Mark’s Gospel, like all of the Gospels, tells the story of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Mark places a particular emphasis both on discipleship and on walking the way of the cross in the footsteps of Jesus. Strikingly, it has neither any birth narratives (it begins abruptly with the message of John the Baptist) nor any real resurrection narratives (the women, arriving at the tomb, find it empty and are asked to go and proclaim Jesus’ resurrection to the disciples in Galilee; instead they run away). Mark’s Gospel has a few alternative endings. The original manuscripts end at 16.8 but later manuscripts provide both an extra shorter and an extra longer ending. Their style is so different, however, that it seems unlikely that they are original.
14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.' (Mark 1.14–15)
28One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, 'Which commandment is the first of all?' 29 Jesus answered, 'The first is, "Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength." 31The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these.' (Mark 12.28–31)
… whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Mark 10.44–45)
Not really. The trickiest part is the ending and the question of whether Mark could have intended to leave the Gospel with the women running away afraid.
This Gospel, like the other three, is anonymous. The name Mark was only associated with it by later Christian tradition. Some think that Mark the evangelist was John Mark, Barnabas’ cousin (Acts 12.12; 25; and 15.37). Some also think that he was the young man mentioned in Mark 14.51 who ran away naked from Jesus’ arrest.
The early Church historian Eusebius believed that Peter met Mark as he travelled from imprisonment in Judea to Rome and that he passed on his eyewitness testimony to Mark, who then wrote it down.
Many scholars think that, in addition to his own material, Mark had another document in front of him they call Q. Q may have contained the earliest traditions about Jesus, his life and ministry.
All we know about the author of Mark comes from Christian tradition and subsequent speculation. The early Church tradition could be true but it is impossible to prove.
Most scholars would date Mark’s Gospel either to just before or just after the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70.
If the proposed dating for Mark is correct, it was written at a time of global turmoil. Some think it was most likely that the Gospel was completed in Rome. If so then the ripples caused by the Jewish War (AD 66–73) may have felt less strong to Mark’s audience, though the chaos in Rome following the Emperor Nero’s suicide in AD 68 would have been felt very strongly.
Roughly speaking Matthew and Luke (though both are thought to have been written later than Mark), and a range of other New Testament letters including possibly Hebrews, James, 1 Peter and Jude (not those written by Paul, most of which are a bit earlier than this). The reality is that the dating of the New Testament is so heavily disputed and so hard to prove that it is difficult to be confident about it.
It’s a Gospel – a story about the life of Jesus with the intended aim of persuading its readers of who he was.
Mark’s purpose seems to have been to communicate the power of who Jesus was in as vivid a style as possible so that his audience could understand the urgency and power of the call to ‘come and follow’.
1.1 The beginning
1.2–4.34 An introduction to the ministry of Jesus
4.35–8.25 ‘Come and follow me’ – the challenge of discipleship
8.26–10.52 The way of the cross – the cost of discipleship
11.1–16.8 The final week of Jesus’ life
There will be lots of names you will not know, don’t worry if you can’t place them all. The key ones are given below.
Decapolis, Capernaum, Galilee, Judea, Caesarea, Galilee (sea of), Gennesaret, Gethsemane, Jerusalem, Judea, Mount of Olives, Nazareth, Caesarea Philippi, Sidon, Tyre
Beelzebul, Emperor Nero, Elijah, Herod Antipas, Herod Philip I, Herod Philip II, Isaac, Israel, James brother of John, James son of Alphaeus, John the Baptist, John brother of James, Josiah, Judas, Levi, Matthew, Moses, Pontius Pilate, Sadducees
Jewish War, Passover, Festival of Unleavened Bread, Sanhedrin, High Priest, Pharisees, Sadducees, disciples, Gentiles, Golgotha, Gospel, Hell, lampstand, Passover, Pharisees, priest, Q, Rabbi, scribes, synagogue
One of Mark’s favourite words is ‘immediately’ or however it is translated in your version. Check Mark 1.12 and notice what word is used – then look out for it as you read through the Gospel.
Another theme, for Mark, is discipleship. What do you think of the disciples in Mark’s Gospel? Would you have done better?
From chapter 8 onwards the shadow of the cross begins to fall ever more darkly over Jesus’ life. Keep an eye open for this and notice how it makes you feel.
One of Mark’s intentions seems to be to raise the question of how a good disciple of Jesus might behave. Reflect on this as you read and see if you can discern hints for good discipleship.