity as King. The feast day of St. Mark is April 25.

 

The acquaintance of Mark with Peter and Paul gave him first­hand information of the teachings of Christ. Being the interpreter of Peter and probably a scribe to some of Paul's epistles in Rome, plus his unpolished relating of Peter's reminiscences presents Mark as an authoritative writer of the works and deeds of Christ. His Gospel is the first written Gospel, and was used as a source by others, especially Matthew and Luke. Mark's Gospel carries a special prestige, because it contains the eyewitness seal of the first among the Apostles, Peter. The father-son relationship between Peter and Mark lends more value to this Gospel, for Mark had absorbed and digested what Peter recounted of the things he witnessed while with Christ, Peter having been very close with Christ. Mark's Gospel is a simple straightforward account of events as they occurred, written without literary pretense. Yet, his Gospel is vivid and dramatic, written as Mark heard it, with candor and without falsifying what he had heard. The Gospel is arranged as a continuous narrative. His Gospel witnesses that fact of Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God. Mark's purpose clearly shows that his Gospel is "evangelistic", with every part bearing witness to the historical aspect of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. This is evident in Mark's first sentence of his Gospel: "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God".  

 

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