New Testament Study Helps:
- A Gospel of Action.
The author appears to be more fascinated with movement that with discourse. Mark describes the breaking up of the roof to let down the palsied man (2:4); the sleeping Jesus with his head on the pillow in the stern of the boat in a furious storm (4:37-38); the arrangements of the crowds in groups like an orderly vegetable patch on the green grass (6:39); the process by which Jesus healed the deaf and the dumb man, ie: by putting fingers into his ears and touching his tongue (7:33); the gradual restoration of sight to the blind man (8:23ff); and Peter sitting with the servants warming himself by the fire in the high priest's palace (14:54). Mark, after a brief prologue, goes straight to the narration of the ministry of Jesus and describes various phases, paying particular attention to the increasing opposition of the Pharisees. A pivotal point in the unfolding drama is the disciples' affirmation of faith in Jesus at Caesarea Philippi, from which point the story readily moves towards the passion.
- Mark's Candor.
Mark's view of the disciples attempts no character embellishments. He notes their lack of understanding on several occasions (4:13; 6:52; 8:17,21; 9:10,32). The attitude of Jesus' relatives is described with similar frankness: they considered him to be mad (3:21). Expressions of amazement on the part of Jesus' hearers are also included (1:27; 10:24,32), while Jesus' inability to work mighty deeds in Nazareth is directly attributed to the unbelief of the people (6:5-6). Mark is equally unreserved in his description of the human reactions of Jesus. The emotions of compassion, severity, anger, sorrow, tenderness and love are all attributed to him (1:41,43; 3:5; 8:12,33; 10:14,16,21). There is no doubt that this is a gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, as well as the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (1:1).
In his opening sentence Mark declares his intention of writing what he calls a "gospel", an account of the good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. This at once distinguishes it from biography, and explains the large proportion of space devoted to the last three weeks of the life of Jesus. The movement of the narrative is dominated by the passion story, but in Mark's gospel the action is heightened by the relative absence of blocks of teaching material. This essentially evangelistic purpose should caution against the expectation of too rigid a chronological framework. Mark introduces only those historical events which are directly relevant for his purpose. He omits birth narratives and accounts of Jesus' early life. Mark assumes his readers will know at once to whom he is referring.
Various indications point to the likelihood that Mark had in mind a Gentile audience, and in particular a Gentile audience in Rome. First, Mark must explain Palestinian customs to his audience. The Pharasaic custom of hand-washing and the general traditions regarding purification are explained in 7:3-4. This would not have been necessary, of course, for a Jewish audience. Second, some Aramaic expressions, which are retained in the text, are interpreted into Greek, pointing to a conclusion that Mark's readers would not have otherwise understood them. There is strong tradition that Mark wrote in Rome for Roman readers. Papias says that Mark was Peter's interpreter, and since traditionally Peter was martyred in Rome, this would mean that Mark may have spent some time there too. The anti-Marcionite Prologue states that Mark wrote in Italy after Peter's death. Irenaeus also implies that Mark wrote after the deaths of Peter and paul in Rome (Adv Heresies 3.1.2). On the other hand, Clement of Alexandria states that Mark wrote while Peter was still preaching the gospel in Rome (in Eusebius 4.14.6f). The reference to mark in 1 Peter 5:13 suggests Mark's connection with Rome, if "Babylon" is to be understood in this metaphorical sense. The earliest testimony to the use of the Gospel of mark comes from 1 Clement and the Shepherd of Hermeas, both of which show acquaintance with it and both of which are associated to Rome.
A Narrative Framework. After an introduction, the narrative moves into the Galilean ministry (1:14-6:13), followed by an account of Jesus' work outside Galilee (6:14-8:26), the journey to Jerusalem (8:27-10:52) and the final ministry with its climax in the passion and resurrection of Jesus (11:1-16). This may be called the synoptic framework since its main pattern is followed by all the synoptic gospels. There seems no weighty reason to deny that this framework existed in the oral tradition.
- External evidence.
There is such strong early Christian testimony that Mark was the author of this gospel that we here will simply list those making the attestations: Papias, Irenaeus, probably the Muratorian canon, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Jerome all refer to mark's authorship of the gospel. Moreover, all of them connect Mark with Peter in the production of the Gospel.
- The identification of Mark.
Is the Mark of the Gospel the Mark of Acts? It appears to have been assumed by tradition that Mark was John Mark. "John Mark" is mentioned three times in the New testament (Acts 12:12,25; 15:37) and "Mark" several times (Acts 15:39; Col 4:10; 2 Tim 4:11; Philemon 24; 1 Peter 5:13). In the Colossian reference "Mark" is identified as the cousin of Barnabas, which clearly equates him with the John Mark of Acts. It is very probable that his mother was a person of some substance since, according to Acts 12, her house was regarded as a rendevouz for many members of the primitive church. Mark accompanied Paul and Barnabas on part of the first missionary journey, although he drew against him Paul's anger when he forsook the party before the work was done. A reconciliation must have occurred later, since he was with Paul when the epistles to the Colossians and Philemon were written (Col 4:10; Phm 24). At still a later date he was found in the company of the apostle Peter (1 Peter 5:13). This association with both Paul and Peter is a very significant feature about him.
- The connection with Peter.
Papias wrote: "Mark indeed, since he was the interpreter of Peter, wrote accurately, but not in order, the things either said or done by the Lord as much as he remembered. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterwards, as I have said, [heard and followed] Peter, who fitted his discourses to the needs [of his hearers] but not as if making a narrative of the Lord's sayings (logian); Consequently, Mark, writing some things just as he remembered, erred in nothing; for he was careful of one thing -- not to omit anything of the things he had heard or to falsify anything in them" (In Eusebius 3.39.15). From this we see that (a) Papias clearly regarded Peter's preaching as the main source of Mark's witness; (b) The relation between Mark and peter is determined by the meaning of "translator"; (c) It is difficult to be sure in what sense Papias meant that mark did not write in order, but this is generally thought to mean chronological order; (d) It seems clear that this statement is something of an apology (defense) for the Gospel of Mark, which may not have been so highly rated because it was not thought to have come from an apostolic source.
6. The Ending of the Gospel.
The concluding chapter of the gospel presents a problem. The majority of manuscripts contain the full twenty verses, but most of these are late. The earliest Christian writings which show acquaintance with mark assume their genuineness. And yet there is some important early evidence which suggests the original ended at 16:8.
The Greek of Mark's gospel is not of a literary type, but rather the everyday spoken language, similar to that used in the Egyptian papyrus correspondence. Mark's favorite literary construction seems to be parataxis, that is, the joining of clauses with a simple conjunction (kai, and). It shouldn't be assumed, however, that Mark had no concern for grammatical nuances, since on occasion he shows careful use of verb tenses. Latinisms are a particular characteristic of Mark.
8. Outline of Mark