Summary: An introduction to the Gospel of Mark.

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Mark 1:1 Good News!

5/28/00 D. Marion Clark

The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.


Mark’s name first appears in Acts 12:12: When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. The “he” in this verse is Peter, who had miraculously escaped from prison. What we can pick up about Mark is that his full name was John Mark; he came from a well-to-do home (large and with at least one servant); his family was among the earliest Christians (some speculate that the Last Supper was held in his home), and at the time he was young and had lost his father (the house is identified as Mary’s).

Mark was the cousin of Barnabas, who attained high status in the early church. Probably because of that relationship, he joined his cousin and Paul on their first missionary journey. The two apostles had brought financial gifts to the Jerusalem Church from the Antioch Church, and they took John Mark back with them (Acts 12:25). Then, when they received their anointing to go forth as missionaries, they took Mark along (Acts 13:5). I would guess that Mark was an older teenager at the time. But something did not go right on the trip. All we know is that Mark left the men early in the trip and returned to Jerusalem (13:13). Whatever the reason for leaving, it did not set well with Paul, and Mark became a point of contention between him and Barnabas:

36 Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” 37 Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, 38 but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. 39 They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord (Acts 15:36-40).

Never again do we hear of Mark or Barnabas in the book of Acts. But we do hear about Mark in Paul’s epistles. In the letter to Philemon, he refers to Mark as one of his fellow workers. In Colossians, we can infer that Mark has remained with Paul during one of his imprisonments. He apparently is about to be sent out by Paul to carry on ministry: My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.) Colossians 4:10) That last phrase makes some wonder if Paul is having to help smooth the way for Mark because of his previous reputation. The most telling verse about Mark and Paul’s reconciliation comes from 2 Timothy 4:11: Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry. Paul singles out Mark to come to him in his old age because of his usefulness. Apparently he came a long way from the youth who couldn’t handle the stress of ministry.

And apparently, he proved himself to be an encouragement to Peter who refers to him as my son Mark (1 Peter 5:13). He was with Peter in Rome at the time, and an early nonbiblical record speaks of him being with Peter when the apostle died in Rome. Afterwards, Mark, as the story is told, went into the countryside of Rome and wrote his gospel based on the stories of Peter.

Mark’s gospel is considered by most scholars to be the first gospel written, sometime between 50 and 70 AD. Almost every verse appears again in Matthew and Luke, and it is evident that Mark was the primary source for those gospels. Together, those gospels are referred to as the synoptic gospels: being similar to one another in their synopses of Jesus’ life.

There are two obvious features about Mark that set it off from the other two. The first is its brevity, being just two-thirds the size of the other two. The other feature is its fast pace. If Matthew and Luke were Hollywood movie directors, here is how their movies would start off. They would take a wide panoramic shot of the Holy Land, then close in on a quiet village. The opening scenes would slowly give us the context in which to understand the story eventually to be told. Mark, on the other hand, would have a close-up picture of John the Baptist proclaiming the coming of the Lord, who comes right away and starts his preaching and miracle-working immediately. Mark would have loved adventure movies, and he presents the greatest adventure story of them all with the greatest adventurer.

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