The Gospel of Mark is a simple, easy-to-understand account of the teachings, miracles and Passion of Jesus. This Gospel emphasizes how suffering and loss enhances one's faith and salvation. This Gospel was written by Mark, who probably saw the events as an impressionable, open-minded young boy, who subsequently was the first to publish his eyewitness account. Reportedly Mark became an apostle of Peter and a missionary companion of Paul, and ultimately founded Christianity in Egypt.
Scientific testing confirmed that a recently discovered transcript from the Gospel of Mark dates from before A.D. 90, when Mark may have still been living. Indeed, the earliest manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark (and the Gospel of Matthew) are estimated to be from A.D. 60s. Those oldest manuscripts are in Greek, and no ancient manuscript of the Gospel of Mark or the Gospel of Matthew has ever been discovered in Aramaic.
There are several indications that this Gospel was written by a very young eyewitness. Unlike the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke, the Gospel of Mark has very few economic parables that mean more to adults than to children. The accounts that Mark does include are those making a bigger impression on a child, such as the multiplication of the loaves (which Mark references twice). Mark's mother was a follower of Jesus, and Mark's account of the Resurrection was based on the account of the women disciples.
The Gospel of Mark is simpler and briefer than the other gospels, and more focused on suffering and loss. Mark does not describe appearances by Jesus after the Resurrection, which again suggests authorship by a child who was not present with the older Apostles when Jesus appeared at their meetings. Mark's writing style is vivid and non-intellectual, containing repetition that one expects from a child. Peter referred to Mark as his son (1 Peter 5:13), and once Paul became disillusioned at Mark's impulsive return to Jerusalem.
The Gospel of Mark was the first to circulate, which again suggests it was written without authorization by the Apostles (although Peter may have encouraged it), and the Gospel of Mark was penned by a young, less discretionary author rather than a cautious adult.
The passages that appear only in the Gospel of Mark and not in the other Gospels tend to be parables or events that would impress a child more than an adult:
- the admission that the grower of seeds does not know how they grow (difficult for adults to admit), yet is able to harvest the crop (4:26-29)
- the withered fig tree (unlikely to impress an adult) and the power of faith (more difficult for adults to accept) (11:20-25)
- the widow's mite, having a lesson that would more likely surprise and impress a child (12:41-44)
- the lack of detail about how much money Judas Iscariot obtained for his betrayal of Jesus, as a child would not care about the actual amount (14:10-11)
- the detail about Jesus's enormous personal anguish just prior to the Passion, which only a child could have observed without disrupting it or attracting attention by soldiers (Mark 14:35-40).
Most telling about the likely young authorship of the Gospel of mark is this unique description that appears only at Mark 14:51-52:
- And there followed [Jesus during his arrest] a certain young man having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young men laid hold on him; and he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked.
Modern scholarship points out that this unusual description of a "certain" young man was most likely a personal admission. It is also possible that Mark was the child brought by Jesus before the other Apostles in order to make a point about humility and open-mindedness towards the Lord:
- He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me."
Mark is generally believed to be the earliest gospel. Based upon common elements in Mark and the gospels of Matthew and Luke, it appears that Mark was used as the framework from which to expand. There is a theory that Matthew was first, especially based on church tradition, but this theory does not have much popularity today.
The second Gospel is mainly concerned with the Galilean ministry of Christ, and the circumstances during the last week at Jerusalem. It begins with Jesus' baptism and temptation. The main portion of the Gospel concerns the public ministry, Passion, death, and Resurrection of Jesus.
Mark doesn't mention certain events mentioned by the other synoptic gospels. The genealogies, the birth story of Jesus, the birth story of John the Baptist, are all not included in favor of getting right into the adult stage, beginning with John the Baptist preparing the way for the savior.
Mark is much more concerned with Christ's acts than with His teachings, though two of these teachings 4:3-32 and 13:5-37 are fairly long. The miracles take up almost 25% of the Gospel. This impresses upon the reader Christ's almighty power and dominion over all physical laws. The first chapter shows three miracles: the casting out of an unclean spirit, the cure of Peter's mother-in-law, and the healing of a leper. Eighteen miracles are recorded and all but three occur in the first eight chapters. Only two of these miracles (7: 31-37and 8:22-26) are peculiar to Mark. Mark, however shows details not found in the other Synoptics. Mark has only four parables: the sower (4:3-9), the seed growing secretly (4:26-29), the mustard seed (4:30-32), and the wicked husbandman (12:1-9). The second of is found only in Mark.
Mark gives a face to the human feelings and emotions of Christ. The frailties of the apostles are much more graphic than in the parallel narratives the other two Synoptics.
There are problems with the ending of Mark. The earliest manuscripts do not have Mark 16:9-20, a section of scripture that puts forth ideas that aren't found in the other gospels. Current thinking is that Mark 16:9-20 is a later addition and that the Gospel either ends with 16:8 or with original ending is now lost.
While the author of the Gospel of Mark is not named in the writing, early tradition connects the Second Gospel with John Mark as "Peter's copyist," putting to paper what Peter preached. Irenaeus says: "Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, himself also handed down to us in writing what was preached by Peter." Papius, Origen, Tertullian, and Clement of Alexandria also support a similar position.
John Mark is also mentioned in 2 Timothy.
The audience is for Gentiles. Mark describes Aramaic words and Jewish customs that would not be necessary for a Jewish audience.
The Second Gospel was written in Greek, being that Greek was widely spoken in the Roman empire in the first century. Greek was the lingua franca of the times. Paul wrote to the Romans in Greek.
The Second Gospel uses 1333 different words, of which 58 are proper names. Eighty words, exclusive of proper names, are not found elsewhere in the New Testament. Compared to Luke, which has more than 250 peculiar words, Mark has only a third as many unique words. Mark shares 150 words with the other Synoptics. 15 are shared only by John and 11 others by one or other of the Synoptic and John.
- See, e.g., Mark 8:35.
- First-Century Mark Manuscript: More News? (web.archive.org)
- For example, Mark uses the Greek word meaning "immediately", "soon" or "at once" more than 40 times!
- This translation is from the King James Version.
- See, e.g., the Holman Christian Standard Bible.
- Matt. 18:4-5 (NRSV); also referenced in Mark 9:36-37.
- Against Heresies, 3.1