Vincent's Word Studies

Marvin R. Vincent, D.D.

Baldwin Professor of Sacred Literature in Union Theological Seminary New York.

The Gospel According to Mark


Mark the Evangelist is, by the best authorities, identified with John Mark, the son of Mary. The surname Mark was adopted for use among the Gentiles; Mark (Marcus) being one of the commonest Latin names (compare Marcus Tullius Cicero, Marcus Aurelius), as John was one of the commonest Hebrew names. Mark was a cousin of Barnabas, and was, from a very early period, the intimate friend and associate of Peter (Act 12:11-17), who affectionately refers to him as “my son” at the close of his first epistle. The general opinion of the fathers, as well as that of modern authorities, is that Mark drew the great mass of his materials from the oral discourses of Peter. This opinion was perpetuated in Christian art, in representations of Peter seated on a throne with Mark kneeling before him and writing from his dictation; Mark sitting and writing, and Peter standing before him, with his hand raised, dictating; and Peter in a pulpit, preaching to the Romans, and Mark taking down his words in a book (see Mrs. Jameson, “Sacred and Legendary Art,” 1:149).

This opinion finds support in the evidences of Peter's influence upon the style of this Gospel. The restlessness and impetuosity of Mark's disposition, of which we have hints in his forsaking Paul and Barnabas at Perga (Act 13:13; Act 15:38), in his subsequent readiness to join them on the second missionary journey (Act 15:39), and, if the tradition be accepted, in his rushing into the street on the night of Christ's arrest, clad only in a linen sheet (Mar 14:51, Mar 14:52), would naturally be in sympathy with the well-known character of Peter. Peter was a man of observation and action rather than of reflection; impulsive and impetuous. “When we assume, says Dr. Morison, “that Mark drew directly from the discoursings of St. Peter, then we understand how it comes to pass that it is in his pages that we have the most particular account of that lamentable denial of his Lord of which the apostle was guilty. On no other person's memory would the minute particulars of the prediction, and of its unanticipated fulfilment, be so indelibly engraven. It is also noteworthy that, while the very severe rebuke which our Lord administered to St. Peter in the neighborhood of Caesarea Philippi is faithfully and circumstantially recorded in Mark's pages, the splendid eulogium and distinguishing blessing, which had been previously pronounced, are, as it were, modestly passed by. Doubtless the great apostle would not be guilty of making frequent or egotistic references to such marks of distinction” (“Commentary on Mark”).

Unlike the other gospels, Mark's narrative is not subordinated to the working out of any one idea. Matthew's memoirs turn on the relation of Christ to the law and the prophets. He throws a bridge from the old economy to the new. His is the Gospel as related to the past, the Gospel of Christianity regarded as the fulfilment of Judaism. Luke exhibits Jesus as a Saviour, and expounds the freeness and universality of the Gospel, and the sacredness of humanity. John wrote that then might believe that Jesus is the Christ, and might have life in him. While Matthew and Luke deal with his offices, John deals with his person. John carries forward the piers of Matthew's bridge toward that perfected heavenly economy of which his Apocalypse reveals glimpses. In Matthew Jesus is the Messiah; in John, the Eternal Word. In Matthew he is the fulfiller of the law; in John he foreshadows the grander and richer economy of the Spirit.

Mark, on the other hand, is a chronicler rather than a historian. His narrative is the record of an observer, dealing with the facts of Christ's life without reference to any dominant conception of his person or office. Christ's portrait is drawn “in the clearness of his present energy;” not as the fulfilment of the past, as by Matthew, nor as the foundation of the future, as by John. His object is to portray Jesus in his daily life, “in the awe-inspiring grandeur of his human personality, as a man who was also the Incarnate, the wonder-working Son of God.” Hence his first words are the appropriate keynote of his Gospel: “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

Such a narrative might have been expected from Peter, with his keen-sightedness, his habit of observation, and his power of graphically describing what he was so quick to perceive. There is, of course, less room for the exhibition of these traits in his epistles, though they emerge even there in certain peculiar and picturesque words, and in expressions which reflect incidents of his personal association with Christ. Those brief epistles contain over a hundred words which occur nowhere else in the New Testament. Certain narratives in the Book of Acts record incidents in which Peter was the principal or the only apostolic actor, and the account of which must have come from his own lips; and these narratives bear the marks of his keen observation, and are characterized by his picturesque power. Such are the accounts of the healing of the cripple at the temple-gate (3); of Ananias and Sapphira (5); of Peter's deliverance from prison (12); of the raising of Dorcas (9); and of the vision of the great sheet (10). In these, especially if we compare them with narratives which Luke has evidently received from other sources, we are impressed with the picturesque vividness of the story; the accurate notes of time and place and number; the pictorial expressions, the quick transitions; the frequent use of such words as straightway, immediately; the substitution of dialogue for narrative, and the general fulness of detail.

All these characteristics appear in Mark's Gospel, and are justly regarded as indicating the influence of Peter, though comparatively few of the same words are employed by both; a fact which may be, in great part, accounted for by the difference between a hortatory epistle and a narrative. The traces of Peter's quick perception and dramatic and picturesque power are everywhere visible in Mark. While Matthew fully records the discourses of our Lord, Mark pictures his deeds. Hence, while Matthew gives us fifteen of his parables, Mark reproduces only four, and that in a condensed form. “Mark does not wear the flowing robes of Matthew. His dress is 'for speed succinct.' Swift-paced, incisive, his narrative proceeds straight to the goal, like a Roman soldier on his march to battle.” His Gospel is the Gospel of the present, not of the past. His references to the Old Testament, with the exception of Mar 1:2, Mar 1:3, are quotations occurring in the discourses of Christ, or cited by others. They belong, as Canon Farrar observes, “to the narrative, not to the recorder” (Mar 15:28 is an interpolation). The word νόμος, law, never occurs in Mark nor in Peter.

Mark's is, therefore, pre-eminently the pictorial Gospel: the Gospel of detail. “There is,” says Canon Westcott, “perhaps not one narrative which he gives in common with Matthew and Luke, to which he does not contribute some special feature.” Thus he adds to John the Baptist's picture of loosing the shoe-latchet another touch, in the words to stoop down (Mar 1:7). He uses a more graphic term to describe the opening of the heavens at Christ's baptism. According to Matthew and Luke the heavens were opened (ἀνεώχθησαν); Mark depicts them as rent asunder (σχιζομένους; Mar 1:10). Matthew and Luke represent Jesus as led (ἀνήχθη) into the wilderness to be tempted; Mark as driven (ἐκβα.λλει); adding, He was with the wild beasts; to which some detect a reference in Peter's comparison of the devil to a roaring lion (1Pe 5:8). He gives a realistic touch to the story of James and John forsaking their employment at the call of Jesus, by adding that they left their father with the hired servants (Mar 1:20). After the discourse from the boat to the multitude upon the shore, Mark alone tells us that the disciples sent away the multitude, and throws in the little details, they took him as he was; and there were with them other little ships (Mar 4:36). His account of the storm which followed is more vivid than Matthew's or Luke's. He pictures the waves beating into the boat, and the boat beginning to fill; notes the steersman's cushion at the stern on which the sleeping Lord's head reposed (Mar 4:37, Mar 4:38); and throws the awaking by the disciples and the stilling of the tempest into a dramatic form by the distressful question, Master, carest thou not that we perish? and the command to the sea as to a raging monster, Peace! Be still! (Mar 4:38, Mar 4:39).

In the narrative of the feeding of the five thousand, only Mark relates the Saviour's question, How many loaves have ye ? Go and see (Mar 6:38). An oriental crowd abounds in color, and to Mark we are indebted for the gay picture of the crowds arranged on the green grass, in companies, like flower-beds with their varied hues. He alone specifies the division of the two fishes among them all (Mar 6:39, Mar 6:41). He tells how Jesus, walking on the sea, would have passed by the disciples' boat; he expresses their cry of terror at Christ's appearance by a stronger word than Matthew, using the compound verb ἀνέκραξαν where Matthew uses the simple verb ἔχραξαν. He adds, they all saw him (Mar 6:48-50). When Jesus descends from the mount of transfiguration, it is Mark that fills out the incident of the disciples' controversy with the bystanders by relating that the scribes were questioning with them. He notes the amazement which, for whatever reason, fell upon the people at Jesus' appearance, their running to salute him, and his inquiry, What question ye with them? (Mar 9:14, Mar 9:16). Mark gives us the bystanders' encouragement of Bartimeus when summoned by Jesus, and tells how he cast off his outer garment and leaped up (Mar 10:49, Mar 10:50). He alone relates the breaking of the alabaster by the woman (Mar 14:3), and Christ's taking the little child in his arms after he had set him in the midst (Mar 9:36).

In the account of the two demoniacs of Gadara, Matthew (8) relates that they were met coming out of the tombs, and that they were exceeding fierce, so that no one could pass that way. Mark mentions only one demoniac, but adds that he had his dwelling in the tombs (κατοίκησιν εἶχεν, stronger than Luke's abode, ἔμενεν); that the attempt had been made to fetter him, but that he had broken the fetters; and that he was day and night in the tombs and in the mountains, crying and cutting himself with stones (Mar 5:3-6). In the interview with the lawyer who desired to know what kind of a commandment was great in the law, Matthew (Mat 22:34-40) ends the dialogue with Jesus' answer to this question. Mark gives the lawyer's reply and his enlargement upon Jesus' answer, the fact that Jesus observed that he answered discreetly, and his significant words, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.

It is interesting to compare the account of Herod's feast and John the Baptist's murder as given by Matthew and Mark respectively. Mark alone mentions the great banquet and the rank of the guests. He adds the little touches of Salome's entering in and delighting the guests. He throws Herod's promise and Salome's request into dialogue. Where Matthew says simply, He promised with an oath, to give her whatsoever she should ask, Mark gives it, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee. And he sware unto her, whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of ray kingdom. The whole narrative is more dramatic than Matthew's. Matthew says that Salome was put forward by her mother. Mark pictures her going out, and details her conversation with Herodias, and her entering in again with haste, and demanding the horrible boon forthwith. Mark also enlarges upon Herod's regret: he was exceeding sorry; and where Matthew notes merely his compliance with the damsel's request, Mark lets us into his feeling of unwillingness to refuse her. Mark, too, emphasizes the promptness of the transaction. Salome demands the Baptist's head forthwith; Herod sends the executioner straightway. Mark alone mentions the executioner. While the dialogue is not peculiar to Mark, it is to be noted that it is characteristic of Peter's style, so far, at least, as can be inferred from the stories in the book of Acts, of Ananias and Sapphira (Act 5:3-9), Cornelius Act 10:1), and Peter's deliverance from prison (Act 12:1).

Mark is peculiarly minute and specific as to details of persons, times, numbers, and places; a feature in which, also, he resembles Peter (compare Act 2:15; Act 6:3; Act 4:22; Act 5:7, Act 5:23; Act 12:4). Thus, of persons, “They entered into the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John (Mar 1:29): “Simon and they that were with him followed after him” (Mar 1:36): “In the days of Abiathar the high-priest” (Mar 2:26): “The Pharisees took counsel with the Herodians (Mar 3:6): “The woman was a Greek, a Syro-Phenician by nation” (Mar 7:26). Compare, also, Mar 11:11; Mar 13:3; Mar 15:21. Of places: “A multitude from Galilee and Judaea, etc. (Mar 3:7, Mar 3:8): The demoniac proclaimed his recovery in Decapolis (Mar 5:20): Jesus departed “from the border of Tyre and came through Sidon unto the Sea of Galilee, through the midst of the borders of Decapolis (Mar 7:31). Compare Mar 8:10; Mar 11:1; Mar 12:41; Mar 14:68. Of number: The paralytic was “borne of four (Mar 2:3): The swine were about two thousand (Mar 5:13): The twelve were sent out two and two (Mar 6:7): The people sat down by hundreds and fifties (Mar 6:40): “Before the cock crow twice thou shalt deny me thrice (Mar 14:30). Of time: Jesus rose up in the morning, a great while before day (Mar 1:35): “The same day, when the even was come (Mar 4:35). Compare Mar 11:11; Mar 14:68; Mar 15:25.

But Mark does not confine himself to mere outward details. He abounds in strokes which bring out the feeling of his characters. He uses six different words expressive of fear, wonder, trouble, amazement, extreme astonishment. The compound ἐκθαμβεῖσθαι, greatly amazed, affrighted (Mar 9:15; Mar 16:5, Mar 16:6) occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. Thus the look and emotion of our Lord are portrayed: “He looked round about on them with anger, being grieved at the hardness of their heart” (Mar 3:5): “He looked round about on them which sat round about him, and said, Behold my mother,” etc. (Mar 3:34): “He looked round about to see who had touched him in the crowd (Mar 5:32): “He marvelled because of their unbelief” (Mar 6:6): He looked on the young ruler and loved him (Mar 10:21): He was moved with compassion toward the leper (Mar 1:41): He sighed deeply in his spirit (Mar 8:12).

Similarly Mark depicts the tender compassion of the Lord. A beautiful hint of his delicate and loving appreciation of an ordinary need closes the story of the healing of the ruler's daughter. In their joy and wonder at her miraculous restoration, the friends would naturally forget the immediate practical demand for food, of which the Lord promptly reminds them by his command that something should be given her to eat (Mar 5:43). Luke notes the same circumstance. In like manner his appreciation of his disciples' weariness appears in the words, “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place and rest awhile” (Mar 6:31). He is moved with compassion toward the multitude because they are as sheep without a shepherd (Mar 6:34): he is touched with the need and fatigue of the many who had come from far (Mar 8:3): he shows his interest in the condition of the epileptic lad by inquiring into the history of his case (Mar 9:21): he is much displeased at the disciples' rebuke of those who are bringing the young children to him (Mar 10:14).

In like manner Mark describes the mental and emotional states of those who were brought into contact with Christ. Those who witnessed the miracle of the loaves understood not, and their heart was hardened (Mar 6:52): the disciples were perplexed, questioning among themselves what the rising again from the dead should mean (Mar 9:10): they were amazed at his words about a rich man entering into the kingdom of heaven (Mar 10:24): a sudden and mysterious awe fell upon them in their journey to Jerusalem (Mar 10:32): Pilate marvelled at Jesus being already dead, and sent for the centurion in order to ask whether he had been any while dead (Mar 15:44). Compare Mar 1:29, Mar 1:27; Mar 5:20, Mar 5:42; Mar 6:20; Mar 7:37; Mar 11:18. He depicts the interest excited by the words and works of Christ; describing the crowds which flocked to him, and their spreading abroad the fame of his power (Mar 1:28, Mar 1:45; Mar 2:13; Mar 3:20, Mar 3:21; Mar 4:1; Mar 5:20, Mar 5:21, Mar 5:24; Mar 6:31; Mar 7:36).

We find in Mark certain peculiarly forcible expressions in our Lord's language, such as, “To them that are without (Mar 4:11); “Ye leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men” (Mar 7:8); “This adulterous and sinful generation” (Mar 8:38); “Be set at nought (Mar 9:12); “Quickly to speak evil of me” (Mar 9:39); “Shall receive brethren and sisters and mothers, etc., “with persecutions” (Mar 10:30).

His narrative runs. His style abounds in quick transitions. The word εὐθέως, straightway, occurs in his Gospel something like forty times. He imparts vividness to his narration by the use of the present tense instead of the historic (Mar 1:40, Mar 1:44; Mar 2:3, sq.; Mar 11:1, Mar 11:2, Mar 11:7; Mar 14:43, Mar 14:66). He often defines his meaning by coupling similar words or phrases. Beelzebub is called by two names (Mar 3:22), and by a third (Mar 3:30): The sick are brought at even, when the sun did set (Mar 1:32): The blasphemer hath no more forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin (Mar 3:29): He spake with many parables, and without a parable he spake not (Mar 4:33, Mar 4:34). Compare Mar 3:5, Mar 3:27; Mar 5:26; Mar 6:25; Mar 7:21. He employs over seventy words which are found nowhere else in the New Testament. We find him preserving the identical Aramaic words uttered by the Lord. In his Gospel alone occur Boanerges (Mar 3:17); Talitha cumi (Mar 5:41); Korban (Mar 7:11); Ephphatha (Mar 7:34): and Abba (Mar 14:36). Writing for Romans we find him transferring certain Latin words into Greek, such as legio, legion (Mar 5:9); centurio, κεντυρίων, centurion, which elsewhere is ἑκατόνταρχος - χης (Mar 15:39); quadrans, farthing (Mar 12:42); flagellare, to scourge (Mar 15:15); speculator, executioner (Mar 2:27); census, tribute (Mar 12:14); sextarius, pot (Mar 7:4); praetorium (Mar 15:16). Three of these, centurio, speculator, and sextarius are found in his Gospel only. He always adds a note of explanation to Jewish words and usages.

His style is abrupt, concise, and forcible; his diction less pure than that of Luke and John. Besides irregularities of construction which cannot be explained to the English reader, he employs many words which are expressly forbidden by the grammarians, and some of which are even condemned as slang. Such are ἐσχάτως ἔχει, is at the point of death (Mar 5:23); κράββατος, bed (Mar 2:4, Mar 2:9, Mar 2:11, Mar 2:12); μονόφθαλμος, with one eye (Mar 9:47); κολλυβισταί, money-changers (Mar 11:15); κοράσιον, maid (Mar 5:41); ὁ ρκίζω, I adjure (Mar 5:7); ῥάπισμα, a blow of the hand (Mar 14:65); ῥαφίδος, needle (Mar 10:25).

I have described the characteristics of Mark at some length, because they lie peculiarly in the line of the special purpose of this book, which deals with individual words and phrases, and with peculiarities of diction, rather than with the exegesis of passages. Of this Gospel it is especially true that its peculiar flavor and quality cannot be caught without careful verbal study. It is a gallery of word-pictures. Reading it, even in the familiar versions, we may discover that it is, as Canon Westcott remarks, “essentially a transcript from life;” but nothing short of an insight into the original and individual words will reveal to us that the transcript itself is alive.

List of Greek Words Used by Mark Only

ἀγρεύω catch Mar 12:13
ἅλς salt Mar 9:49
ἄλαλος dumb Mar 7:37; Mar 9:17, Mar 9:25
ἀλεκτροφωνία cockcrowing Mar 13:35
ἄμφοδον a place where two ways meet Mar 11:4
ἀμφιβάλλω cast Mar 1:16
ἄναλος saltless Mar 9:50
ἀναπηδάω leap up Mar 10:50
ἀναστενάζω sigh deeply Mar 8:12
ἀπἔχει it is enough Mar 14:41
ἀπόδημος abroad Mar 13:34
ἀποστεγάζω uncover Mar 2:4
ἀφρίζω foam Mar 9:18, Mar 9:20
Βοανεργές sons of thunder Mar 3:17
γαμίσκομαι to be given in marriage Mar 12:25
γναφεύς fuller Mar 9:3
δισχίλιοι two thousand Mar 5:13
δύσκολος hard Mar 10:24
εἰ if (in swearing) Mar 8:12
ἐκθαμβέω to be amazed Mar 9:15; Mar 14:33; Mar 16:5, Mar 16:6
ἐκθαυμάζω to marvel Mar 12:17
ἐκπερισσῶς exceeding vehemently Mar 14:31
ἐναγκαλίζομαι take in the-arms Mar 9:36; Mar 10:16
ἐνειλέω wrap Mar 15:46
ἔννυχον in the night Mar 1:35
ἐξάπινα suddenly Mar 9:8
ἐξουδενόω set at naught Mar 9:12
ἐπιβάλλω (neuter) beat Mar 4:37
ἐπιῤῥάπτω sew upon Mar 2:21
ἐπισυντρέχω come running together Mar 9:25
ἐσχάτως at the point of death Mar 4:23
ἤφιεν suffered (permitted) Mar 1:34; Mar 11:16
θανάσιμος deadly Mar 16:18
θαυμάζειν διὰ to wonder because of Mar 6:6
θυγάτριον little daughter Mar 5:23; Mar 7:25
τὸ ἱκανὸν ποιεῖν to content Mar 15:15
κατάβα come down Mar 15:30
καταβαρύνω weigh down Mar 14:40
καταδιώκω follow after Mar 1:36
κατακόπτω cut Mar 5:5
κατευλογέω bless Mar 10:16
κατοίκησις dwelling Mar 5:3
κεντυρίων centurion Mar 15:39, Mar 15:44, Mar 15:45
κεφαλαιόω to wound in the head Mar 12:4
κυλίομαι wallow Mar 9:20
κωμόπολις village-town Mar 1:38
μεθόρια borders Mar 7:24
μηκύνομαι grow Mar 4:27
μογιλάλος having an impediment in speech Mar 7:32
μυρίζω anoint Mar 14:8
νουνεχῶς discreetly Mar 12:34
ξέστης pot Mar 7:4
ὄμμα eye Mar 8:28
οὐά ah! ha! Mar 15:29
παιδιόθεν from a child Mar 9:21
παρόμοιος like Mar 7:8, Mar 7:13
περιτρέχω run round about Mar 6:55
πρασιά a garden-plat Mar 6:40
προαύλιον porch or forecourt Mar 14:68
προμεριμνάω take thought before-hand Mar 13:11
προσάββατον day before the Sabbath Mar 15:42
προσεγγίζω come nigh unto Mar 2:4
προσκεφάλαιον cushion Mar 4:38
προσορμίζομαι moor to the shore Mar 6:53
προσπορεύομαι come unto Mar 10:35
πυγμῇ with the fist Mar 7:3
σκώληξ worm Mar 9:44, Mar 9:46, Mar 9:48
σπεκουλάτωρ executioner Mar 6:27
σμυρνίζω mingle with myrrh Mar 15:23
στασιαστής insurrectionist Mar 15:7
στίλβω to be glistering Mar 9:3
στίβας branch, or layer of leaves Mar 11:8
συμπόσιον a table-party Mar 6:39
συνλίβω to throng or crowd Mar 5:24, Mar 5:31
συλλυπέομαι to be grieved Mar 3:5
Συραφοινίκισσα a Syro-phoenician woman Mar 7:26
σύσσημον countersign, token Mar 14:44
τηλαυγῶς clearly Mar 8:25
τρίζω gnash Mar 9:18
ὑπερηφανία pride Mar 7:22
ὑπερπερισσῶς beyond measure Mar 7:37
ὑπολήνιον wine-fat or wine-press Mar 12:1
χαλκίον brazen vessel Mar 7:4

Taken from: "Vincent's Word Studies" By Marvin R. Vincent, D.D.

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