Introducing the Gospel According to Mark

February 4, 2015  |  Luke Simmons

Christianity is about Jesus, and one of the earliest and most action-packed accounts of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is found in Mark’s Gospel. In it, we given the chance to see what almost nobody in the story is able to see: who Jesus really is.

Across our Redemption Church congregations, we’ll spend most of the next year working our way through Mark’s Gospel. Before we get started, here are some things you might want to know.

Who is Mark?

  • He was cousin of Barnabas (Col. 4:10) and quite possibly a relative of Peter.
  • It was in his mother’s house that Peter found “many gathered together praying” when he was released from prison; and it is probable that it was here that he was converted by Peter, who calls him his “son” (1 Pet. 5:13). It is also quite possible that her home was the location of the Last Supper.
  • He went with Paul and Barnabas on their first journey (about 47 A.D.) as their “minister,” but from some cause turned back when they reached Perga in Pamphylia (Acts 12:25; 13:13).
  • Three years afterwards a “sharp contention” arose between Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:36–40), because Paul would not take Mark with him.
  • Mark, however, was eventually reconciled to the apostle, for he was with him in his first imprisonment at Rome (Col. 4:10; Philemon 1:24).
  • According to patristic tradition, Mark evangelized in Egypt and there established churches characterized by asceticism and philosophic rigor, eventually becoming the first bishop of Alexandria, where he was eventually killed for his faith.
  • Early tradition holds that Mark had a nickname of kolobodaktylos, which means ‘stumpy-fingered.’ This may refer either to a physical peculiarity or to the abrupt stylistic features of his Gospel which have puzzled critics of all ages.

[Sources: Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Eusebius, New Bible Dictionary]

What are some unique elements of Mark’s Gospel?

  • Mark’s Gospel is the briefest of the four accounts.
  • Because he was writing to a Roman audience, Mark uses fewer Old Testament quotes than the other Gospel writers and almost always explains any Jewish words or customs to his readers.
  • Only 40% of the book is Jesus’ words and teaching, which is a smaller percentage than any other Gospel. Mark emphasizes the person and actions of Jesus more than his teaching.
  • Many scholars believe that Mark was the first to record a Gospel account, probably in 65 A.D. Recently a fragment of Mark’s Gospel was found on a papyrus that was later used to make a mummy mask in Egypt. This fragment dates in the first century, within a generation of Mark’s original writing.

What is Mark’s Gospel really about?

In Richard Hays’ excellent book, The Moral Vision of the New Testament, he writes:

The central question of Mark’s Gospel is asked by Jesus himself in the conversation at Caesarea Philippi that stands at the hinge-point of the story: “But who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29)…

The opening revelation in Mark 1:1 (“the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”) sets up a dramatic irony that serves as the mainspring of the story: we as readers know the identity of Jesus from the first line, but none of the characters in the story knows it—except, as we shall see, the demons. Consequently, Mark is not at all like a detective story, where the reader must assemble clues to figure out Jesus’ true identity; rather, the story’s suspense arises from the awful tension between the reader’s knowledge and the ignorance of the actors…

Only at the end of that story does a human character rightly utter the confession; the outsider Gentile centurion, witnessing Jesus’ ignominious death on a cross, speaks the truth: “Truly this man was God’s Son!” (15:39). Here at the climax of the story we find the goal toward which Mark’s narrative presses: Jesus can be known as “Son of God.”

What resources would help me get more out of Mark’s Gospel?

To dig deeper into Mark, check out these excellent and accessible resources: