Why study the book of Mark? Obviously, the reasons to study Mark are many, but let me suggest just one.
The most influential person in history is also the most misunderstood and misrepresented. Two thousand years later, Jesus of Nazareth is still a mystery to most people. When your name is common enough to be both a curse-word and a word of worship, then its safe to say many people who talk about you are missing what you were all about. Whether you admire Jesus, worship Jesus, despise Him, or simply don't know about Him, you can't deny that no single person has more continuing influence on our world than Jesus. But is there any way to get beyond the misunderstanding to a true understanding? Yes! But to do it, we must go to the Bible - the Word of God.
The Gospels are records of what the first Christians believed was significant about Jesus and what must be preserved and communicated into the future. They are both records of Jesus' life and words and records of the response of those who experienced him.
The author of Mark was probably not the first person to write about Jesus, but he was the first to produce what we now call a Gospel. With only one major exception, all the scholars of the past 20 years accept Mark as prior to Matthew, Luke, and John. We study Mark to take in this portrait of Jesus at the source, to get as close to Jesus as the New Testament can take us.
One of the greatest achievements of New Testament criticism in the last century has been to establish beyond reasonable doubt that the Gospel of Mark formed one of the principal sources used both by Matthew and Luke, and that it is both the earliest and in some ways the most important of our Gospels. For centuries Mark had been the least read and regarded of the four Gospels for the very reason that both Matthew and Luke contained most of its material and had the further advantages of better styles and much additional information on the teaching and life of Jesus. We can now see that the main framework of the ministry of Jesus in Matthew and, to a lesser extent, in Luke is dependent on information supplied by Mark, and that in Mark we have an earlier and clearer picture of the course of Jesus' ministry, even if it has to be supplemented from the other Gospels, especially John.
Of Mark's 661 verses, some 430 are substantially reproduced in both Matthew and Luke. Of the remaining 231 verses, 176 occur in Matthew and the substance of 25 in Luke. Only 30 verses in Mark do not appear in some form in either Matthew or Luke. Moreover, both Matthew and Luke normally follow Mark's order of events, but when one departs from the Marcan sequence, the other supports Mark's order.
Among the four Gospels, Mark's account is unique in many ways. It is the shortest account and seems to be the earliest. Mark deals mostly with the ministry of Christ. Mark portrays Christ as a servant who came to minister and save mankind.
The Gospel of Mark is the most translated book in all the world. No other book appears in as many languages. Almost all Wycliffe translators, after they have reduced a language to writing, begin their translation of the Scriptures with this Gospel. I am sure that the fact it is the shortest of the Gospels has something to do with that decision! Bible translators are human beings like the rest of us, and no one wants to start with a Gospel as long as Matthew or Luke. But it is also a fact that Mark is particularly suitable for introducing people of all backgrounds to the Scriptures, classes, and tribes. It is the one Gospel of the four which is aimed at the Gentile ear.
Synoptic gospels - Matthew, Mark, and Luke are usually known as the "Synoptic Gospels". Synoptic comes from two Greek words, which mean: "to see together" and literally means: "able to be seen together." The reason for that name is this: These three Gospels each give an account of the same events in Jesus' life. There are in each of them additions and omissions; but broadly speaking their material is the same, and their arrangement is the same. It is, therefore, possible to set them down in parallel columns to compare the one with the other. We will be doing this as we study Mark.
Who wrote this book? You may say, "That's obvious, Mark did." Well it may interest you to know that the name Mark is never found in this book.
The early Christian testimony that Mark was the author of this Gospel was very strong. It is cited by Papias, Irenaeus, the Muratorian Canon (most likely), Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, and Jerome. Further, this testimony is universal in connecting this Gospel with Peter.
The earliest church father, after the Apostles, to write about Mark was Papias (c. 60-130), the bishop of Hieropolis in Phyrgia:
Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not indeed in order, whatever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied him, but afterward, as I said, he was in company with Peter, who used to offer teaching as necessity demanded, but with no intention of giving a connected account of the Lord's discourses. So Mark committed no error in thus writing some single points as he remembered them. For upon one thing he fixed his attention: to leave out nothing of what he had heard and to make no false statements in them. (Fragments of Papias, from Eusebius CH 3.39)
Clement (88-97 AD), another early church father, writes concerning this Gospel: "As Peter had preached the Word publicly at Rome, and declared the Gospel by the Spirit, many who were present requested that Mark, who had followed him for a long time and remembered well what he had said, should write them out. And having composed the Gospel, he gave it to those who had requested it. When Peter learned of this, he neither directly hindered nor encouraged it." (Fragments of Clement, Eusebius CH 6.14.5-7)
What is most remarkable about this external testimony is that Mark was by no means a major player in the New Testament. It is doubtful, therefore, that his name was picked out of thin air as it was.
This gospel was written by a young man named John Mark, who appears several times in our Scriptures. Mark is often referred to as John Mark. John was his Jewish name; Mark was his Gentile name. He is also referred to as Marcus.
There is some background information about Mark that might be helpful. One of the stories that I think is insightful is in Acts 12. We are told that Herod was on a rampage putting Christians to death. That chapter opens with a statement that he had just put to death James; as in Peter, James, and John. Now he had arrested Peter and thrown him in prison. We can assume from that that Peter was about to be executed.
Meanwhile, back in Mary's home they are having a prayer meeting that Peter would be released from prison. While they are having this prayer meeting across town, an angel actually goes into the prison and takes Peter by the hand. The angel literally walks him out through the prison, into the streets, and turns him loose. Peter, of course, goes to the only place he knows is safe. He goes to Mary's house, which was Mark's house:
Acts 12:12 (NASB) And when he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who was also called Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying.
He knocks on the gate and a servant girl by the name of Rhoda comes and peeks out at the gate. To her amazement, there is Peter; he is supposed to be in prison! She is so shocked that, instead of letting him in, she runs and tells the people at the prayer meeting, "You are not going to believe who is out there knocking at the gate! It is Peter!" These people (having such great faith) answered, "You are out of your mind. You are crazy. We may be praying for that, but it isn't going to happen."
Acts 12:16-17 (NASB) But Peter continued knocking; and when they had opened the door, they saw him and were amazed. 17 But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had led him out of the prison. And he said, "Report these things to James and the brethren." And he departed and went to another place.
Just imagine Mark, as a young man, witnessing that. He witnessed the power of prayer and the answer to prayer. It must have had a great impact on his life.
In Acts 13, Paul and Barnabas are headed on their first missionary journey:
Acts 13:2-5 (NASB) And while they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." 3 Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. 4 So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia and from there they sailed to Cyprus. 5 And when they reached Salamis, they began to proclaim the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews; and they also had John as their helper.
John Mark was taken by Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey, traveling with them to the island of Cyprus. But, for some reason - we are never told why - Mark refused to go with them when they went on into the mainland of what today is Turkey. Instead, he went back home to his mother's house. Paul was upset about that, and evidently felt that Mark was a quitter.
We learn from Paul that Mark was Barnabas' cousin:
Colossians 4:10 (NASB) Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, sends you his greetings; and also Barnabas' cousin Mark (about whom you received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him);
In Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas are ready to head out on their second missionary journey. Barnabas brings along his cousin Mark, and he says even though Mark bailed out the first time, he thinks he will do better this time. And Paul disagreed and said that this guy deserted us. He is not coming. They got into such an argument that Paul and Barnabas actually split company.
We know that somewhere in there Mark was restored back to ministry. Paul told Timothy He once again became useful, because in 2 Timothy, which is the last letter Paul wrote before he was executed, he says:
2 Timothy 4:11 (NASB) Only Luke is with me. Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service.
One of the things we want to keep in mind as we go through this Gospel is that Mark had experienced a state of failure. He had bailed out, but somewhere along the way experienced the grace, mercy, and restoration of Jesus and was once again useful in ministry.
So Barnabas went his way with Mark, and Paul joined up with Silas and went on the second missionary journey. From that point on, we know a lot about Paul and Silas; we know very little about Barnabas and Mark.
The next we hear of Mark he is an associate of Peter, who speaks very affectionately of him, calling him "my son":
1 Peter 5:13 (NASB) She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings, and so does my son, Mark.
Early church tradition tells us that Mark became the companion of Peter and became to Peter what Luke was to Paul, an aide-de-camp, or right-hand man, executive officer. And, as we have seen, Eusebius says that the early Christians were so entranced with all the things Peter told them that they asked Mark to write them down. Hence, much of what we read in Mark is a compilation of Peter's sermons.
Mark was well-educated; he spoke multiple languages. History tells us that Mark was actually the interpreter for Peter. As Peter went to many places where he did not speak the language, Mark served as his interpreter. What we know is that Mark over and over and over again told the story of Jesus as he interpreted the message for Peter.
So Mark most likely got all of his information from Peter. What is interesting is that Mark uses what is called the historical present verb tense, which simply means that you are recording something that happened in the past. In Mark's case, this was about 20 years before his writing, but he is writing it as if it is happening at that very moment and he is an eyewitness to it. That is the historical present tense, and Mark uses that verb tense 151 times. Now, to put that in some perspective, the next closest Gospel writer would have been Matthew. He only used it 78 times, and he was an eyewitness. Luke only uses it six times. It is a very unique thing in Mark's recording, and I think it is because he told the story so many times as he interpreted it for Peter that it was as if he were there himself.
Look with me at a verse that is only recorded in Mark:
Mark 14:51-52 (NASB) And a certain young man was following Him, wearing nothing but a linen sheet over his naked body; and they seized^ him. 52 But he left the linen sheet behind, and escaped naked.
Mark tells us this in his account of Jesus' betrayal and arrest. Apparently thinking he was a disciple of Jesus, who had been foolish enough to remain behind while all the others had run for their lives, the soldiers attempted to seize him. But all they got was the cloth as he ran naked into the night.
Many scholars have suggested that this was Mark, for he would have been a "young man" at that time. Perhaps, because of his fascination with Jesus, he had been hanging around hoping to learn more, had gotten into this trap unknowingly, and had to flee for his life leaving his garment behind. The fact that Mark is the only one who mentions this incident is highly suggestive that this, indeed, was Mark himself.
There is no reason to doubt that John Mark, companion of both Peter and Paul, wrote the Gospel which bears the name Mark. The MSS and patristic testimony are unanimous, and the internal evidence certainly corroborates this, even if only in subtle ways.
WHO IS MARK WRITTEN TO?
There is good evidence that Mark wrote to mostly Gentile Christians living in Rome. In all likelihood, he lived there too. One of the ways it is obvious that his audience is Gentile is that many of the Jewish things that would have needed no explanation to a Jewish audience are explained in Mark--because he knows this is not going to a Jewish audience; it is going to the believers in Rome.
Mark's audience was going through tremendous persecution. You remember from history that in A.D. 64 Nero, who was the crazy emperor, lit Rome on fire and watched it burn. This outraged the people, and Nero suddenly realized that he had to figure out somebody to blame this on, because people were mad at him. So he blamed it on the Christians; he claimed that those crazy Christians did this. He began to persecute them and torture them. He imprisoned Christians and murdered them. The Christians were fleeing into the caves and into the catacombs. They were surviving, but many of them were being tortured and put to death. Those are the people Mark is writing to.
Another indication that Mark wrote his Gospel for the Roman mind is that he uses more Latin words than any of the other Gospels. There are also more Latin phrases and idioms like centurio (15:39), quadrans (12:42), flagellare (15:15), speculator (6:27), census (12:14), sextarius (7:4), and praetorium (15:6) than in the other Gospels.
In the Gospel of Mark there is a sense of urgency. There is a sense of cutting through details and getting right to the point, because he knows these people are suffering. These people are dying, and there is a sense of tension and urgency. As a matter of fact, one of the favorite terms of Mark is the word "immediately." He just keeps saying that: "Immediately" "and immediately" and "immediately." You find yourself exhausted, and you have to hold back and take a deep breath. He is wearing you out. That is the tension that goes throughout this Gospel.
No one can read the Gospel of Matthew without seeing that it is written for the Jew. It has to do with the Old Testament and with Jewish customs. But Mark was written for the Roman world, for the Gentile, for those who do not know the background of the Old Testament.
WHEN WAS IT WRITTEN:
Most scholars agree that the Gospel of Mark was the first of the four written. Precisely how early is not definitely known, but there are leading scholars who hold that A.D. 50 is quite probable. Mark should be dated before Matthew and Luke, since evidence shows that Matthew and Luke used Mark to write their Gospels.
Mark's Gospel presents Jesus preeminently as the "servant". The heart of this Gospel can be seen in 8:27-33 where Peter wants to affirm that Jesus is the Christ without the necessity of the cross. In his stern rebuke of Peter, the servant-attitude of Jesus is thus seen to be intrinsically related to his own suffering. The verse which capsulizes this is:
Mark 10:45 (NASB) "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."
Jesus is portrayed then as "The Suffering Servant."
Mark is very much a tell-it-like-it-is sort of Gospel, and actions speak louder than words. The book reads like any 30-minute show on primetime TV; it is fast-moving and action-packed ("immediately" is used 40 times by Mark, and only 19 times in the New Testament outside of Mark).
With that background on Mark, let's look at the first verse:
Mark 1:1 (NASB) The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
A lot of people believe that this first verse is actually the title of the book, not just the opening line.
Beginning: Mark is one of five Biblical books that talks of beginnings in the title sentence. Genesis 1:1 speaks of the beginning of God's creative activity. John 1:1 says that in that same beginning, Jesus was God the Son. Titus 1:2 says: That God had already promised salvation from before the beginning of time, and Mark 1:1 records the beginning of this promise becoming reality; the beginning of the Good News about Jesus. 1 John 1:1ff says the Gospel began with a personal encounter with the Living Word.
The word "beginning" actually means the basis or the foundation. What Mark is saying is that this Gospel record is the foundation or the core theology of our belief about Jesus that we have to understand.
Gospel: This is the translation of the Greek noun euangelion, which becomes EVANGELISM in English. It means: "good news," and the Greek verb euangelizo, which means: "to bring or announce good news." Both words are derived from the noun angelos, which means: "messenger." In Classical Greek, a euangelos was one who brought a message of victory or other political or personal news that caused joy. In addition, euangelizomai (the middle voice form of the verb) meant: "to speak as a messenger of gladness, to proclaim good news". Further, the noun euangelion became a technical term for the message of victory, though it was also used for a political or private message that brought joy.
Both the noun and the verb are used so extensively in the New Testament that it developed a distinctly Christian flavor. As the angel told the shepherds:
Luke 2:10-11 (NASB) And the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news [euaggelizo] of a great joy which shall be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
The Gospel announces the only genuine salvation and victory over sin and death. This God offers to man through the person and accomplished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. But the good news doesn't stop there. Its power and eternal value are proven by Christ's resurrection, ascension, and return. In the New Testament, these two words, euangelion and euangelizo, became technical terms for this message of good news offered to all men through faith in Christ.
So this book is the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is the good news concerning Jesus.
Jesus: This was His first name and it was actually quite a common name in the first century. It is taken from the Hebrew, "Joshua." It means: "the Lord or Yahweh is our salvation." It is identifying Jesus as the salvation of the Lord. You remember it was the angel himself who named Jesus. The angel came to Joseph and said:
Matthew 1:21 (NASB) "And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins."
Christ: is not his last name; Christ is His title. "Christ" is the Greek christos and is translated from the Hebrew word Messiah, or anointed one. The Messiah, or Christ, is the one who would deliver Israel from her enemies.
This title presents the Savior as:
1. True Humanity: He has a human name, Joshua/Jesus
2. Deity: He is the promised Messiah, the Christ.
Every world religion has something to say about Jesus. To Islam He is a prophet. To Buddhism He is another enlightened one. To Judaism He is a good man, but a false messiah. To Hinduism He is an avatar. To the new Age He is an example of Christ consciousness. But to the Bible He is the Son of God.
The Son of God: Mark anxiously tells his readers the answer to the riddle in the first verse of the book. Who is Jesus? He is the "Son of God." In fact, the Gospel has this creed as bookends for emphasis:
Mark 15:39 (NASB) And when the centurion, who was standing right in front of Him, saw the way He breathed His last, he said, "Truly this man was the Son of God!"
The words "Son of God" in Greek are disputed because of their omission in some important manuscripts. These same manuscripts cannot be charged with being the products of heretics, however, because in 15:39 they all record the centurion as saying, "Truly this man was the Son of God." It is most likely a copying error.
Jesus of Nazareth, a carpenter, the human Jesus - but also the Son of God - the Divine One. Without a doubt, the most significant question anyone will ever wrestle with is that question: Who is Jesus? It not only will determine the experience of this life, but it will determine our eternal destiny. It is sobering to realize that every single person who does not get that answer figured out has no hope.
Who is Jesus? Jesus Christ is eternal God. As part of the Trinity, He always existed; He is co-equal and co-eternal with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.
Let me give you a syllogism. A syllogism is a logical formula consisting of a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion.
Major Premise: The Trinity is eternal
Genesis 1:1 (NASB) In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
The Hebrew word used for "God" is elohiym. It is plural.
Minor Premise: Jesus Christ is a member of the Trinity
2 Corinthians 13:14 (NASB) The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.
Conclusion: Jesus Christ is eternal God.
Major Premise: The Trinity is God
Deuteronomy 6:4 (NASB) "Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!
The Hebrew word for "LORD" is Yehovah. And the Hebrew word for "God" is 'elohiym.
Minor Premise: Jesus Christ is a member of the Trinity.
Conclusion: Jesus Christ is God.
Sadly, syllogisms have disappeared from our society along with thinking.
Let's look at some of the Scriptural evidence of the Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. You need to know these Scriptures so that you can defend the deity of Christ.
Micah 5:2 (NASB) "But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity."
This One who is to be born in Bethlehem is eternal. The only person that is eternal is God. Jesus Christ is eternal God.
John 1:1-3 (NASB) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.
"The beginning" is before all beginnings, prior to the beginning of Genesis 1:1. The phrase could be rendered "from all eternity." John, in this verse, establishes the preexistence of Christ in eternity past. He already "was" when the beginning took place. If we drop down to verse 14, we can see very clearly who the Word is:
John 1:14 (NASB) And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Here we not only see that the Word is Jesus, but we also see that the eternal God became a man. The "Word became flesh" has been expressed by the theological term "Incarnation," which comes from two Latin words "in" plus "cargo," meaning: "infleshment, the act of assuming flesh." God chose to become united to true humanity.
At the incarnation God the Son, the Second person of the one triune God, was forever joined to true humanity. This joining together has been designated as the "hypostatic union". Hypostatic is from the Greek word hupostasis, which is found in:
Hebrews 1:3 (NASB) And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, (hupostasis) and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high;
Hupostasis means: "substance or essence." In theological language it means: "person". So the doctrine of the hypostatic union is the doctrine of the personal union of the two natures, the divine and the human, of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ is 100% God and 100% man. This is where we get the theological term "theanthropic," which comes from theos, which means: "God and anthropos," which means: "man." Jesus Christ is the God-Man. He is One person with two natures.
1 Timothy 2:5 (NASB) For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,
A "mediator" is one who intervenes between two to either make or restore peace and friendship. Jesus Christ brings man and God together. Being man, He can make atonement for man. Being God, His death has infinite value. Jesus Christ is the unique person of the universe.
Every word in the first verse of Mark is important. First, this is the good news of Jesus; a genuine, historical person who walked this earth like other men. It is the good news of the Christ (which simply means "Messiah"); the promised, anointed Savior of men. And it is the good news of the Son of God, and a Son in more than a sense that we think of all men coming from God. Jesus is the unique Son of God, who is also God the Son.
Why study the book of Mark? Because Mark leaves no doubt as to who Jesus is. In the very first sentence of his account he proclaims that Jesus is the "Christ, the Son of God." And it is only through a faith in Jesus that we have eternal life:
Acts 4:12 (NASB) "And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved."
John 20:31 (NASB) but these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.
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