THE GOSPEL OF MARK
Lesson 1: Introduction
The Gospel According to St. Mark: Lion of God

Lord God,
We thank You for Holy Spirit inspired writers like St. Mark who recorded the story of Jesus' divine mission to establish the Kingdom of God and to bring all mankind Your gift of eternal salvation. Mark was an ordinary man called to an extraordinary mission. It is through his written Gospel that the mystery of Jesus Christ continues to be revealed to Your Church. And it is now the mission of the current generation of believers to carry on St. Mark's work to share the mystery of the Kingdom with the world. Give us the dedication of St. Mark, his courage, and his eloquence in sharing the story of Jesus of Nazareth and His promise of the gift of eternal salvation that was won for us on the altar of the Cross. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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All Scripture passages in our study are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation). CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

When Mark became the interpreter of Peter, he wrote down accurately whatever he remembered, though not in order, but the words and deeds of the Lord. He was neither a hearer or follower of the Lord; but such he was afterwards, as I say, of Peter, who had no intention of giving a connected account of the sayings of the Lord, but adapted his instructions as was necessary. Mark, then, made no mistake, but wrote things down as he remembered them; and he made it his concern to omit nothing that he had heard nor to falsify anything therein.
The testimony of the Apostolic Father St. Papias, Bishop of Hierapolis in Asia Minor (bishop c. AD 95-120/130), concerning the Gospel of Mark (quoted in Bishop Eusebius' 4th century Church History, 3.39.14). According to St. Irenaeus (martyred c. AD 202) , St. Papias was a friend of St. Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, and a student [hearer] of St. John the Apostle.

According to the unanimous testimony of the early Church Fathers, who gave each of the four Gospels their titles and placed them in their canonical order, The Gospel of Matthew was the first Gospel to be written and the Gospels of Mark and Luke were written afterward, followed much later by the Gospel of John. They testify that St. Matthew's Gospel was first written in Hebrew and later translated into Greek, while the other Gospels were written only in Greek, the international language of the times (see quote above). The only disagreement was not about the inspired writer of the Gospel of Mark, who they identified as John-Mark the son of Mary of Jerusalem and secretary to St. Peter in Rome, but the few who disputed whether St. Mark's Gospel was written before or after St. Luke's Gospel (i.e., St. Clement of Alexandria). Therefore, it is likely the second and third Gospels were written very close together with the Gospel of St. John being the last Gospel to be written.

The Gospel of St. Mark is the shortest of the four Gospels, and for over the first thousand years of the Church, it was the least appreciated Gospel, according to the number of ancient surviving commentaries. Whereas the Gospels of Matthew, Luke and John have commentaries written by the early Church Fathers, there are no complete commentaries of the Gospel of Mark that have survived from the patristic period. There are so many surviving commentaries on the Gospel of Matthew from the patristic period, for example, that it is possible to reproduce the entire Gospel of Matthew simply from those ancient commentaries. However, the Gospel of Mark was so neglected that St. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons (c. 120/140-202), felt compelled to write a treatise in defense of the Gospel of Mark, citing that criticism of the Gospel's unflattering portrayal of St. Peter was not Mark's fault since he was only recording Peter's account, and Peter, in his humility, was critical of himself. Aside from short works by Dionysius of Alexandria (d. c. 264), Jerome (347-420), and Bede (672/673-735), no complete commentary on Mark appeared until the mid-7th century AD. From AD 650-1000, 13 major commentaries were written on the Gospel of Matthew and only 4 on the Gospel of Mark.(1) The lack of commentaries on the Gospel of Mark did not change until the latter half of the 19th century when Protestant "source critics" worked to introduce the novel theory of the priority of the Gospel of Mark over the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. It was a theory we will discuss later in the lesson that produced a great controversy within Christendom and a new appreciation of the Gospel According to Mark.

Authorship
Among the four Gospels, which are the only indisputable ones in the Church of God under heaven, I have learned by tradition that the first was written by Matthew, who was once a publican, but afterwards an Apostle of Jesus Christ, and it was prepared for the converts from Judaism, and published in the Hebrew language. The second was that of Mark, who composed it under Peter's guidance ... The third, the Gospel which was praised by Paul, was that of Luke, written for gentile converts. Last of all, there is that of John.
Origen (185 - 254), head of the Christian School of Catechesis and Theology in Alexandria, Egypt, quoted by Bishop Eusebius, Church History, 6.25.4 (also see Church History 3.39.15 and 6.14.6).

Like the other Gospels, the Gospel of St. Mark is technically anonymous in that the author does not identify himself. The writers of the four Gospels and Acts of the Apostles did not claim credit for their work in the same way the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament) does not bear the name of an author. The Gospel writers and the writer of Acts believed they were writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the work was His. It is from the testimony of the early Church Fathers that we know the names and identities of the inspired writers of those books. According to the testimony of the early Fathers of the Church, and most modern Biblical scholars, the inspired writer of the Gospel of St. Mark was the son of a Jewish woman and a Roman father. He carried the combined Hebrew and Roman name John-Mark, or Yehanan/Yehohanan ("Yahweh is mercy") whose surname was Marcus (Acts 12:2, 25; 15:37; 2 Tim 4:11). Yehanan was his Hebrew name (rendered Ioannes in the Greek text of the New Testament) and Marcus was his Latin name.

The oldest surviving testimony that Mark was the sacred writer of the second Gospel is that of St. Papias, Bishop of Hierapolis in Asia Minor (bishop c. AD 95-120/130). St. Justin Martyr (m. AD 155) refers to Mark's Gospel under the title "Memoirs of Peter" and St. Clement (150 - 211/216), first head of the famed School of Catechesis and Theology at Alexandria, Egypt, confirms their testimony. The same testimony that Mark was the writer of the second Gospel which was according to St. Peter's recollections of the Christ was given by the great Catholic apologist, Tertullian of Carthage (c.155/160-225/250) and repeated by Origen of Alexander, second head of the School of Catechesis and Theology at Alexandria (c. 185/200-254). This tradition was confirmed repeatedly by the succeeding Church Fathers, including St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo in North Africa (354-430), but he believed Mark's source was also dependent upon Matthew's Gospel instead of only upon St. Peter's teachings.

Mark's Story According to Scripture and Tradition

The circumstances which occasioned that of Mark were these: When Peter preached the Word publically at Rome, and declared the Gospel by the Spirit, many who were present requested that Mark, who had been for a long time his follower and who remembered his sayings, should write down what had been proclaimed. Having composed the Gospel, he gave it to those who had requested it. When Peter learned of this, he did not positively forbid it, but neither did he encourage it.
The testimony of St. Clement of Alexandria (150-211/216) concerning the Gospel of St. Mark (Eusebius, Church History, 6.14.1)

More personal history is known about Mark from the New Testament than any of the other Gospel writers with the exception of St. John Zebedee, believed to be the inspired writer of the fourth Gospel (note, however, that St. Peter is named in the Gospels more frequently than any of Jesus' followers). St. Mark's Latin name, Marcus, is derived from the name of the pagan god Mars, the Roman god of war. His Roman name suggests his father may have been a Roman soldier stationed in the Roman province of Judea who married a local Jewish girl. Mark's mother was Mary of Jerusalem (Acts 12:12), and he was a kinsman of Joseph Barnabas, one of Jesus' disciples (Col 4:10).(2) Mark's mother owned the house in Jerusalem where the disciples of Jesus regularly met for fellowship, prayer and worship (Acts 12:12), and therefore her home could have been the location of the Last Supper and the miracle of the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. It is possible that Mark's house in Jerusalem was the first church-home of the New Covenant people of God.

Mark was just a boy at the time of Jesus' Passion and Resurrection, but he must have been familiar with all the Apostles and many of the disciples who visited and prayed in his home. He may have been the youth who escaped when Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. According to the Gospel of Mark, when the guards tried to seize the youth, he managed to pull away, leaving his garment in their hands and escaping naked into the night. Mark is the only Gospel writer who records this incident (Mk 14:51-52). He is called John-Mark in Acts 12:12, 25; 15:37, and only John in Acts 13:5 and 13. But he is called only Mark (Marcus) in Acts 15:39; Col 4:10; Philemon 24; 2 Timothy 4:11; and 1 Peter 5:13. The change to only using his Latin name, Marcus, seems to have occurred after he left Judea and was living among Gentiles sometime after AD 42. It was a name change to facilitate his mission among the Romans in the same way that St. Paul changed his Hebrew name from Saul to the Roman name Paulus (Paul) when he began his mission among the Gentiles.

After Jesus' Resurrection and Ascension and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the Church of Jesus Christ began to attract many Jews. Three thousand were baptized into the Church after St. Peter's homily at Pentecost, and that number soon grew to five thousand and included many priests and Pharisees (Acts 2:41; 4:4). But the growth of the followers of Jesus also brought persecution. St. Stephen was murdered by the Sanhedrin and officers of the Sanhedrin were sent out to capture and imprison disciples of Jesus and their families (Acts 8:1-3; 9:1-3). When Saul of Tarsus, the former officer of the Sanhedrin and persecutor of Christians, presented himself to the Church in Jerusalem, claiming to have experienced a vision of the resurrected Christ and professing belief in Jesus as Lord and Savior, the Apostles were understandably skeptical. It was Mark's kinsman, St. Barnabas, who believed Saul and became his sponsor (Acts 9:26-27).

Many of the disciples left Jerusalem and carried the Gospel into Samaria, Phoenicia, and Syria, founding faith communities in all these regions (Acts 8:1b, 4; 11:19-21). Later, King Herod Agrippa I executed the Apostle St. James Zebedee and was planning to execute St. Peter. Angels, however, released Peter from his prison chains and he returned briefly to the home of St. Mark's mother to make his good-bye to the community before leaving Jerusalem (Acts 12:6-12, 17). In the meantime, the Jerusalem church sent Mark's kinsman, St. Joseph Barnabas, to instruct a New Covenant faith community of Jews and Gentiles in Antioch, Syria (Acts 11:19-22). To assist him in his mission, Barnabas recruited Saul, who at that time had not yet changed his Hebrew name from Saul to the Latin name Paulus or Paul as we know him (Acts 11:23-26).

According the early Church historians, after leaving Jerusalem, St. Peter made his headquarters with the Christian community of Barnabas and Saul in Antioch, Syria for seven years. The Antioch Christians became a thriving faith community and, in response to hearing of the suffering of the Jerusalem community, they sent Barnabas and Saul on a journey to take relief money to the impoverished Christians in Jerusalem (Acts 12:29-30). After completing their mission in Jerusalem, they brought Mark back with them to Antioch (Acts 12:25). Later, in response to the call of the Holy Spirit, the Christian community in Antioch sent Barnabas and Saul on a mission into Asia Minor to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Barnabas invited young Mark to accompany them on the missionary journey into Asia Minor (Acts 13:2-5). It was on this first mission to the Gentiles that Saul decided to drop his Jewish name and to change to the Latin name Paulus. Mark did not complete the journey for some unknown reason and returned to Jerusalem, much to Paul's displeasure (Acts 13:13; 15:36-39). Paul refused to take Mark on the next missionary journey into Asia Minor and Greece; therefore, Barnabas parted company with Paul and took Mark with him to spread the Gospel on the island of Cyprus where Barnabas became the first bishop of the island's Christian faith communities. It took a number of years for Paul to forgive Mark for what he considered Mark's defection, but when they met again in Rome where Paul was imprisoned for two years (c. AD 61-62/63), Mark became a dedicated friend and partner in spreading the Gospel (Col 4:10).

St. Mark's presence in Rome was probably due to his association with St. Peter. Peter knew Mark from the time when the Church was centered in Mark's mother's house in Jerusalem, and they would have renewed their friendship in Antioch. Peter used his time in Antioch to travel to the new faith communities founded throughout Roman provinces in Asia Minor, visiting the churches in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia (1 Pt 1:1). Having a native Latin speaker and writer like Mark would have been helpful to Peter in his work in these Greco-Roman communities. According to Eusebius' Church History, St. Peter arrived in Rome, perhaps already accompanied by Mark, in the second year of the Emperor Claudius in AD 42 and St. Mark became St. Peter's amanuensis (secretary) in Rome (Eusebius, Church History, 2.14.6). St. Peter made Rome the headquarters of the universal Church and taught the Church there for 25 years. In 1 Peter 5:13, Mark is probably serving Peter as his secretary when Peter writes: The chosen one at Babylon sends you greeting, as does Mark, my son (1 Pt 5:13). St. Peter was referring to the Christian community of the elect/"chosen" in Rome ("Babylon" is a code word for the sinful city of pagan Rome) as he mentions his close association with St. Mark who is like a son to him. The Church Fathers testify that it was during this time that Mark began to record Peter's recollections of Jesus from Peter's homilies and from private conversations. He wrote down Peter's words concerning Jesus teachings and miracles, His Passion, and His resurrection that became the Gospel of Mark (Church History, 2.15-16).

Mark left Rome when he was sent to Alexandria, Egypt. It was his mission to spread the Gospel of salvation in the second most important city in the Roman Empire (Eusebius, Church History, 2.16.1). Today both the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria claim to be successors to Mark's original Christian communities. The Coptic Christians claim that aspects of the Coptic liturgy can be traced back to St. Mark's original liturgy. He became the first Christian bishop of Alexandria and is honored as the founder of Christianity in Africa. Coptic tradition says Mark was martyred in c. 68 AD when he was attacked by a crowd, tied with a rope around his neck, and dragged through the city to his death. This tradition agrees with Bishop Eusebius' account that when Mark was martyred, he was succeeded by Annianus as the Bishop of Alexandria during the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero (Eusebius, Church History, 2.24.1; Nero reigned AD 54 - June of 68). St. Mark's tomb remained in Alexandria until Christians from Venice spirited St. Mark's relics out of the city in 828, after the Moslem conquest of the region. A mosaic in St. Mark's Basilica depicts sailors covering the relics with a layer of pork and cabbage leaves to prevent the Moslem guards, who cannot touch pork according to their religious practices, from inspecting the ship's cargo and discovering St. Mark's body. A tomb was built for St. Mark's relics, and the Cathedral of St. Mark in Venice was built over his tomb. St. Mark is remembered by the Church on his feast day on April 25th.

Images of St. Mark usually depict him writing his Gospel in the company of a winged lion, one of the four "living creatures" that surround the heavenly throne of God in the Book of Revelation (Rev 4:6-8). The Church Fathers assigned one of the four "living creatures" to each of the Gospels. St. Jerome assigned Mark the image of the lion because Mark presents Jesus as the promised Davidic king of the tribe of Judah, whose symbol was a lion (Gen 49:9; Rev 5:5), although not all Church Fathers agreed. Early Christian art reflected diverse opinions about the depiction of the evangelists; however, by the 7th century St. Jerome's iconography of the lion had come to dominate the Western visual tradition.

Church Father Human/Angel Lion Ox/Calf Eagle
Irenaeus
(c. 120-202)
Matthew John Luke Mark
Jerome
(c. 347-420)
Matthew Mark Luke John
Augustine
(354-430)
Mark Matthew Luke John

Scripture verses that refer to St. Mark (Marcus):

The information about a youth who accompanied Jesus and the Apostles to the Garden of Gethsemane appears only in Mark's Gospels. Mark may be the youth who escaped from the guards who came to arrest Jesus: Now a young man [neaniskos] followed him wearing nothing but a linen cloth about his body. They seized him, but he left the cloth behind and ran off naked (Mk 14:51). The Greek word neaniskos refers to a male less than 40 years old, but that this person was not wearing the tradition cloak with four tassels on the corners that was required by the Law of Moses for an adult male member of the community suggests this person was a youth less than 13 years old (Num 15:37-39).(3)

Date of Composition

The date of the composition of St. Mark's Gospel is uncertain. As soon as Christianity began to spread, the Church faced persecution. Persecution first came from the Jews of the Old Covenant Church and later, after AD 64, there emerged a vicious and organized persecution from the Roman government that had previously been ambivalent to Christians. It wasn't until the Edict of Milan in AD 313 that Christianity was protected by the Roman state and Christians were free to proclaim their faith, to openly gather to worship, and to circulate their writings without fear. However, it is possible to determine that the Gospel of Mark must have been written prior to the Jewish Revolt against Rome (AD 66-73) and the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in AD 70, an event that was catastrophic for the Jews and the beginning of the great Jewish Diaspora. Jesus' prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem is recorded in Mark's Gospel (Mk 13:2), but there is no mention of the prophecy being fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. It is a claim Mark surely would have made had the prophecy come true as Jesus predicted. Therefore, the Gospel can be dated prior to AD 70 and probably prior to the beginning of the Jewish Revolt in AD 66 and prior to the martyrdom of St. Peter in c. AD 67. The most likely range of dates for the writing of this Gospel is sometime between AD 55 - 67. Those who claim the Gospel of Mark and the other Gospels were written after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in AD 70 do so based on the claim that the Gospels falsely present the events as a prophecy. They point to Jesus' accurate description of the encirclement of the city by Roman legions and the destruction of the Temple (see Mt 23:37-24:28; Mk 13:1-23; Lk 21:5-24), as evidence of this, and consequently they deny predictive prophecy and the divine inspiration of Sacred Scripture.

The Priority of Matthew versus the Priority of Mark Controversy

We have learned the plan of our salvation from none other than those through whom the gospel came down to us. Indeed, they first preached the gospel, and afterwards, by the will of God, they handed it down to us in the Scriptures, to be the foundation and pillar of our faith ... Matthew also issued among the Hebrews a written Gospel in their own language, while Peter and Paul were evangelizing in Rome and laying the foundation of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, also handed down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, set down in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord who reclined at his bosom, also published a Gospel, while he was residing at Ephesus in Asia.
St. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons (140-202), Against Heresies, 3.1.3

Likewise, the list of the Scriptures of the New and Eternal Testament, which the holy and Catholic Church receives: of the Gospels, one book according to Matthew, one book according to Mark, one book according to Luke, one book according to John.
Decree of Pope St. Damasus I (AD 382)

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called the "Synoptic Gospels." The term "synoptic" (Greek for "at a glance") means these three Gospels view the life and ministry of Jesus from a common perspective. Each of the three Synoptic Gospels concentrates on Jesus' ministry and His proclamation of the Kingdom of God, following the same basic outline and recording material that is sometimes identical. Despite their similarities, the three Synoptic Gospels also vary in the material they present. At times each of the Synoptic Gospels record material that is not found in the other Gospels or includes important differences in the arrangements of events and, unlike St. John's spiritual Gospel, many of those events are not present chronologically. Bible scholars call this phenomenon the "synoptic problem."

A number of theories have been presented by scholars to address the literary relationship between the Synoptic Gospels. One of the current most popular theories, accepted by many modern Bible scholars, rejects the testimony of the Church Fathers that Matthew's Gospel was the first Gospel committed to writing. These scholars favor the priority of Mark, claiming Mark's Gospel was the original Gospel to be written and that Matthew and Luke used the material from Mark as well as from other sources. Prior to the nineteenth century, the testimony of the Church Fathers that the Gospel of Matthew was the first Gospel written in down in Hebrew and later translated into Greek and distributed to faith communities across the Roman world, was accepted without question. It wasn't until Vatican I in 1870, when the Catholic Church declared that the Pope's teaching on faith and morals was infallible, that Protestant scholars re-introduced the previously, widely rejected theory by both Catholics and Protestants of the priority of Mark's Gospel.

In the early decades of the Protestant Reformation, a few Protestant scholars proposed that the Gospel of Mark predated the Gospel of Matthew, rejecting the testimony of the Church Fathers and over a thousand five hundred years of Christian teaching tradition. It is likely that the re-introduction of the theory of the priority of Mark in 1870 at the time of Vatican I was as much politically as theologically generated by Protestant scholars. If the Catholic Pope's teachings are indeed protected by the Holy Spirit and are infallible, then it follows that Protestant teaching is contrary to the will of God. The attraction to St. Mark's Gospel is that, unlike Matthew's Gospel, Mark's Gospel does not clearly define Jesus' choice of Peter as the leader of the Apostles and His Church. Mark's Gospel does not declare Peter as the Vicar of Christ and holder of the "keys" of the Kingdom (cf. Mt 16:16-20 with Mk 8:27-30).

The argument presented by German Protestant scholars was essentially that Mark's Gospel, being the shortest, was the original account of Jesus' life and ministry taken from a now lost document that was a collection of the "sayings" of Jesus. They referred to the hypothetically lost document as "Q", from the German word "quelle" meaning "source." They theorized that the Gospels of Matthew and Luke utilized Mark as well as other sources. Presenting the hypothetical document "Q" and the Gospel of Mark as the earliest and most reliable account of Christ's ministry, the German Protestant scholars had a weapon with which to discount the famous Matthean text used by Roman Catholics to support their claim to have inherited the "Keys of St. Peter," in Jesus statement to Simon Peter in Matthew 16:17-19 ~ Jesus said to him in reply, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. It was the argument of these Protestant scholars that the historical Jesus never said those words, "cutting the heart out of Roman Catholicism's scriptural warrant for papal infallibility precisely when it was being reaffirmed at Vatican Council I" (Dungan, A History of the Synoptic Problem, page 329).

The theory of "Q" as a source for the Gospel of Mark is called the two-source hypothesis or the Griesback Hypothesis after the 19th century Protestant scholar who made the theory popular. Other theories of the priority of Mark hold that Matthew and Luke's Gospels utilized multiple sources in addition to Mark. In the "four-source theory," in addition to the "Q" source, an "M" source is suggested to account for material that is unique to Matthew, and an "L" source for material unique to Luke. It is interesting that none of the theories that support the existence of hypothetical lost documents like "Q" as well as the theory of the priority of Mark take into consideration that there is absolutely no physical evidence to support any of those theories. In addition, to make an argument that claims that the Gospel of Mark as well as other hypothetical lost documents present a more reliable account of early Christianity than the Gospels of Matthew and Luke implies that Matthew and Luke contain errors. If Matthew's and Luke's testimonies are not as reliable testimonies to Mark and other sources, it must be because they are innaccurate. Such an implecation is heretical because Sacred Scripture is declared to be Holy Spirit inspired, as testified to by St. Paul: All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17; emphasis added).(4) The Catholic Church officially accepts the testimony of the Church Fathers that Matthew's account was the first written Gospel. Unfortunately, in the liberal 1960s, the theory of the "priority of Mark" was even taught in Catholic seminaries, but it was never officially embraced by the Catholic Church.

The Focus of St. Mark's Gospel

Each of the four Gospel writers wrote their Gospels for a different audience. St. Matthew wrote his Gospel for the first audience to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the "lost sheep of the house of Israel." He wrote his Gospel to bring the Jews of the Old Covenant into the New Covenant of Jesus Christ, the Jewish Messiah foretold by the holy prophets of God. St. Mark recorded what he had learned from St. Peter's account of Jesus' ministry while living in Rome as a member of the Christian community and serving as St. Peter's secretary when Peter was Bishop of Rome. Mark's Gospel was written for Romans, unlike St. Luke who served as a missionary with St. Paul in Asia Minor and Greece and wrote for Greek culture Gentiles (Hellenists), or St. John, who wrote his Gospel for Greco-Romans while he was serving as the head of the eastern branch of the Church in Ephesus in Asia Minor, the third most important city in the Roman Empire after Rome and Alexandria.

Each of the Gospel writers also had a different focus in their presentation of Jesus' life and ministry:

Each Gospel writer, however, proclaims that Jesus came to announce God's Kingdom of Heaven on earth: St. Matthew refers 51 times to the "Kingdom," St. Mark speaks of the "Kingdom" 14 times, and St. Luke 39 times (Navarre Bible Commentary: Matthew, page 23).

Gospel Matthew Mark Luke John
Audience Jews Romans Hellenists Greco-Romans
Focus Jesus is the Messiah promised by the prophets. He fulfills the Old Testament prophesies and covenants. Jesus is the authoritative Son of God. He is God's triumphant Davidic king come to suffer and die in order to claim victory over sin and death. Jesus is the perfect Son of Man. He is the Messiah prophesied by the prophets who came to save and to minister to people of all nations through the power of God the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ is the Living Word and the divine Son of God who existed before Creation. He is the true Lamb of sacrifice through whom we receive the gift of eternal life.
Some Key Scripture Passages Unique to each Gospel Matthew 1:1; 16:16-18; 18:18; 28:18-20 Mark 1:1; 8:28-30; 10:45; 16:15-16 Luke 2:34; 11:9-10; 24:25-27, 44-47 John 1:1; 1:29; 3:3-5; 6:53-56; 20:22-23; 21:15-19
Some Key Words Kingdom of Heaven; fulfilled Kingdom of God; immediately /now Kingdom of God; Son of Man Word of God; only begotten Son; believe; eternal life
Michal Hunt © 2011

The key word in Mark's Gospel is the Greek word euthus, an adverb meaning "now" or "immediately." Mark uses the adverb 47 times in his 675 verses; it is used more in Mark than in the rest of the New Testament verses combined. The word is often omitted in many parts of the modern English translations, but the use of this word by Mark is deliberate. It points to the divine urgency of what God is doing in and through Jesus.

Internal evidence that Mark wrote his Gospel for Gentile Romans can be found in Mark's omission of information that would not be important to a Gentile audience such as:

Mark does, however, add information that helps Gentile readers:

The Structure of St. Mark's Gospel

St. Mark has structured his Gospel geographically rather than chronologically. He begins his story in his prologue with Jesus coming out of the Galilee to travel south into Judah to be baptized by St. John the Baptist on the banks of the Jordan River and then to face His ordeal of temptation by Satan (1:1-13). After Jesus' temptation as the "second Adam," the action returns to the Galilee (1:14-9:49), then moves through the area "across the Jordan" to the east side of the river (10:1) in a journey south toward Jerusalem. From the city of Jericho (10:46-52), Mark's Gospel takes us to the climax of Jesus mission in Jerusalem (11:1-16:8), followed by His Resurrection and the instruction by an angel to the Apostles after His Resurrection to return to the Galilee (16:1-8). This is the end of the "shorter version" of the Gospel of Mark. Other ancient manuscripts have a longer ending that includes:

Either some of the copies of the original ancient manuscript lost the last section of the Gospel of Mark, or St. Mark or another inspired writer added an addition. Both versions are found in the oldest manuscript copies of the Gospel of St. Mark.

St. Mark's Gospel, more than the other Gospels, is also strongly oriented on the Christology of Jesus. From the Greek words Christos, which has the meaning of the Hebrew "Messiah," and the word logia, meaning "study," Christology is the study of the nature and person of Jesus as set down in the canonical Gospels and epistles of the New Testament. Christology is primarily concerned with the relationship of Jesus' nature and person with the nature and person of the Most Holy Trinity. The study of Jesus in this context focuses on the details of Jesus' ministry, His deeds and His teachings, to arrive at a clearer understanding of His true identity and His role in salvation history. In revealing Jesus' true identity, Mark's focus is on:

But Mark also identifies Jesus as the "Son of Man" (Jesus' favorite title for Himself), a term Mark uses not simply as a description of Jesus' humanity (see Mk 13:26; 14:62), but as a reference to the prophetic figure of the prophet Daniel (cf. Dan 7:13-14 with Mk 13:26; 14:62) and in connection with Jesus' destiny and His path to suffering and vindication (Mk 8:31; 10:45).

Almost forty percent of Mark's Gospel is devoted to a detailed account of the last eight days of Jesus' life from His triumphal entry into Jerusalem to His Passion and Resurrection. But throughout his narrative, St. Mark emphasis is on the power and authority of Jesus as the eternal Son of God:

The "Mystery" in St. Mark's Gospel

He answered them, "The mystery of the kingdom of God has been granted to you..."
Mark 4:11a

Now to him who can strengthen you, according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret for long ages, but now manifested through the prophetic writings and, according to the command of the eternal God made known to all nations to bring about the obedience of faith, to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ be glory forever and ever. Amen.
Romans 16:25-27

Many commentators see the unfolding story of Jesus in St. Mark's Gospel as centered on the "mystery" of Jesus' true identity and the mystery of God's divine plan that Jesus was sent to fulfill. The Greek word mysterion in the singular is used just once in Mark 4:11 and its context in that passage is the "kingdom." Mysterion in the singular is not found in the other Gospels; it is only used in the plural (Mt 13:11; Lk 8:10). It is only used in the singular again by St. Paul in Romans 16:25. It is "the mystery" associated with Jesus' true identity as the Kingdom of God incarnate and that God's reign is now breaking into the world and will radically alter human life forever. Associated with this revelation of the kingdom is the sense that Jesus' true identity must remain a secret until the climax of His mission. Concerning the mystery of Jesus' true identity in Mark's Gospel:

The unfolding of the "mystery" in St. Mark's Gospel can be seen in four parts:

  1. The Prologue: Preparation for the revelation of the Mystery (1:1-13)
  2. The Mystery of Jesus (1:14-8:26)
  3. The Mystery begins to be unveiled (8:27-10:52)
  4. The full revelation of the Mystery (11:1-16:8)
Summary Outline of the Gospel According to St. Mark
BIBLICAL
PERIOD
#11 Advent of Jesus the Messiah
COVENANT End of the Sinai Covenant --> New Covenant
SCRIPTURE 1:1----------------1:14---------------------------------8:27--------------------------11:1-----------------16:20
FOCUS Service Sacrifice
DIVISION
OF TEXT
Prologue Mystery of Jesus Mystery begins
to be unveiled
Revelation of the Mystery
TOPIC Signs and Teachings Suffering and
Victory
Presentation of
the Servant
Instruction by
the Servant
Belief in and
rejection of
the Servant
Last teachings,
Passion and
Resurrection of
the Servant
LOCATION Galilee --> Perea --> Judea --> Galilee --> Judea/Jerusalem
TIME AD 28 - 30

But what makes St. Mark's Gospel stand out from the other Gospels is the way he portrays Jesus in His humanity. Jesus reacts to people and events with human emotions:

Some events of Jesus' ministry are found only in Matthew's Gospel: for example the adoration of the Shepherds and the Magi, St. Peter's definitive statement of Jesus' true identity which is followed by Jesus affirming that Peter's revelation is from the Holy Spirit and declaring his authority over the other disciples (Mt 16:16-18) and the parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Mt 20:1-16). Other events are only recorded in Luke's Gospel: for example the appearance of the angel Gabriel to Zachariah and the announcement of the birth of St. John the Baptist, the Annunciation and Incarnation of the Christ, Mary's visitation to St. Elizabeth, the three parables in Luke 15:8-16:8, and in the story of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16:19-31. About 40 of Mark's 675 verses are not found in Matthew or Luke, and a large amount of material from both Matthew and Luke is also not present in Mark. However, there is also information found in Mark but not found in the other Gospels:

The Miracles of Jesus recorded in St. Mark's Gospel

Jesus' miracles in the Gospels can be divided into five categories: deliverance from demons, miracles of physical healing, nature miracles, victory over hostile wills, and raising the dead.

Jesus' Miracles in the Gospel of Mark:

  1. Category I: Deliverance from demons
    1. Demoniac at Capernaum (Mk 1:21-27)
    2. Gerasene demoniacs (Mk 5:1-20)
    3. Demon possessed daughter of the Syro-Phoenician woman (Mk 7:24-30)
    4. Demon possessed boy (Mk 9:14-29)

  2. Category II: Physical Healing Miracles
    1. Simon-Peter's mother-in-law (Mk 1:29-31)
    2. Cleansing the leper (Mk 1:40-45)
    3. The paralytic (Mk 2:1-12)
    4. The man with the withered hand (Mk 3:1-6)
    5. The woman with a hemorrhage (Mk 5:25-34)
    6. The hearing impaired man with a speech impediment (Mk 7:31-37) *
    7. The blind man of Bethsaida (Mk 8:22-26) *
    8. The lunatic boy (Mk 9:14-29)
    9. Bartimaeus, the blind man near Jericho (Mk 10:46-52)

  3. Category III: Nature Miracles
    1. Calming the storm at sea (Mk 4:35-41)
    2. Feeding the five thousand (Mk 6:34-44)
    3. Walking on the water and calming the storm (Mk 6:45-52)
    4. Feeding the four thousand (Mk 8:1-9)
    5. Cursing the fruitless fig tree that withered (Mk 11:12-14)

  4. Category IV: Victory over Hostile Wills +
    1. Casting the multitude of venders out of the Temple (Mk 11:15-16)

  5. Category V: Resurrection from the dead
    1. Raising Jarius' daughter from death (Mk 5:22-24, 35-43)

*miracles only recorded in the Gospel of Mark; there also details in other miracles that are not included in the other Gospels.
+ these are miracles where Jesus wielded supernatural power over His enemies as when Jesus escaped from the hostile crowd at Nazareth (Lk 4:28-30) or in Jerusalem (Jn 7:30, 34 and 44), and also in Jn 8:20 and 59 where the Jews failed to arrest Him "because His hour had not yet come" or because He supernaturally hid Himself from them. The same miracle of Jesus' power can also be seen in the three Temple cleansings where Jesus drove out the venders from the Temple and no one could stop Him (Jn 2:14-16; Mt 21:12-13; and Mk 11:15-16). Jesus also controlled the climax of His arrest and Passion until "His hour had come" (Jn 11:23) and told Pontius Pilate: You have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above (Jn 1:9-11a).

Questions for reflection or group discussion:
Each of the Gospel writers faced persecution and attempts to suppress their Gospel message, yet they courageously persisted in proclaiming the Kingdom of Jesus Christ and His gift of eternal life. The Apostles and the Gospel writers were martyred for their faith with the exception of St. John who was not martyred but who suffered imprisonment, starvation and other forms of physical and mental suffering. Have you felt the call to carry on their mission of proclaiming the Gospel? Did you know that it is a mission every Catholic accepts in the Sacrament of Confirmation? How can you continue the mission of the Gospel writers in your family and in your community? Are you willing to continue to preach the Gospel in the face of opposition and persecution? What are the negative temporal and the positive eternal aspects of accepting this mission?

Endnotes:
1. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament, vol. II, Mark, "Introduction", page xxxi; Malone, The Gospel of Mark, page 17.

2. However, Hippolytus of Rome, in On the Seventy Apostles, identifies three "Marks": Mark the Evangelist (2 Tim 4:11), John Mark (Acts 12:12, 25; 13:5; 15:37), and Mark the kinsman of Barnabas (Col 4:10; Phlm verse 24). According to Hippolytus these three men all belonged to the "seventy disciples" in Luke 10:1ff. He based his conclusion on the differences in names; however, St. Peter is called Simon, Simon-Peter, and Peter and it is understood that he is the same person; the same name change is also seen in Saul who is Paul. No other ancient Christian writer of his time agreed with Hippolytus.

3. Jesus wore tassels on His cloak in obedience to the Law; see Mt 9;20f; Mk 6:56; and the Pharisees were criticized by Jesus for wearing overly large tassels in Mt 23:5.

4. No document entitled "The sayings of Jesus" or any part of such a document has ever been discovered, nor has any ancient source even mentioned the existence of such a document. The theory of such a document rests solely on Bishop Papias' statement that St. Matthew wrote down the "sayings of Jesus," which may simply refer to Jesus' discourses that St. Matthew copied down and included in his Gospel. The notion of a common lost source had first been suggested by Protestant scholar Richard Simon in 1689 but was dismissed or ignored by both Protestants and Catholics since it was a contradiction of the testimony of the early Church Fathers that Matthew was the first Gospel.

5. The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible that dates to c. 250 BC, translated the Hebrew term sofer macher in Ezra 7:6 as grammateus tachy to describe Ezra's occupation as a scribe. A similar reference is found in Ps 45:2 in the Septuagint where "expert scribe" or "skillful writer" is translated into the Greek as oxygraphos, a synonym for the tachygraphos, the shorthand writer (Eyewitness to Jesus, page 136).

Catechism references for this lesson: CCC 105-107, 515

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