|Original language Greek|
Adaptations Jesus of Nazareth (1977)
|Genre Religious text|
|Preceded by The Gospel According to Matthew: Authorized King James Version|
Followed by Gospel of Luke, Epistle to the Galatians
Similar Religious Texts, Biblical books, New Testament books
The gospel of mark
The Gospel According to Mark (Greek: τὸ κατὰ Μᾶρκον εὐαγγέλιον, to kata Markon euangelion), the second book of the New Testament, is one of the four canonical gospels and the three synoptic gospels. It tells of the ministry of Jesus from his baptism by John the Baptist to his death and burial and the discovery of the empty tomb – there is no genealogy or birth narrative, nor, in the original ending at chapter 16, any post-resurrection appearances. It portrays Jesus as an heroic man of action, an exorcist, a healer, and a miracle worker. Jesus is also the Son of God, but he keeps his identity secret, concealing it in parables so that even the disciples fail to understand. All this is in keeping with prophecy, which foretold the fate of the messiah as Suffering Servant. The gospel ends, in its original version, with the discovery of the empty tomb, a promise to meet again in Galilee, and an unheeded instruction to spread the good news of the resurrection.
- The gospel of mark
- The synoptic problem and the historicity of Mark
- Place in the Christian Church
- The ending of the gospel of Mark
- Marks gospel theology
- Christology Marks understanding of Jesus
- Eschatology and salvation The meaning of Christs death resurrection and return
- Mark and the New Testament
- Sayings unique to Mark
Traditionally thought to be an epitome (summary) of Matthew, which accounts for its place as the second gospel in the Bible, most scholars now regard it as the earliest of the gospels. Most scholars also reject the tradition which ascribes it to Mark the Evangelist, the companion of Peter, and regard it as the work of an unknown author working with various sources including collections of miracle stories, controversy stories, parables, and a passion narrative.
The Gospel of Mark is anonymous. Early Christian tradition ascribes it to John Mark, a companion and interpreter of the apostle Peter. Hence its author is often called Mark, even though most modern scholars are doubtful of the Markan tradition and instead regard the author as unknown. It was probably written c.AD 66–70, during Nero's persecution of the Christians in Rome or the Jewish revolt, as suggested by internal references to war in Judea and to persecution. The author used a variety of pre-existing sources, such as conflict stories (Mark 2:1-3:6), apocalyptic discourse (4:1-35), and collections of sayings (although not the Gospel of Thomas and probably not the Q source).
Mark was written in Greek, for a gentile audience (that they were gentiles is shown by the author's need to explain Jewish traditions and translate Aramaic terms) of Greek-speaking Christians: Rome (Mark uses a number of Latin terms), Galilee, Antioch (third-largest city in the Roman Empire, located in northern Syria), and southern Syria have all been offered as alternative places of authorship. The author may have been influenced by Greco-Roman biographies and rhetorical forms, popular novels and romances, and the Homeric epics; nevertheless, he mentions almost no public figures, makes no allusions to Greek or Roman literature, and takes all his references from the Jewish scriptures, mostly in their Greek versions from the Septuagint. His book is not history in the modern sense, or even in the sense of classical Greek and Roman historians, but "history in an eschatological or apocalyptic sense," depicting Jesus caught up in events at the end of time.
The synoptic problem and the historicity of Mark
The gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke bear a striking resemblance to each other, so much so that their contents can easily be set side by side in parallel columns. Their close relationship is termed the synoptic problem, and has led to a number of hypotheses explaining their interdependence. The most widely accepted hypothesis is that Mark was the first gospel and was used as a source by both Matthew and Luke, together with considerable additional material. The strongest argument for this is the fact that Matthew and Luke agree with each other in their sequence of stories and events only when they also agree with Mark.
The 19th century recognition of Mark as the earliest gospel led to the belief that it must therefore be the most reliable. This conclusion was refuted by two works published in the early decades of the 20th century: in 1901 William Wrede argued that Mark's sequence of episodes is in fact an artificial construct with theological motivation; and in 1919 Karl Ludwig Schmidt showed how the links between the episodes are the invention of the writer, thus undermining the gospel's claim to be a reliable guide to the chronology of Jesus's mission. The modern consensus is that Mark's purpose was to present a theological message rather than to write history.
Mark's gospel is nevertheless still seen as the most reliable of the four in terms of its overall description of Jesus's life and ministry. This recognition allows scholars to chart the evolution of Jesus in the scriptures: Mark's Christ, for example, dies with the cry, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"; Matthew, the next gospel to be written, repeats this word for word but manages to make clear that Jesus's death is the beginning of the resurrection of Israel; Luke has a still more positive picture, replacing Mark's (and Matthew's) cry of despair with one of submission to God's will ("Father, into your hands I commend my spirit"); while John, the last gospel, has Jesus dying without apparent suffering in fulfillment of the divine plan. Historical reconstruction suggests that the original despairing death of Jesus has become more and more victorious over time.
Christianity began within Judaism, with a Christian "church" (from a Greek word meaning "assembly") that arose either within Jesus' own lifetime or shortly after his death, when some of his followers claimed to have witnessed him risen from the dead. From the outset, Christians depended heavily on Jewish literature, supporting their convictions through the Jewish scriptures. Those convictions involved a nucleus of key concepts: the messiah, the son of God and the son of man, the Day of the Lord, the kingdom of God. Uniting these ideas was the common thread of apocalyptic expectation: Both Jews and Christians believed that the end of history was at hand, that God would very soon come to punish their enemies and establish his own rule, and that they were at the centre of his plans. Christians read the Jewish scripture as a figure or type of Jesus Christ, so that the goal of Christian literature became an experience of the living Christ. The new movement spread around the eastern Mediterranean and to Rome and further west, and assumed a distinct identity, although the groups within it remained extremely diverse.
The gospels were written for an audience already Christian – their purpose was to strengthen the faith of those who already believed, not to convert unbelievers. Christian "churches" were small communities of believers, often based on households (an autocratic patriarch plus extended family, slaves, freedmen, and other clients), and the evangelists often wrote on two levels, one the "historical" presentation of the story of Jesus, the other dealing with the concerns of the author's own day. Thus the proclamation of Jesus in Mark 1:14 and the following verses, for example, mixes the terms Jesus would have used as a 1st-century Jew ("kingdom of God") and those of the early church ("believe", "gospel"). More fundamentally, some scholars believe Mark's reason for writing was to counter believers who saw Jesus in a Greek way, as wonder-worker (the Greek term is "divine man"); Mark saw the suffering of the messiah as essential, so that the "Son of God" title (the Hellenistic "divine man") had to be corrected and amplified with the "Son of Man" title, which conveyed Christ's suffering. Other scholars think Mark might have been writing as a Galilean Christian against those Jewish Christians in Jerusalem who saw the Jewish revolt against Rome (66–73 CE) as the beginning of the "end times": for Mark, the Second Coming would be in Galilee, not Jerusalem, and not until the generation following the revolt.
Place in the Christian Church
Mark was traditionally placed second, and sometimes fourth, in the Christian canon, as a somewhat inferior abridgement of what was regarded as the most important gospel, Matthew. The Church has consequently derived its view of Jesus primarily from Matthew, secondarily from John, and only distantly from Mark. It was only in the 19th century that Mark came to be seen as the earliest of the four gospels, and as a source used by both Matthew and Luke. The hypothesis of Markan priority (that Mark was written first) continues to be held by the majority of scholars today, and there is a new recognition of the author as an artist and theologian using a range of literary devices to convey his conception of Jesus as the authoritative yet suffering Son of God.
There is no agreement on the structure of Mark. There is, however, a widely recognised break at Mark 8:26–31: before 8:26 there are numerous miracle stories, the action is in Galilee, and Jesus preaches to the crowds, while after 8:31 there are hardly any miracles, the action shifts from Galilee to gentile areas or hostile Judea, and Jesus teaches the disciples. Peter's confession at Mark 8:27–30 that Jesus is the messiah thus forms the watershed to the whole gospel. A further generally recognised turning point comes at the end of chapter 10, when Jesus and his followers arrive in Jerusalem and the foreseen confrontation with the Temple authorities begins, leading R.T. France to characterise Mark as a three-act drama. James Edwards in his 2002 commentary points out that the gospel can be seen as a series of questions asking first who Jesus is (the answer being that he is the messiah), then what form his mission takes (a mission of suffering culminating in the crucifixion and resurrection, events only to be understood when the questions are answered), while another scholar, C. Myers, has made what Edwards calls a "compelling case" for recognising the incidents of Jesus' baptism, transfiguration and crucifixion, at the beginning, middle and end of the gospel, as three key moments, each with common elements, and each portrayed in an apocalyptic light. Stephen H. Smith has made the point that the structure of Mark is similar to the structure of a Greek tragedy
The ending of the gospel of Mark
The earliest and most reliable manuscripts of Mark end at Mark 16:8, with the women fleeing in fear from the empty tomb: the majority of recent scholars believe this to be the original ending, and this is supported by statements from the early Church Fathers Eusebius and Jerome. Two attempts were made to provide a more satisfactory conclusion. A minority of later manuscripts have what is called the "shorter ending", an addition to Mark 16:8 telling how the women told "those around Peter" all that the angel had commanded and how the message of eternal life (or "proclamation of eternal salvation") was then sent out by Jesus himself. This addition differs from the rest of Mark both in style and in its understanding of Jesus. The overwhelming majority of manuscripts have the "longer ending", Mark 16:9–20, with accounts of the resurrected Jesus, the commissioning of the disciples to proclaim the gospel, and Christ's ascension. This ending was possibly written in the early 2nd century and added later in the same century.
Modern scholars have proposed many explanations for the abrupt original ending, though none with universal acceptance. The abrupt original ending could indicate a connection to the theme of the "Messianic Secret". Whatever the case, it is clear that Mark's Jesus looks forward to a post-death meeting in Galilee, and it is likely that at that meeting, like the final meeting in Galilee that Matthew depicts, Mark's Jesus would command the disciples to take his message to the nations.
Mark's gospel theology
The author introduces his work as "gospel", meaning "good news", a literal translation of the Greek "evangelion" – he uses the word more often than any other writer in the New Testament besides Paul. Paul uses it to mean "the good news (of the saving significance of the death and resurrection) of Christ"; Mark extends it to the career of Christ as well as his death and resurrection. Like the other gospels, Mark was written to confirm the identity of Jesus as eschatological deliverer – the purpose of terms such as "messiah" and "son of God". As in all the gospels, the messianic identity of Jesus is supported by a number of themes, including: (1) the depiction of his disciples as obtuse, fearful and uncomprehending; (2) the refutation of the charge made by Jesus' enemies that he was a magician; (3) secrecy surrounding his true identity (this last is missing from John).
In Mark the disciples, and especially the Twelve, move from lack of perception of Jesus to rejection of the "way of suffering" to flight and denial – even the women who received the first proclamation of his resurrection can be seen as failures for not reporting the good news. There is much discussion of this theme among scholars. Some argue that the author of Mark was using the disciples to correct "erroneous" views in his own community concerning the reality of the suffering messiah, others that it is an attack on the Jerusalem branch of the church for resisting the extension of the gospel to the gentiles, or a mirror of the convert's usual experience of the initial enthusiasm followed by growing awareness of the necessity for suffering. It certainly reflects the strong theme in Mark of Jesus as the "suffering just one" portrayed in so many of the books of the Jewish scriptures, from Jeremiah to Job and the Psalms, but especially in the "Suffering Servant" passages in Isaiah. It also reflects the Jewish scripture theme of God's love being met by infidelity and failure, only to be renewed by God. And in the real-world context in which the gospel was written, the persecutions of the Christians of Rome under Nero, the failure of the disciples and Jesus' denial by Peter himself would have been powerful symbols of faith, hope and reconciliation.
Mark contains twenty accounts of miracles and healings, accounting for almost a third of the gospel and half the first ten chapters, more, proportionally, than in any other gospel. In the gospels as a whole Jesus' miracles, prophecies, etc., are presented as evidence of God's rule, but Mark's descriptions of Jesus' healings are a partial exception to this, as his methods, using spittle to heal blindness (Mark 8:22–26) and magic formulae ("Talitha cumi," 5:41, "Ephphatha," 7:34), were those of a magician. This is the charge the Jewish religious leaders bring against Jesus: they say he is performing exorcisms with the aid of an evil spirit (Mark 3:22) and calling up the spirit of John the Baptist (Mark 6:14). "There was ... no period in the history of the [Roman] empire in which the magician was not considered an enemy of society," subject to penalties ranging from exile to death, says Classical scholar Ramsay MacMullen. All the gospels defend Jesus against the charge, which, if true, would contradict their ultimate claims for him. The point of the Beelzebub incident in Mark (Mark 3:20–30) is to set forth Jesus' claims to be an instrument of God, not Satan.
In 1901, William Wrede identified the "Messianic secret" – Jesus' secrecy about his identity as the messiah – as one of Mark's central themes. Wrede argued that the elements of the secret – Jesus' silencing of the demons, the obtuseness of the disciples regarding his identity, and the concealment of the truth inside parables, were fictions, and arose from the tension between the Church's post-resurrection messianic belief and the historical reality of Jesus. There remains continuing debate over how far the "secret" originated with Mark and how far he got it from tradition, and how far, if at all, it represents the self-understanding and practices of the historical Jesus.
Christology: Mark's understanding of Jesus
Christology means a doctrine or understanding concerning the person or nature of Christ. In the New Testament writings it is frequently conveyed through the titles applied to Jesus. Most scholars agree that "Son of God" is the most important of these titles in Mark. It appears on the lips of God himself at the baptism and the transfiguration, and is Jesus' own self-designation (Mark 13:32). These and other instances provide reliable evidence of how the evangelist perceived Jesus, but it is not clear just what the title meant to Mark and his 1st century audience. Where it appears in the Hebrew scriptures it meant Israel as God's people, or the king at his coronation, or angels, as well as the suffering righteous man. In Hellenistic culture the same phrase meant a "divine man", a supernatural being. There is little evidence that "son of God" was a title for the messiah in 1st century Judaism, and the attributes which Mark describes in Jesus are much more those of the Hellenistic miracle-working "divine man" than of the Jewish Davidic messiah.
Mark does not explicitly state what he means by "Son of God", nor when the sonship was conferred. The New Testament as a whole presents four different understandings:
- Jesus became God's son at his resurrection, God "begetting" Jesus to a new life by raising him from the dead – this was the earliest understanding, preserved in Paul's Epistle to the Romans, 1:3–4, and in Acts 13:33;
- Jesus became God's son at his baptism, the coming of the Holy Spirit marking him as messiah, while "Son of God" refers to the relationship then established for him by God – this is the understanding implied in Mark 1:9–11;
- Matthew and Luke present Jesus as "Son of God" from the moment of conception and birth, with God taking the place of a human father;
- John, the last of the gospels, presents the idea that the Christ was pre-existent and became flesh as Jesus – an idea also found in Paul.
Mark also calls Jesus "christos" (Christ), translating the Hebrew "messiah," (anointed person). In the Old Testament the term messiah ("anointed one") described prophets, priests and kings; by the time of Jesus, with the kingdom long vanished, it had come to mean an eschatological king (a king who would come at the end of time), one who would be entirely human though far greater than all God's previous messengers to Israel, endowed with miraculous powers, free from sin, ruling in justice and glory (as described in, for example, the Psalms of Solomon, a Jewish work from this period). The most important occurrences are in the context of Jesus' death and suffering, suggesting that, for Mark, Jesus can only be fully understood in that context.
A third important title, "Son of Man", has its roots in Ezekiel, the Book of Enoch, (a popular Jewish apocalyptic work of the period), and especially in Daniel 7:13–14, where the Son of Man is assigned royal roles of dominion, kingship and glory. Mark 14:62 combines more scriptural allusions: before he comes on clouds (Daniel 7:13) the Son of Man will be seated on the right hand of God (psalm 110:1), pointing to the equivalence of the three titles, Christ, Son of God, Son of Man, the common element being the reference to kingly power.
Eschatology and salvation: The meaning of Christ's death, resurrection and return
Eschatology means the study of the end-times, and the Jews expected the messiah to be an eschatological figure, a deliverer who would appear at the end of the age to usher in an earthly kingdom. The earliest Jewish Christian community saw Jesus as a messiah in this Jewish sense, a human figure appointed by God as his earthly regent; but they also believed in Jesus' resurrection and exultation to heaven, and for this reason they also viewed him as God's agent (the "son of God") who would return in glory ushering in the Kingdom of God.
The term "Son of God" likewise had a specific Jewish meaning, or range of meanings, one of the most significant being the earthly king adopted by God as his son at his enthronement, legitimising his rule over Israel. In Hellenistic culture, in contrast, the phrase meant a "divine man", covering legendary heroes like Hercules, god-kings like the Egyptian pharaohs, or famous philosophers like Plato. When the gospels call Jesus "Son of God" the intention is to place him in the class of Hellenistic and Greek divine men, the 'sons of God" who were endowed with supernatural power to perform healings, exorcisms and other wonderful deeds. Mark's "Son of David" is Hellenistic, his Jesus predicting that his mission involves suffering, death and resurrection, and, by implication, not military glory and conquest. This reflects a move away from the Jewish-Christian apocalyptic tradition and towards the Hellenistic message preached by Paul, for whom Christ's death and resurrection, rather than the establishment of the apocalyptic Jewish kingdom, is the meaning of salvation, the "gospel".
Mark and the New Testament
All four gospels tell a story in which Jesus' death and resurrection are the crucial redemptive events. There are, however, important differences between the four: Unlike John, Mark never calls Jesus "God", or claims that Jesus existed prior to his earthly life; unlike Matthew and Luke, he never mentions a virgin mother or divine father, and apparently believes that Jesus had a normal human parentage and birth; unlike Matthew and Luke, he makes no attempt to trace Jesus' ancestry back to King David or Adam.
Christians of Mark's time expected Jesus to return as Messiah in their own lifetime – Mark, like the other gospels, attributes the promise to Jesus himself (Mark 9:1 and 13:30), and it is reflected in the letters of Paul, in the epistle of James, in Hebrews, and in Revelation. When return failed, the early Christians revised their understanding. Some acknowledged that the Second Coming had been delayed, but still expected it; others redefined the focus of the promise, the Gospel of John, for example, speaking of "eternal life" as something available in the present; while still others concluded that Jesus would not return at all (2 Peter argues against those who held this view).