Gospel of Mark

Tradition tells us that Mark the Evangelist, (often identified with John Mark), a companion of Peter, was the author of the Gospel of Mark. However, nowhere within the text does it name its actual author. Most historians believe that the Gospel of Mark was the first gospel to be written and was an influence on the later gospels of Matthew and Luke.

Christians consider that the Gospel of Mark was divinely inspired and contributes a valuable base to Christianity's wider theology. The Gospel of Mark is seen as the Gospel of Jesus Christ due to its portrayal of Jesus' life. The resurrection is not directly mentioned and therefore some are of the opinion that the author may have been a Gnostic Christian.

The gospel itself has 16 chapters and the narrative begins at the point of Jesus' baptism as an adult, rather than at his birth as in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew. The major themes in the book are the death of Jesus, discipleship, Jesus as a teacher and Jesus as the son of God. It is possible that the Gospel of Mark was originally intended as a simple introduction to Jesus' life and his parables for new converts rather than as a deep religious text.

According to Robert M. Grant in A Historical Introduction to the New Testament the structure of the Gospel of Mark can be neatly summed up as follows:

I. The Gospel of the Kingdom (1:1-4:34)

A. The proclamation of the gospel (1:1-45)

B. The reception of the gospel (2:1-3:35)

C. Teaching about the reception of the gospel (4:1-34)

II. The Inauguration of the Kingdom (4:35-8:26)

A. The incipient presence of the kingdom (4:35-5:43)

B. The rejection of the kingdom (6:1-29)

C. The kingdom anticipated (6:30-7:37; 8:1-26)

III. The Recognition of Jesus as the Christ (8:27-9:13)

IV. Through Death to Victory (9:14-16:8)

A. The way of the cross (9:14-10:52)

B. The Christ in Jerusalem (11-13)

C. The passion (14-15)

D. The resurrection (16:1-8)

The Gospel of Mark, as seen in the original manuscripts, does not end with an account of the resurrection. The current ending was a later addition by another author. The original text ends with two women entering the tomb and seeing a man dressed in white who explains that Jesus has been raised. He instructs these two women to tell Peter and the other disciples. Instead the women flee in terror.

The Gospel of Mark was probably written a few decades after the death of Jesus Christ. It was probably written for an audience living in the Galilee, in what is now northern Israel. This conclusion was reached as references to Galilean geography made in the text would probably only be known to people living in the area. It was probably the first written account of Jesus' life -- or at least the earliest one discovered thus far.

The gospel was probably written by someone living in a community under threat both from the local Jewish leaders in the area and also from the Romans. The Romans were threatening them because they refuse to accept Roman rule in the area. The community could have been afraid of the local Jewish population as it could possibly betray them, in a preemptive act before the Romans came to persecute both communities.

The Gospel of Mark was very influential in changing the view of Jesus as a rebel leader who would unite the Israelite nation against its Roman oppressors. It does much to try and take away the political connotations of the crucifixion. Instead it tries to create a narrative where Jesus is presented as God's envoy who must fall and rise again in order to gather together God's faithful, to whom will be given eternal life. This is seen in accounts of Jesus' deeds. For example when he healed the sick he would ask them not to tell anyone that he was their healer and when he exorcised demons he also wished to conceal his identity. At this point in Christian theology Jesus was not considered the messiah, as Jesus himself did not consider himself in this way. The messianic following of Jesus did not come into being until later.

Gospel of Mark: Selected full-text books and articles

Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels By Pheme Perkins William B. Eerdmans, 2009
The Christology of Mark's Gospel By Jack Dean Kingsbury Fortress Press, 1983
The New Testament, an Introduction: Proclamation and Parenesis, Myth and History By Norman Perrin; Dennis C. Duling Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1982 (2nd edition)
Librarian's tip: Chap. Eight "The Gospel of Mark: The Apocalyptic Drama"
Rending the Veil: Concealment and Secrecy in the History of Religions By Elliot R. Wolfson Seven Bridges Press, 1999
Librarian's tip: Chap. 1 "Messianic Secret and the Gospel of Mark: Secrecy in Jewish Apocalypticism, the Hellenistic Mystery Religions, and Magic"
Through a Glass Darkly: Essays in the Religious Imagination By John C. Hawley Fordham University Press, 1996
Librarian's tip: "The Gospel of Mark as Myth" begins on p. 3
Women & Christian Origins By Ross Shepard Kraemer; Mary Rose D'Angelo Oxford University Press, 1999
Librarian's tip: Chap. 6 "(Re) Presentations of Women in the Gospels John and Mark"
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