Mark is one of the Synoptic Gospels: In describing gospels the word synoptic means "Taking the same point of view." Generically the word synoptic means providing a summary. They are all summaries of the same story but each one is not complete in itself. They are called that because they contain much of the material in common. Indeed ninety percent of the material found in Mark can be found in Matthew and/or Luke. Augustine considered Mark to be a mere abbreviation of Matthew and Luke. Some modern scholars think the Matthew and Luke based their gospels on Mark. The synoptic gospels are organized around a more or less chronological line and take the form of an historical narrative. This is as compared to the Gospel according to John which is more theological and even symbolic.

The Gospel of Mark is generally thought to be the earliest of the Gospels. Papius (c. A.D 140), a Greek Church Father indicates that Matthew produced a Hebrew version of the Logia, or the sayings of Jesus that actually predated Mark. The Gospel according to Matthew that is in our Bible is his later work. Only fragments of Papias' work survive through citations of later Christian writers. He is probably the earliest witness we have to the origination of the Gospels. He is the source of the notion that Mark was recounting the teachings of Peter. He seems to have been well respected and was often cited until the middle of the 4th century. It should be noted that this Logia has not survived but the word is used to refer to supposed extra biblical sayings of Jesus.

All of the Gospels are strictly speaking anonymous works. It is generally agreed that Mark is John Mark, an associate of Peter who is mentioned various places in Acts (Acts 10.37,12.12, 12.25, 13.5, 13.13). He also went with Paul and Barnabas on the first missionary journey, though he abandoned them when the going got tough (Acts 15.37-38). 

Irenaeus wrote (Against Heresies 3.1.1): "After their departure [of Peter and Paul from earth], Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter." Note that Irenaeus had read Papias, and thus Irenaeus doesn't provide any independent confirmation of this. Justin Martyr quotes from Mark as being the memoirs of Peter (Dial. 106.3). In Acts 10.34-40, Peter's speech serves as a good summary of the Gospel of Mark, "...beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached (Acts 10.37)," " he went around doing good and healing (Acts 10.38) finally, "...[t]hey killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. (Acts 10.39-40)." 

Mark presents Jesus as the Servant-Messiah, or the suffering servant after the Suffering Servant Songs in Isaiah (Isaiah 42.1–4; Isaiah 49.1–6; Isaiah 50.4–11; and Isaiah 52.13–53.12). The Jews generally interpret these as referring to the nation of Israel or at least the faithful remnant. The faithful Jews were long persecuted for being different and not accepting the gods of their captors.  In contrast with Matthew, who presents Jesus as king; Luke who tells us of the Son of Man and John where Jesus is clearly the Son of God, present in the beginning.

The gospel can be divided into two major divisions:

  1. The Identity of Jesus: Mighty Messiah & Son of God (Mark 1.1-8.30)
  2. The Mission of Jesus: The Suffering Servant of the Lord (8.31-16.8)

In Mark, Jesus bursts on the scene as the fulfillment of prophecy and His baptism by John where He is affirmed "[by] a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased (Mark 1.11)." In the early chapters Jesus does not come claiming to be the Messiah rather he just is the Messiah. Mark is the shortest of the Gospels and as such the action moves quickly. The stories are grouped by region beginning in Galilee then to wider Judea and finally to Jerusalem for passion week.

When Jesus warns of "the Yeast of the Pharisees and Herod (8.14-21)" He makes the point that the Jewish leadership and the secularists have actually missed the message even though they both have the Torah, the Pharisees only have the letter of the law and Herod has his lust for power--they both have missed the point of the relationship that come from walking humbly with their God.

When Jesus Predicts his Death in 8.31-9.1 He moves steadily and deliberately to the cross. As in all of the Gospels His is too much for the Jewish leadership and tension builds. There is at first questioning then increasing persecution and eventual crucifixion. This is actually not that different from the treatment that the prophets of old received from the hands of the Jews. Even what happened to the faithful of Israel -- like Daniel and the boys in Babylon. God is always seeking man but man would rather go his own way. 


Mark: The Gospel of the Servant-Messiah; The Once-Neglected Gospel: 1/31/23

Gospel of Mark: 1/31/23

Originally based on the old word file \\vyper\bible_study\occ\ss\bible\gospels\mark\intro.doc 6/25/2000