Mark, Gospel According to
MARK, GOSPEL ACCORDING TO
Questions concerning the authorship, date, place of composition, audience, and purpose of Mark's Gospel continue to receive a variety of answers from contemporary scholars. The shortest of the three Synoptic Gospels (661 verses as compared to 1,068 in Mt and 1,149 in Lk), the Gospel of Mark was probably the first of the three to be written, and Matthew and Luke made use of it as a major source in composing their own Gospels.
Authorship. Although the Gospel is attributed to "Mark," the author of the Gospel never explicitly identifies himself. The superscriptions or titles of the Four Gospels ("According to Matthew," "According to Mark,") come from the late 1st, or early 2d, century when it became necessary to distinguish one Gospel from another. Eusebius (263–339), however, preserves an important quotation from Papias, a 2d century bishop of Hieropolis in Asia Minor, that identifies Mark as the author of the Gospel and associates him with Peter. In this text, Papias relates a quotation from someone called the presbyter.
This, too, the presbyter used to say. "Mark, who had been Peter's interpreter, wrote down carefully,
but not in order, all that he remembered of the Lord's sayings and doings. For he had not heard the Lord or been one of His followers, but later, as I said, one of Peter's. Peter used to adapt his teaching to the occasion, without making a systematic arrangement of the Lord's sayings, so that Mark was quite justified in writing down some things just as he remembered them. For he had one purpose only—to leave out nothing that he had heard, and to make no misstatement about it." Ecclesiastical History (3, 39, 15)
This text is difficult to interpret since it is not clear if the entire quotation is from the Presbyter. Part of this quotation may represent Papias's commentary on the Presbyter's words. If this is so, where does the quotation from the Presbyter end and the commentary of Papias begin? Moreover, the statement that Mark was Peter's interpreter (hermeneutes Petrou ) can have a number of meanings ranging from translator to some kind of authorship. Nonetheless, this text stands at the origin of a constant tradition that relates the author of this Gospel to Peter and thus anchors the Gospel in the witness of an apostolic figure. For example, Justin Martyr speaks of Peter's memories (en tois apomnemoneumasin autou; Dialogue with Trypho, 106, 3), probably referring to Mark's Gospel. Irenaeus says that Mark, "the disciple and interpreter of Peter" (ho mathetes kai hermeneutes ) wrote after the deaths of Peter and Paul (Against Heresies, 3.1.1). An ancient Latin prologue to the Gospel says that Mark was Peter's interpreter (Iste interpres fuit Petri ) and that he wrote in the regions of Italy after the death of Peter. clement of alexandria, on the other hand, says that Mark, a companion of Peter, wrote during Peter's lifetime at the urging of the people of Rome where Peter preached (Ecclesiastical History, 6, 14, 6–7). Origen maintains that the Gospel of Mark was written by Mark as Peter instructed him (Ecclesiastical History, 6, 25, 5), and Jerome says that "the interpreter of the Apostle Peter" (Interpres apostoli Petri ) was the first bishop of Alexandria (Commentary on Matthew, Prooemium, 6). Who, however, was this person called Mark?
The acts of the apostles speaks of "John Mark," the cousin of Barabbas (12.12,25; 13.5; 15.37–39) and several of the Pauline letters mention someone named "Mark" (Col 4.10, Phlm 24; 2 Tm 4.11). In 1 Pt 5.13, "Peter" speaks of Mark as his son (though some scholars question the Petrine authorship of this letter). Although there is no conclusive evidence that the person mentioned in these writings was the author of the second Gospel, early tradition identified this "Mark" or "John Mark" as the evangelist who composed the Gospel.
Place and Date. In light of the tradition noted above, most scholars argue that the Gospel was written in Rome. Others, however, maintain that it originated in Galilee, Syria, or Asia Minor. Although the exact date of the Gospel is disputed, there is general agreement that it belongs to the period of the Jewish revolt against Rome, a.d. 66–70. The point of contention is whether the Gospel was composed before or after a.d. 70, when the Romans entered Jerusalem and destroyed its temple. The answer to this problem, which cannot be resolved with certainty, depends upon the interpretation of Jesus' final discourse (Mark 13), in which He prophesies the temple's destruction (13.2, 14). While some believe that this chapter indicates that the temple was already destroyed at the time that the Gospel was composed, others do not. Thus it may more prudent to give the Gospel an approximate date of a.d. 70, acknowledging that it may have been written shortly before, or after, the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and its temple.
Audience. Most scholars believe that Mark wrote for a Gentile audience since the evangelist explains Jewish customs (7.3–4), and makes an important side comment that Jesus declared all foods clean (7.19). This comment, which comes from the evangelist and is omitted by Matthew, suggests that the audience of this Gospel did not observe the Jewish dietary prescriptions. Moreover, the fact that a Gentile, a Roman centurion, makes the most important confession of the Gospel (that Jesus was truly the Son of God; 15.39) may also suggest a Gentile audience.
Purpose. The purpose of the Gospel is to announce, in narrative form, the gospel of Jesus Christ: what God accomplished in the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1.1). If the Gospel was written in Rome for a Gentile community, shortly before, or shortly after, the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple, it undoubtedly responded to the needs of the Christian community at Rome, which had already suffered persecution under Nero (64) and was bracing for yet another period of persecution because of the Jewish revolt against Rome. Thus, Mark may be writing to strengthen a fledgling community of Gentile Christians by reminding them that Jesus was a crucified Messiah who suffered persecution. Therefore, those who follow Him in the way of discipleship can expect no less.
Composition. The tradition that originates with Papias suggests that the evangelist received some of his material from Peter. The actual composition of the Gospel, however, was probably more complicated, and Mark undoubtedly had access to other sources of information, for example, traditions about Jesus' controversies with the religious leader (2.1–3.6; 11.27–12.37), parables (4.1–34); miracles (4.35–5.43); teachings on discipleship (9.33–10.31); sayings about the temple's destruction and Jesus' return at the end of the ages (13.1–37); and an early version of the Passion Narrative (14.1–15.47). Mark edited and arranged this material and his Petrine traditions into a coherent narrative of Jesus' ministry that culminated in His death and Resurrection. In doing so, Mark was the first to compose a gospel that, in the view of many scholars, represents a literary genre without an exact parallel in the ancient world.
The Ending of the Gospel. There are four endings to the Gospel of Mark. (1) In the oldest and best manuscripts (Vaticanus and Sinaiticus ), the Gospel ends at 16.8, the story of the women at the empty tomb. (2) Some manuscripts expand this ending to include a brief report of the Risen Jesus sending His disciples to proclaim the gospel to the whole world. This is called the "shorter ending." (3) Mark 16.9–20 represents the so-called longer ending of the Gospel. Found in the majority of manuscripts and accepted as inspired Scripture by the Council of Trent, it is absent from the two oldest Greek codices (Vaticanus and Sinaiticus ). Moreover, Clement of Alexandria and Origen were not aware of this ending, and Eusebius and Jerome say that the passage was absent from almost all Greek copies of Mark known to them. (4) The Washington manuscript contains this longer ending with an expansion after v. 14, the so-called Freer logion, named after the gallery where the manuscript is kept in Washington, D.C. Overall, the best manuscript tradition concludes at 16.8 with the account of the empty tomb. While some have argued that the original ending of the Gospel was lost, others maintain that the evangelist purposely concluded his work at this point to emphasize the need for the disciples to return to Galilee, the starting point of Jesus' ministry, and make their own "way" to Jerusalem as He did.
Structure. The Gospel of Mark is difficult to outline, and scholars structure it in various ways. Most would agree, however, that after a brief introduction (1.1–13), the Gospel falls into three parts. In the first (1.13–8.26), Mark describes the beginning of Jesus' ministry in Galilee. This ministry is characterized by Jesus' proclamation that the time of waiting is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Consequently, people must repent and believe in God's own good news that the kingdom is making its appearance in Jesus' ministry (1.14–15). After this initial announcement, Jesus calls His first disciples (1.16–20) and proclaims the kingdom by mighty deeds of casting out demons and healing the sick (1.21–45). Although the religious leaders oppose him (2.1–3.6), people throughout Galilee and beyond receive Jesus favorably (3.7–12).
Eventually Jesus summons "the Twelve" to be with Him (3.13–19) and sends them on mission to cast out demons, heal the sick, and preach repentance (6.7–13). Before sending them on mission, however, Jesus reveals the mystery of the kingdom of God to them (4.1–34) and manifests His power over nature, demons, sickness, and death (4.35–5.43).
After the disciples return from their missions, the question of Jesus' identity takes center stage. While some think that Jesus is elijah or one of the prophets, Herod mistakenly believes that Jesus is john the baptist returned to life. By feeding the crowds in the wilderness on two occasions (6.30–44; 8.1–10), Jesus shows that He is Israel's Shepherd and messiah, and Peter eventually confesses that Jesus is the Messiah (8.27–30).
In the second part of the Gospel (8.27–10.52), Jesus explains that as the Messiah He must suffer, die, and rise from the dead. Thus, His fate is the fate of the Son of Man. The disciples, however, fail to comprehend this dimension of discipleship and its implication for following Jesus. Thus, after each of Jesus' passion predictions, there is a misunderstanding on their part about the meaning of discipleship, and Jesus must instruct them anew. The entire section is built on a pattern of prediction, misunderstanding, and teaching that is repeated three times: Cycle one (8.31; 8.32–33; 8.34–9.1); Cycle two (9.30–31; 9.32–34; 9.35–10.31); Cycle three (10.32–34;10.35–41; 10.42–45).
The third part of the Gospel (11.1–16.8) describes Jesus' ministry in Jerusalem, which becomes the proximate occasion for His Passion and death. Jesus enters Jerusalem (11.1–11) and cleanses the temple (11.15–19), which leads the religious leaders to challenge His authority (11.27–33). After a series of controversies with the religious leaders (12.13–37), Jesus pronounces a final discourse in which He prophesies the destruction of the temple and His return at the close of the ages as the glorious son of man (13.1–37). Jesus' Jerusalem ministry, then, becomes the proximate occasion for the religious authorities to arrest and hand Him over to Pilate, who condemns Him to death as a messianic pretender, "the King of the Jews." At Jesus' death, the curtain of the temple is torn from top to bottom (15.38), and a Roman centurion confesses that Jesus was truly the Son of God (15.39). The tearing of the temple's curtain indicates that the death of Jesus, the Messiah, is the perfect sacrifice that makes all other sacrifices irrelevant. The new temple will consist of those who believe in Jesus. The confession that Jesus was truly the Son of God indicates that Jesus' sonship cannot be understood apart from His shameful death upon the cross. The Gospel concludes with the angel instructing the women to tell the disciples that Jesus has gone ahead of them to Galilee (16.7). There the Risen Lord will gather His scattered flock as He promised (14.28).
The Plot. Read as a narrative, the Gospel is driven by a plot of conflict that operates on three levels. On the first, there is a conflict between the kingdom of God that Jesus' ministry inaugurates and the rule of Satan, which oppose God's kingship. By casting out demons, Jesus shows that God's rule is displacing that of Satan. On the second level, there is a conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders over the question of authority: who has the authority to speak in God's name: the religious leaders or Jesus? On the third level, there is a conflict between Jesus and His own disciples over the meaning of messiahship and discipleship. While Jesus speaks of a suffering Messiah and calls His disciples to selfless service, the disciples think in terms of a glorious Messiah and seek seats of honor at Jesus' right and left (10.35–40).
The question of Jesus' identity lies at the heart of the conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders, and Jesus and His disciples. Who is He? Throughout the Gospel the identity of Jesus (that He is the Messiah, the Son of God) is hidden from the characters of the story. Thus, even when Peter correctly confesses that Jesus is the Messiah, he does not know that Jesus is the Messiah who must suffer, die, and rise. It is only after Jesus has died that the centurion, a Gentile, correctly confesses that this Man was truly the Son of God (15.39).
This mystery of Jesus' identity is the Gospel's "messianic secret." This expression, first introduced by W. Wrede (The Messianic Secret, 1901), properly refers to a literary motif whereby Jesus' identity is hidden from the characters of the narrative. Only after He dies and is raised from the dead is His identity fully disclosed. Thus the death of Jesus as the crucified Messiah plays a crucial role in this Gospel that proclaims a theology of the cross.
Among the most important theological themes of the Markan Gospel are Jesus' proclamation of the kingdom of God; the mystery of Jesus' identity, which is expressed through three titles (Messiah, Son of God, Son of Man); and Jesus' teaching on the nature of discipleship.
The Kingdom of God. The central theme of the Gospel and of Jesus' teaching is the appearance of the kingdom of God, by which Jesus means God's rule over history and creation. Although the precise term does not occur with any frequency in the Old Testament, the concept of God as king over history and creation does, especially in the Psalms of Enthronement (Psalms 47, 93, 95–99) and 2 Isaiah, see Is 52.7. Within the Gospel, Jesus proclaims that the kingdom of God has made its appearance in His ministry. Thus, He summons people to repent and believe in this good news. In addition to preaching that the kingdom has arrived, Jesus effects the presence of the kingdom by His mighty deeds. These deeds of casting out demons, healing the sick, and raising the dead point to the in-breaking of God's kingdom and the destruction of Satan's rule. Although the kingdom has made its appearance in Jesus' ministry, Jesus is aware that it has not yet come in power. Therefore, in a series of parables (4.1–34), He explains the mystery of the kingdom to His disciples: namely, at the present time the kingdom is a hidden from those who do not believe, but when it is finally revealed (at Jesus' parousia as the Son of Man), its presence and power will be known to all, whether they believe or not. Although Jesus' Jerusalem ministry was the proximate occasion for His Passion and death, His claim to be the authoritative spokesman for the inbreaking kingdom of God was the ultimate reason for His death, inasmuch as this proclamation informs the whole of His ministry.
Messiah, Son of God, Son of Man. The Gospel of Mark begins by identifying Jesus as the Christ (Messiah), the Son of God. At Caesarea Philippi, Peter correctly confesses that Jesus is the Messiah (8.29), and at Jesus' trial the high priest asks Jesus if He is the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One (14.61). Jesus' own understanding of His messiahship, however, was dramatically different from that of the high priest and Peter. Whereas the high priest thought in terms of a Davidic Messiah who would deliver Israel from its enemies and establish justice in Jerusalem (Psalms of Solomon 17, 18), and whereas Peter could not countenance that Jesus must suffer and die as the Messiah (8.32), Jesus referred to Himself as the Son of Man who must suffer and die before entering into His glory.
From the point of view of the evangelist, Jesus the Messiah is the Son of God because He enjoys a unique relationship to God shared by no one else. Although the title does not occur frequently, it does appear at strategic moments in the Gospel: the opening verse (1.1); Jesus' baptism (1.11); the transfiguration (9.7); and the centurion's confession (15.39). At Jesus' baptism, in a private theophany, God addresses Jesus as His beloved Son, in whom He is well pleased. At the transfiguration, God reveals to Peter, James, and John that Jesus is His beloved Son, and He instructs them to listen to Him. Finally, after Jesus' death, a Roman centurion becomes the first person within the Gospel narrative to confess that Jesus was the Son of God.
The key to understanding how the Gospel comprehends Jesus' identity as the Messiah, the Son of God, is found in a number of sayings in which Jesus refers to Himself as the Son of Man. This strange expression probably goes back to a similar expression in Daniel 7 that speaks metaphorically of "one like a son of man" who received power and kingship from God after a period of intense persecution (Dn 7.9–14). By referring to himself as the Son of Man, Jesus points to His destiny as the Messiah, the Son of God. As the one like a son of man in the Book of Daniel, Jesus will be vindicated by God despite His sufferings. Thus, the fate of the Messiah, the Son of God, is to be rejected, suffer, die, and rise (8.31; 9.9;13.31; 10.33; 14.21,41) and return as God's eschatological agent at the end of the ages (8.38; 13.26; 14.62). While "Son of God" and "Messiah" are confessional titles that point to Jesus' identity (Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God), "Son of Man" points to Jesus' destiny as the Messiah, the Son of God, who must suffer, die, and rise. This is what neither Peter nor the high priest understand.
The Path of Discipleship. Discipleship is a central theme of the Markan Gospel. After His initial proclamation of the Gospel, Jesus calls His first disciples (1.16–20). Gathering still other disciples, He chooses 12 to represent the 12 tribes of Israel. While the disciples show themselves to be generous in their response to Jesus (10.28), they misunderstand Him on a number of occasions (6.52; 8.14–21; 9.32). Moreover, they often manifest a desire for prominence and positions of authority (9.33–34; 10.35–41). Consequently, Jesus must teach them that greatness in the kingdom of God consists in service to the least important (9.35–37; 10.42–44). Jesus, the Son of Man, came not "to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many" (10.45). Here Christology and discipleship intersect, since true discipleship is patterned after the life of Jesus. Thus, authentic disciples know that Jesus, the Son of God, is the Messiah who must suffer, die, and rise.
In brief, the Gospel of Mark develops a theology of the cross that proclaims that no one can know Jesus and live as His disciple apart from embracing a path of service that leads to rejection, suffering, death, and resurrection. Such disciples will enter the kingdom of god.
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[f. j. matera]