Episode 8 - Introduction to Mark's Gospel

September 24, 2013

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Mark is the shortest, most succinct, and most action-packed Gospel out of the four. In this episode, I cover Mark's author, the date it was written, and some of the major themes and literary style of the book. The most important point we should understand for the purpose of this series is that Mark is chronologically arranged and focuses on Jesus' ministry in Galilee and the last week of His life before the cross in Jerusalem.

This video is part of the Opening Up the Gospels series.

Hey I'm Josh Hawkins and this is episode 8 of Opening Up the Gospels. In Episode 7, I gave an introduction to the Gospel of Matthew, and I want to continue today with just a brief introduction to Mark. I love this version of the record of Jesus' life - it's action packed, fast-paced, very clear and succinct, and - most importantly for our purpose in constructing a timeline of Jesus' life, Mark is arranged chronologically. One of the benefits of Mark being arranged chronologically is that if you forget where specific events in Jesus' life, you can always go back to Mark for a reference point - at least for most of the events in Galilee and in Passion Week, If you've never heard of Passion Week before, it's just a name for the last week of Jesus' life leading up to his death on the cross. All four of the Gospels narrate Passion Week with so much detail. I can't wait to talk about it in many future episodes. Now as I said last time, these details about the Gospels matter to us because He matters to us. Real people in history read these accounts of Jesus' life and words, and what the authors wrote helped them to put their faith in Him. These books are not just for scholars and theologians to dig into and pop out a neat little theology package for a church doctrinal statement - they're the life story of our Maker and they should cause us to marvel over and over again. We can't forget the privilege we have in each of these books. At every turn, we must remember that it is Yahweh, the God of Genesis 1, the Lord of glory Himself that we're beholding and seeking to know as we read the Gospels. Well, let's take a look at Mark. Who wrote Mark? Just like Matthew, this gospel is anonymous - no record of the author is preserved in the text itself. But there's several good reasons to believe that John Mark, the traveling companion of Paul, wrote this gospel with the help of the Apostle Peter. Several early church fathers - including Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Jerome, all affirm that John Mark was the author of this gospel and was dependent upon the eyewitness accounts of Peter. Papias, a bishop in the church of Asia Minor until about 130 AD, claims that the Apostle John told him that "Mark became the interpreter of Peter". Though what we have in the Gospel of Mark itself does not depend on it actually being written by John Mark, scholars agree that there doesn't seem to be any reason to reject the tradition. So, John Mark of Jerusalem seems to be this gospel's author. Where and when was Mark written? Early church tradition from Clement and Irenaeus say that Mark wrote his gospel from Rome to a Roman Christian audience. That fits well with some of the things we see Mark referencing in his gospel, like when we see him translating some Aramaic expressions for his Greek-speaking audience (Mark 3:17; 5:41; 7:34; 14:36; 15:34). He also explains Jewish customs for Gentile readers, like in Mark 7:2-4 and 15:42. All of this agrees with other New Testament references which place Mark in Rome with both Paul and Peter (Colossians 4:10; Philemon 24, 2 Tim 4:11; 1 Peter 5:13). But again, we can't have solid certainty about this - we can only say that it seems most likely. What we can be a bit more certain about though is the dating of Mark's gospel in reference to the others. In the past couple hundred years, evidence has shown that Mark's gospel was the first one to be written. As far as the date it was written - well, there's a bunch of evidence that says perhaps in the mid 50s to early 60s, and other evidence that points to possibly the late 60s to near 70AD. Irenaeus says that Mark wrote it just following Peter's martyrdom, But Clement says that it was written while Peter was still preaching. So once again we can't be sure, but most scholars say it probably was in that mid 50s to mid 60s timeframe. What about the structure of Mark? Unlike Matthew, which as I said in the last episode is arranged topically, Mark is arranged chronologically. Mark spends the first half of his gospel up through chapter 8 narrating Jesus' public ministry in Galilee and then the second half narrating Jesus' last week and His crucifixion in Jerusalem. Because it's chronological, its structure is very clear. Mark does skip a large portion of the second half of Jesus' ministry though - the portion He spends in Perea. Luke is actually the only one who narrates the events there. We'll talk about that in the next episode. Mark also has a very fast moving literary style. As you're reading, you'll see the word "immediately" often. Mark is very fond of that word - it appears 42 times in his gospel, compared to only 5 times in Matthew and once in Luke. It gives the effect of advancing the narrative. Now for some of the themes and distinguishing features we see in Mark's gospel: Because Mark spends nearly half his Gospel talking about Jesus' suffering, it's clear that perhaps his main purpose is to demonstrate the necessity of the Messiah's suffering before He reigns from Jerusalem. Mark focuses more on the miracles and deeds of Jesus than on His teachings. Many long discourses recorded in the other gospels are omitted from Mark's account. We do see Jesus though performing many miracles - from healing to deliverance and even several times when He shows His divine power over His creation. Mark also presents the most human and down-to-earth portrait of Jesus compared to the other Gospels. We see a wide range of His emotions - from compassion in Mark 1:41 to indignation in 10:14 and grief in 3:5 to amazement in 6:6. Jesus is a real man who had real emotions just like us. It's so easy to read the Gospels with our fairy-tale glasses on and forget that Jesus was a human who really felt these things. He wasn't a stoic, straight-faced, pale white guy with a halo floating above his head. I would encourage you - spend some time meditating on His emotions as you read, just like I talked about in episode 5 and 6. Another main feature of Mark's gospel is his use of triads, or patterns of three things. We see this especially in the last week of Jesus' life in several ways - like when Peter denies Jesus three times, or when Jesus finds His disciples sleeping in the Garden of Gethsemane three times, or how he mentions three 3-hour intervals during the crucifixion. But perhaps the biggest one before Passion Week is the triad of discipleship and servant leadership, which is just a huge theme of Mark's gospel. So check this out - Three times Jesus predicts His death - in Mark 8, Mark 9, and Mark 10. And 3 times the disciples respond with pride and misunderstanding, whether it's Peter rebuking Jesus or the disciples arguing about who is the greatest. Then Jesus also follows 3 times with a teaching about servanthood and cross-bearing discipleship, in how they are to follow Him and mimic His lifestyle of servanthood and self-denial if they were to participate in the coming kingdom. Then It all comes to a head after all three predictions with Jesus echoing the role of the Servant of the LORD from Isaiah 52 and 53, saying that "even the son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." So as a summary of the main points of this episode relating to this Gospel: Number one, John Mark is probably the author. Number two, it was the first gospel written and probably was in circulation as early as the mid 50s AD. Number three, Mark is arranged chronologically, narrating Jesus' events mostly in Galilee and during Passion Week. And number four, Mark focuses on Jesus' miracles and on His suffering as the Messiah and the servant of the LORD. So if you've been tracking with me this long, awesome! I've been taking a lot of time to introduce the Gospels because I think it's so critical that we see these things at least a little bit. I hope it's been encouraging to you so far. I'll refer back to some of these episodes later on in the series. And as I've mentioned before, if you have questions be sure to submit them through the contact form or on the Gospels section of my website, www.joshuahawkins.com. I'll be taking some time out for some special dedicated Q&A episodes to answer your questions. In the next episode, we'll look at Luke. Bless you and see you next time!

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