The Gospel According to Mark
The Gospel According to Mark is the shortest of the four gospels that we have received. Our word "gospel" is a translation of a word that literally means "good news." These four writings were meant to proclaim the good news that had come to man through Jesus Christ. None of the gospels claim to be an historical account of the life of Christ, though each contains historical elements. Each of the gospels was written for a specific purpose. God continues to use these writings to spread the news of His gospel to His creation.
Modern scholarship of the gospels heavily favors the conclusion that the Gospel of Mark was the first gospel to be written. For many years, tradition held that the Gospel of Matthew was the first to be written and so when the canon of books was collected into the grouping that we now know as the New Testament, Matthew was placed first in the order. There are many fine books that have been written on why modern scholars believe that Mark was written first. I will not go into the specific arguments as to this conclusion, but they are substantial and reasonable arguments. For those of us that are laymen, the question might well be asked, what does it matter which book was written first?
As we learn more about the way that the bible was transmitted to us, we can come to appreciate what God has accomplished and the way that God works in the real world. For instance, there is strong written evidence from the early church that an associate of Peter who was said to be his "interpreter" wrote the Gospel of Mark. We may conclude, from both the writings of the early church fathers and from internal evidence, that this gospel was written shortly after the death of Peter which occurred in 64 AD under the persecutions of the Roman Caesar Nero. Moreover, all of the evidence that we have as to where this gospel was written points to Rome. It was widely distributed and quickly accepted.
So, the conclusions that we may draw are that the Gospel of Mark was written at a time shortly after intense persecutions in Rome. It was written to preserve the memory of the oral traditions of Peter primarily for the sake of the Roman church. These insights will help us to understand many things as we study this gospel. For instance, there are many times that the writer of this gospel explains Jewish concepts and customs for his readers. It will help us to understand why he would do this if we understand that he is writing primarily for Gentile believers in Rome. It is also very interesting to see how this gospel treats the person of Peter. Far from being the most complimentary gospel to Peter, this gospel shows many mistakes and misunderstanding that the apostle had during Jesus' ministry. The humility and the humanity of Peter both come to life in this writing.
Not only is the Gospel of Mark the shortest gospel, in many ways it is the most primitive. The written Greek is not as grammatical or fluid as the other gospels. Matthew uses the substances of over 90 percent of the verses in Mark and over 50 percent in Luke but both tend to clean up Mark's rough edges. This is not to imply in any fashion that the Gospel of Mark is more or less inspired by the Spirit of God than they other three gospels. The Spirit uses each work in its own fashion. To say that Matthew and Luke relied on Mark when they wrote their gospels does not make them secondary to Mark in any fashion. God works through each of the writers for a different purpose.
Several other things must be noted about the Gospel of Mark before we begin its study. Perhaps more than any other gospel, the Gospel of Mark is focused on the death of Jesus Christ. The events surrounding the last week in the life of Jesus are a significant portion of this short work. Even from the beginning, the death of Christ is foreshadowed.
The Gospel of Mark is a gospel of action. This gospel is less about what Jesus taught and more about what Jesus did. Often Mark ties material together with a word that will be translated in the English text as "immediately." Momentum is developed between events until the culmination of the gospel in Jerusalem. The physical nature of Jesus and his actions are stressed.
There is also developed in the Gospel of Mark what some people have called the "Messianic secret." When Jesus confronts demons they speak of His nature and Jesus demands that they be silent. When Jesus heals the sick, He asks those whom He has healed to tell no one. When Jesus is transfigured in glory on the mount, he charges the three disciples that went with Him to tell no one of what they saw. Time and again, the Gospel of Mark has Jesus wanting to delay and even hide His divinity from outsiders.
All of these tendencies make the Gospel of Mark a very interesting work to study. But, the purpose of this gospel, or any other, is not to provide us with an interesting study. This gospel was written to inspire faith and belief in the person of Jesus Christ. This gospel was written to preserve a tradition about His life and ministry and about what that life and ministry meant to those who followed Him in later years. It was written to inspire people who had gone through a persecution and who faced even greater persecution in the future.
And, it was written so that you and I, thousands of years later might read about Jesus Christ and believe. People have been inspired by its simplicity and entranced by its drama. Here we have the most important story that could ever be told: the first account of the life of Jesus of Nazareth.