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2.

THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO MARK


2.1. Authorship, and the addressees of Mark

a) The Gospel literary genre


Mark is generally known as the inventor of the Gospel literary genre. A literary genre is a category of
writing based on literary technique, tone, style, or content, length of a particular writing. A biography,
an auto-biography, a novel, History writing, poetry, etc are different literary genres. Gospel is a
narration about Jesus Christ.

Jesus proclaimed the Gospel, that is, the good news, that through him, the kingdom of God had come.
Indeed, the phrase "kingdom of God" is the comprehensive term for the whole of Jesus teaching.
Mark wrote a book presenting the good news about Jesus. The one who proclaimed the good news,
Jesus, became the subject of the proclamation: it was now his words and his actions which were
proclaimed as the good news, the gospel. And the title given to this kind of book from the second
century onwards is significant: the Gospel according to Mark, the Gospel according to Luke, and so
on. Jesus proclaimed a single gospel; the evangelists present the life of Jesus as they received it; they
give their testimony of faith in Jesus.

Definitely, Mark did not make it all up himself. Words and actions of Jesus had been brought together
before him, first orally and then in writing. Several collections already existed: a collection of sayings
(or logia), an account of the passion from the arrest of Jesus to his burial, and doubtless other
sequences. Then Mark had to impose / create a geographical and chronological framework on the life
of Jesus, a framework which Matthew and Luke were to take up after him. It should be said that this
framework is useful: it is more theological than historical. Mark does not claim to represent events as
they actually happened. He offers a certain view of the ministry of Jesus as seen by him and the
community whose spokesman he was.

b) Date, Marks community and the author of the Gospel


In chapter 13, the Gospel according to Mark refers to the destruction of Jerusalem either as an event
that may shortly happen or as one that has recently happened. For that reason, the Gospel of Mark has
been dated shortly before or shortly after 70 AD. In any case, it is virtually certain that it is not far
removed from that date.

According to the earliest available tradition, this Gospel was written by Mark, the interpreter of Peter.
Eusebius (260-340) quotes Papias (70 -163), a hearer of John, who affirmed the following: Mark,
who was the interpreter of Peter, wrote down carefully, but not in the right order, everything that he
remembered, both what had been said by the Lord and also what had been done by him. For he had
neither seen nor had he followed the Lord, but later he followed Peter. This latter shaped his teachings

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to the needs of the hearers, not in such a way that he gave an orderly account of the sayings of the
Lord. So Mark did not make a mistake in writing down some things as he remembered them. For, he
had one concern, not to omit anything that he had heard or to falsify anything in it.

But who is really this Mark? The text of the Gospel According to Mark does not specifically identify
anyone as the author. The same is true for all the gospels. Matthew does not identify himself, nor does
Luke, and in the gospel of John the author seems to identify himself with the beloved disciple, but this
cannot be equated with the apostle John (Jn 21:24). Not even Mark is identified as the author in
theory, Mark could have simply related a series of events and stories to someone else who collected
them, edited them, and set them down in the gospel form. It wasn't until the second century that the
title According to Mark or The Gospel According to Mark was affixed to this document. The
author saw no need to identify himself (or herself), and the early church was content to deal with
anonymity.

The gospels were composed of available tradition about Jesus which the different evangelists arranged
to their own purpose. If these traditions were generally known to the communities, there would be no
great concern about preserving the identity of the one person or persons who arranged the material to
suit the peculiar needs of the community. Therefore, Marks work was editing, which is not a question
of composing new material.

Mark (Marcus) was a very common name in the first century Greco-Roman world. A number of
people in the New Testament not only Acts but also in the Pauline letters are named Mark and
anyone of them could potentially have been the author behind this gospel. But most people have
assumed that Mark was the Mark mentioned frequently in other NT literature. In fact, tradition has
it that the Gospel according to Mark was written down by Mark, a companion of Peter, who simply
recorded what Peter preached in Rome (1 Peter 5:13) and this person was, in turn, identified with
John Mark in Acts (12:12,25; 13:5-13; 15:37-39) as well as the Mark in Philemon 24, Colossians
4:10, and 2 Timothy 4:1.

It seems unlikely that all of these Marks were the same Mark, much less the author of this gospel. The
name Mark appears frequently in the Roman Empire and there would have been a strong desire to
associate this gospel with someone close to Jesus. It was also common in this age to attribute writings
to important figures of the past in order to give them more authority.

For sure, Marks community was made up of former Gentiles. For, Mark is obliged to translate
Aramaic words, as in the following passages: "Talitha cumi"; which means, "Little girl, I say to you,
arise." (5:41); And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"
which means, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (15:34). He also explains certain
Jewish customs. One can realise the importance that Mark attaches to the evangelization of Gentiles.

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At the end of the Gospel, the Roman centurion confesses: "Truly this man was the Son of God!"
(15:39).

This community was threatened with persecutions. The faith which Mark presents is not a quiet faith:
it comes up against opposition and is forced to take risks. That fits in very well with what we know of
the Church of Rome under Nero. Peter suffered martyrdom in 64 AD. It is right to say that Marks
community is dispersed among the Gentiles, as Peter wrote in his letter.

c) Place of writing

Even if Mark did not rely on Peter as a source for his material, there are reasons to argue that Mark
wrote while in Rome. For example Clement of Rome, who died in 212, and Irenaeus, who died in
202, are two early church leaders who both supported a Roman origin for Mark. Mark calculates time
by a Roman method (for example, dividing the night into four watches rather than three), and finally,
he has a faulty knowledge of Palestinian geography (5:1, 7:31, 8:10).

In any case, it is not great deal for us not to have the total certitude about the identity of the Mark to
whom the Gospel is credited. Nor was it any deal for the communities in which the gospel was
written. The early church felt no great interest in the authors of the gospels. Thus, the best description
of the author is that this an unknown first century Gentile Christian. The communities were more
aware of the continual abiding presence of the Lord with them and thus needed to have been
concerned with his actual words.

2.2. The geography

Mark has given a very simple frame work to the life of Jesus. After his baptism in the Jordan (1:1-13),
Jesus preaches in Galilee (1:14-9:50), goes up to Jerusalem (10), preaches and dies in Jerusalem
(11:1-16:8); the angel of the resurrection announces that the disciples are to gather together again in
Galilee (16:6-8). According to Mark therefore, Jesus moved in a single journey from Galilee to
Jerusalem where he died (See Map). It is in Galilee, where he commenced his ministry that he will
ascend to heaven. However, it is important to recall that the Gospels are not ordinance survey maps;
their geography is primarily theological.

2.3. The mystery of Jesus in Mark

From the very first words of the Gospel, Mark lets his readers into the secret: the Gospel of Jesus,
Christ, Son of God. Two titles appear beside his name, Jesus which identifies him as a man (Christ /
Messiah) and Son of God. And from this point, the reader is invited to discover by steps the mystery
of Jesus. This takes place in two stages.

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In the first stage (1:14-8:26), Jesus proclaims the imminent coming of the kingdom of God, and
perfoms miracles that witness to this. However, he refuses to say who he is and forbids the demons to
divulge it: there is a secret known as the messianic secret. This motif (the messianic secret) runs
throughout an important section Marks Gospel. Jesus repeatedly imposes commands to silence on
demons and unclean spirits which he exorcised (1:23-25,34; 3:11-12). Jesus forbids people whom he
has healed from telling others about their good fortune (Mk 1:43-44 5:43; 7:36). He even prohibits
his disciples from telling others about him (8:30; 9:9). He tries to conceal his presence from others
(7:24; 9:30). He gives some private teachings limited to his disciples (3:33-34; 7:27-23) 12:3-37). But
the secrecy theme abruptly disappears when Jesus stands as the accused on trial before the high priest
(14:61-62). What is Mark indicating with his emphasis on secrecy about Jesus identity as Messiah
(Christ) before his passion?

Why the secret? Through the secrecy motif, Mark wants to show that the mystery of Jesus cannot be
revealed just at once, but gradually till Jesus has accomplished it all in the event of the Cross. Thus,
Mark insists that the identity of Jesus is not solved with just one story. A healing does not define the
richness of his messiahship. Neither does an exorcism. Not even heavenly epiphany (a manifestation
of the presence of God) such as the transfiguration (Mk 9:2-10) is enough. The stories about Jesus are
partial by themselves. Only when they are heard and interpreted in terms of the cross event do they
correctly show his messiahship.

The second part (8:27-16:8) begins with Peters proclamation, You are the Christ. This statement is
well put in the middle of the Gospel. With Peters confession of faith in Jesus, the Master seems to
breathe a sigh of relief. For, his disciples have seen one part of his mystery. At the same time,
however, he is disturbed: there is a risk that they, too, will get the wrong idea about the Messiah, and
see in him the liberator who will establish the kingdom of Israel by force of arms. Thus, Jesus forbids
Peter to say it to anyone (8:30). At the same time, he leads his disciples towards the second stage: the
son of man will suffer and be put to death, thus correcting the idea they may have of the Messiah.

2.4. The Structure of Mark

There are varied ways of presenting the structure of Marks Gospel. The following is given to us by
Keith Nickle (2001). According to this structure, the author of the Gospel of Mark fitted the traditions
he received into a simple geographical structure. Thus:

1. Introduction (1,1-13)
a. The message of John the Baptist
b. Baptism of Jesus
c. Temptation
2. The ministry of Jesus in and around Galilee (1:14-8:21)

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a. In Galilee
i. Ministry and teaching and miracles (1:14-45)
ii. Conflicts and controversies (2:1-3:35)
iii. Teaching by the sea (4:1-34)
iv. Miracles by the sea (4:35-5:43)
b. Around the Galilean region (6:1-8:21)
c. Opposition stimulates expansion of mission (6:1-29)
d. Clear signs for those who fear and see (6:30-8:21)
3. Anticipation of the Passion [the hinge section] (8:22-10-10:52)
a. Healing of blind man at Bethsaida (8:22-26)
b. The confession of Peter at Caesarea Philippi (8:27-30)
c. The passion prediction (8:31-10:45)
i. First passion prediction (8:31-33)
ii. Second passion prediction and its effects (9:30-50)
iii. Travelling to Jerusalem (10:1-31)
iv. Third passion prediction and its effects (10:32-45)
v. Healing of blind Bartimaeus (10:46-52)
d. The ministry of Jesus in Jerusalem (11:1-16:8)
i. Prelude to passion (11:1-26)
ii. Conflicts with the religious leaders (11:27-12:44)
iii. End-time discourse (13:1-37)
iv. Anticipation of passion (14:1-42)
v. The Cross event (14:43-16:8)
2.5. Literary characteristics of Mark

1. Mark is written in a popular style. It contains a lot of and or immediately which actually take
the place of all other conjunctions. The author seems to bind stories of Jesus which he collected
from varied sources into one continuous and extended narrative. The pieces of stories very often
start with indefinite connectives such as and, again, then, immediately, in those days,
then going out, and so on (see Mk 1:9; 2:13; 3:1,13,19,31, etc.). These connectives are rather
nonspecific.

2. Some of Marks phrases lack some logic of speech. For example, the blind man beginning to see
said, I see people, it is as if they were trees which I see walking (8:24). He was born blind. How
did he have any knowledge of trees?

3. Mark is a marvelous storyteller. He does not have many speeches. His narratives are always
specific and lively, sprinkled with touches from real life. The verbs are often in the present tense,

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which makes his accounts vivid, but he also mixes tenses. The use of the word for (because) on
numerous occasions appeals to a logic which might disconcert the modern reader ( for she was
twelve years old, at the end of the story of the raising of Jairus daughter, 5:42).

4. Mark contains lots of miracle stories. Compared with the content of the Gospels of Matthew and
Luke, Mark contains only a few logia or teachings of Jesus. The author of Mark stresses those
stories or traditions which describe Jesus extraordinary deeds. The prominence of the miraculous
in the Gospel of Mark has suggested that there may have been an earlier version of Mark, the
proto-Mark. That version, which has not survived, supposedly contained mostly miracle stories.

5. Mark certainly wrote for the benefit of a Gentile Christian community. Whenever he includes
Aramaic words or alludes to Jewish customs he provides explanations for these foreign elements
(5:41; 7:3-4,11,34; 15:22).

6. Marks Gospel has been called the Gospel of before Easter; it shows us Jesus through the eyes of
Peter as he follows his master on the roads of Palestine. But Mark is also a profound theologian,
and he retells the life of Jesus in the light of Easter.

7. Mark organizes the narrative account of the death of Jesus in a 24 hour cycle, neatly divided into
eight three-hour segments. That makes the story of the crucifixion begin to look less and less like
history and more and more like liturgy! Thus:

a) The story starts thus, "when it was evening" (14:17). In this ancient world without
electricity, that would mean when the sun went down, or approximately 6 pm.

b) Mark knows that the duration of the Passover meal is three hours and that it concludes
with the singing of a hymn. So at the end of this segment he notes, "And when they had
sung a hymn they went out to the Mount of Olives" (14:26). That was about 9 p.m.

c) Mark then has Jesus and the disciples go to the Garden of Gethsemane, where his closest
disciples, Peter, James and John, were not able to remain awake. Could you not watch
one hour? Jesus asked. The process was repeated two more times. The disciples could
not watch one, two or three hours. It was now midnight.

d) The act of betrayal by Judas came next, that is around midnight.

e) Jesus is arrested, led away for a trial before the high priest and other senior priests and
elders. But he will be judged in the morning.

f) The watch of the night between 3 am and 6 am was called cockcrow. Mark now inserted
his account of Peter's threefold denial of Jesus, once each hour until the cock crowed,
marking the end of that phase of the night. That makes it 6 am.

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g) "As soon as it was morning", which would be 6 a.m., Jesus was led by the chief priests,
scribes and elders to Pontius Pilate for judgement.

h) Mark tells his readers that " It was the third hour," (or 9 am) "when they crucified him".

i) When "the sixth hour had come" (12 noon), darkness covered the whole earth for 3 hours,
at which time Jesus said "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"

j) Jesus was buried in the final period from 3 to 6 pm, before the sun went down. That
brings us to 6 pm on Friday evening. The holy Sabbath had arrived.

2.6. Marks literary achievement

Mark is surely more than a collector of the oral traditions about Jesus. His contribution as editor was
to link as with a string stories that may have not been so connected with each other. Mark is a
theological construction. The evangelist surely wrote the stories on Jesus. But he had to adapt them
and apply them to the needs of his community. This observation has both negative and positive
implications.

- Negatively, Mark did not write his Gospel to do history. That does not mean he was not
interested in Jesus as a historical person. It does suggest that he wrote the Gospel for purposes
other than simply passing on informational data.

- Positively, Marks major literary achievement was that of taking the various types of Jesus
traditions and welding them to the churchs preaching of the crucified and risen Christ. He thereby
established controls and set limits for the interpretation of the traditions.

The central piece of the Gospel of Mark is the Passion of Jesus. All the episodes of the public ministry
of Jesus are anticipatory prefigurements of the passion. That is, each incident is obscure and even
misleading and deceptive until it is interpreted from the perspective of the crucifixion and
resurrection. We cannot fully understand what Jesus call of the first disciples meant (Mk 6:30-44), or
his being anointed with expensive oil (Mk 14:3-9) until we hear these stories in the light of Good
Friday and Easter. This was what lead Martin Khler, a German scholar to describe Mark as passion
narrative with an extended introduction.

2.7. Marks purpose

It is clear from reading Mark that the Evangelist wanted to answer the question: Who is Jesus? Hence,
he gave his work a Christological title: The beginning of the Good News about Jesus (1:1). He
placed the confession of Peter at the center of his work: You are the Christ (8:29). Towards the end
of the account, he reports the confession of faith of the Roman (pagan) centurion: "Truly this man was

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the Son of God!" (15:39). He furthermore concludes with an account of a dialogue of the Risen One
with the women. Indeed, all of Marks writing was about Jesus Christ the Son of God (1:1).

Thus, Marks primary purpose in writing his Gospel was to strengthen his communitys faith in Jesus
as the Christ, the risen Son of God. Even though Mark used varied sources, his narration is unified
towards one goal. He intends that the story of Jesus be read in its entirety not in parts. Indeed, one
needs to read the whole narration with keenness in order to have a fair understanding of the story of
Jesus according to Mark. Unless one does so, they miss the movement of roles that Mark assigns to
the religious leaders, the crowds and the disciples.

2.8. Important theological ideas

Mark presents Jesus as Christ (Christos). The title Christ is derived from the Greek translation of the
Hebrew title Messiah. But Mark prudently makes Jesus use the term Son of Man to refer to himself.
For, the title Christ was very likely misunderstood in the Marcan community. It was associated with
political and societal triumph. Instead, the title Son of Man is associated with both suffering (8:31;
9:31; 10:33-34) and glory (8:38; 13:26). This title, which plays a prominent role in the Gospel of
Mark has its roots in the Jewish religious traditions. It refers to a more than a human figure that will
come in power and glory at the end of this age.

Mark also emphasizes that Jesus is Son of God. He affirms this at the beginning (1:1) and at the end
(15:39) of his Gospel. He demonstrates the validity of the same idea all along his writing through the
marvelous deeds of Jesus, which include the following: casting out demons (3:11), and the
transfiguration (9:7). The purpose of Marks Gospel is to dispel the negative idea about Jesus
suffering and death, and draw the attention on Christ, the miracle wonder who is Son of God.

In the same vein, Jesus is presented as the Agent of God who is endowed with supernatural power and
authority. At the background of the Gospel, Marks portrait of Jesus emerges from the belief common
among the early Christians that God and Satan were locked in struggle. Satan had usurped Gods right
to rule in creation. God willed to win back control of creation. Through Jesus, then, God has control
over the created order. Thus, when Jesus calms the storm (5:21-43), he is replacing the chaos
characteristic of Satans role with the order which God had once established over the chaotically
stormy waters at creation. When Jesus casts out demons (1:23-28), he is routing agents of Satan in
order that God might once again rule in human hearts. Even though Satan seemed to triumph through
the death of Jesus, God vindicated his Son, who is his Agent, by raising him from the dead. God won
the cosmic struggle over Satan and the forces of death.

Visibly, Marks community was living in turbulent times of persecution. Around the year 64, Emperor
Nero ordered the persecution of the Christians in Rome. Peter and Paul were put to death around that

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time. Many passages therefore encourage the Christians to stick to following Christ on the way of the
cross. Persecution is not to deter them from professing their faith in him who not only died, but also
rose from the dead.

2.9. Relevance of Mark in Africa

For personal research. See: The African Bible (Introductory note on Mark).

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