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Study Resources :: Intros to the Bible :: The Gospel of Mark

The Gospel of Mark


Though the author does not directly identify himself, there is still strong evidence to attribute the Gospel to John Mark. In addition to Markan composition, church fathers also state that Mark was the interpreter of Peter, which would give reason to believe that he wrote his Gospel under the guidance or assistance of the apostle. [1] Like the other Gospels, the title "According to Mark" (KATA MARKON) is found in the earliest manuscripts.

With only ten verses in the New Testament making mention of John Mark, it is surprising that there is still enough information to create a sufficient biographical sketch of him. Besides being the author of the second Gospel, he was the cousin of Barnabas (Col 4:10) and the son of the Mary who provided a meeting place for early Christians (Acts 12:12). Some have even speculated that John Mark was the young man at the garden of Gethsemane during the betrayal of Jesus (Mark 14:51-52). [2] What is certain is that John Mark accompanied Barnabas and Saul on the first missionary journey (Acts 12:25; 13:5), but departed early for Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). After the Jerusalem Council, Barnabas and Paul were planning on making their second journey. Barnabas wanted to take John Mark, but Paul opposed the idea because Mark had departed from them on the first Journey. Consequently, Barnabas took John Mark, and Paul took Silas and the two groups went their separate ways (Acts 15:36-41). After Barnabas gave his cousin a second chance, Paul was later able to call him a coworker (Philem 24; cf. Col 4:10) who was helpful to his ministry (2 Tim 4:11). It is also evident that Mark shared a special relationship with Peter. Not only does Peter call him his son (1 Pet 5:13), but they have both experienced failure and restoration.

Date of Composition

The majority of scholarship places Mark's Gospel as the first to be composed. [3] In order to properly date the Gospel it is important to consider the dating timeframe of all the Synoptics. If Luke is considered to be the latest of the Gospels, then it is important to date his Gospel first. The dating of Luke first depends on the dating of Acts which succeeds Luke (cf. Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1). Because the book of Acts has an abrupt ending with Paul waiting to go before Caesar, the best explanation is that Luke wrote it up to the events that had taken place. This would place the composition of Acts in the early Sixties. With this in mind, Luke could be placed in the late Fifties to early Sixties, Matthew in the mid to late Fifties, and Mark in the early to mid Fifties. These dates are debatable and have a certain degree of elasticity to them, but for the stated reasons they seem the most likely to the present author.

Location, Purpose and Audience

Unlike the date of the Gospel, there is considerable agreement (even amongst the church fathers) as to the location from which John Mark composed his Gospel. Rome is usually named as both the city from which Mark wrote his Gospel and the church to whom it was originally intended. Many scholars also conclude that Mark's presence in "Babylon" suggests that he was in Rome with Peter (1 Pet 5:13). Papias plainly states that "Peter mentions Mark in his first Epistle, and that he composed this [Gospel] in Rome itself." [4] Clement of Alexandria also associates Mark with Peter in Rome. [5] Mark's usage of Latin words may also help to support the idea of Roman composition (e.g. khnoV = census 12:14; fragelloun = flagellare 15:15). [6] The Rufus in 15:21 is often connected with the Rufus in Rome (Rom 16:13). Lastly, Mark also explains certain Aramaic words or phrases which the Romans would not have naturally been able to understand (e.g. 3:17; 5:41; 7:34; 14:36; 15:34). [7]

As it is set forth by the first phrase in Mark's Gospel, Mark intended to compose "the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." The reason for composing the Gospel is speculative. Mark's use of Peter while composing his Gospel has already been mentioned above. With this in mind, one of the purposes of Mark's Gospel may have actually been to present Peter's account of the life and sayings of Jesus as an instructional tool for early church practice. Another reason why Mark would have constructed his Gospel may have been to encourage the Christians in Rome who would have been under persecution instigated by Caesar Nero.

Themes and Theology

Mark does not emphasize the sayings of Jesus as much as the other Gospels do. He has left out large portions of discourse, which has resulted in the shortest and most action-packed Gospel. Concerning this, Robert Geulich pointed out that Mark "wrote a story, not a theology." [8] Though this extreme statement makes a point, it should be noted that Mark's Gospel does indeed contain theology.

One of the most predominant themes in Mark's Gospel is the messianic secret. [9] Jesus does not reveal, or admit to, his Messiahship in the first half of Mark's Gospel. In the second half of the Gospel, however, he acknowledges it to the disciples after Peter's confession, but commands them not to tell anybody (8:27-30). The demons realized who he was, but even they were commanded to stay silent (1:34; 3:12 et al.). Some who were healed by Jesus also knew who he was, yet they too were commanded to keep it to themselves (1:43-45 et al.). The messianic secret reaches its pinnacle at the confession of the centurion who said that Jesus truly was the Son of God (15:39).

Besides the messianic secret and other areas of Christology, Mark also focused on the kingdom of God and discipleship. His theology of the kingdom of God is less developed and less integral than that of Matthew's or Luke's.

It is critical to note that Mark did not conceal the failures of the disciples. They had a hard time understanding many of Jesus' teachings (4:13; 7:18; 9:10, 32; 10:10 et al.). Mark is also quick to show the shortcomings of his own personal friend, Peter. First Mark reveals Jesus' rebuke of Peter (8:32-33), and then illustrates the depths of Peter's failure and denial of Christ (14:27-31, 66-72).

Literary Style, Structure, and Other Issues

As stated above, Mark's Gospel is given in the form of a story. Since it was the first of the Gospels to be written, it is the earliest of its specific genre. Related to the Gospel genre are many other pre-Markan canonical and extra-Biblical examples using a similar narrative technique.

There is not much consensus on how to divide up Mark's Gospel. The first thirteen verses designate the beginnings of Jesus' ministry. Following that is Jesus' ministry in Galilee. Jesus then goes to Caesarea Philippi, after which he makes his way up to Jerusalem where the passion takes place. The story ends with and the resurrection of Christ. Many have noted that Peter's confession in 8:27-30 constitutes a structural turning point in Mark, because this is the first recognition of who Jesus is within the Gospel. After this point, Jesus puts an emphasis on things that pertain to his Messiahship. This would involve such things as Cole points out: "rejection, suffering, death, apparent failure and ultimate vindication by God in resurrection." [10]

The greatest textual issue in Mark's Gospel is the ending (16:9-20). There are a couple manuscript deviations affecting the conclusion that have led to a plethora of literature on the subject. In short, the 16:9-20 ending and the ending at 16:8 both hold merit. The former is found in a large amount of manuscripts, and even appears to have been known by Tatian (ca. 170) and others. [11] On the other hand, two of the most important manuscripts (Sinaiticus and Vaticanus) end the Gospel at 16:8. Besides the manuscript evidence, many who hold to the second view also look to Mark's theology and writing style for support.


[1] Eusebius Hist. Eccl. 3.39.14-15; 5.8.3; 6.14.5-7; 6.25.5
[2] E.M. Blaiklock. Mark: The Man and His Message. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1967) pp. 9-10
[3] See The Synoptic Problem and Q.
[4] Eusebius Hist. Eccl. 2.15.2
[5] Eusebius Hist. Eccl. 6.14.6-7
[6] See Werner Georg Kümmel. Introduction to the New Testament (Nashville: Abingdon Press, English Translation of the 17th Edition, 1975) pp. 97-98.
[7] R. H. Gundry. A Survey of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994) p. 128.
[8] R. A. Geulich. "Gospel of Mark" in Joel B. Green, et al. Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992) p. 517.
[9] Cf. Hugh Anderson. The Gospel of Mark (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1976) p. 44 ff.
[10] R. Alan Cole. Mark (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1989) pp. 86-87.
[11] Ralph P. Martin New Testament Foundations, V. 1 (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1975), p. 218.

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