My Understanding of the Gospel of Mark

The Gospel according to Mark was short and sweet.  This author got to the point as he portrayed Jesus as a man of power and action, a super hero.  Jesus was not happy about his followers and often displayed his anger.  Clearly, Jesus was the Son of Man and the Son of God.

This gospel is the shortest of the four canonical gospels and one of the three synoptic gospels.  In most Bibles, it is the second New Testament gospel, following The Gospel according to Matthew. This gospel book of Mark is about Jesus, the Son of God.  It started from his baptism by John the Baptist to his death and resurrection.  There was no genealogy or birth narrative of Jesus here.  Mark pictured Jesus as a heroic man of action, an exorcist, a healer, and a miracle worker, who kept his divine identity a secret.

This Gospel of Mark probably dates from 66–70 CE.  Traditionally it was thought to be a summary of Matthew.  However, today most scholars now regard it as the earliest written gospel, the work of an unknown author working with various sources.  It was probably written during Nero’s persecution of the Christians in Rome or during the Jewish revolt in Israel.  This author used a variety of pre-existing sources and collections of sayings.  Although most scholars hold that Mark was written first, others hold that Matthew was the first to be written.  Good evidence suggests a date for Mark’s Gospel at some time in the late 60s.

The Gospel of Mark was written anonymously, although early Christian tradition ascribed it to John Mark, a companion and interpreter of the apostle Peter. This John Mark was the son of a widow woman named Mary. according to Acts, chapter 12:12-17, since the disciples met in Mary’s home.  John Mark was also the cousin of Barnabas, according to Colossians, chapter 4:10.  This John Mark accompanied Paul and Barnabas on their missionary journeys.  However, Paul scolded him and would not allow him to continue.  Thus, this John Mark left the missionaries for unknown reasons, as indicated in Acts, chapter 13:13.  Paul and Mark later reconciled, as Paul added that Mark was useful for his ministry in Colossians, chapter 4:10.

While the clues are not conclusive, they do point to a man writing to a Roman audience; who directly, or indirectly, knew Simon Peter and the Roman church.  John Mark fits the bill best.  Like the other three canonical gospels, the early church was unanimous in their acceptance that John Mark was the writer of this second gospel.  Papias of Hierapolis (60-130 CE) provided the earliest witness to Mark.  Irenaeus of Lyons (130-200 CE) also concurred.  Thus, the early Christian church leaders agreed that John Mark was the author of the second gospel.

It looks like John Mark wrote his Gospel while still in Rome for a Roman gentile audience.  While John Mark was not a primary witness to the life of Jesus of Nazareth, he was like a scribe to Peter, who was a primary witness to the life of Jesus.  The author of this second canonical gospel, probably John Mark, used the term “immediately” often.  He focused on the humanity of Jesus of Nazareth, often discussing his emotions.  He also explained Jewish customs and used Latin terms.  The mention of Simon of Cyrene as the father of Alexander and Rufus, who were known to the believers in Rome is another indication of a Roman origin.  This second gospel focused upon the life of Simon Peter quite a bit.  One of the highlights of this gospel was Peter’s declaration that Jesus was the Messiah.  Finally. There was the bizarre instance in the Garden of Gethsemane that might postulate this unknown man was the author himself.

Mark was written in Greek, as he explained and translated Jewish traditions and Aramaic terms for the Greek-speaking Christian Romans.  He may have been influenced by Greco-Roman biographies and rhetorical forms, popular novels, romances, and the Homeric epics.  However, there are no allusions to Greek or Roman literature.  All his references are to Jewish scriptures from the Greek version of the Septuagint.  He depicted Jesus as being caught up in the end times events.

The gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke bear a striking resemblance to each other, so that their contents can easily be set side by side in parallel columns.  The fact that they share so much material in common and yet also exhibit important differences has led to a number of hypotheses explaining their interdependence, often referred to as the Synoptic Problem.

Traditionally, Mark was thought to be a summary of Matthew.  The 19th century recognition of Mark as the earliest gospel led to the belief that it must therefore be the most reliable.  However, many see Mark’s sequence of episodes as an artificial construct with a theological motivation.  Nevertheless, this gospel still seems the most reliable in terms of its overall description of Jesus’s life and ministry.  Nevertheless, there are nearly forty unique sayings in Mark that are not found in the other gospels.

Christianity began within Judaism.  A specific Christian church or assembly arose within Judaism shortly after Jesus’s death, when some of his followers claimed to have witnessed him risen from the dead.  Thus, from the outset, Christians depended heavily on Jewish literature with such key concepts as the Messiah, the Son of God, the Son of Man, the Day of the Lord, and the kingdom of God.  Both Jews and Christians believed that the end of history was at hand, that God would very soon come to punish their enemies and establish his own rule.  They were at the center of God’s plans.  Christians read the Jewish scripture as a figure or type of Jesus Christ, so that the goal of Christian literature became the experience of the living Christ.  This new movement spread around the eastern Mediterranean, as well as to the city of Rome.  Christianity assumed a distinct identity, although the groups within it were extremely diverse.

These gospels were written for literate audiences that were already Christian followers of Jesus.  Their purpose was to strengthen the faith of those who already believed, not to convert unbelievers.  These Christian assemblies were small communities of believers, often based on households.  Thus, the proclamations of Jesus mixed the terms Jesus would have used as a 1st-century Jew and those of the early Christian communities themselves.

Mark was traditionally placed second, and sometimes fourth, in the Christian canon, as a somewhat inferior abridgement of what was regarded as the most important gospel of Matthew.  The Church has consequently derived its view of Jesus primarily from Matthew, secondarily from John, and only distantly from Mark.

The earliest and most reliable manuscripts of Mark end at Mark 16:8, with the women fleeing in fear from the empty tomb.  Thus, this is considered the original ending.  A minority of later manuscripts have what is called the shorter ending.  However, the majority of manuscripts have the longer ending.

Mark‘s gospel theology emphasizes the good news or the Greek εὐαγγέλιον, since he used this word more often than any other writer in the New Testament besides Paul.  Mark also stressed the failures of Jesus’ disciples, especially the twelve apostles.  They did not understand Jesus and his suffering.  This may be a reflection on the lack of understanding of the early Christian followers about their own suffering.  Some have charged Mark of portraying Jesus as a magician, since nearly one third of the book is about miracles and healings.  Jesus somehow tried to hide his identity as the messiah.

Mark used a variety of titles for Jesus.  The title “Son of God” was the most important title.  However, he did not explicitly state what he means by this “Son of God.”  The New Testament presents different understandings of when Jesus became the Son of God.  It could be at his resurrection, his baptism by John the Baptist, his preaching active ministry, his transfiguration, his conception in the womb, or that he always was the Son of God.  The later eternal Son of God is the traditional Christian belief.

The term “Son of God” in Hellenistic culture, meant a divine man, like Hercules, or god-kings of the Egyptian pharaohs.  When the gospels call Jesus “Son of God” was there an intention to place him in this class of Hellenistic and Greek divine men?  Mark may have tried to move away from the Jewish-Christian apocalyptic tradition and towards this Hellenistic message.  Was Christ’s death and resurrection, rather than the apocalyptic Jewish kingdom, the meaning of salvation?

Mark also called Jesus “Christ” or messiah.  In the Hebrew Bible, the term messiah or anointed one described prophets, priests, and kings.  By the time of Jesus, there was no Israelite kingdom.  Thus, this messiah had come to mean an eschatological king at the end of time.  This king would be endowed with miraculous powers, free from sin, and rule with justice and glory.

A third important title, “Son of Man”, has its roots in the prophets and Jewish apocalyptic works, especially in Daniel.  The Son of Man would come on clouds seated on the right hand of God.  In all cases, there terms indicated a reference to kingly power.

The earliest Jewish Christian community saw Jesus as a messiah in this Jewish sense, a human figure appointed by God as his earthly king.  They also believed in Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to heaven.  Thus, Jesus was viewed as God’s agent who would return in glory to usher in the Kingdom of God.

All four gospels tell a story in which Jesus’ death and resurrection are the crucial.  However, Mark never calls Jesus “God.”  Mark did not have a virgin birth or an important genealogy for Jesus.  Christians of Mark’s time expected Jesus to return as the Messiah in their own lifetime.  When this return did not happen, the early Christians revised their understanding.  Some acknowledged that the Second Coming had been delayed, but still expected it.  However, others redefined the focus to the promise of eternal life.

 

 

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