Date: c. A.D. 60
The Gospel of Mark was probably the first gospel written, forming the base, in one way or another, for both Matthew and Luke. The three together are called “Synoptics” because they view the life of Jesus from roughly the same angle. The Gospel of John takes a different tack, and hence it is usually discussed by itself. Mark has all the appearances of being written early in the church’s history, certainly before the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
There are two basic theories regarding authorship. A modern view suggests that the book arose over a period of time, being added to, edited, altered, and rearranged according to the current needs of the church. Although some passages in this Gospel look as though they have been reworked, such a wholesale revamping is unlikely. The church would hardly have felt it right to alter the life of Jesus so drastically that little description of the actual events would be found. The traditional theory that John Mark, the companion of the apostle Peter, took down Peter’s recollections and later wrote them up as a Gospel is to be preferred. That view has the support of all the early writers in the church as well as accounting for the facts of the Gospel quite satisfactorily.
Mark probably wrote his Gospel in Rome sometime before the civil war that took place there in A.D. 68-69. It was a difficult time for the church. Persecution had taken the lives of many prominent Christians, including the apostles Peter and Paul. No doubt Mark felt the time had arrived to put his material into a more permanent form. The style of writing has the appearance of being hastily done, without a lot of editing to smooth out the rough places. This gives the book a feeling of immediacy. Vivid detail, fast action, violent conflict, all are present in abundance. Mark used a literary device (the word “immediately”) to give this feeling of fast-paced activity. It occurs over 40 times.
Theological Themes in the Gospel of Mark
The purposes for Mark’s writings are not hard to find. First, and in this case foremost, is to show us what the gospel is, namely, Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The church was preaching a message of salvation in abbreviated form, and Mark wanted to show what the message was all about. It was the story of Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God, who died for our sins, was buried, and rose again. Mark spends no time at all on Jesus’ birth, early years, or secondary life events. The story begins with the preaching of John the Baptist, moves quickly to Jesus’ confrontation with authorities, and concentrates on the events of the last week of his life. Ten chapters are used for the first 30 years of Jesus’ life, and six chapters are devoted to the last week. That gives an idea of what was important to Mark. It is not without reason that the church has chosen the cross as its symbol; the Gospel of Mark shows the reason why.
A second point that Mark wanted to make was that Jesus, Son of God though he was, was also human. Mark stressed the emotions of Jesus more than any other writer. Jesus is seen as one who was like us in every way, except for sin. Jesus got tired, hungry, weary, discouraged, was encouraged, strengthened, determined, and steadfast. All of us can identify with what Jesus went through because as human beings we have experienced similar feelings.
Third, Mark wrote to encourage Christians who were being persecuted. To see Jesus stand up in the face of opposition should give them the strength to do that too.
Finally, Mark wanted to show the power of Jesus. All through the Gospel we are able to see Jesus as he overcame demonic powers, disease, ignorance, enemies, and finally death. The Father stood by him, and he accomplished the task God had for him to do.
Outline for the Gospel of Mark
- Prologue Mark 1:1-13
- Jesus’ early ministry Mark 1:14-9:1
- Transfiguration and trip to Jerusalem Mark 9:2-10:52
- Jesus’ last week Mark 11:1-15:47
- Resurrection of Jesus Mark 16:1-8 (20)