Although the Gospel of Mark is anonymous, there is a strong and clear early tradition that Mark was its author and that he was closely associated with the apostle Peter, from whom he obtained his information about Jesus. Mark was working with Peter at the end of Peter's life in Rome during the Neronian persecution.
The earliest reference is found in the church historian Eusebius, who quoted from a lost work called the 'Exegesis of the Lord's Oracles', written by Papias, who was bishop of Hierapolis, about AD 140. Papias, in turn, quotes someone called the Elder, probably the elder John. The quotation of Papias in Eusebius is as follows, "The Elder (John the apostle) said this also: Mark, who became Peter's interpreter, wrote accurately, though not in order, all that he remembered of the things said or done by the Lord. For he (Mark) had neither heard the Lord nor been one of his followers, but afterwards, as I said, he had followed Peter, who used to adapt his teaching to the needs of his hearers, but not as though he were drawing up a collected arrangement of the Lord's sayings. So Mark made no mistake in thus recording some things just as he remembered them. For he was careful of this one thing, to omit none of the things he had heard and to make no untrue statements in them". (Ecclesiastical History 3.39.15).
The Anti-Marcionite Prologue of Mark’s Gospel (AD 160-180) makes this statement, "... Mark, who is called 'stump-fingered', because he had rather small fingers in comparison with the stature of the rest of his body, was the interpreter of Peter. After the death of Peter himself, he wrote down this same Gospel in the regions of Italy".
Justin Martyr (AD 150) quotes from Mark's gospel, calling it 'The Memoirs of Peter'. “And when it is said that He changed the name of one of the apostles to Peter; and when it is written in the memoirs of Him that this so happened, as well as that He changed the names of other two brothers, the sons of Zebedee, to Boanerges, which means sons ofthunder; this was an announcement of the fact that it was He by whom Jacob was called Israel, and Oshea called Jesus (Joshua), under whose name the people who survived ofthose that came from Egypt were conducted into the land promised to the patriarchs.” (Dialogue with Trypho ch 106)
Irenaeus (AD 175) wrote this about Mark and his Gospel, "After their (Peter & Paul) departure (death), Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter,did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter." (Against Heresies 3:1:1). “Wherefore also Mark, the interpreter and follower of Peter, does thus commence his Gospel narrative: "The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God ...” (Against Heresies 3:10:5)
Clement of Alexandria (AD 210) wrote this, "Again, in the same books, Clement gives the tradition of the earliest presbyters, as to the order of the Gospels, in the following manner: The Gospels containing the genealogies,he says, were written first. The Gospel according to Mark had this occasion. As Peter had preached the Word publicly at Rome, and declared the Gospel by the Spirit, manywho were present requested that Mark, who had followed him for a long time and remembered his sayings, should write them out. And having composed the Gospel he gave it to those who had requested it. When Peter learned of this, he neither directly forbade nor encouraged it." (Quoted in Eusebius: Church History 6:14)
Jerome (4th century) gave this preface to his commentary on Mark’s Gospel, "The second is Mark, the amanuensis of the Apostle Peter, and first bishop of the Church of Alexandria. He did not himself see our Lord and Saviour, but he related the matter of his Master's preaching with more regard to minute detail than to historical sequence." (Prefaces to Commentaries: Mark)
A biography of Mark
Mark, or John Mark, is mentioned nine times in the New Testament, so it is possible to put together several pieces of information about his life and ministry. The first is when Peter was released from prison, he went to the place he expected the church to be. This was the house of John Mark's mother, Mary, where the church were praying for his release (Acts 12:12). He was later was taken back to Antioch from Jerusalem by Paul and Barnabas, after the famine visit (Acts 12:25). John (Mark) joined Paul and Barnabas to assist them on the first Missionary Journey to Cyprus (Acts 13:5). John (Mark) left Paul and Barnabas in Perga in Pamphylia and returned to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). We are not told why he did this. At the beginning of the second Missionary Journey, Barnabas wanted to take Mark with them, but Paul did not, as Mark had withdrawn from the first journey. This caused a sharp contention and a split, Barnabas and Mark (his cousin)went to Cyprus, which was the home of Barnabas, and Paul and Silas went back to Galatia (Acts 15:37-39).
About ten years later, in AD 60 or 61, Mark, described as a cousin of Barnabas, was again with Paul, in Rome, as part of his team. Apparently the rift has been restored, and Paul is sending him to Colossae, where Paul urges the church to welcome him (Col 4:10). At the same time, Mark was with Paul and his fellow workers in Rome when he wrote Philemon, in which Aristarchus, Demas, Luke and Epaphras also send greetings (Phm 24).
Just before his death, when he was in prison in Rome, sometime after AD 64, Paul told Timothy to bring Mark with him from Ephesus, as Mark had become a useful member of the ministry team (2 Tim 4:11). This is quite a change from Mark’s earlier desertion. Soon after, Peter mentions Mark, describing him as his 'son', who is now sending greetings along with Peter in Rome (1 Pet 5:13). This was probably after Paul had been martyred.
There are also some other references which may be relevant to Mark. After his release from prison Peter went directly to the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark (Acts 12:12). This house is probably the location of the upper room, where the disciples met after the ascension (Acts 1:12-14). Earlier, when arranging for the last supper, Jesus told the disciples to look for a man carrying a jar of water (Mk 14:12-16). This was a most unusual sight, as it was the job of women to carry water, so Jesus had probably arranged this sign. The Last Supper probably also took place in the upper room of the house belonging to the mother of John Mark. This also helps us suggest an identification of the young man who followed the disciples from the upper room to the Garden of Gethsemane, who was then seized and ran away naked (Mk 14:51). This is most likely to be Mark himself, who as a young man, had been curious to know what was happening in the upstairs room in his house, and followed Jesus and his disciples. This account is unique to Mark, who may have included it as his cryptic signature, to show that he was also a witness to the events.
To conclude, we see that John Mark was with the disciples from early on. His mother's house was the location of the upper room, possibly the location of the last supper, the evening resurrection appearance (Jn 20:19) and Pentecost. This room then became the meeting point of the early church. Mark was still around when Peter was released from prison (Acts 12) and went with Paul and Barnabas on the first missionary journey. Because of his turning back, Paul did not want him to be involved in the next journey, so Barnabas made him part of his separate team. It seems there was a reconciliation as later Paul has Mark with him and declares him to be useful. Both I Peter and II Timothy place Mark at Rome towards the end of Peter and Paul's lives, and both these letters were written from Rome, so is likely that Mark’s Gospel was also written from Rome.
Internal Evidence for authorship
Within the gospel, there are a number of references support the tradition of the Gospel being written by Mark for a Roman audience from Rome. The first is the use of Latin technical terms, including Legion (5:9), a Roman military term; a speculator (6:27), normally translated 'soldier of the guard'; the Praetorium (15:16), or governor's headquarters, referring to the Roman Antonia Fortress next to the temple; and the centurion (15:39). The author also uses Latin words to explain Greek expressions, including the two copper coins (12:42). He uses the word 'lepta', which was the smallest Jewish coin, then explains they are worth a penny, using the Latin word 'quadran'. He also translates the word for palace (15:16) as the Roman praetorium. He also uses Roman time reckoning, which had four watches in the night, when a bugle was sounded and the guard was changed. These were evening (9:30 pm), midnight, cockcrow (2:30 am), and morning (5 am) (13:35), compared with the three Jewish night watches.
He consistently explains Jewish customs and practices to aid Gentile readers in Rome. He explains that it was not lawful for any but the priests to eat the Bread of Presence (2:26). Jews would know this well, so Mark would have added an explanation for the Romans. The grain of mustard seed, was the smallest of seeds (4:31). He explains the tradition of purification, that Pharisees would not eat unless they wash their hands (7:3), translates Corban as an offering to God (7:11), and Gehenna as the unquenchable fire, or hell (9:43). He explains that the Sadducees say there is no resurrection of the dead (12:18), that the Day of Unleavened Bread was when the Passover lamb is sacrificed (14:12), and that the Day of Preparation was the day before the Sabbath (15:42).
Several Aramaic words are included, and translated: 'Boanerges' as 'Sons of Thunder' (3:17), 'Talitha Cum' as 'Little girl, get up' (5:41), 'Corban' as 'An offering to God' (7:11), 'Ephphatha' as 'Be opened' (7:34), 'Bartimaeus' as 'Son of Timeaus' (10:46), 'Abba' as 'Father' (14:36), 'Golgotha' as 'The Place of the Skull' (15:22), and 'Eloi, Eloi lema sabachthani' as 'My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?' (15:34).
He also mentions the names of Alexander and Rufus (15:21), the sons of Simon of Cyrene (Mt 27:32, Lk 23:26). They are only named in Mark's gospel. Someone called Rufus is named as a member of the Roman church (Rom 16:13). If this is the same Rufus, Alexander and Rufus would be well-known to the Christians in Rome.
Date of writing
The writings of the church fathers quoted above say that the writing of Mark was after the death of Peter, which took place sometime during the persecution under Nero shortly after the Fire of Rome in AD 64. So the writing of Mark’s Gospel was most probably during this time. However, if the reference by Irenaeus to, 'after their departure', is understood to mean the departure of Peter and Paul from Rome for further travels, rather than their martyrdom, then Mark could have written the Gospel before they died. The date could then be as early as AD 50. As chapter 13 is speaking about the fall of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70, the Gospel must have been written before this.
It is also interesting to note a reference by Peter that before his death he will see to it that the saints could, "recall these things" (2 Pet 1:15). This could be a reference to him commissioning his co-worker, Mark, to write the Gospel.
Related to the date of the Gospel is the question of the priority of the Gospel in relation to Matthew and Luke. This issue has been called The Synoptic Problem.
Purpose and occasion
From church history we see that Mark recorded the teaching of Peter, retelling the good news about Jesus for a Gentile audience in Rome. There may also be a specific historical situation in Rome that Mark had in mind as he wrote his gospel. It was probably written soon after the martyrdom of Peter, during the persecution under Nero. It would then act as an encouragement for Christians suffering persecution.
Up to AD 60, the Roman government saw the church as merely another sect within Judaism, which would give them protection. The Jews had a privileged position in the Roman Empire as a legal religion. They did not have to serve in the army and were permitted to pay their tax to the temple in Jerusalem. In AD 49, the Emperor Claudius decreed that all Jews had to leave the city of Rome (Acts 18), after riots among the Jews over a person called 'Chrestus', who was probably confused with 'Christus'. From AD 49 to 54, there would only be Gentile Christians left in Rome. Nero became emperor in AD 54, and Jews were allowed to return to Rome. The beginning of Nero’s reign was a good period, but after AD 60 Nero became increasingly corrupt and cruel, and was hated by the people. Nero wanted to rebuild the city of Rome as a monument to himself, and in AD 64, fire broke out, destroying about three-quarters of the city. The people began to blame Nero for starting the fire, so he could proceed with his ambitious building programme. He was accused of “fiddling while Rome burned”. To take the blame off himself, he made the Christians the scapegoat, launching a severe persecution. This was the first persecution by Rome, and marked a turning point in the church’s relation with the Empire.
The book shows Mark's pastoral response to the persecution. Jesus' suffering is parallel to the suffering of the Christians in Rome. Jesus faced the enemy and triumphed by his resurrection from the dead. Mark was probably martyred soon after the book was written.
There are several passages which would be particularly relevant to believers facing persecution. Jesus was driven into the wilderness (1:12), as Christians were driven into catacombs. Jesus faced wild beasts (1:13), as Christians were thrown to wild beasts in Roman arenas. Jesus was misrepresented (3:30) and betrayed (3:19), as were some Roman Christians. Mark emphasises Jesus’ teaching on the cost of discipleship (10:17-22), and warns that persecution will come (10:30).
Characteristics and style of Mark's writing
Mark mentions many small or insignificant details in his accounts, which are often much longer than the parallel passages in Matthew or Luke. These may have come from Peter, as an eye-witness. These include casting a net (1:16) and mending nets (1:19), taking the girl by the hand (1:31), Jesus being asleep on a cushion in the stern of the boat (4:38), sitting on the green grass (6:39), the name of the blind man (10:46), and the naked young man (14:51-52).
Mark also recalls the emotions expressed by the people, of amazement at Jesus's authority over demons (1:27), and after he healed the paralytic (2:12), as well the disciples being terrified at Jesus walking on sea (6:49) and at the transfiguration (9:6). The disciples were perplexed about Jesus teaching about wealth (10:24), and were amazed, and those following were afraid (10:32). All the religious leaders were amazed after question about taxes to Caesar (12:17), and even Pilate was amazed (15:5). The three women were alarmed seeing young man in empty tomb (16:5), and the original gospel probably ended when terror and amazement seized them, afraid, fled from tomb and told no one (16:8).
He also recalls the emotions of Jesus, which show his humanity. He was moved with pity to heal leper (1:41), and sternly warned him not to tell anyone (1:43). He was angry and was grieved at Pharisees hard hearts (3:5), but had compassion on crowd before feeding the 5000 (6:34). He sighed when healing the deaf man (7:34), and sighed deeply in His spirit when Pharisees ask for sign (8:12). He loved the rich young ruler (10:21), and was indignant when the disciples stopped people bringing children to him (10:14). He was also distressed and agitated in the Garden of Gethsemane (14:33). Characteristic of Mark was the looks given by Jesus, which were probably piercing: he looked around with anger at Pharisees (3:5), and at those who sat around him (3:34). He looked at the rich young ruler, and loved him (10:21).
Mark also adds his own comments to give explanation to his readers. These include: the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins (2:10), and is Lord even of the Sabbath. (2:28). He gives the age of the girl as twelve years of age (5:42), and gives a long explanation of John the Baptist's death (6:17-29).
Mark’s writing has a simple and straightforward style, being less elaborate and more popular than Matthew or Luke. His sentences are simply constructed, and are commonly strung together with 'And', although many of these are lost in translation (eg. 1:5,10,11,12,17,18). His frequent use of the word 'immediately' (45 times) gives a sense of vividness and excitement and action. Again many are lost in translation (eg. 1:12,18,20). He uses the present tense to relay past happenings, known as the historical present. This makes his accounts very vivid, so Jesus becomes contemporary with those who hear or read his account.
Mark records the actions of Jesus, but with few words or teaching of Jesus. This is in contrast to the other gospels, particularly John, where there are lengthy comments and explanations. Mark gives account of eighteen miracles, but only four full-length parables.
Themes in Mark's gospel
The main theme is that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, stated in the prologue (1:1), proclaimed by God, at his baptism (1:11) and transfiguration (9:7), by demons (3:11, 5:7), by himself (12:6, 14:61), and even by the Roman Centurion (15:39).
Mark shows that the ministry of Jesus and the coming of the Kingdom of God was a conflict with Satan, demonstrated by the casting out of demons (1:23-27, 32-34, 3:11, 22-27, 5:1-20, 7:25-30, 9:17-29). This also demonstrates the destructiveness of demons, in contrast to the life brought by Jesus. It is interesting to see that the demons recognised who Jesus was, the Son of God (3:11, 9:20), in contrast to the crowd who saw Jesus as a miracle worker (eg 3:10).
Many of the events of Jesus’ ministry took place in a deserted place, the wilderness. This was the place of testing and conflict with Satan, but also the place of meeting with God. (1:3-4,12-13,35,45, 6:31-32,35, 8:4). The wilderness motif is most clearly seen in the prologue (1:1-13). John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, where Jesus was baptised, and where he faced the temptation by Satan. The sea (1:16) and the mountain (3:13) are also places of withdrawal, as in Hebrew thinking, both were seen as hostile. After a significant action, such as a healing or deliverance, Jesus often withdrew into the wilderness, but was followed by the crowd. After his baptism (1:9-11), he withdrew into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan (1:12-13). He healed Peter’s mother-in-law (1:29-34), then went to a deserted place to pray (1:35), but people pursued him there. After cleansing the leper (1:40-44), he stayed in the country (wilderness) (1:45), but the crowd pursued him. After healing the paralytic (2:1-12), he withdrew to the sea (2:13-14), but again the crowd pursued him. He healed the man’s arm (3:1-6), and withdrew to the sea (3:7), but the crowd pursued and unclean spirits shouted. After the twelve return (6:30), they withdrew to deserted place but the crowd followed them (6:31).
Reading the Gospels
When reading the gospel stories, it is important that we take careful note of who Jesus is speaking to in each paragraph, as he said different things to different groups of people. In the earlier part of the book, most of his ministry is to the crowds of people who flocked to follow him, whether Jewish in Galilee, Judea, or Gentile in the Decapolis or in Phoenicia. Jesus gradually began to focus his attention to training the twelve disciples, and for particular special events only the inner three (Peter, James and John) were present. Sometimes he gave his attention to one individual. Through all of the book, he encounters opposition from the Pharisees, Sadducees or other religious authorities, which climaxes in Jerusalem at through his trails and crucifixion.
Structure of the book
Mark has a geographical structure similar to Matthew and Luke. Jesus’ ministry begins in Galilee (ch 1-9), he spends some time in Judea and beyond the Jordan (ch 10), before coming to Jerusalem (ch 11-16). There is a particular emphasis on the last week of Jesus’ life. Chapters 1-10 cover a period of over three years, but chapters 11-16 cover only one week. Mark gives only the briefest summary of the early life of Jesus. There are no birth narratives, and only brief mentions of his baptism and temptation.
There is also a major turning point at Peter’s Confession. Before this, Jesus tends to keep his identity a secret, repeatedly telling people not to say that he is the Christ. He silences the demon (1:24-25, 3:11-12) and would not permit demons to speak (1:34), because they knew who he was. He tells the leper to keep quiet, but he disobeyed by talking freely, so Jesus couldn't go into the towns (1:43-45). He told Jairus to keep quiet, so no one should know (5:43), as well as the deaf man, who disobeyed by zealously proclaiming him (7:36). The blind man is also told to keep quiet, and not even to enter the village (8:26). The only exception was Legion, who was told to go home to his friends and tell of God's mercy to him (5:19), but he was a Gentile, living away from a Jewish area, in the Decapolis.
These commands to secrecy all come before the confession by Peter at Caesarea Philippi (8:27-30). During this time Jesus is with the crowds, performing a public ministry of healings and mighty works with very little teaching. A summary of the first part of the book could be, "The Son of Man came to serve" (10:45). He was seeking to keep His identity as the Messiah hidden, as the crowd had the wrong expectation of the Messiah. This is known as "The Messianic Secret".
We should note that the story of the blind man needing to be touched twice before seeing clearly immediately precedes the great confession of Peter (8:22-26). This is unique to Mark’s Gospel. It parallels the need of the disciples also to receive two touches, or revelations. They saw partially who Jesus was at Caesarea Philippi, but not clearly until after the cross and resurrection. Until then, they still were expecting a human, earthly, military Messiah (Acts 1:6). Jesus had to teach them that his kingdom was not of this world. They misunderstood the nature of the King, the Kingdom and the Messiah.
After the confession of Peter (8:27-30), Jesus immediately turns to private teaching and re-education of his disciples. Using the expression 'Son of Man', Jesus gives a series of teaching through which he seeks to explain the true nature of the Messiah. After the confession, "He began to teach them that the Son of man must suffer many things" (8:31). This explains the calls to silence in the first half of the book. However, only the disciples were to know and they also were called to keep silent. Peter and disciples were told to tell no one after Peter's confession (8:30), and after the transfiguration, were told to tell no one, until Son of Man should have risen from the dead (9:9). When Jesus was passing through Galilee, no one was to know it, because he was teaching his disciples that the Son of Man would suffer and die (9:30), but they did not understand (9:32). Only after the resurrection were the disciples told to go and tell, in the Great Commission (16:16).
Jesus uses the 'Son of Man' title for himself to re-educate his disciples in the true nature and ministry of the Messiah. He shows that his suffering on the cross must come before his glory, and that this is true for his disciples as well, persecution will come before glory. Some of the 'Son of Man' sayings predict his suffering (8:31, 9:12, 31, 10:33-34,45, 14:41,62), and others predict his glorification with the Father (8:38, 13:26, 14:62). There are three major predictions of the suffering of the Son of Man (8:31, 9:31, 10:33-34), and three major predictions of the coming glory of the Son of Man (8:38, 13:26, 14:62).
There are two other statements earlier in the book which are more likely to be comments by Mark himself, showing the theological application of a particular incident, rather than statements by Jesus himself. These are: “The Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (2:10), and “The Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath” (2:28). All other statements about the Son of Man are only made by Jesus about Himself, never by others, and follow Peter’s Confession. A summary of the second part of the book could be, "The son of Man came to give his life as a ransom for many" (10:45).
Mark shows that both suffering and glory are part of God’s plan of redemption. This is God's plan both for the Messiah, and for his disciples, whether then or now. Jesus predicts suffering for himself (8:31-33), and for his disciples (8:34-38), then glory for himself (9:2-8). Following this, in chapters nine and ten, Jesus laid down the conditions for discipleship, then Mark showed that these conditions were not met in Jerusalem. We should also notice that these sufferings were according to God's pre-determined plan, suggested by the words 'it is written' (9:12, 14:21), and, 'must' (8:31).
The Messianic secret
It seems that Jesus wanted to keep His identity as the Messiah secret, because of the popular misguided expectations of the nature of the Messiah. They were expecting a political, military Messiah to deliver the Jewish nation from the Roman oppressors. Mark shows that Jesus refused to meet those expectations. This misunderstanding would have been derived from many predictions in the OT, which speak of a strong future for Israel, when they will rule over their enemies (eg. Amos 9:11-12). During the first century there was great expectation that the Messiah was about to come. He would be a mighty political leader, and would deliver the people from the Romans, and Israel would again be great. Various people arose claiming to be the one (Acts 5:36-37). But the expectation of the Jews was wrong. Jesus had to teach the people the true nature of the Messiah. We see this expectation following the feeding of the five thousand, when the crowd wanted to make Him king by force (Jn 6:15). Jesus withdrew to the mountains, showing that he would not agree to their desires. Later, the charge brought against Him before Pilate, was that he was claiming to be the King of the Jews (Matt 27:13). Jesus had to retrain people to understand the full revelation, that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer (Luke 24:25-26). Jesus had to withstand the pressure of the crowd.
When the disciples came to realise that he was the Messiah, he then had to teach them the true nature of Messiah, a suffering Messiah, who would die on a cross. He did this through the 'Son of Man' sayings, explaining that Son of Man must suffer. Peter did not accept this, and was rebuked by Jesus (Mk 8:32), as he thought that Messiahs do not suffer!
The Son of Man
The Son of Man was not recognised as a Messianic title, which is probably why Jesus used it to describe himself. It is used sixty-five times in the four gospels. It had a number of different associations in the OT. Firstly the Son of Man meant a particular person, a human being. God called Ezekiel Son of Man over ninety times (eg Ezek 2:1). The original Hebrew is 'Son of Adam', meaning a human being. In Psalm eight, Son of Man means mankind in general as God’s creation (Ps 8:4), not the Messiah.
However, there is a very significant passage in Daniel, which speaks about the exaltation of the Son of Man (Dan 7:13). It is set in the context of predictions of four empires, starting with Babylon, and ending with Rome (7:1-8). There is then a dramatic judgement scene with God sitting on his throne, “As I watched thrones were set in place and an Ancient One took his throne, his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, and his wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and flowed out from his presence. A thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him. The court sat in judgement, and the books were opened.” (Dan 7:9-10). Then, after a scene of the arrogant horn standing before God, there is a vision of the one called the 'Son of Man', “As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being (son of man) coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed” (Dan 7:13-14).
So the Son of Man seen by Daniel is one who has all authority and power, so Jesus uses this passage in his claim to be the Messiah. He took the concept from Daniel, and added extra content from the description of the suffering servant (Is 53) so that people would learn the true nature of Messiah. Jesus did not call himself the Messiah (Christ), because of the popular misconception. Instead, he used 'Son of Man' to show his pre-existence and supernatural origin. He then added the idea of a suffering servant, which would have never been connected in Judaism, to give the true picture of the Messiah, who would come to suffer and die, before being glorified.
So to return to the structure of Mark’s Gospel. The 'Messianic Secret' is gradually unfolded. The first part of the book focuses on Jesus’ ministry to the crowds, showing both his popularity and the growing opposition (1:1 - 8:28). The turning point come when the disciples, represented by Peter, first realise that Jesus is the Messiah, at least in a partial sense. The second part of the book, from 8:28 to the end, reveals the true nature of the Messiah. He re-educates his disciples, teaching and training them, so then can become the foundation of his church. Mark's purpose (1:1) is to give an account of the 'good news' or joyful tidings. He does this by the collection of accounts, but weaving them together gives revelation of the true nature of the Messiah, who suffered and died for our sins.
Unique Passages in Mark’s Gospel
Over ninety percent of Mark is included in Matthew, and about fifty percent is included in Luke, so there are only very few unique passages in Mark’s Gospel.
||The beginning of the good news
||Jesus being with the wild beasts during temptations
||Sabbath made for man, not man for the Sabbath, so Son of Man is lord of Sabbath
||James and John being given the name 'Boanerges = sons of Thunder'
||Jesus’ family trying to restrain him
||Parable of growing seed secretly
||Jesus being asleep on a cushion during storm
||Jesus saying, “Peace, Be still” to the storm
||Jesus being aware that power had gone from him when healing woman with bleeding.
||Departure to Tyre & entering a house, not wanting anyone to know he was there
||Healing of deaf and mute man in Decapolis, involving spitting
||Healing of blind man in two stages, involving spitting
||Conversation with father of demonised boy throwing himself in to fire
||Boy being like a corpse and people thinking he was dead
||This kind of demon can only come out through prayer
||Everyone salted with fire. Salt losing its saltiness - be at peace
||Jesus being indignant when disciples sent children away
||Blessings including persecutions for those who give up everything
||Scribe’s reply to Jesus about importance of loving God and neighbour
||Analogy of man going on journey and leaving doorkeeper to be on watch
||The naked young man running away
||Question about who will roll away the stone
The problem of the last twelve verses of Mark's Gospel (Mk 16:9-20)
The problem with these verses arises because they are omitted in some of the most ancient of the Greek manuscripts, including the Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Vaticanus. In these, and other manuscripts, Mark's gospel concludes with 16:8, which seems to be a very abrupt ending. Two alternative endings are given in most translations, the shorter ending and the longer ending (v9-20).
It is possible that Mark intended to finish his gospel at verse eight, with the silence and fear of the women. This makes an interesting contrast between the times when people spoke about Jesus after he had told them to be silent (eg 1:45), and here where Jesus told the women to go and tell the disciples and they were silent. The abrupt ending may have been intentional, but many scholars suggest that Mark may have intended to add his own ending. It is possible that Mark's original ending has been lost, or that Mark was unable to complete his gospel because of the persecution happening in Rome at the time, but this is speculation.
The shorter ending
The shorter ending is dismissed by most scholars as it is only found in four Greek manuscripts. It was probably added early in the second century and is certainly not in Mark's style or using his vocabulary. “And all that had been commanded them they told briefly to those around Peter. And afterward Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.”
The longer ending
The longer ending was also almost certainly not written by Mark. There is a sudden change from verse eight to verse nine, and the passage is not in Mark's style, being more of a summary of the main events. There are accounts of three appearances and a summary description of the Great Commission and Ascension, perhaps drawn from the accounts in Luke and Acts.
1) Appearance to Mary Magdalene (v9-11) (as Lk 24:10-11)
2) Two walking on road to Emmaus (v12-13) (as Lk 24:13-35)
3) Appearance to the 11 in the upper room (v14) (Jn 20:19-22)
We should notice their lack of faith is mentioned three times, they didn't believe that he had risen.
4) Great commission (v15-18)
5) Ascension (v19-20)
Although these verses are not found in the earliest Greek manuscripts, they are found in the majority of the ancient manuscripts, so were probably written later in the first century or early second century. Although probably not written by Mark himself, these verses have consistently been recognised as inspired Scripture by the church and considered as part of the New Testament canon. The author may have been one of the other apostles or church leaders, who was inspired by the Holy Spirit to complete Mark's unfinished account.