Overview of the Book of Mark

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Overview of the Book of Mark
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Overview of the Book of Mark

Author: The author is John Mark.

Purpose:

To present the Good News about Jesus to a substantially Gentile audience by recounting the witness of Jesus' disciples concerning the salient facts of his life, death, and resurrection.

Date: A.D. 62-69 or earlier

Key Truths:

  • Jesus was Israel's long-awaited Messiah.
  • Jesus revealed himself in special ways to his 12 disciples.
  • Jesus showed that he was the divine Son of God.
  • Jesus resisted public recognition to suffer and die on behalf of his people.
  • Jesus showed keen interest in extending salvation to the Gentiles.
  • The spread of the Good News about Jesus exerts power over evil.

Author:

All four Gospels are anonymous, perhaps to honor Jesus' intention to give the church an authorized, collective witness of his person and work through the apostles (a theme so often underlined in Mark; see notes on Mark 3:14; 4:10; 5:37; 6:7, 30; 8:32; 9:2, 31,34-35, 38; 13:3; 14:10, 17, 72; 16:7). It is conceivable that the Twelve would have employed fellow workers such as John Mark (who would not have placed their names on the work) to put this apostolic witness into writing.

External considerations point to Mark as the author of the Gospel that traditionally bears his name. First, the title, "According to Mark," appears in all the ancient canonical lists and many ancient manuscripts. Although this title is not original to the work, it is thought to have been added very early in the history of the textual tradition. Second, church fathers such as Papias (A.D. 140), Justin Martyr (A.D. 150), Irenaeus (A.D. 185), and Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 195) affirm Marcan authorship of the second Gospel. Papias included the note that Mark was Peter's interpreter. Third, the authenticity of this ascription to Mark is confirmed by the fact that in the second and third centuries of the Church it was common to ascribe non canonical books to well known apostles, not to secondary figures such as Mark. Internally, Mark's signature is perhaps to be seen in the strangely oblique reference to a young man fleeing from the soldiers who came to arrest Jesus (Mark 14:51, 52) and in the simplified chronological order of events that mirrors Peter's preaching in Acts (Acts 10:36-43; cf. Acts 1:21-22; 3:13-14; see also "Purpose and Distinctives"). For Mark's relationship to the apostles, see Acts 12:12, 25; 13:5, 13; Colossians 4:10; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 1:24.

Time and Place of Writing:

If the Gospel of Mark was used as a reference by Matthew and Luke, then it is the earliest of the Synoptic Gospels. Since it is generally thought that the Gospels of Matthew and Luke come from the period A.D. 80-90, perhaps Mark is to be dated around A.D. 70. However, if Luke antedates Acts (Acts being the second volume of Luke's work), and if Acts was finished shortly after A.D. 62 (when its narrative ends), then Mark should be dated even earlier.

The Church Fathers place the writing of Mark in Rome or, more generally, in Italy. This view is corroborated by: (1) Mark's association with Peter, who also addressed Christians in Babylon/Rome (1 Pet. 5:13), (2) many "Latinisms" in the Greek text (Mark 4:21; 5:9, 15; 6:27, 37; 7:4; 12:14; 15:15, 39, 44), and (3) the probable reference to members of the Roman church (Mark 15:21; cf. Rom. 16:13).

Original Audience:

Beyond the specific destination of Rome or, more generally, Italy (see "Time and Place of Writing"), the translation of Semitic terms (Mark 3:17; 5:41; 15:22, 34) and the explanation of Jewish customs (Mark 7:2-4; 15:42) suggest that a Gentile readership is anticipated, though not to the exclusion of Jewish followers of Christ.

Purpose and Distinctives:

Mark's primary purpose was to present in writing the witness of the Twelve to the salient facts of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Mark considered this the essence of the gospel (Mark 1:1). He did not intend to write a biography or a complete account of Jesus' public ministry. He had simplified the historical record to its barest minimum and to a minimal, threefold structure: (1) the inauguration of the ministry with John the Baptist, (2) the public ministry of Jesus in "Gentile" Galilee (Matt. 4:15) and surrounding regions, and (3) the final journey to "Jewish" Judea and Jerusalem for the ultimate sacrifice on the cross. The Gospel of John shows that, in fact, Jesus made at least five visits to Jerusalem. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke record much more of Jesus' actual teaching. But Mark's goal was manifestly different. By limiting historical details, he sought simply to give an enlarged account of what the apostles preached regarding the centrality of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (see 1 Cor. 2:2; see also Acts 1:21-22; 2:22-24; 5:29-32; 10:39-41; 13:26-31).

The Gospel of Mark highlights several features of Jesus' life:

(1) Mark shows that Jesus was the true Israelite (Mark 1:9-12), whose whole life demonstrated the necessity of submission to the written Word of God (Mark 1:13; 8:31; cf. Mark 7:6-13; 12:24, 35-37). No doubt in the light of present or future persecution, Jesus presented himself as the model for his disciples (Mark 8:34-9:1; 9:35-10:31; 10:42-45).

(2) Mark demonstrates the divinity of Jesus as the Son of God and the Son of Man (Mark 1:11; 2:10, 28; 3:11; 5:7; 9:7; 14:62; 15:39) as it shines through the state of humiliation inherent in Jesus' earthly Messianic calling (the so called Messianic secret; see Mark 1:34, 44; 3:12; 5:43; 7:36-37; 8:26, 30; 9:9).

(3) Mark emphasizes the importance of the preaching/teaching of the gospel not just as theological truth, but as "the power of God" (Rom. 1:16; cf. Mark 12:24) over evil and sickness (Mark 1:27; see also Mark 16:15-18).

(4) Mark shows Jesus' interest in the Gentiles in order to support and guide the Church's mission to non-Jews. This can be seen in the Gospel's basic structure (see above), in the explanation of Jewish terms and customs, in the presence of "Latinisms" (see "Time and Place of Writing"), in the declaration that the temple was to be "a house of prayer for all nations" (Mark 11:17), and in the Gospel's final high Christological confession from the mouth of a Gentile (Mark 15:39). See also note on Mark 5:19.

Notes from the NIV Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, Dr. Richard Pratt, ed. (Zondervan, 2003).

Introduction Material:

Introduction to the Gospels and Acts

Copyright:

Copyright, Authors, and Theological Editors of the SORSB

Answer by Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr.

Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr. is Co-Founder and President of Third Millennium Ministries and adjunct Professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, FL.