Survey of The Life and Teachings of Jesus
© L.D. Underwood 2010
Introduction to Mark's Gospel
Now we will look at Mark’s gospel. Again, we will take some of these same issues looking at both external and internal evidence with regard to the authorship of Mark’s gospel. Again, we can say that external evidence favors Mark as the author we have references in one of the bishops of Asia, who was the first witness to have stress on Mark’s authorship. We have Irenaeus, you have Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Jerome, Eusebius many of these early leaders of the church. Various canons that were established, various manuscripts that contain that title it’s the Gospel according to Mark.
The internal evidence is a bit scanty, that is we don’t have a lot of things about authorship within the book itself no direct statements certainly within the book, but whatever internal evidences we have is certainly in harmony with what we have from external sources. We do have for example a reference to a young man who fled from the scene of the arrest of Jesus. That seems to fit the description of the NT of the way John Mark was like. And only Mark makes reference to him. We have a detailed description for example of the upper room where the last supper was eaten, and that may be an indication that last supper held in the home of Mark’s mother. Therefore, he would know first-hand what had taken place being in that home.
- B:John (in Revelation) suggests that Mark is essentially the teaching of Peter.
There is no question that the author was familiar with Palestine and with Jerusalem in particular. We know that he knew Aramaic; that he was conversant with Jewish institutions and Jewish customs and certainly it had to be a first-hand observer a personal observer, perhaps and apostle to write some of the detailed accounts we have in this gospel, and of course Mark himself was not an apostle but he was a servant or an assistant of the apostle Peter. So, Mark’s style even of writing seems to reflect the character and personality of the apostle Peter the same Peter, the same forthright intense impulsive energetic activity in Mark’s narrative, as there was in Peter’s nature.
It is interesting that the Gospel of Mark begins where Peter enters the account as a disciple. Mark mentions Peter something like twenty-five times in his gospel. And four of those times are peculiar just to Mark. So, he has the majority of references to Peter, and interestingly most of those references to Peter are in terms of disgrace or rebuke.
We should note that this book of Mark has had a very checkered history. That is the book of Mark was immediately received with enthusiasm when it was first published. And the first Christian reaction to Mark’s gospel was quite enthusiastic, it was accepted, it was acknowledged as being authoritative, it was a witness to the life of Jesus, it was used perhaps by the other synoptic writers. But after a period of time, it seemed to become less popular. That is we don’t have any commentary written on the gospel of Mark that we know of before the fifth century, by Victor of Antioch. Ao, in a period of time, the book began to be neglected. The feeling was, that everything in Mark was also found in amplified fashion in Matthew or Luke, so why bother with Mark. And besides Mark is not as stylistically interesting as Matthew or Luke or John. Thus, if Mark is just a condensed account of Matthew, if he was the one who followed Matthew’s footsteps and shortened his gospel, then why pay much attention to Mark? It is interesting though that within the last 50 or 60 years or so, that Mark has come once again back into prominence, there has been a resurgence of interest in this particular gospel, because of the critical work that has been done in showing perhaps it may be if not the earliest at least one of the early gospel accounts. It was quite popular originally it degenerated as far as interest was concerned it, and now it has a resurgence once again back into prominence. \
- B: Being the first of the gospels, his handling of the 'mystery' is rather immature. The others add a richness tot he understanding as they became more proficient in handling it. It might be suggested that the resurgence of interest is among those who cannot handle the mystery themselves, and find the alleged discrepancies easy fodder to disparage the authenticity and reliability of the Bible record. When it is used to discern the differences between later mature understandings, we can see the progress of the OT studies in teh church as they unpacked more of the mystery.
Let’s come back then to the author again we say that the external evidence, internal evidence agrees that John Mark was the author what do we know about this man Mark? Well, we know that his name occurs something like ten times in the NT and his full name is John Mark. John being his Jewish forename, and Mark or Marcus being his Latin sir name. His father is not mentioned in the Bible but his mother was named Mary and apparently, she was a well-to-do widow a—women of some considerable means, quite wealthy who lived in Jerusalem, and whose house in Jerusalem seems to have been the place of rendezvous for many of the early church people. They must have had singspirations at her house or something but a place where many of the Christians assembled together in Jerusalem.
John himself, John Mark was either a cousin of Barnabas or else a nephew of Barnabas, depending on whether we take the Revised Standard Version (RSV) or the King James Version (KJV). The RSV says he was a cousin of Barnabas, and the KJV says he was a nephew of Barnabas. But at least he was related to Barnabas and also the spiritual son of the apostle Peter. We know that John Mark at least accompanied Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey described in the book of Acts. When they reached a particular city called Perga in Pamphylia, all of a sudden John Mark’s courage failed and he became a quitter and went home to mamma. This is recorded in Acts 13. We don’t know exactly why, it may be that the conditions were much rougher by this time, they had gone first to Cyprus where they had relatives and friends and a good reception. Now they were in a portion of Turkey and there was a lot more resistance, and there was the unknown Terrain; people that were not familiar; mosquitoes in that area; the fact that Paul was tending to have predominance over his relative Barnabas sort of being a charismatic leader we know and sort of taking over, and that might have ruffled Mark’s feathers the wrong way.
- B:This also explains why so many of Peter's frailties are exposed.
So, for whatever reason, he went home; and because of that defection, Paul and Barnabas had to part company when they decided to go on the second missionary journey because Barnabas wanted to take John along and give him another try at it. Paul didn’t want that to happen and so as a result, Paul and Barnabas parted company, and Paul chose Silas to go with him on that second missionary journey and Barnabas took his relative John Mark with him, and once again they went to Cyprus for some ministry.
Well, there was this tension between Paul and John Mark because of his quitting. And about 12, 15, 17 years later, Paul by this time is a battle-scarred veteran and he is in a Roman prison and he sends a letter to the Christians at Colossae (the book of Colossians). And he asks them to send John Mark to him for he is profitable. So apparently Mark was still alive, he was active for Christ and once again he comes back to Paul and works with him at very close quarters. Apparently, he planned and evangelistic visit to Asia Minor, the very place from which he had earlier turned back. There was full restoration and he becomes a useful, assistant Pastor or fellow worker with the Apostle Paul.
Tradition tells us a lot of things about John Mark. For example, we are told traditionally that he possessed a defective finger as a result of some injury or accident. We are told that he had a remarkable ministry in Egypt winning many converts and founding the first Christian church in Alexandria Egypt. It must have occurred during the time between his turning back and his restoration to the Apostle Paul. Apparently not only the first Christian church in Alexandria, but also a rudimentary Bible school. A catechetical school that he developed in Alexandria.
The life of this once doubtful turn-coat is quite inspiring because he becomes quite likeable and quite laudable to us. He demonstrates very clearly that early failure can be retrieved and canceled out by later loyalty. Tradition tells us that he was buried in Venice Italy in St. Mark’s Square. Now again as far as debate is concerned we would say that the traditional view is that Mark may have been the first Gospel to have been written, and if so, we would think of a date roughly around 60 or maybe even a little earlier than 60 AD as being roughly the most plausible time when this gospel was written. And the place of writing probably was Rome.
Now Mark’s purpose for writing, remember he is writing to gentiles, and what kind of gentiles? The Romans, right he is writing to the Romans in particular. Therefore there are many, what we call Latinisms, or words that have Latin derivations to them and he is presenting Christ in a way that would speak to the Romans; that is a man of action and so he sees the great conqueror over disease and demons and death. But what are the main characteristics of Mark’s gospel?
First of all, we can talk about its brevity. That is, it is about sixty percent the length of other gospels. And that is significant because it makes it the most often translated book of the New Testament. When they Wycliffe translators go into a new area to reduce a language to writing and then translate a book of the Bible, almost invariably they begin with the translation of the gospel of Mark, because it is short and because it gives the story in one brief setting and because the language is relatively simple.
Probably the key idea in Mark’s gospel is that he is presenting Jesus as what? The servant of the Lord, yes. The mighty worker, but one who is a servant. If we were going to put this into Newspaper terminology, Matthew would probably represent the advertising and the announcements, behold the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Luke on the other hand would have the special features. We have the songs of Christmas and the parable of the good Samaritan and other kinds of things. And if Matthew gave you the advertisements and announcements and if Luke gave you the special features, John would give us the editorials but Mark would portray the flaming headlines. And if there is one key verse in the Gospel of Mark, it would be Mark 10:45 which says, “For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (KJV).
Another way of picturing this we could say John gives you more of a studied portrait, Matthew and Luke gives you a series of colored slides, but Mark gives you a motion picture film, he’s in action you see. We would say this is the gospel of deeds rather than discourses. Mark focuses on what Jesus did and omits a great deal on what Jesus said. For example, he has about 18 miracles. Matthew and Luke both have about twenty Miracles apiece. But Mark numbers sixty percent the size of either Matthew or Luke, and he has eighteen miracles—which means he’s emphasizing what Jesus is doing. By way of contrast, he has only about four parables. Whereas Matthew has about fifteen and Luke has about nineteen—so he is deemphasizing what Jesus said, and emphasizing what Jesus did. Mark just sees Jesus at work, and the book just vibrates with energy and work. Look for example at the first chapter of Mark’s gospel for just a moment to see how this works. In Mark chapter 1:21, we have what Jesus did on a particular morning of a day. Mark 1:21 says, “They went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught.” That is what Jesus did in the morning, he taught in the synagogue.
If we skip down to verse 29 we read, “Immediately he left the synagogue entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John, and brought healing to Simon’s mother-in-law who was sick with a fever.” That is what he did in the afternoon of that day. And then verse 32 which says, “That evening at sundown, they brought to him all that were sick or possessed with demons and the whole city was gathered together about the door and he healed many of them.” In other words, it is as if Mark is saying here is a typical day in the life of Christ, and it is a busy day what Jesus did, proves who he was what he wrought authentically shows what he taught. His miraculous works verify his startling word. And that is one reason for example why Mark omits any genealogy of Christ. Matthew has a genealogy in the first chapter and Luke has one in the third chapter we’ll be looking at later. But Mark has no genealogy or ‘begats.’ Why? Because a record of ancestry would be out of place. He is telling the story of Christ as a slave, a servant and we are not interested in pedigree of a servant; we are interested in whether he is fit to work hard so he begins with his ministry, he is not interested in his blue blood, but his red blood. And the Romans, to whom he is writing, prefer action to words and so he is showing Christ in that fashion. And as we look through Mark’s gospel, it is very interesting the description is not didactic, it is not scholarly and systematic like we have in Matthew rather, Mark’s description is intended to catch public attention. It is as if he were a street-meeting preacher. If we are going to do preaching out on the streets, we want to find some way to hold our audience and we are not going to have some long logical discourse that you give them, because you will lose them. We got to tell illustrations and stories and keep their attention that way and if we read through the Gospel of Mark, we will find about twenty-three times, Mark describes something of how people responded to Jesus. Positively and negatively. Even it even indicates the gestures of Jesus and so it is if he is saying, “Here Jesus is, see him for yourself. Does your judgment coincide with that of his enemies, or that of his friends? You make the choice.”
Basically this gospel is chronological, that is starting at the beginning, and ending at the end. But it is not divided up into topical sections like we saw Matthew to have, the best way to analyze the Gospel of Mark is to look at each of its paragraphs. Each paragraph, if you want the fancy word, pericope that we looked at the other day, but each paragraph is a unit of thought and presents an individual picture of Jesus. What Mark does is to rely upon the cumulative effect of these pictures for his interpretation of Jesus, not developing a theme, not giving argumentation, but just picture after picture after picture and cumulatively you get the total seen of what Jesus is like.
Some consider his style of writing unique to these Gospel writers. Some might define him as an abbreviationist rather than being a protractionist. That is to say, he doesn’t just string things out on a long argumentation, but he is right to the point. His words are stripped of any kind of excess verbiage, he is brief, and blunt. He is pertinent and pithy; he is short and sweet; he is curt and clear cut. In fact, he has been described as high-pressure head-long and homiletical in style. He short of uses the “shock method” and he gives us these succinct little snap shot albums with candid camera shots not a carefully prepared portrait like we are going to get from John for example. But just like a series of slides that are impressionistic and have that staccato jerk to them, he just gallops at breathless speed—and he is noted for his rapidity of action it has been called the gospel of action and adventure and accomplishment.
Just for an idea of diction denoting immediacy, there are forty-two references to the word that means “immediately” or “straightway.” More than all the rest of the New Testament put together Mark is a high gear. He hurries the reader from one episode to another, like a tour leader would do with sight-seers--"You have ten minutes to take your picture then and back on the bus"--and at the end Mark leaves his readers receptive, but quite breathless.
Just to have idea, in the book of Mark there are about 1,331 ‘and’s. If someone wrote a term paper and said, this happened and this happened, and this happened your English teacher would say that is pretty poor style. But there is something about having all those 'and's which makes it so the reader can’t put the book down--this happened, and this happened, and this happened and it just keeps going until the end and that is the way Mark is. It conveys action. __
There is also the notion of a problem with the correct ending of the Gospel account of Mark. There is a problem that some have with the beginning of the book of Mark because it starts so abruptly, but a more significant problem is the ending of this particular gospel. And the manuscripts show three different possible endings. There would either be a short, very abrupt ending which would come at the end of verse 8 of that sixteenth chapter. Now that would certainly make it end abruptly just as it began abruptly. Although it would leave the disciples trembling in fear which seems like rather a strange place to end the gospel or good news. But this ending is supported by some of the better manuscripts that we have dating from the fourth century.
Then there are other intermediate endings that is different stopping points that are not really taken up by too many quite seriously, for example there is a footnote in the bottom the of Revised Standard Version that says, after verse 8 some manuscripts add the sentence, “But they reported briefly to Peter and those with him all that they had been told and after this Jesus himself sent out by means of them from East to West, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.” Some stop it after verse 8, but before we reach the end of the chapter, or they add those additional two sentences after verse 8.
Then the third option would be the longer ending that we have in the KJV which is supported by some of the poorer manuscripts that is coming from a later date than the other ones. Now the problem seems to be that not only are there problems with manuscripts that end at different junctures, but also there is a problem with style, because through verse 9 to the end of the chapter, seems to be, from the Greek text at least, a difference in style than the rest of the book of Mark. So that seems to be the problem of Mark’s ending.
Now by way of solution to that, there are a few people who believe that abrupt ending in vs. 8 represents Mark’s deliberate intention, to close his record in a fashion agreeable to the style of his narrative. That is, he starts abruptly, he ends abruptly. That is not a very satisfying conclusion though for most of us. But there are other people who believe that Mark’s hand might have been stayed by death at that point. After finishing the eitght verse, he left this human scene. Or that perhaps the original ending was lost. That Mark wrote more, but that it was lost somehow, and someone attempted to reproduce it as he remembered it. Maybe the end of the scroll was torn off, and before any copies had been made for circulation.
Some would leave it as an open question as to whether Mark actually wrote verses 9-20, or not on the basis of the difference in style on difference of various manuscript evidence, but we can say it is questionable whether he himself wrote those last verses. He may have, or he may not have, we don’t know. However, we can still look upon them as being inspired and authoritative words. For everything that we find here is in keeping with what is found in the other Gospel accounts. One might have suspicion that some people would like to get rid of those last verses because it talks about them picking up serpents and speaking in new tongues, and laying hands on the sick and some other kinds of things that may be embarrassing to some people.
But everything we find there is duplicated elsewhere in the gospel accounts where there is no question of authenticity. There are going to come times when people in church will find that these verses are in a footnote, or may not even exist in their version of the Bible and they are going to say, “How can you preach with authority from verse 14” Lets say, “if he actually stopped at verse 8?” And all we are saying is that those last verses have a difference of style, they are not in some of the best manuscripts which may have any number possible explanations as to whether Mark himself wrote it or whether somebody close to him reproduced it or whatever. But everything there, as far as content is concerned is certainly in harmony with what we find elsewhere in scripture. And so it is not a major problem, but I think if we want to stress those points, if we go to the best possible scriptures to use, where there is no question, because there are liable to be people who will wonder if we can really say that with authority if there is that much question about the text’s authenticity.
- B: Where does a text get it's authority? From a church council? From church tradition? From the opinion of a scholar? Cast all such nonsense aside. A NT text is authoritative if it verifiably relates an OT source and teaching.
The teaching of the NT authors is not a new teaching. It is a commentary on the old teaching. Consider Paul, he was taught by Jesus, but when he taught the Bereans, he did not rely on an authority given him by Jesus. He did not say , Trust me... Jesus really told me this." He taught them from the OT and they validated his teachings.
All NT doctrine has an OT source. Without knowing and understanding the source you can only have silly debates if your NT doctrine is authoritative or not.