The Gospel of Mark
We may divide the contents of Mark’s Gospel, that treats of Christ as the mighty Worker, into five parts:
I. The Advent of the mighty Worker, 1:1—2:12. Jesus is heralded as the mighty One by John the Baptist, and proclaimed as the Son of God by the Father, 1:1-13. After calling some of his disciples, He taught the Galilean multitudes as one having authority, worked mighty miracles among them, as the casting out of demons, the healing of Peters mother-in-law, the cleansing of a leper, etc., and showed His authority to forgive sins, 1: 14—2:12.
II. The Conflict of the mighty Worker, 2: 12—8: 26. In connection with the feast of Levi, the fact that the apostles did not fast, and that they plucked ears of corn on the sabbath, Jesus gives the Pharisees instruction regarding the purpose of his coming, and the moral character of the requirements of his Kingdom, 2:13—3: 8. The healing of the man with the withered hand leads to the enmity of Pharisees and Herodians, which caused the withdrawal of Jesus. The Lord now chose twelve apostles and continued his mighty works, so that even his friends and relatives sought to restrain him, and his enemies claimed that He did them through the power of the devil, 3: 9-35. Next we find him teaching the people regarding the origin, the quiet growth, independent of mans efforts, and the future strength of the Kingdom of God, 4:1-34. His divine power shines forth in his calming the sea, his curing the demoniacs in the land of the Gadarenes and the woman that had the issue of blood, and his raising the daughter of Jairus, 4: 36—5 : 43. He finds no faith at Nazareth, and now sends out the twelve into the cities of Galilee, 6:1-13. Herod, hearing of Christ, stands in awe of him, believing him to be John the Baptist, whom he beheaded, 6:14-29. Withdrawing with the twelve to a desert place, He feeds the five thousand, and after that shows his power over nature by walking on the sea, 6: 30-56. The Pharisees accost him, because his disciples eat bread with unclean hands, 7:1-23. He now cures the daughter of the Syro-Phoenician woman and the deaf and dumb man at Decapolis, where He also feeds the four thousand, 7: 24-8: 9. Once more the Pharisees ask him for a sign. Leaving them, He restores the sight of the blind man at Bethsaida, 8:10-26.
III. The Claim of the mighty Worker, 8: 27—13: 37. The Lord shows the necessity of his suffering, leads his disciples to confess him as Messiah, and points out what is required of them, 8:27-38. His power and glory are seen in the transfiguration and in the miracle following this, 9:1-29. Then follows a second revelation of his future suffering, followed by teachings regarding humility and offenses, 9: 30-50. In Perea Christ, tempted by the Pharisees, gives his opinion on the question of divorce; then He blesses little children and points out the way of life to the young ruler, 10:1-31. For the third time He reveals his future suffering, and prepares his disciples for a life of service, 10: 32-45. At Jericho He restores the sight of Bar-timeus. Next he enters Jerusalem amid loud hosannas, curses the fig-tree and cleanses the temple, 10: 46—11: 26. In the temple He reveals his superiority by answering the questions of Pharisees, Sadducees and Herodians, and points to himself as Davids Lord, 11: 27—12: 44. Then he speaks of his coming in glory, 13.
IV. The Sacrifice of the mighty Worker, 14:1—15 : 47. Preparation is made for Jesus death by the Sanhedrin and Judas on the one hand, and by Mary of Bethany on the other, 14:1-11. The passover is eaten and the Lords supper instituted, 14:12-25: In Gethsemane follows bitter agony and captivity, 14: 26-52. Then the Lord is tried and condemned by the Sanhedrin and by Pilate, and finally He is crucified, 14: 53—15 : 47.
V. The mighty Worker as Conqueror of Death, 16:1-20. Women go to the grave on the first day of the week and are directed by the angels to go to Galilee, 16:1-8. The Lord appears several times, gives blessed promises, and at last ascends to heaven, 14:9-20.
There are certain characteristics by which the Gospel of Mark is distinguished from the other Gospels:
1. The most striking peculiarity of the second Gospel is its descriptive character. It is Marks constant aim to picture the scenes of which he speaks in lively colours. There are many minute observations in his work that are not found in the other Synoptics, some of which point to its autoptic character. He mentions the look of anger that Christ cast on the hypocrites about him, 3: 5; relates the miracles, performed immediately after the transfiguration, with greater circumstantiality than the other Gospels, 9: 9-29; tells of Jesus taking little children in his arms and blessing them, 9: 36; 10:16; remarks that Jesus, looking at the young ruler, loved him, 10: 21, etc.
2. This Gospel contains comparatively little of the teaching of Jesus; it rather brings out the greatness of our Lord by pointing to his mighty works, and in doing this does not follow the exact chronological order. Teaching is subordinate to action, though we cannot maintain that it is ignored altogether. Mark, though considerably smaller than Matthew, contains all the miracles narrated by the latter except five, and besides has three that are not found in Matthew. Of the eighteen miracles in Luke, Mark has twelve and four others above this number.
3. In the Gospel of Mark several words of Christ
that were directed against the Jews are left out, such as we
4. The style of Mark is more lively than that of Matthew, though not as smooth. He delights in using words like εὐθύς or εὐθέως and πολύς prefers the use of the present and the imperfect to that of the aorist, and often uses the periphrastic εἶναι with a participle instead of the finite verb. There are several Latinisms found in his Gospel, as κεντυρίων,κορδάντης, κράββατος,πραιτώριον, σπεκουλάτωρ and φραγελλοῦν.
Just as in the case of Matthew we are entirely dependent on external testimony for the name of the author of the second Gospel. And the voice of antiquity is unanimous in ascribing it to Mark. The most ancient testimony to this effect is that of Papias, who says: “Mark, the interpreter of Peter, wrote down carefully all that he recollected, though he did not [record] in order that which was either said or done by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him; but subsequently, as I have said, [attached himself to] Peter, who used to frame his teaching to meet the [immediate] wants [of his hearers] ; and not as making a connected narrative of the Lords discourses. So Mark committed no error, as he wrote down some particulars just as he called them to mind. For he took heed to one thing—to omit none of the facts that he heard, and to state nothing falsely in [his narrative] of them.” Several other church fathers, such as Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, Jerome, Eusebius, e. a., follow in his wake; there is not a dissentient voice.
We cannot glean a single hint from the Gospel
itself as to the identity of the author. It may be that the
obscure young man who followed Jesus in the night of his
betrayal. 14: 51, 52, and who, stripped of his garment fled
naked in the darkness of night, was the author himself. The
house of Marks mother was at least in later time a rendezvous
for the disciples of the Lord,
Some scholars have expressed doubt as to the
identity of Mark, the evangelist, and John Mark, the companion
of Barnabas and Paul. The general consensus of opinion, however,
favors this. Proceeding on the assumption that this view is
correct, we find Mark mentioned first in connection with Peter’s
deliverance from prison in 44 A. D. After leaving the prison
walls the apostle went to “the house of Mary, the mother of
John, whose surname was Mark,”
It seems that Mark was “like Peter more a man of action than of deep and abiding principle, a man of fervor and enthusiasm rather than of persevering effort; but he was transfused by the power of the same Christ who transfused Peter into the man of rapid, continued and effective effort in the missionary work of the Church.” Gregory, Why Four Gospels, p. 163.
The relation of Mark to Peter deserves special attention. Scripture speaks of this in the two places already mentioned, and tradition abundantly testifies to it. Papias says that “Mark was Peters interpreter and wrote down carefully all that he recollected.” Clement of Alexandria also says that he wrote down the discourses of Peter, as he remembered them. Irenaeus, Tertullian and Jerome all style Mark “the interpreter of Peter.” Tertullian even says that “the Gospel published by Mark may be reckoned Peter’s, whose interpreter he was.” And Origen still stronger: “Mark wrote his Gospel according to the dictates of Peter.” Similarly Athanasius. All these testimonies agree in asserting that Mark was dependent on Peter in writing his Gospel; they disagree, however, as to the degree of dependence, some claiming merely that Mark recorded what he remembered of Peters preaching, and others, that he wrote what Peter dictated. Which representation is the true one?
The title of the Gospel is against the dictation theory, for if Peter had dictated the Gospel, it would in all probability have been called by his name, just as the Epistles dictated by Paul are universally ascribed to him. On the other hand the autoptic touches in the Gospel make it probable that in some parts of his work Mark employed the very words of Peter; they also suggest a possible basis for the later tradition that Peter dictated to Mark. However, it is not impossible that some of the Church fathers accentuated the dependence of Mark on Peter unduly, merely to enhance the authority of his work. The true relation of the evangelist to the apostle is expressed in the words: “Mark was the interpreter (ἑρμηνευτης) of Peter.” This does not mean that he accompanied Peter on his missionary journeys as dragoman, translating Aramaeic discourses into Greek (Davidson), or Greek into Latin (Bleek); but that he was Peters scholar and in his Gospel interprets i. e. sets forth the doctrine of Peter for those who have not heard the apostle.
The Gospel itself incidentally testifies to the
relation in which it stands to Peter. There are many touches
that indicate first-hand knowledge, as in 1:16-20; 1:29;
72; 16: 7. Some things found in the other Synoptics are
unexpectedly omitted by Mark, as Peters walking on the water,
The authorship of Mark is quite generally admitted; yet there are some, such as Beischlag and Davidson e. a. who deny it. They maintain that our present Gospel does not tally with the description of Papias, where he says that Mark wrote down the things he heard of Peter “not in order.” Wendt supposes that Papias had in mind a series of narratives that are embodied in our present Gospel, a sort of Urmarkus. But when Papias said that the evangelist wrote “not in order,” he did not say anything that is not true of our Mark, for in it we do not find things in the order of their occurrence. And in ancient literature there is not a single trace of an Urmarkus.
Readers and Purpose. External testimony enlightens us
respecting the circle for which the Gospel of Mark was intended;
it points to Rome and the Romans. Clement of Alexandria says
that many of the converts of Rome desired of Mark that he should
write down the discourses of Peter. Jerome also speaks of this
“request of the brethren at Rome”; and Gregory Nazianzen says:
“Mark wrote his Gospel for the Italians.” If we now turn to the
Gospel itself, we find that it was peculiarly adapted to the
Romans. They were a strenuous, a very active people; Marks
Gospel is pre-eminently the Gospel of action, and is written in
a brisk lively style. The fact that the argument from prophecy
holds an inferior place in it, and that so many Jewish customs
and Aramaeic words are explained, points away from the Jews;
while the Latin words contained in the gospel, the reference to
the Roman manner of divorce, 10:12, the reduction of a coin to
the Roman quadrans, 12:42, the knowledge of Pilate presupposed
in 15: 1 (cf.
It stands to reason that the purpose of Mark in writing stood in the closest relation to the circle of readers for whom he intended his Gospel. It is certainly true, as Zahn asserts, that his intention was to record the beginning (ἀρχή) of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, i. e. the beginning of its preaching and of its course; but he has this in common with the other Synoptics; it is nothing distinctive (cf. p. 58 above). The theory of Hilgenfeld and Davidson, following Baur, that the Gospel of Mark was written to conciliate the two opposing parties of the apostolic age, the Petrine and the Pauline, and therefore carefully avoids the exclusivism of Matthew as well as the universalism of Luke can only be sustained by the most forced and artificial interpretations. Neither does the gospel support the view of Weiss, that it was written at a time, when the hope of Christs second coming was on the decline, and intended to show that the Messianic character of Jesus mission was sufficiently attested by His earthly life. Mark’s aim was simply to record the gospel narrative without any special dogmatic aim, but to do this in such a manner as would be most suitable for the Romans, the busy Romans, the people of action. Hence he places special emphasis on the acts of Christ. For those who loved conquest and admired heroism he desired to picture Christ as the mighty Conqueror that overcame sin and all its consequences, yea even death itself.
2. Time and Place. As to the time when Mark wrote his Gospel the witness of the early Church is not unanimous. Irenaeus says that after the death of Peter and Paul Mark wrote down what he had heard Peter preach. Clement of Alexandria places the composition of the Gospel before the death of Peter, stating that, when Peter heard of it, “he neither obstructed nor encouraged the work.” Jerome informs us that Peter “approved and published it in our churches, commanding the reading of it by his own authority~” Others say that Peter dictated to Mark. The question to be decided is therefore, whether Mark wrote before or after the death of Peter. It is generally assumed that the testimony of Irenaeus is the most trustworthy. It is possible that some of the later Church fathers insisted on Marks having written the Gospel during the life of Peter, in order to clothe it with apostolic authority. Zahn would harmonize the testimony of the fathers by assuming that Mark began his work before and finished it after the death of the apostle; and that Peter on hearing of Mark’s venture at first said nothing regarding it; then, seeing a part of the work, rejoiced in it; and still later, when it had almost reached its perfect form, sanctioned it, Einl. II p. 203.
Turning to the Gospel itself, we find that it
contains no positive evidence as to the time of its composition.
Some inferred from 13: 24 as compared with
The testimony of the fathers points, almost without a dissenting voice, to Rome as the place, where Mark composed his gospel. Chrysostom, however, testifies that “Mark wrote in Egypt at the request of the believers there. But in another statement he admits that he really knows nothing about it.
3. Method. Augustine called Mark “the abridger of Matthew,” assuming that the second Gospel was an abbreviated compilation from the first. This theory has since been defended by several scholars of the Tubingen school, but is now abandoned. The general features of the Gospel do not bear out that view. Zahn finds that Mark based his Gospel both on the oral communications of Peter and on the Hebrew Matthew, Einl. II p. 322. Davidson denies the originality and priority of the Gospel by making it depend to a great extent on Matthew and Luke, Introd. I p. 478. Salmon finds throughout the Gospel many evidences of the priority and independence of Mark, but believes that in other places he is, with Matthew and Luke, dependent on a common source, Introd. p. 155. The prevalent opinion at present is that Marks Gospel was prior to the other two, though, at least according to some, he may have employed the εὐαγγέλιον of Matthew. But in order to maintain this priority its defenders have resorted to such artificial and unlikely theories that they in part defeated their own purpose. The theory of an Urmarkus has been broached, but found little acceptance. The opinion of Dr. Arthur Wright that we must distinguish between a proto-, a deutero- and a tritoMark, a distinction applied to oral tradition by him, is now by others applied to written documents. Cf. Holdsworth, Gospel Origins p. 108.
Here again the great difference of opinion proves that it is quite impossible to trace in all details the origin of the material found in this Gospel. The great objection to several of the theories propounded is that they seek to account for the origin of Mark in a too mechanical way. We may be certain of two things: (1) that Mark derived the greatest part of his material from the preaching of Peter that had gradually assumed a definite shape in his mind; and (2) that he has recorded partly the ipsissima verba of Peter (except for the occasional change of we into they), and partly merely the substance of the apostles κήρυγμα in a form and with interpretations of his own. For the rest of his material he probably depended on the Hebrew original of Matthew.
The integrity of the Gospel of Mark is generally maintained, with the exception, however, of the last twelve verses, regarding which there is a great difference of opinion. The critical camp of the past century is just about equally divided, although at present the tide is somewhat against these verses. The reasons for rejecting them are both external and internal. These verses are wanting in the two oldest and most valuable manuscripts, viz, the Sinaitic and the Vatican. Eusebius and Jerome and a few others state that they were wanting in almost all the Greek copies of the gospels of their time. It is possible, however, that the testimony of Jerome and the rest resolves itself into that of Eusebius. This is all but certain with respect to that of Jerome, as even Davidson admits. They are wanting also in the important MS. k, representing the African text of the old Latin Version, which has another and shorter conclusion, like that in MS. L. They are also absent from some of the best MSS. of the Armenian Version. Then the style of this section is abrupt and sententious, not graphic like that of the rest of the Gospel. It makes the impression of a collection of brief notices, extracted from larger accounts and loosely combined. Its phraseology is also peculiar. Thus πρώτῃ σαββάτου, verse 9 is used instead of ἡ μία τῶν σαββάτου as in 16 :2. The verb πορεύεσθαι, which occurs three times in this section, is not found in the body of the Gospel. Neither is the word θεᾶσθαι, 16:11, 14. Another unique feature is the use of ὁ κύριος as a designation of Christ, verses 19, 20.
These verses have also found ardent defenders, however, among whom especially Dean Burgon must be named, though he is perhaps a little too positive. In his work on, “The last Twelve Verses of the Gospel according to Mark,” he put up an able defense. The authenticity of this section is favored by the following considerations: It is found in most of the uncial MSS. and in all the cursives, though some of these mark it with an asterisk, or indicate that it was absent in older copies. Moreover its absence from Aleph and B looks somewhat suspicious. It is also incorporated in most of the ancient Versions, of which the Itala, the Curatorian and Peshito Syriac, and the Coptic are older than any of our Greek codices. All the existing Greek and Syriac lectionaries, as far as they have now been examined, contain these verses. Irenaeus quotes the 19th verse as a part of the Gospel of Mark. Justin Martyr too in all probability testifies to the authenticity of these verses. And several of the later fathers, such as Epiphanius, Ambrose and Augustine certainly quote from them. And as far as internal evidence is concerned, it seems very unlikely that Mark would end his Gospel with the words ἐφοβοῦντο γάρ without recording a single appearance of the Lord. Moreover these verses contain too many peculiarities to be a forgery.
We cannot delay to discuss the causes for the variation of the MSS, nor to review the different conclusions to which scholars have come as to the extent of Marks Gospel. They who wish to study the subject can do so in the work of Burgon, in the Introductions of Guericke and Salmon and in Urquharts New Biblical Guide VII, where this section is defended; and in the work of Westcott and Hort, “The New Testament in Greek,” and in the Introductions of Reuss, Weiss, Davidson and Zahn, who reject it.
It seems to us that the ground offered for the
rejection of these verses by external testimony is rather
slender and uncertain, while the internal evidence is weighty
indeed. In view of it we are inclined to accept one of two
possible conclusions: either that Mark himself added these
verses some time after he had written his Gospel, possibly
culling his material from Matthew and Luke; or that someone else
wrote them to complete the work. The latter is favored by the
Armenian Gospel that was written in 986 and was discovered by F.
C. Conybeare in 1891, and which has the superscription above
this section: “Of the Presbyter Ariston.” In either case we see
no reason, however, to doubt the canonicity of this part of
Marks Gospel, though some have attempted to make this suspicious
especially by pointing to the unlikely (?) miracles of verses
17, 18. Cf.
Though the external testimony to the canonicity of Mark’s Gospel is not so abundant as that for the Gospel of Matthew, yet it is sufficient to establish this beyond a shadow of doubt. It is quoted by at least two of the apostolic fathers, by Justin Martyr and by the three great witnesses of the end of the second century, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian, and is referred to as a part of the Word of God by several others. We find no expressions of doubt in the early Church.
The special purpose of this Gospel in the canon is to show us Christ in his divine power, destroying the works of satan, and conquering sin and death. More than other Gospels it places prominently before us the work of Christ in behalf of those that are bound by the shackles of satan and are suffering the consequences of sin. We here see the Lion out of the tribe of Juda, conquering and ever to conquer. Mark is the only one of the evangelists that speaks of the future Kingdom of God as coming with power, 9:1. In that way this Gospel has special significance for the Church of all ages. It gives her the blessed assurance that her future is entrusted to One who has shown himself a mighty Conqueror, and who is abundantly able to save to the uttermost all who believe in Him.