A Short Introduction to
the Gospel of Mark
The second Gospel, as placed in our canon of Scripture, is the shortest and probably the earliest of the four gospels. It is a 'synoptic' gospel and therefore has considerable likeness to Matthew and Luke. The words 'immediately' or 'at once' occur quite frequently in Mark and give the impression of a young man in a hurry. This also makes it appear a very dramatic record of Jesus' ministry. There is very little about Jesus' background and details of John the Baptist are brief. The brevity of the account of the resurrection is surprising especially considering that Peter is regarded as having provided Mark with much of the information for the Gospel and that half the book relates to the suffering and death of Jesus. Up to chapter 8 we see Jesus as the exciting healer, working many miracles. After Caesarea Philippi and Peter's confession of the Christ, Mark is concerned with Jesus sufferings in Jerusalem, culminating in crucifixion. So who was Mark and what was his objective in writing the Gospel named after him?
John Mark was the son of Mary (Acts 12.12) whose home was used for meetings of the very Early Church and traditionally, the venue of the Last Supper. His uncle or cousin was Joseph Barnabas, a wealthy Cypriot, who shared Paul's first missionary journey in Asia Minor. Mark had started out with them but after they left Cyprus he turned back to Judea. Mark was quite prominent in Paul's later travels and was in Rome with Peter where he may have written the Gospel.
There was a great fire in Rome in AD64 and from 65-70 Christians were blamed for having caused the fire perhaps because they spoke of the world being destroyed by fire. They were severely persecuted and during that time, Paul and Peter were martyred and there was a need to rekindle loyalty to the Lord. Mark's contribution to this lay in his ability to write an authentic account of who Jesus was and what He had done. This Gospel, perhaps more than the others, emphasises that discipleship means suffering. Mark's gospel was neglected for centuries as being only a summary of Matthew's record but thanks to the work of the scholars in more recent years, we now know that it was a primary source for Matthew and Luke. There are far greater parallels between Mark and Matthew and Mark and Luke than there are between Matthew and Luke. Mark contains vivid details as of an eye witness and one little story in chapter 14.51,52 has often been taken as a reference to one of Mark's own exploits. Did he see and hear Jesus in Gethsemane while the older men slept? Scholars sometimes suggest that Mark should not be regarded as an eyewitness to the events in the Gospels. Since his mother and uncle were disciples there is a strong possibility that he was present in some of the events around Judea. Should the observations of a twelve to fourteen year old be disregarded?
It is an interesting study to compare parallels stories in the other gospels. The incident of the storm on Galilee is an excellent example. The differences in the accounts should not cause us to doubt the accuracy of either. Readers, like writers, are different ‑ they see things differently ‑ and different needs are met from the same stories because they are told in a different way, from different angles. Many who do not share our faith in the Christ described in these Gospels, are nevertheless ready to acknowledge that the Gospel stories are the most beautiful in the world. We owe much to the second Gospel.
When Mark's record is checked against Early Church records and examined for internal evidence it is not only found to be correct but gives clear signals as to what God is saying to us now for personal application. It seems strange that this Gospel is not used more for missionary purposes because Mark seems to have avoided the more obscure metaphorical language of, for example, John. Mark didn't write for scholars to analyse, synthesise, compare and contrast ‑ he had a personal style of writing about events as they occurred while he was still young. He could look back at them as they had been thirty years before.
Mark is sometimes referred to as an apologist ‑ he set out deliberately to defend the faith at a time of crisis to show that followers of Jesus Christ were good citizens. After writing this record of Jesus' ministry, the world could never be the same again even though more explanations would follow in the rest of the New Testament.
Mark is brief and omits details and teaching material that is given by the other two synoptic Gospels but he describes the happenings, places and people's behaviour.
He appears to write for both Jews and Gentiles but gives added explanations of Jewish customs for the benefit of non-Jewish readers.. In Mark's account Jesus is a very real person who is doing things for others, as the servant in Isaiah 53, coupled with Peter's words in 1 Peter 2.22,23. This reaches its climax in Mark 10.44,45. In the latter half of Mark's gospel Jesus has set His face toward Jerusalem ‑ the suffering, uncomplaining servant of Phil.2. 7,8.
There are some interesting similarities between certain parts of Mark's Gospel and Peter's speech at Caesarea in the house of Cornelius recorded in Acts 10.36‑41.
(Commentaries used in this study include Cole and English (IVP), Lane (SU) Barclay (St.Andrews)