The Gospel according to Mark

τὸ κατὰ Μᾶρκον εὐαγγέλιον,

What is a gospel?  Who is Mark?  The musical play “Godspell” that opened on Broadway in 1971, was based on the Old English ‘godspel.’  Like the Greek word εὐαγγέλιον, this Germanic based word gospel means good news or good tidings.  This term originally meant the Christian message itself.  However, in the second century, it came to be used for the books where this message was set out.  Thus, the gospels became known as the written accounts of the life, actions, and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.  This Gospel of Mark is anonymous since there is no explicit mention of a named author within the text itself.  This title (Τὸ κατὰ Μᾶρκον εὐαγγέλιον), however was added some time in the second century, perhaps by Papias of Hierapolis (60–130 CE), an early bishop and apostolic father.  Traditionally, this work has been ascribed to John Mark, the companion of the apostle Peter, who may have transcribed the teachings of Simon Peter.  This John Mark was the son of a widow named Mary as indicated in Acts, chapter 12:12.  He also accompanied Paul and Barnabas on their missionary journeys, since he was also the cousin of Barnabas, as indicated in Colossians, chapter 4:10.  However, he  left Paul and Barnabas for some unknown reasons in Acts, chapter 13:13.  Today, most scholars agree that his anonymous Gospel of Mark was the first written gospel, probably written between 66–70 CE, during Emperor Nero’s persecution of the Christians in Rome or the Jewish revolt.  Thus, the authors of Matthew and Luke used Mark with a second document called the Q source.  This short Gospel of Mark was written for a gentile audience in a simple Greek style that is often called “street Greek.”  This Greek style is thus vivid and concrete showing a very active Jesus with less teaching or preaching.  Mark explained Jewish traditions and translated Aramaic terms for his Greek-speaking Christian audience who would not have understood them.  Some suggest Rome as the origin of this gospel since there are some Latin terms.  Others have suggested Antioch, the 3rd largest city in the Roman Empire.  This author may have been influenced by Greco-Roman writings, but all his references are from the Jewish Greek version of the Septuagint Bible or the Old Testament.






The Q source

The Q source is a hypothetical written or oral collection of Jesus’ sayings that was common to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke but not in the Gospel of Mark.  This Q source included many parables and the beatitudes.  According to this hypothesis, these sayings of Jesus was taken from the early Church’s oral tradition.  In the 19th century, some New Testament scholars favored Mark as the first written gospel.  They assumed that that the authors of Matthew and Luke had used the Gospel of Mark.  However, there were large sections of the gospels of Luke and Matthew that were not found in Mark.  They suggested that neither gospel drew upon each other, but from a second common source, termed Q, from the German word Quelle.  Many scholars have tried to reconstruct this lost source with limited success.  Another group of scholars thought that the 20th century discovered Gospel of Thomas might be that source.  Others have maintained that this similarity also demanded a written rather than an oral document.  Did Q even predate the Gospel of Mark?  Another question is whether Luke used Matthew instead of having a common source, the older hypothesis.

The traditional order of the gospels

For years, most biblical scholars followed the Augustinian hypothesis.  St. Augustine (354-430) held that the Gospel of Matthew was the first to be written.  The Gospel of Mark then used Matthew in the writing of his gospel.  Then the Gospel of Luke followed both Matthew and Mark with his gospel.  Finally, the Gospel of John was quite different from the other three.  Thus, the first three were called the synoptic gospels.  This is the order that you find in most bibles.

The four canonical gospels

There are four canonical gospels that have been ascribed to various individuals.  The Gospel of Matthew, from around 70-100 CE, was attributed to Matthew, the apostle.  The Gospel of Mark, from around 60-70 CE, was attributed to a companion of Peter called Mark.  The Gospel of Luke, from around 80-90 CE, was considered to be a traveling companion of Paul.  The Gospel of John, from the later 90-100 CE, was attributed to the apostle of Jesus named John.