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.