Mark: Introduction – Mark 1

Read the Passage: Mark 1

Authorship and Date – As with all the Gospel narratives, the Gospel of Mark is technically anonymous. The name of John Mark, however, has long been attached to this Gospel. As early as 140 AD the Church father Papias attributed authorship to Mark, a notion that was later echoed by Justin Martyr (150 AD) and Irenaeus (185 AD). Moreover, ancient writers also note that while Mark wrote this Gospel, he was merely synthesizing and recording the teachings of Peter. A rough date for the Gospel of Mark is 65 AD, possibly being written from Rome to the embattled believers in that city, around the time of Peter’s death. Most scholars believe Mark was the first written Gospel. Note the following about Mark: he is mentioned ten times in the New Testament; he was the cousin of Barnabas (cf. Col. 4:10); his mother was Mary and the early church met in her house (cf. Acts 12:12); he accompanied Paul and Barnabas on Paul’s first missionary journey, but later deserted them (cf. Acts 12:25; 13:5); for a time Paul shunned Mark, but later was reconciled to him (cf. Acts 15:36–41; 2 Tim. 4:11), Mark became one of Paul’s ministry companions (cf. Col. 4:10; Philem. 24); and Peter calls Mark “my son” (cf. 1 Pet. 5:13).

Purposes and Theme – In his own words, Mark wrote to report “the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). He did so in order to spread the Good News and to encourage Roman believers, many of whom were being persecuted by emperor Nero (cf. Mark 8:34–38; 10:29, 38–40; 13:9, 13). The fact that Mark was writing to Gentiles is supported in that he explains Jewish customs (cf. Mark 7:2–4; 14:12; 15:42), rarely cites the Old Testament, omits Jewish elements such as genealogies, uses Roman time-keeping (cf. Mark 6:48; 13:35), translates Aramaic terms (cf. Mark 5:41; 7:11, 34; 10:46; 14:36; 15:22, 34), and makes use of Latin rather than Greek words (cf. 5:9; 6:27; 12:15, 42; 15:16, 39). Note that more than the other Gospel writers, Mark emphasizes Jesus’ humanity, Christ’s service and suffering, as well as the disciples’ weakness of faith.

Structure and Outline – In comparison to the other Gospel accounts, Mark tends to have longer and more compact chapters, as well as being more action-oriented. As such, Mark condenses or omits many of Jesus’ discourses, including many of Christ’s parables. A suggested outline of the Gospel of Mark is as follows:

  • Jesus’ Preparation for Ministry (1:1–13)
  • Jesus’ Ministry in Galilee (1:14–7:23)
  • Jesus’ Ministry to the Gentiles (7:24–9:50)
  • Jesus’ Ministry in Jerusalem (10:1–13:37)
  • Jesus’ Ministry to the World (14:1–16:20)

Preparation for Ministry (1:1–8)

Mark begins his Gospel by quoting from the Old Testament (cf. Mal. 3:1; Isa. 40:3) and introducing John the Baptist. Being the promised Elijah-like forerunner to the Messiah (cf. Mal. 4:5), the aim of John’s ministry was to prepare God’s people for the arrival of Jesus Christ (cf. Luke 1:76–77). Although John the Baptist is mentioned within all four Gospels, perhaps in Mark the nature of John’s service can be most clearly seen, as here we learn that John’s ministry of baptism was related to the gospel (cf. Mark 1:1), it entailed the preaching of repentance (cf. Mark 1:4a), it promised the remission of sins (cf. Mark 1:4b), and it resulted in people confessing their sins (cf. Mark 1:5). John’s unique wardrobe of camel’s hair and leather would have reminded his hearers of the prophets (cf. 2 Ki. 1:8) and his diet would have reminded them that he was a Nazarite (cf. Num. 6:1–13).

Beginning of Ministry (1:9–20)

Mark 1:9–20 records three important events in the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, including His baptism (cf. Mark 1:9–11), His temptation (cf. Mark 1:12–13), and His calling of the disciples (cf. Mark 1:14–20). The compact nature of Mark’s Gospel can be seen in that Mark takes 12 verses to describe what the other Gospel writers cover in much larger passages. Further, Mark curiously omits any reference to Jesus’ birth and ancestry. Note the use of the term “immediately,” which occurs for the first time in this Gospel at Mark 1:10. This word highlights the fast-paced nature of this book, as Mark uses the term “immediately” 40 times, while it appears 27 times in the other three Gospels combined. Highlights of this passage include the Trinitarian reference at Jesus’ baptism, the failed temptation of Christ, the content of Jesus’ message, and the calling of the first disciples.

Miracles within Ministry (1:21–45)

The Gospel narratives report 37 separate miracles of Jesus. Of these 37 miracles, Mark records 19 of them, including two that are only found in the Gospel of Mark—that is, the healing of a deaf-mute man (cf. Mark 7:31–37) and the healing of blind man at Bethsaida (cf. Mark 8:22–26). After narrating the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, in 25 short verses, Mark records a flourish of 4 miracles of Jesus, which are: the healing of a demon-possessed man in a synagogue in Galilee (cf. Mark 1:21–28), the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law (cf. Mark 1:29–31), the healing of many people one evening in Capernaum (cf. Mark 1:32–40), and the cleansing of a leper (cf. Mark 1:40–45). The early, brief, and successive recording of these miracles is likely Mark’s attempt to grab the attention of his Roman readers, who were very action-oriented and were drawn to the phenomenological.

Application Questions:

  1. Among all four Gospels, what makes the Gospel of Mark unique? How do the four Gospels compare to one another in content, audience, and style?
  2. Do you think the people being baptized by John were authentic believers? Were John’s followers indwelt by the Holy Spirit (cf. Mark 1:8)?
  3. Since Jesus was the sinless lamb of God (cf. John 1:29), why did He need to be baptized by John? Do you think John immediately knew Jesus identity?
  4. Why do you think Mark begins his Gospel by recording four of Jesus’ miracles? Is the fact that Mark omits narrative, such as Jesus’ birth, problematic?
  5. What is the purpose of Jesus’ miracles? Why were miracles so common during Jesus’ earthly ministry, but are rare in the modern church?