A. Ancient Church Witness

1. Papias

Eusebius records Papias’ testimony (Ecclesiastical History 3.39.15):

“This the presbyter (John) said, Mark , having become the interpreter of Peter (hermeneutes Petrou), wrote accurately whatever he remembered; not, however, that he wrote in order the things which had been either spoken or done by Christ. For he was himself neither a hearer nor follower of the Lord, but rather, as I said, at a later period of Peter, who regulated his teaching by the necessities of his hearers, yet not as giving a connected account of the Lord’s words. So that Mark committed no mistake when he wrote some things as he recalled them to mind. For of one thing he was especially careful, neither to omit nor to falsify any of the things which he heard. Such is the account which is given by Papias of Mark.” See also Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.12; Tertullian, Against Marcion, 4.5; and Jerome, Lives of Illustrious Men, 8.

2. Authorship

John Mark (John, his Jewish name; Mark his Roman name) appears to have grown upon in Jerusalem in a house available to the early church for its early meetings (Acts 12:12). Some think the unique narrative of the young man who fled naked at the time of Christ’s arrest may have been Mark (Mark 14:51-52). His later history is somewhat known from Acts 12:25, Acts 13:5; Acts 15:36-40; 2Tim 4:11; 1Peter 5:13).

2. Date

Around the time of Peter’s death (67-68AD). Irenaeus: “And after the death of these (Peter and Paul) Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, also transmitted to us in writing the things preached by Peter” (Against Heresies 3.1.2). Yet, Clement of Alexandria [as quoted by Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.14.6) says: “The Gospel according to Mark had this occasion. As Peter had preached the Word publicly at Tome, and declared the Gospel by the Spirit, many who were present declared that Mark, who had followed him for a long time and remembered his sayings, should write them out. After 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.”

3. Audience

The language and style of Mark seems to point to Roman Christians as the audience. He explains Jewish customs (7:3-4; 14:12; 15:42), Jewish geography (11:1; 13:1), uses some Latin expressions (5:9 [Legion]; 6:27; 12:42 [coinage]; 15:16); and elaborates on Simon of Cyrene (as the father of Alexander and Rufus [Mark 15:21], while the latter’s name occurs in Romans 16:13 as a member in Rome.

B. Structure

1. The Challenge

The structure of Mark is challenging. This is partly because the gospel has an “episodic” character – a string of fast-paced narratives. Some also ascribe the challenge of Mark’s structure to the fact that it was certainly meant to be “heard.” However, this does not mean, Mark is simply a collection of loosely connection pieces of tradition without any connection.

2. The Possibilities

The main structures take their cues either from geography, theology, or literary points.

3. The triptych

A very common way of structuring the gospel is seeing it composed of three main parts) with two breaks, either at 8:22 or 8:27 and 10:45 or 10:52. Along with that, there are three very important events, that show a certain paradigm: baptism, transfiguration, and crucifixion, in with case there are apocalyptic elements (heavens rent, voice, “Son of God,” ascriptions, and references to Elijah (this is noted by C. Myers, Binding the Strong Man).
Indeed, Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi is an important “transition” or “turningpoint.” Some even break the whole gospel into two at this point. However, 10:52 is also an attractive dividing point. It pairs Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem and the narrative of Christ’s suffering following right on the heels of the healing of Bar-Timaeus, just as the other unit concluded with the healing of the blind man by Bethsaida.

4. A Proposal

1:1-8:22: Galilee: The Revelation of Jesus
8:23-10:52: On the Way: The Revelation of Christ
14:1-16:20: Jerusalem: The Revelation of the Son of God

C. Characteristics (Hendriksen)

1. Compactness

– just over half the length of Matthew and Luke.
– a lot in summary form. E.g., the tempting in the wilderness is summarized in 2 verses (1:12-13) as opposed to 11 in Matthew and 13 in Luke. Mark only has one short parable that Mark and Luke do not have, namely the parable of the seed growing in secret (Mark 4:26-29). Matthew has 10 parables unique to him and Luke has 18 parables unique to him. There are about 31 verses total that the other gospels do not have.

2. Vividness

– -the “action” gospel. It moves immediately into John the Baptist and Christ’s ministry.
– -40 times euthes (“straightway”)
– -Mark presents lively little touches that are not found elsewhere.
– E.g., Jesus was “was with the wild beasts” (1:13)
– the sons of Zebedee left their father “with the hired servants” (1:20).
– the house Jesus preached was so full, “there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door” (2:2)
– Jesus was “asleep on a pillow” (4:38)
– “About two thousand pigs” drowned (5:13)
– Herod feared John knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him, and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly” (6:19-20)
– “by companies upon the green grass. And they sat down in ranks, by hundreds, and by fifties” (6:40)
– neither did the disciples have “in ship with them more than one loaf” (8:14).
– unique passage: the healing of the blind man of Bethsaida in stages (8:22-26).

3. Old Testament

Mark’s use of the Old Testament seems to focus itself in three ways:
-the prophets, especially Isaiah, and the themes of blindness and sight, the way of the Lord, and the new exodus (see, R. Watts, Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark [1997])
-Daniel, and its focus on the kingdom
-the Exodus, and its dynamic of deliverance through suffering (see R. Watts, Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark [1997]).

D. Themes

1. The Gospel of the Kingdom

a. The Beginning of the Gospel

1:1: it has a beginning; Mark’s gospel grows out of Christ’s gospel and his command (16:15): preach the gospel to every creature.

1:2-8: gospel prepared: repentance for remission (1:4); Holy Ghost to come (v. 8)

1:9-11: gospel ministry commissioned (cf. 11:28-33: by what authority?); Spirit falls upon him; Father identifies, approves, and commissions him

1:12-13: Jesus driven into the desert; meets with the devil; will spoil the strong man’s house, binding the strong man (3:27).

1:14: when John decreases, Christ increases: preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God

b. The Content of the Gospel

1:15: Content of the gospel: time fulfilled; kingdom at hand; repent and believe. Peter urged repentance (Acts 2:36-40; 10:43; 11:18). in this respect, disciple follows Master (cf. 6:12).

1:38: He came forth to preach (Mark 1:38). “to call sinners to repentance” (2:17); to give his life a ransom for many (10:45). The Son of man indeed goeth forth (14:21). Cf. 1 Tim 1:15: to save sinners; 2 Cor. 8:9: that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich” cf. Luke 19:10: to save that which was lost. The source of his coming forth is his willingness and compassion (1:41: moved with compassion; 5:19; 6:34; 8:2; 10:21).

1:39-45: cleansing from impurity and restoring to communion; his works a testimony (v. 41).

c. The Power of the Gospel

1:16-20: powerfully draws subjects in his kingdom by effectual call; work of the kingdom: fishing for men in the gospel net.

1:21-34: teaches with authority; accompanies teaching with casting out of unclean spirits- delivering from bondage, healing of diseases; His works reveal his identity. Here the king is establishing his kingdom through the power of his Word and Spirit.

2:1-11: Miracles show power of Son of man to forgive, for which he came.

d. The Response to the Gospel

Faith is the proper response to the kingdom: also manifest by the man who is healed and his friends. In the way of faith, Christ dispenses forgiveness. In contrast, unbelief makes the work of God of none effect (7:13); and no mighty work can be done (6:5). He manifests his divinity and power. His work glorifies his Father (1:12). He shows his compassion by choosing publicans and sinners. He is the physician to the sick. He calls sinners to repentance. He is the bridegroom (2:19). He is the new wine (2:22). He is Lord of the Sabbath (2:28). He is both Son of Man and Son of God (1:1; 3:11; 5:7; 9:7; 14:61, 62; 15:39)

Conclusion: In the gospel of the kingdom, the focus moves from the kingdom to the King, since the two are inextricably bound together. Where the King rules, there is the kingdom; where the kingdom is, there the King holds sway.

2. Mystery of the Kingdom

William Wrede, Das Messiasgeheimnis in den Evangelien [1901]) . Wrede argued that Mark organized his gospel in a way to explain why during his life Christ did not make Messianic claims. This is known as the Messianic secret. There has been considerable justified critique of this notion. However, that there is a mystery to the kingdom is clear. Mark raises this point through a diversity of ways.

a. Unbelief

Resistance by men begins in chapter 2, when forgiveness is spoken of. It is evident from the reasoning of the heart (2:5). Cf. 7:21: from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts. It manifests itself in pride and self-righteousness (2:16) works religion (2:18,24) and fundamentally in unbelief at the Son of God. 3:5: “And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts.” Devils say: Son of God (2:11). Men say: “he hath Beelzebub (3:22). Both foe and friend seek to lay hold on him. To the natural man, Christ is beside himself (3:21). He hath Beelzebub (3:22). Forgiveness: all sin and even blasphemies, but persistence in unbelief brings eternal damnation (3:29). The unbelief is strong in his own country and Christ could do no mighty works (6:5).

b. Faith

His disciples and those healed have exercised faith. Now, over against unbelief, Jesus defines faith, whosoever shall do the will of God (3:35). Christ came to do the will of his Father. All those related to Christ by faith, follow his obedience from out of His strength and virtue. His disciples preach repentance, and perform wonders (6:1-13.)

c. Division

There is a division among hearers through parables: mystery of the kingdom of God: divinely disclosed secret, which apart from revelation could not be discovered; mystery is a powerful manifestation of the reign (kingdom) of God in human hearts and lives, which reign, was attended by mighty works in both the physical and spiritual realms. That God is at work through his word is believed upon by faith. To those outside, it is parables, and it seems the work of the devil. The same word that breaks the heart of some, hardens the heart of others. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. He knoweth not how (4:27). The mystery is (i) that the seed produces faith in the one and others are left hardened, in their sins, and unconverted; that there are those who have ears to hear, that is have faith, and others who do not; (ii) that the seed grows up (he knoweth not how). The Spirit bloweth where it listeth; (iii) that the little seed, grows to be the largest and fowls of the air lodge in it. Their lack of faith (=fear) evident in storm at sea (cf. 5:36). Faith lays hold on Christ, draws virtue from him, and is restored from the plague to peace (Mark 5:29,34).

d. The Leaven of the Pharisees (8:15) and the Lack of Faith of the Disciples

The disciples’ hearts are hardened regarding the loaves (6:52). The Pharisees leaven their religion with works and pride, while denying original sin. It makes the word of God of none effect (7:13). They ask for a sign, but reject the many signs which faith embraces. No sign is given (8:12). At his death, they say: “Come down from the cross, that we may see and believe” (15:32). Think of parable of the sower. He performs miracles outside of borders of Israel where there is still lively faith (Syro-Phoenician woman, and deaf and dumb in Decapolis. “He does all things well” (7:37). The disciples’ hearts are hardened (8:17-21).

e. The Miracle of Two Stages (8:22-26).

The blind man is brought to see in two stages. At first he only sees men as trees walking. So the disciples have followed and even preached. They acknowledge that he is the Christ, but the do not savor the things of God. From now on, Christ is opening their eyes further.

f. Mystery of Suffering

First Announcement: 8:31
Peter rejects it.
Second Announcement: 9:31
Disciples do not understand; afraid to ask
Third Announcement: 10:33-34
We can drink of the cup that Christ drinks of.
“For even the son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister and give his life a ransom for many” (10:45).
From 8:31-10:45, Christ is teaching his disciples of the two stages of his work, his suffering, and his glory. The transfiguration shows his glory (9)

5. The King of the Kingdom
a. The Question
1:27: “What thing is this? What new doctrine is this? For with authority commandeth he even the unclean spirits, and they do obey him.”
2:7: “Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God only?
4:41: “What manner of man is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?”
6:2-3: “From whence hath this man these things? And what wisdom is this which is given unto him, that even such mighty works are wrought by his hands. Is this not the carpenter …?”
8:27, 29: “Whom do men say that I am?” … “Whom say ye that I am?”
14:61: Art thou the Christ, the son of the Blessed?” (See B. Witherington, The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary [2001]).
b. The Answer
Son of man (2:10, 28; 8:31, 38; 9:9, 12, 41; 10:33, 45; 13:26; 14:21; 14:41; 14:61). It is his self-designation; characterizes him in his suffering: one who is going to be betrayed and killed (9:12; 4:21, 41), vicariously (10:45). His willing sacrifice will be rewarded (8:31; 9:31; 10:33, 34). He will rise again, depart from the earth, and return in glory, sitting at the right hand of the Almighty (14:62) fulfilling the prophesy of Daniel 7:13-14). Also in his suffering he is the glorious Son of man. On earth he has the right to forgive sins (2:10) and is Lord of all, even the Sabbath (2:28). Here his suffering at the hands of men begins. This suffering is necessary. It belongs to the task of the Son of man (but woe unto those, by whose hands [14:21]).
c. The two steps of the gospel are 8:29: “Thou art the Christ.” And 15:39: “Truly this man was the Son of God.” This corresponds to Mark 1:1