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Gospel of Mark

The Gospel of Mark is the second Gospel in the New Testament, though, based on the most commonly accepted solution to the synoptic problem, it is generally believed to have been the first to be written (see Markan priority).

"Out of a total of 662 verses, Mark has 406 in common with Matthew and Luke, 145 with Matthew, 60 with Luke, and at most 51 peculiar to itself."

As early as Papias in the early 2nd century, it was believed that the writer, known as Mark, derived his information mainly from the discourses of Peter, although the author is in fact unknown. This theory is also supported by scholars including William Barclay. According to the tradition, in his mother's house Mark would have had abundant opportunities to obtain information from the other apostles and their helpers, yet he was "the disciple and interpreter of Peter" specially. As to the time when it was written, the Gospel furnishes us with no clear information. Comments attributed to Jesus Christ in Mark 13:1-2 have been seen as a reference to the destruction of the Temple, which could place the work after AD 70; however, the passage predicts that the Temple would be torn down completely; it was destroyed by fire (Josephus, Jewish War VI), and one wall still stands. This inaccuracy, which is not repeated in the otherwise-identical sections of the other Synoptic Gospels, could place the passage before the destruction of Jerusalem. Since the time of Clement of Alexandria, scholars have considered that this Gospel was written at Rome, although some have supposed that it was written at Antioch.

The gospel of Mark was written primarily for an audience of Greek-speaking citizens of the Roman Empire. This appears probable when it is considered that it explains Jewish usages (7:3; 14:3; 14:12; 15:42) and takes care to interpret Aramaic words and phrases which a Gentile would be likely to misunderstand, such as, "Boanerges" (3:17); "Talitha cumi" (5:41); "Corban" (7:11); "Bartimaeus" (10:46); "Abba" (14:36); "Eloi," etc. (15:34). Mark also uses certain Latin words not found in any of the other Gospels, as "speculator" (6:27, rendered, A.V., "executioner;" R.V., "soldier of his guard"), "xestes" (a corruption of sextarius, rendered "pots," 7:4, 8), "quadrans" (12:42, rendered "a farthing"), "centurion" (15:39, 44, 45).

The characteristics of this Gospel are,

  1. the absence of a genealogy for Jesus Christ,
  2. whom he represents as clothed with power, the "lion of the tribe of Judah."
  3. Mark also records with minuteness the very words (3:17; 5:41; 7:11, 34; 14:36) as well as the position (9:35) and gestures (3:5, 34; 5:32; 9:36; 10:16) of Christ.
  4. He is also careful to record particulars of person (1:29, 36; 3:6, 22, etc.), number (5:13; 6:7, etc.), place (2:13; 4:1; 7:31, etc.), and time (1:35; 2:1; 4:35, etc.), which the other evangelists omit.
  5. The phrase "and straightway" occurs nearly forty times in this Gospel; while in Luke's Gospel, which is much longer, it is used only seven times, and in John only four times. In a more modern translation, this phrase would be stated as immediately or 'soon afterward'. It is this immediacy which makes the gospel "a transcript of life" according to Westcott. This immediacy is hightened by the frequent use of the present tense to describe Jesus' actions, however, most translations remove this.

Ever since Papias, it was commonly thought that Mark is mostly a rapid succession of vivid pictures loosely strung together without much attempt to bind them into a whole or give the events in their natural sequence. This pictorial power is that which specially characterizes this evangelist, so that "if anyone desires to know an evangelical fact, not only in its main features and grand results, but also in its most minute and so to speak more graphic delineation, he must betake himself to Mark." Redaction criticism since the 1950s, however, has produced another view of Mark's gospel as a carefully constructed narrative, with a detailed internal structure. This is especially apparent in the threefold passion prediction cycle.

There is some dispute among scholars as to whether the last 12 verses, which describe a resurrected Jesus, were actually part of the original Gospel, or if they were added on later. The oldest manuscripts do not contain these verses, suggesting that they were a later addition.

The leading principle running through this Gospel may be expressed in the motto: "Jesus came...preaching the gospel of the kingdom" (1:14). Yet the Gospel also portrays Jesus as consistently attempting to hide his identity as the Messiah from the general public. This persistent theme is often referred to as the Messianic secret, and is one of the distinguishing characteristics of Mark in constrast with the other Gospels.

The description in this Gospel of how the Sanhedrin (the authorities of the Judaic religion) plotted to try and execute Jesus Christ has been used to promote and condone anti-Semitism. (See Jews in the New Testament for further discussion.)

This article uses text from Easton Bible Dicionary of 1897