The Book Of Mark Gospel
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A Literature Review
Ancient tradition indicates that Peter provided the basic information for Mark’s Gospel, and this would agree with the fact that Mark was associated with Peter in Babylon. According to Origen, Mark composed his Gospel “in accordance with Peter’s instructions.” (The Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius, VI, XXV, 3-7) John Mark evidently also had other sources of information. Since Jesus’ early disciples met in the home of his mother, Mark must have been acquainted with persons other than Peter who had known Jesus Christ well, individuals who had seen him doing his work and had heard him preach and teach. Probably being the “certain young man” whom those arresting Christ tried to seize but who “got away naked,” Mark himself was apparently not totally without personal contact with Jesus. (Mr 14:51, 52)
While the good news according to Mark would interest and benefit Jewish readers, apparently it was not written specifically for them. It seems to have been composed primarily for non-Jewish readers, especially the Romans. Its conciseness and abrupt character have been viewed as particularly suitable for the intellect of Roman readers. Latin terms are sometimes transliterated into Greek, as when the Greek word prai·to´ri·on is used for the Latin term praetorium. (Mr 15:16, Int)
The account contains explanations that would not have been necessary for Jewish readers. It indicates that the Jordan was a river and shows that the temple could be seen from the Mount of Olives. (Mr 1:5; 13:3) It mentions that the Pharisees practiced “fasting” and that the Sadducees “say there is no resurrection.” (2:18; 12:18) This Gospel also explains that the Passover victim was sacrificed on “the first day of unfermented cakes” and that “Preparation” was “the day before the sabbath.”—14:12; 15:42.
Whereas it would not normally have been necessary to explain Semitic terms for Jewish readers in general, Mark’s Gospel provides many of such explanations. Interpretations are given for “Boanerges” (“Sons of Thunder”), “Tal´i·tha cu´mi” (“Maiden, I say to you, Get up!”), “corban” (“a gift dedicated to God”), and “E´li, E´li, la´ma sa·bach·tha´ni?” (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
According to ancient tradition, Mark’s Gospel was first made public in Rome, this being the testimony of such early writers as Clement, Eusebius, and Jerome. Mark was in Rome during Paul’s first imprisonment there. Then, during Paul’s second imprisonment in Rome, Paul asked that Timothy come soon and bring Mark with him. Probably Mark did then return to Rome. Since no mention is made of Jerusalem’s destruction in fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy, Mark must have compiled his account before that event in 70 C.E. His presence in Rome at least once, and likely twice, during the years 60-65 C.E. suggests that Mark may have completed his Gospel there sometime during those years.
Though largely covering material similar to that of Matthew and Luke, Mark also provides supplementary details. Some of these illuminate how Jesus felt about certain things. He was ‘grieved at the insensibility of the hearts’ of persons who objected to his healing a man’s withered hand on the Sabbath. (Mr 3:5) When Jesus received a poor reception from people in his home territory, “he wondered at their lack of faith.” (6:6) And he “felt love” for the rich young man who asked about the requirements for gaining everlasting life.
Also unique with Mark’s account are certain points regarding the end of Jesus’ earthly life. He reports that at Jesus’ trial the false witnesses were not in agreement. (Mr 14:59) The passerby impressed into service to carry Jesus’ torture stake was Simon of Cyrene, “the father of Alexander and Rufus.” (15:21) And Mark relates that Pilate made sure that Jesus was dead before granting permission for Joseph of Arimathea to take the body for burial. The account mentions at least 19 miracles performed by Jesus Christ. Two of these (the healing of a deaf man who also had a speech impediment and the cure of a certain blind man) are contained only in Mark’s Gospel.
The Highlights of Mark in Presenting Christ’s Life on Earth
Mark’s concise, fast-moving account of Jesus’ life, presenting Jesus as the miracle-working Son of God is one among the many features of the book. It is also noted as the shortest Gospel, it was the third to be written (c. 60-65 C.E.), evidently with non-Jews in mind. Within the said book, the major ideas on the preaching activities that Christ handled through the years of his life on earth had been well presented and described so as to show that he has been able to live a life that has been expected of him by his father who sent him on earth.
What kind of picture of Christ does Mark paint? We find ourselves trying to keep up with a fast-moving miracle worker who every few verses seems to be off somewhere else. We follow him through some 19 miracles performed in at least 10 different places around Galilee and Judea. And yet at the same time we are helped to see the compassionate Jesus. Details are brought into focus as in no other Gospel, and Jesus’ emotional reactions stand out clearly. For example:
“Now people began bringing him young children for him to touch these; but the disciples reprimanded them. At seeing this Jesus was indignant and said to them: ‘Let the young children come to me’ . . . And he took the children into his arms and began blessing them.”—Mark 10:13-16.
He was “indignant.” Peter, the eyewitness, evidently recalled Jesus’ righteous emotional reaction. Then Jesus said: “Let the young children come to me; do not try to stop them.” At this point Mark introduces a very human touch that the writers Matthew and Luke do not mention. It is as if he used a zoom lens to get in closer and highlight a detail when he wrote: “And he took the children into his arms.” Here are action and compassion at the same time. We are really seeing Jesus through the very human and humane eyes of Peter. Happily for us, the holy spirit moved Mark to include that little brushstroke that adds color and warmth to the picture.
The Writing of the Gospel
Mark was not present. So how could he present such a graphic description? His obvious communicant was the fisherman Peter. Did you notice the vivid description of the storm and its effect on the boat? And the detail “in the stern” that the landsman tax collector Matthew did not include, even though he had been present in the boat? And what a retentive eye and memory Peter must have had to recall the fact that Jesus was “sleeping upon a pillow.”—See also Luke 8:23.
It is easy to understand why some Bible scholars describe Mark as Peter’s interpreter. But does that mean Mark’s Gospel should really be called the Gospel according to Peter? Not at all. In many matters the story gives evidence of Peter’s powers of observation and attention to detail. But the vivid fast-moving vernacular style that communicates the idea of almost breathless action is clearly Mark’s.
Another vital factor to take into account is that “all Scripture is inspired of God” and that “no prophecy of Scripture springs from any private interpretation . . . but men spoke from God as they were borne along by holy spirit.” Thus we have a happy combination of Peter’s perceptive narration and Mark’s concise quick-action writing. Mark was, indeed, one of those guided, or “borne along,” by God’s holy spirit, or active force.—2 Timothy 3:16
It is evident that each Gospel writer had a different kind of reader in mind. Matthew wrote primarily for the Jew, as is shown by his many references to the Hebrew Scriptures and his concern for Jesus’ genealogy to establish his legal descent from Abraham. Luke wrote for the benefit of the “most excellent Theophilus” and people of all the nations, with a genealogy that goes right back to Adam. It is most likely that he wrote from Rome and with the Roman believers in mind. His simple, popular form of Greek is peppered with Latin transliterations, which would be a very natural tendency for a Greek-speaking person living in Rome. He uses at least nine Latin words on 18 occasions, including speculator (Greek, spekoulátora, “body guardsman”), praetorium (Greek, praitórion, “governor’s palace”) and centurio (Greek, kenturíon, “army officer,” or centurion).
Another evidence that Mark wrote mainly for the Gentile is the fact that he mentions nothing of Jesus’ birth or his genealogy. In fact, in his opening words he plunges straightaway into John the Baptizer’s ministry and his announcement of the Messiah. All the early biographical information about Jesus was in any case unnecessary, since it had been covered adequately in the earlier Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Why repeat their testimony for the benefit of the non-Jews? This, incidentally, contradicts the many modern Bible scholars who hold that Mark was the first Gospel writer, even though the most ancient authorities agree that Matthew was the earliest.
New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. International Association of Bible Scholars. Brooklyn, New York.