By: Raymond Harris
Note to the Reader
This month, we will begin an examination of the Gospel of Mark; as such I encourage you to invest additional time reading the Gospel in conjunction with this article.
The Gospel of Mark
The Gospels are very important to our understanding of the man Jesus. As believers, we accept on faith two things, that Jesus lived, and that he fulfilled the prophecies of Old Testament Scripture. We, as modern day believers, were not there when Jesus lived, we did not witness the events around that time period, nor were we a witness to the things that the early disciples and the early church did. We have accepted as true the events in the Gospels, for that matter the entire Bible. This is not negative; it is just a true fact. None of us were alive to witness the lives of George Washington, or Joan of Arc, or Julius Caesar, or Alexander the Great. We accept the writings of actual witnesses and other writers that those people actually lived, and as such we have faith and therefore believe they were people who traveled upon this rock called Earth.
Entering into the world of the first century is vastly different than that of the United States. The clothing was different, the language was different, the market place was different, and they had no idea of our modern day conveniences like the internet, telephones, bound books, abundant food, and general social liberty. In many ways, their lives were far more harsh and difficult.
Even the manner in which communications occurred has vastly changed. Early in the life of the Gospel, much of it was taught verbally. As the Apostles and then those early converts to discipleship traveled from place to place they communicated the Good News with spoken words, not written. While we in our modern communications have Bibles all over, there are still converts who come to discipleship because someone spoke personally to them about Jesus. The spoken word is simply more personal, and in many ways more powerful than the written word. This is important because Eusebius, a fourth century church historian, tells us that the early disciples who heard Peter preach and teach asked:
“Mark as the companion of Peter, and whose Gospel we have, that he should leave them a monument in writing of the doctrine thus orally communicated. Nor did they [stop asking Mark to do such] until they had prevailed with the man and thus became the means of that history which is called the Gospel according to Mark.”1
Eusebius also records that Papias said the following about Mark:
“And John the Presbyter also said this, Mark being the interpreter of Peter whatsoever he recorded he wrote with great accuracy but not however, in the order in which it was spoken or done by [Jesus] our Lord, for he [Mark] neither heard nor followed [Jesus] our Lord, but as before said, he [Mark] was in company [a co-laborer] with Peter, who gave him such instruction as was necessary, but not to give a history of our Lord’s discourses: wherefore Mark has not erred in any thing, by writing some things as he has recorded them; for he was carefully attentive to one thing, not to pass by any thing that he heard, or to state any thing falsely in these accounts.”2
In the epistle of First Peter, Peter claimed Mark as his son,3 we assume this to mean that Peter was saying that he helped convert and then subsequently train Mark in the Faith. This may be the same John surnamed Mark in Acts.4 If so, this may reveal new importance as to why Peter, when freed from prison,5 went to Mary’s house since she was the mother of John Mark. These two references seem to also refer to the John Mark who Barnabas and Paul argued about.6 If these reference are about the same person, that is truly profound. The New Testament has three other references to a man named Mark, all three of those references are found within the Paul’s writings.7
As we continue, let us consider some tidbits mentioned in the NIV Archeological Study Bible. These provide additional points of interest that can enrich one’s reading of the Gospel of Mark. The study Bible stated “Watch for revelations of Jesus’ humanity, as Mark revealed him to be at the same time the Son of God and the Son of Man.”8 The study Bible gave this information regarding the Gospel:9
1. A synagogue could be established in any town where there were at least ten married Jewish men (1:21).
2. In addition to being labeled traitors, tax collectors were notorious for their dishonesty. They were banned from serving as witnesses or judges and were expelled from the synagogue (2:14).
3. Jesus spoke Aramaic but undoubtedly also understood Greek and read from the Scriptures in classical Hebrew (5:41).
4. Jewish rabbis counted 613 individual statues in the law and attempted to differentiate between “heavy” and “light” commandments (12:28).
5. During the Passover and the week-long Feast of Unleavened Bread, the population of Jerusalem increased from about 50,000 to several hundred thousand (14:2).
6. Death during crucifixion was due to heart failure (15:24).
The Gospel of Mark is as powerful as it is brief. While it is the shortest of the four Gospel accounts, it lacks nothing for the believer, or the one curious about the man named Jesus. It will be a rewarding examination and may it build up our faith. May the LORD bless us as we study the Gospel of Mark.
1. Clement’s quote about the Gospel of Mark. Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History, Complete and Unabridged, New Updated Edition, Translated by C.F. Cruse; Book 2, Chapter 15; page 50, ISBN 1-56563-371-7.
2. Papias’ quote about the Mark. Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History, Complete and Unabridged, New Updated Edition, Translated by C.F. Cruse; Book 3, Chapter 39; page 105, ISBN 1-56563-371-7.
3. Peter says that Mark is his son.” First Peter 5.13, NASB.
4. “John surnamed Mark in Acts.” Acts 12.12, NASB.
5. “Peter freed from prison.” Acts 12.1-17, NASB.
6. Paul and Barnabas arguing about John Mark.” Acts 15.35-41, NASB.
7. “Mark found in Paul’s writings.” Colossians 4.10, Philemon 1.24; Second Timothy 4.11, NASB.
8. Introduction to Mark; “As You Read” Archaeological Study Bible, New International Version, p. 1620, ISBN-10: 0-310-92605-X.
9. Introduction to Mark; “Did You Know?” Archaeological Study Bible, New International Version, p. 1621, ISBN-10: 0-310-92605-X.