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Mark, the Gospel of

Holman Bible Dictionary

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The second book of the New Testament and the shortest account of the ministry of Jesus.

Author The title “according to Mark” was added to this Gospel by scribes who produced the earliest copies of the Gospel. According to early church tradition, Mark recorded and arranged the “memories” of Peter, thereby producing a Gospel based on apostolic witness. Although Mark was a common Roman name, the gospel writer is probably John Mark. Mark became an important assistant for both Paul and Peter, preaching the good news to Gentiles and preserving the gospel message for later Christians. See Mark, John .

Readers Mark wrote his Gospel for Gentile Christians. He explains Jewish customs in detail for the benefit of readers unfamiliar with Judaism (Mark 7:3-4; Mark 12:18 ). Mark translated several Aramaic expressions for a Greek-speaking audience (Mark 5:41; Mark 7:11 ,Mark 7:11,7:34; Mark 15:22 ). Gentiles would have especially appreciated Mark's interpretation of the saying of Jesus which declared all foods clean (Mark 7:19; compare with Matthew 15:17-20 ). Mark's Gentile audience may explain his omission of the genealogy of Jesus. Perhaps these Gentile readers were Roman Christians. Mark's Gospel contains many terms borrowed from Latin and written in Greek, consider “taking counsel” (Mark 3:6 ), “Legion” (Mark 5:9 ), “tribute” (Mark 12:14 ), “scourged” (Mark 15:15 ).

Early Christian tradition placed Mark in Rome preserving the words of Peter for Roman Christians shortly before the apostle's death (see 1 Peter 5:13 ). According to tradition, Peter was martyred in Rome during the Neronian persecution, which would place the date of Mark's Gospel about A.D. 64 to 68. Such a hostile environment motivated Mark to couch his account of the life of Jesus in terms that would comfort Christians suffering for their faith. The theme of persecution dominates the Gospel of Mark (see Mark 10:30; compare Matthew 19:29; Luke 18:29 ). Jesus' messianic suffering is emphasized to inspire Christians to follow the same path of servanthood (Mark 10:42-45 ). Roman Christians would be encouraged knowing that Jesus anticipated that “everyone shall be salted with fire” (Mark 9:49; see Mark 13:9-13 ). Dying for the gospel would be equivalent to dying for Jesus (Mark 8:35; Matthew 16:25; Luke 9:24 ).

Style Mark has been called the “gospel of action.” One of his favorite words in telling the story of Jesus is “immediately.” Jesus is constantly on the move. In one day, according to Mark, Jesus instructed the multitudes by the sea, traveled across the sea of Galilee and calmed the storm, healed the Gerasene demoniac, crossed the sea again, healed the woman with a hemorrhage, and raised a little girl from the dead (Mark 4:1-6:1 ). Mark apparently had more interest in the work of Jesus than in the words of Jesus. Thus he omitted the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus taught as He moved from region to region, using the circumstances of His travel as valuable lessons for His disciples (Mark 8:14-21 ). Geographical references serve only to trace the expansive parameters of His ministry. According to Mark's “motion” picture, Jesus moved quickly—as if He were a man whose days were numbered.

Good storytellers captivate audiences by using everyday language which provokes strong imagery. Mark's language is simple, direct, and common. His sometimes rough and unrefined Greek grammar facilitates his ability to communicate the gospel message by using familiar patterns of speech. When Mark told a story, he possessed a flair for the dramatic and an eye for detail. His description of events was replete with vivid images which evoke a variety of emotions in just one story (see Mark 5:1-20; compare Matthew 8:28-34 ). In the graphic account of Jesus' encounter with the demoniac boy, only Mark recorded the child's convulsion which caused him to fall on the ground, and roll “around, foaming at the mouth” (Mark 9:20 , Mark 9:26 NIV). Furthermore, Mark preserved Jesus' interrogation of the father as to the severity of the boy's condition and the depth of his own faith ( Mark 9:21-24 ). Finally, only Mark recorded the actual words of Jesus' rebuke as well as the reaction of the crowd to the boy's lifeless body: “He's dead!” (Mark 9:25-26 , NIV).

Mark's concern for detail, sometimes to the point of redundancy (see Mark 6:49-50 NIV, “when they saw Him because they all saw Him “He spoke to them and said ”), demonstrates his reliance upon eyewitness testimony. Mark was careful to relate not only the words of Jesus, but also His gestures, attitudes, and emotions (Mark 3:5; Mark 6:34; Mark 7:34; Mark 8:12; Mark 11:16 ). In the same fashion, Mark recorded the reaction of the crowds, facial expressions of conversationalists, conclusions drawn by the disciples, and private remarks made by opponents (Mark 5:40; Mark 10:22 ,Mark 10:22,10:32 ,Mark 10:32,10:41; Mark 11:31; Mark 14:40 ). Only an observant insider would relate stories with such pertinent information. Furthermore, the prominent role of Peter in the narrative (Peter remembered, Mark 11:21; see also Mark 1:36; Mark 14:37; Mark 16:7 ) confirms early Christian tradition that Mark relied upon the recollections of the apostle when he produced “the gospel of Jesus Christ” (Mark 1:1 ).

Form Upon first reading, the Gospel of Mark appears to be an arbitrary collection of stories about Jesus. After the Baptist fulfilled his role as the forerunner to the Messiah (in a very brief appearance), Jesus began His public ministry in Galilee by preaching the “gospel of God” and collecting a few disciples collecting a few disciples (Mark 1:14-20 ). With these necessary introductions completed, Mark presented the life of Jesus by following a simple geographical scheme: from Galilee to Judea. The popular Galilean ministry of Jesus is recorded in Mark 1-9 . The brief Judean ministry (Mark 10:1-31 ) serves primarily as a prelude to the approaching passion of Jesus. Over one-third of Mark's Gospel is devoted to describing the events of the last week in the life of Jesus (Mark 10:32-15:47 ). The story ends as abruptly as it began; Mark finished his Gospel account with the angelic announcement of the resurrection of Jesus the Nazarene (the earliest Greek manuscripts of the New Testament end Mark's Gospel at Mark 16:8 ). Mark's chronology of Jesus leaves the reader with the impression that his only purpose in writing a Gospel was to preserve the oral tradition in written form. However, upon closer inspection, it becomes apparent to the observant reader that Mark arranged the material in a more sophisticated fashion to convey truth on a higher level.

The stories of the cleansing of the Temple and the cursing of the fig tree appear as isolated incidents in Matthew's Gospel, connected by chronological sequence (Matthew 21:12-22 ). In the Gospel of Mark, on the other hand, these two stories are interwoven to aid the reader in interpreting the parabolic activity of Jesus. Along the way to Jerusalem Jesus indicated to His disciples that He was hungry and approached a fig tree to harvest its fruit. The tree was full of leaves, giving every indication of life; but it possessed no fruit. Mark recorded that Jesus “answered” the tree and announced, May “no man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever” (Mark 11:14 ). The disciples, who “heard him,” must have been puzzled by Jesus' actions, for Mark recorded that “it was not the season for figs” (Mark 11:13 , NIV). Without explanation, Jesus led His disciples into Jerusalem where he cleansed the Temple. From a distance the daily activity of the Temple gave every indication of spiritual life, but upon closer inspection Jesus found no spiritual fruit. Israel, the fig tree, was supposed to provide a “house of prayer for all the nations” (Mark 11:17 , NIV). Instead, the religious leaders turned the devotion of worshipers into financial profit (Mark 11:15 ,Mark 11:15,11:17 ). In essence, when Jesus “answered” the fig tree, he pronounced a curse on the Jewish religious leadership and demonstrated His divine displeasure by cleansing the Temple. In word and deed, Jesus prophesied that God would not longer use Israel as the vehicle of salvation for humanity. It should have come as no surprise, then, for Peter and the disciples, during their return trip, to find the cursed fig tree dead (Mark 11:21 ). By purifying the Temple, Jesus marked the death of Judaism, caused His own death (Mark 11:18 ), and gave birth to a religion for all people. The Gentile readers of Mark's Gospel would have especially appreciated the significant arrangement of these two stories.

Mark's Gospel is not just a collection of stories about Jesus; his book tells the story of Jesus as a whole. Mark developed the unifying “plot” of the gospel story by unveiling the hidden identity of Jesus. The messianic secret is part of the mystery of the kingdom of God, understood only by insiders—”to them that are without all these things are done in parables” (Mark 4:11 ,Mark 4:11,4:33-34 ). Throughout Mark's Gospel, Jesus made every attempt to conceal His true identity. Jesus silenced demonic profession because they knew Him (Mark 1:34 ). He ordered those who witnessed miracles not to tell anyone what they saw, although silence was only a remote possibility (Mark 7:36 ). Even after the climactic profession of faith, when the disciples revealed that they had learned the secret (“Thou art the Christ”!), Jesus swore His followers to secrecy (Mark 8:29-30 ). Mark used the messianic secret to organize his story around the progressive revelation of Christ and the faith pilgrimage of His disciples. Even Gentiles demonstrated that they belonged to the community of faith when they understood Jesus' parables and recognized Him as the Christ.

The literary form of Mark's Gospel is no accident. The arrangement of the gospel material gives every indication that a skilled literary craftsman has been at work. For example, Mark found irony in pairing the story of the disciples questioning the identity of Jesus after the stilling of the storm, “What manner of man is this?” (Mark 4:41 ) with the account of the demons who are quick to shout, “Jesus, thou son of the most high God” (Mark 5:7 ). When the disciples finally offered their superlative confession of faith at Caesarea Philippi (Mark 8:27-30 ), they failed to understand the full implications of Jesus' messiahship (Mark 8:31-38 ). Mark depicted their partial spiritual vision by recording the unique miracle of Jesus healing the blind man in two stages (Mark 8:22-25 ). Although the disciples saw the messianic secret, their vision was not be focused until the resurrection. Beyond doubt, Mark's portrait of Jesus is a “painting” which can be appreciated both up close (style) and from a distance (form).

Message Jesus' favorite self-designation, especially in Mark, was “Son of Man.” In Mark's Gospel, Jesus is identified with humanity in title and in kind. Mark portrayed Jesus as a Man possessing every human emotion. Moved by compassion, anger, frustration, mercy, and sorrow (Mark 1:41; Mark 3:5; Mark 8:17; Mark 14:6 ,Mark 14:6,14:33 ), Jesus ministered among His own kind. Mark offered the full humanity of Jesus without reservation (see Mark 3:21; Mark 4:38; Mark 6:3-6; Mark 13:32 ); from the beginning of His earthly ministry (Mark 2:20 ), Jesus lived in the ominous shadow of the cross until the agony of Gethsemane almost overwhelmed Him (Mark 14:34 ). However, Mark penned a Gospel which was also designed to evoke faith in the deity of Jesus: the divine voice announced it from heaven, demons screamed it in agony, Peter professed it boldly, even a Roman soldier acknowledged, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39 ).


I. God Has Acted for His People by Sending His Son as His Agent (Mark 1:1-13 ).

A. God fulfilled the words of His prophets (Mark 1:1-3 ).

B. God announced His action through the herald in the wilderness (Mark 1:4-8 ).

C. God's endorsement of Jesus as His beloved Son showed He is the promised Lord (Mark 1:9-11 ).

D. God sustained His Son in the experience of testing in the wilderness (Mark 1:12-13 ).

II. The Appearance of God's Son as His Agent Signaled the Presence of the New Age (Mark 1:14-45 ).

A. God's Agent announced the presence of the new age (Mark 1:14-15 ).

B. The call to become fishers of men was a consequence of the presence of the new age (Mark 1:16-20 ).

C. The unique authority of God's Agent demonstrated the presence of the new age (Mark 1:21-28 ).

D. Healing through God's Agent revealed the saving character of the new age (Mark 1:29-34 ).

E. The urgency of preaching was consistent with the presence of the new age (Mark 1:35-39 ).

F. The healing of a leper was evidence of the powers of the new age (Mark 1:40-45 ).

III. The Old Order Failed to Recognize God's Agent or the Presence of the new age (Mark 2:1-3:6 ).

A. The old order failed to recognize that Jesus had authority to forgive sins (Mark 2:1-12 ).

B. The old order resented God's Agent for forgiving outcasts and sinners (Mark 2:13-17 ).

C. The old order failed to understand fasting was inappropriate when God's Agent was present (Mark 2:18-22 ).

D. The old order failed to recognize that God's Agent was the Lord of the sabbath (Mark 2:23-3:5 ).

E. The old order displayed hardness of heart when it schemed to destroy God's Agent (Mark 3:6 ).

IV. The Presence of God's Agent Provoked a Reaction from Others (Mark 3:7-6:6 ).

A. Crowds followed God's Agent to receive the blessings of the new age (Mark 3:7-10 ).

B. Unclean spirits recognized the threat posed by the presence of God's Agent (Mark 3:11-12 ).

C. God's Agent appointed the twelve to express His unique authority (Mark 3:13-19 ).

D. God's Agent was regarded by His family as deranged (Mark 3:20-21 ).

E. God's Agent was regarded by the old order as demonic (Mark 3:22-30 ).

F. God's Agent identified His true family as those who do God's will in the new age (Mark 3:31-35 ).

G. God's Agent used parables to clarify the character of the new age (Mark 4:1-34 ).

H. When God's Agent subdued the hostile power of the sea, the reaction was awe (Mark 4:35-41 ).

I. When God's Agent extended the salvation of the new age to the Gentiles, the reaction was both terror and gratitude (Mark 5:1-20 ).

J. When God's Agent subdued the powers of disease and death, the reaction was fear and amazement (Mark 5:21-43 ).

K. When God's Agent addressed those who knew Him well, the reaction was contempt and unbelief (Mark 6:1-6 ).

V. God's Agent Extended the Blessings of the new Age in Spite of Opposition (Mark 6:7-8:30 ).

A. God's Agent extended the blessings of the new age through the twelve, warning them to expect opposition (Mark 6:7-13 ).

B. The murder of the herald of the new age anticipated the death of God's Agent (Mark 6:14-29 ).

C. God's Agent provided rest in the wilderness as a blessing of the new age (Mark 6:30-44 ).

D. God's Agent provided relief to those who obey Him as a blessing of the new age (Mark 6:45-52 ).

E. God's Agent provided healing for those who seek Him as a blessing of the new age (Mark 6:53-56 ).

F. God's Agent challenged the old order traditions with enduring commandments (Mark 7:1-23 ).

G. God's Agent extended new age blessings to believing Gentiles (Mark 7:24-8:10 ).

H. God's Agent experienced the old order's opposition in their demand for a sign (Mark 8:11-13 ).

I. The twelve failed to understand the significance of the blessings of the new age (Mark 8:14-21 ).

J. God's Agent opened blind eyes as a sign of the new age (Mark 8:22-26 ).

K. Jesus was recognized as God's Agent, the mediator of the blessings of the new age (Mark 8:27-30 ).

VI. God's Agent Exhibited the New Age Paradox: Suffering Precedes Vindication (Mark 8:31-10:52 ).

A. God's Agent must experience suffering prior to vindication by resurrection (Mark 8:31-33 ).

B. New age people participate in the paradox: the way to life is through death (Mark 8:34-38 ).

C. The transfiguration provides assurance: vindication will follow suffering (Mark 9:1-8 ).

D. Both the herald and the Agent of the new age exhibited the pattern of suffering and rejection followed by vindication (Mark 9:9-13 ).

E. The powers of the new age are released through faith and prayer (Mark 9:14-29 ).

F. The paradox of the new age that suffering precedes vindication is reaffirmed (Mark 9:30-32 ).

G. The paradox of the new age is that greatness is expressed through humble service (Mark 9:33-41 ).

H. The fact of the new age accounts for the stringent requirements of discipleship (Mark 9:42-50 ).

I. The creation intention of God for marriage is reaffirmed in the new age (Mark 10:1-12 ).

J. Entrance into the new age is through childlike faith (Mark 10:13-16 ).

K. Entrance into the new age requires sacrificial commitment (Mark 10:17-31 ).

L. The paradox of the new age is reaffirmed (Mark 10:32-45 ).

M. True discipleship responds immediately to the blessings of the new age (Mark 10:46-52 ).

VII. The Presence of God's Agent in Jerusalem Intensified the Conflict between the Old Order and the New Age (Mark 11:1-12:44 ).

A. The significance of the entrance of God's Agent into Jerusalem was unrecognized (Mark 11:1-11 ).

B. The presence of God's Agent in Jerusalem introduced judgment on the old order (Mark 11:12-25 ).

C. The authority of God's Agent was challenged by representatives of the old order (Mark 11:27-33 ).

D. God's Agent taught of His transcendent dignity (Mark 12:1-12 ).

E. The wisdom of God's Agent was challenged by representatives of the old order (Mark 12:13-27 ).

F. God's Agent was vindicated by His teaching on the greatest commandment (Mark 12:28-34 ).

G. God's Agent exposed the inability of the old order to understand Scripture (Mark 12:35-37 ).

H. God's Agent exposed the hypocrisy of the old order (Mark 12:38-40 ).

I. God's Agent presented a proper response to the presence of the new age (Mark 12:41-44 ).

VIII. God's Agent Foresaw Impending Distress for Jerusalem and the Old Order (Mark 13:1-37 ).

A. God's Agent foresaw the impending destruction of the Temple (Mark 13:1-4 ).

B. God's Agent warned of deception through those who falsely claim to act for God (Mark 13:5-8 ).

C. God's Agent warned of impending persecution and called for steadfastness (Mark 13:9-13 ).

D. God's Agent warned of the sacrilege that causes desolation (Mark 13:14-23 ).

E. God's Agent looked beyond the impending distress to triumph for His people (Mark 13:24-37 ).

IX. The Old Order Was Unified in Its Action Against God's Agent (Mark 14:1-15:47 ).

A. Representatives of the old order determined to seize God's Agent (Mark 14:1-2 ).

B. God's Agent was anointed for His burial (Mark 14:3-9 ).

C. God's Agent was denied by one of the twelve who agreed to betray Him (Mark 14:10-11 ).

D. God's Agent announced His betrayal during the Passover meal (Mark 14:12-21 ).

E. God's Agent provided His own symbol of the new age (Mark 14:22-26 ).

F. God's Agent foresaw the failure and denial of His own followers (Mark 14:27-31 ).

G. God's Agent affirmed His submission to the will of God in Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-42 ).

H. God's Agent experienced betrayal and arrest, fulfilling Scripture (Mark 14:43-52 ).

I. God's Agent was condemned, mocked, and brutalized by the old order (Mark 14:53-65 ).

J. The prophecy of Peter's denial was fulfilled (Mark 14:66-72 ).

K. The old religious order joined the political order to condemn God's Agent (Mark 15:1-20 ).

L. God's Agent was crucified as King of the Jews (Mark 15:21-37 ).

M. God's Agent was acknowledged to be the Son of God by a Roman (Mark 15:38-39 ).

N. The death and burial of God's Agent was witnessed by godly women (Mark 15:40-47 ).

X. The Resurrection of God's Agent Validated the Presence of the New Age (Mark 16:1-8 ).

XI. A Later Appendix: Proof of the Vindication of God's Agent (Mark 16:9-20 ).

Rodney Reeves

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Mark, the Gospel of'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hbd/​m/mark-the-gospel-of.html. 1991.
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