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Gospel of Mark
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Gospel of Mark


The Gospel of Mark is the second Gospel in the most usual conventional sequence of accepted New Testament gospels, as printed in the New Testament. The commonly accepted range of dates for Gospel of Mark in its existing form are ca 65, the traditional date for the death of Peter, to ca 80 A.D., a terminus set by the use of some purely Markan material in the Gospel of Luke.

The "synoptic problem" assesses conflicting claims for priority among the three synoptic gospels. It is generally agreed that the Gospel of Luke depends on material from the others. The most commonly accepted solution in secular academia designates Mark as the first of the surviving gospels to have been written. An alternative and more conservative analysis credits Matthew with this distinction. Detailed reasoning for the priority of Mark is found at the entry Markan priority. It is widely, though not universally, agreed that the gospels of Matthew and Luke both depend on a lost "sayings" gospel, called "Q" for Quelle ("source"). (Detailed discussion is found at the entry Q Gospel). Out of a total of 662 verses, Mark has 406 in common with both Matthew and Luke, 145 with Matthew alone, 60 with Luke alone, and at most 51 peculiar to itself, according to a common concordance.

Table of contents
1 Author
2 Date
3 Audience
4 Characteristics of Mark
5 Losses and early editing of Mark
6 References
7 External links


As early as Papias in the early 2nd century, it was believed that the writer, known as Mark, derived his information mainly from the discourses of Peter, although the author is in fact unknown.

Papias' lost work was quoted by Eusebius:

"And the presbyter said this. Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered. It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him. But afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who accommodated his instructions to the necessities [of his hearers], but with no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord's sayings. Wherefore Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he remembered them. For of one thing he took especial care, not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements."

Embedded in Papias' guarantee of the authenticity of what is in canonical Mark is the unambiguous statement that Peter "accommodated his instructions to the necessities." Since the time of Clement of Alexandria, at the end of the 2nd century, scholars have agreed this gospel was first written at Rome, Mark working up Peter's material. Clement supports this history in some detail, in the rediscovered "Mar Saba letter" that contains references to a previously unknown Secret Gospel of Mark. This theory is also supported by scholars including William Barclay. According to the tradition, in his mother's house Mark would have had abundant opportunities to obtain information from the other apostles and their helpers, yet he was "the disciple and interpreter of Peter" Some have followed Clement in suggesting that it was edited into its final form at Alexandria.

It is clear from several passages that jumble Judean topography that the author of Mark was unfamiliar with the actual geography. Reginald Fuller (A Critical Introduction to the New Testament) suggests that if a single connection to Rome (based on the later First Epistle of Peter, 5:13) is decoupled, Mark could have been written in Antioch.


As to the time when it was written, the Gospel's text furnishes us with no clear information. Comments attributed to Jesus Christ in Mark 13:1-2 (the "little Apocalypse," see below) have been seen as a reference to the destruction of the Temple, which would place the work after 70 CE. One possible reading of a parchment from a cave at Qumran, 7Q5, interpreted as a few fragments of words of Mark presents the possibility that Mark was written and distributed prior to 68 CE. Most scholars find the reading and the connection with the Qumran community tenuous.


Mark is a Hellenistic gospel. The Gospel of Mark was written primarily for an audience of Greek-speaking citizens of the Roman Empire. This appears probable when it is considered that it explains Jewish usages (7:3; 14:3; 14:12; 15:42) and takes care to interpret Aramaic words and phrases which a Gentile would be likely to misunderstand, such as, "Boanerges" (3:17); "Talitha cumi" (5:41); "Corban" (7:11); "Bartimaeus" (10:46); "Abba" (14:36); "Eloi," etc. (15:34). Mark also uses certain Latin words not found in any of the other Gospels, as "speculator" (6:27, rendered, A.V., "executioner;" R.V., "soldier of his guard"), "xestes" (a corruption of sextarius, rendered "pots," 7:4, 8), "quadrans" (12:42, rendered "a farthing"), "centurion" (15:39, 44, 45). It has been suggested that Mark is writing in Greek, as a foreign language, for the first time.

Hellenism is not confined to language. The description in this Gospel of how the Sanhedrin (the authorities of the Judaic religion) plotted to execute Jesus Christ has been used to promote and condone anti-Semitism. The demonization of Pharisee, or non-Hellenized Jews, would have directed this gospel to a Gentile audience, at Rome, or perhaps to a thoroughly Hellenized audience only partly of Jewish extraction, at Alexandria. The audience for Mark seems to have experienced some persecution and was expecting more. (See Jews in the New Testament for further discussion.)

Characteristics of Mark

Some characteristics of this text are
  1. the absence of a genealogy for Jesus Christ,
  2. whom he represents as clothed with power, the "lion of the tribe of Judah."
  3. Mark also records with minuteness the very words (3:17; 5:41; 7:11, 34; 14:36) as well as the position (9:35) and gestures (3:5, 34; 5:32; 9:36; 10:16) of Christ.
  4. He is also careful to record particulars of person (1:29, 36; 3:6, 22, etc.), number (5:13; 6:7, etc.), place (2:13; 4:1; 7:31, etc.), and time (1:35; 2:1; 4:35, etc.), which the other evangelists omit.
  5. The phrase "and straightway" occurs nearly forty times in this Gospel; while in Luke's Gospel, which is much longer, it is used only seven times, and in John only four times. In a more modern translation, this phrase would be stated as immediately or 'soon afterward'. It is this immediacy which makes the gospel "a transcript of life" according to Brooke Foss Westcott. This immediacy is hightened by the frequent use of the present tense to describe Jesus' actions, however, most translations remove this.
  6. The repetitive use of "and straightaway" is an indication that various literary forms and doublets have been loosely strung together to construct a continuous narrative; indicating "Mark" is not an author, but rather an editor. ("Matthew" uses "and it came to pass" as a repetitive link and retells Mark's story more eloquently and elaborately, in the exact same sequence). These links are very evident in the Greek texts, but not so evident in English translations.

Ever since Papias it has been commonly thought that Mark is mostly a rapid succession of vivid pictures loosely strung together without much attempt to bind them into a whole or give the events in their natural sequence. This pictorial power is that which specially characterizes this evangelist, so that "if anyone desires to know an evangelical fact, not only in its main features and grand results, but also in its most minute and so to speak more graphic delineation, he must betake himself to Mark." Redaction criticism since the 1950s, however, has produced another view of Mark's gospel as a carefully constructed narrative, with a detailed internal structure. This is especially apparent in the threefold passion prediction cycle.

Mark also has certain peculiarities of its own. Only in this gospel is Jesus addressed (by himself, except for once) as a Son of Man. The testing of Jesus in the wilderness for forty days does not contain any discourse between Satan and Jesus. There are no details. Jesus must lay his hands on a blind man "twice" to cure him. Mark 18:22 In Mark there are no favorite disciples. Supposedly, Mark never says Jesus is crucified. "Jesus is killed". Jesus is not yet the "crucified savior". (That theology is yet to come, principally from Paul, the citizen of Rome new comer. His letters make up the majority of the "Second Testament". Paul's audience is largely made up of gentiles).

The "little Apocalypse" of Mark 13

Exegesis is often made to show correspondences with the calamities of the First Jewish Revolt of 66 - 70 A.D.. Jesus' remarks in 13:1-2, seen as a reference to the destruction of the Temple, would place the work after AD 70 A.D.. The passage predicts that the Temple would be torn down completely; "Not one stone will be left upon another". The Temple was completely destroyed by the forces of the Roman general Titus (Josephus, Jewish War VI). (TheWestern Wall, which still stands, was not a part of the temple proper, but rather part of a larger structure on which the Temple and other buildings stood.) This fulfilled prophecy would place the passage before the destruction of Jerusalem, for readers who affirm the reality of prophecies.

Losses and early editing of Mark

Mark is also the shortest gospel. Manuscripts, both scrolls and codices, tend to lose text at the beginnings and endings, not unlike a coverless paperback in a backpack. These losses are characteristically unconnected with excisions. For instance, Mark 1:1 has been in found two different forms. Half of the discovered texts contain the phrase, "the Son of God" and the other half do not contain this phrase,"Son of God". There is no adjective "the". This has been added to the English translation so that it flows, makes sense, and also for traditional theology. "a Son of God" would also be a correct translation. So would a translation without an "a" or "the" adjective at all. That a copyist omitted "Son of God" seems unlikely. Since the phrase appears later in the story, it would seem the author is intentionally building drama toward a later revelation of Jesus's true identity. Could this be the messianic secret?

An axiom adopted by some readers, though not by professionals generally, is: "A shorter version generally means an earlier form." Judicious editing of unwanted material may equally produce a shorter document, the reader will understand. The discovery of sections that have been omitted from the familiar, canonical Mark, quoted in a letter of Clement of Alexandria, is discussed in the entry for Secret Gospel of Mark.

Interpolations may not be editorial either. It is a common experience that glosses written in the margins of manuscripts get incorporated into the text as copies are made. Any particular example is open to dispute of course, but the reader is invited to look at Mark 13:14:

''"When you see the 'Abomination of Desecration' standing where it should not be - let the reader take note! - those in Judea must flee to the mountains."

Ending of Mark

There is some dispute among scholars as to whether the verses of the last chapter, Mark 16, which describe a resurrected Jesus, were actually part of the original Gospel, or if they were added on later. The oldest extant manuscripts do not contain these verses, suggesting that they were a later addition. So far, Mark has been found with nine different endings.

The short ending of Mark 16:8 seems to be the one and only empty tomb and resurrection story known to Celsus. By a weak argument of silence, Origen too knows of Mark's 16:8 as the one and only empty tomb and resurrection story. Origen, though he is familar with all the gospels, writes of no other to counter Celsus. Why not? Where are the resurrection stories from all four gospels? Contra Celsus (Against Celsus) 2.55 by Origen ca 225 (A fuller discussion is at the entry Mark 16.)

The leading principle running through this Gospel may be expressed in the motto: "Jesus came...preaching the gospel of the kingdom" (1:14). Yet the Gospel also portrays Jesus as consistently attempting to hide his identity as the Messiah from the general public. This persistent theme is often referred to as the Messianic secret, and is one of the distinguishing characteristics of Mark in constrast with the other Gospels.


External links