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Gospel of Mark

The Gospel of Mark is the second in the familiar sequence of the New Testament Gospels, as they were established by Jerome and appear in many but not all early manuscripts of complete gospels, and as they are commonly printed. The commonly accepted range of dates for the text in its existing form are ca. AD 65—the traditional date for the death of Peter—to ca. AD 80, a terminus set by the use of purely Markan material in the Gospel of Luke.



The gospel itself is anonymous, but as early as Papias in the early 2nd century, a text was attributed to Mark, a disciple of Peter, who is said to have recorded the Apostle's discourses. If this tradition is correct, Mark would have had abundant opportunities to obtain information from Peter and other apostles about Jesus and his ministry. Papias' authority is this was a certain John the Presbyter. While the text of Papias is no longer extant, it was quoted by Eusebius of Caesarea, as follows:

"And the presbyter said this. Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered. It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him. But afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who accommodated his instructions to the necessities [of his hearers], but with no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord's sayings. Wherefore Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he remembered them. For of one thing he took especial care, not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements."

Even in the brief glimse Eusebius permits, Papias states, once unequivocally, that the Mark he was referring to was a "sayings" gospel, not the narrative that we know: in it, Papius tells, Mark had "no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord's sayings." "Deeds" appears in Eusebius' quote that "it was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ."

Notable in Papias' guarantee of the authenticity of the text is the unambiguous statement that Peter "accommodated his instructions to the necessities", in which the ordinary construction is "the necessities circumscribed by the understanding of his hearers". A recently published letter from Clement copied into a book at the Mar Saba monastery contains references to a previously unknown Secret Gospel of Mark and provides additional details about Mark's Roman origin. Many scholars remain unconvinced that an early, "Secret" Mark existed before the canonical gospel, and a number have asserted that the "Mar Saba letter' is a modern-day forgery.

From the time of Clement of Alexandria, at the end of the 2nd century, to the mid 20th century, scholars have generally thought that this gospel was first written at Rome, but some now conclude that Syria is a viable candidate as well. The Rome/Peter theory has been questioned in recent decades. It is argued that theLatinisms in the Greek of Mark —once seen as an indication of Roman provenance—could have stemmed from many places throughout the Western Roman empire. Furthermore, Papias' comment does not make it clear that the Mark of whom he spoke is the author of our canonical gospel which bears that name. Neither does the comment in 1 Peter 5:13 "The chosen one at Babylon sends you greeting, as does Mark, my son" for Mark was a very common name in the first century.

Several passages in the Gospel of Mark jumble Galilean topography, indicating that the author, or his sources, were unfamiliar with the actual geography of that area (unlike the historical Peter). Finally, the connection of the gospel with persecution, identified with persecution at Rome, is dubious. Persecution was widespread but sporadic beyond the borders of the city of Rome. All this goes to say that we know little of the author of Mark or its geographical origin. The above arguments do suggest that historical Mark and Peter were connected, but question the traditional reasons for assuming that Mark was the actual author of this gospel.


The text of the Gospel itself furnishes us with no clear information as to the time that it was written. Comments attributed to Jesus in Mark 13:1–2 (the "little Apocalypse", see below) have been seen as a reference to the destruction of the Temple , which would place the work after AD 70. Most scholars contrast these comments with the more specific ones in Luke and Matthew, and would be hesitant to assign a date later than 70-73 CE, the latter being when Jerusalem was finally and fully sacked. Nevertheless, a great majority of moderate and conservative scholars assign Mark a date between 65 and 70 CE, although there are vocal minority groups which argue for earlier or later dates.

Two papyrologists, Fr. Jose O'Callaghan and Carsten Peter Thiede, have proposed that lettering on a postage stamp-sized papyrus fragment found in a cave at Qumran, 7Q5, represents a fragment of Mark 6:52-53; thus they assert that the present gospel was written and distributed prior to 68. Almost all other papyrologists, however, consider this identification of the fragmentary text, and its supposition that early Christians lived at Qumran, to be dubious.


The general theory is that Mark is a Hellenistic gospel, written primarily for an audience of Greek-speaking residents of the Roman Empire by an author whose native language was Latin. Jewish traditions are explained, clearly for the benefit of non-Jews (e.g. 7:1-4; 14:12; 15:42). Aramaic words and phrases are also expanded upon by the author: e.g. ταλιθα κουμ ("talitha cum", 5:41); κορβαν ("Corban", 7:11); αββα ("abba", 14:36). The author of Mark also employed certain Latinised vocabulary not found in any of the other gospels: e.g. σπεκουλατορα ("soldier of the guard", 6:27, NRSV), ξεστων (Greek corruption of sextarius ["pots", 7:4]), κοδραντης ("penny", 12:42, NRSV), κεντυριων ("centurion", 15:39, 44, 45). It has been suggested that these usages show that the author of Mark is writing in Greek as a foreign language.

The Hellenism exhibited is not confined to language. The description in this Gospel of how the Sanhedrin plotted to execute Jesus has been used to promote and condone anti-Semitism. The demonization of Pharisees at first seems to direct this gospel at a Gentile audience; perhaps one only partly of Jewish extraction, as at Alexandria. (See Jews in the New Testament for further discussion.)

Alongside these Hellenistic influences, Mark in common with the other synoptic gospels makes detailed use of the Old Testament in the form in which it had been translated into Greek, the Septuagint, for instance Mark 1:2; 2:23-28; 10:48b; 12:18-27; also compare 2:10 with Daniel 7:13-14. Those who seek to temper the anti-Semitism in Mark note passages such as 1:44; 5:7 ("Son of the Most High God"; cf. Gen. 14:18-20); 7:27; and 8:27-30. These also indicate that the Jesus depicted by the author of Mark has kept his Jewish heritage, and also that the gospel might not be as Hellenistic as it first seems.

Sources:Mark and the oral tradition

The Gospel of Mark seems to be rooted in oral transmission. The phrase "immediately" (Gk. ευθυς) occurs nearly forty times in Mark, seven times in the first chapter alone, as compared to seven times in Luke and only four times in John. This is compounded by the seemingly continuous use in the Greek text of the present tense to describe past actions. This technique is known as the ‘historic present’, and is a strong feature in oral literature. "Again" (Gk. παλιν) is also used frequently as a temporal link between stories (e.g. 2:13; 8:1; 10:1), and there is also the strange phrase in 13:14 – "let the reader understand". (Matthew links his stories together repeating "and it came to pass". Here the stories are related with a freshness and more eloquence and style. Yet, the actions follow each other in the exact same sequence).

All these features indicate the Gospel’s roots in orality. Joanna Dewey, in a recent issue of the Journal of Biblical Literature (JBL), makes an impressive case for Mark having originally been a oral story dramatized by a story teller performing before a listening audience, and then as a result of its popularity and success later written down. (Though because of its rough style it almost died out in Rome). This compiling would suggest that the author of Mark is a redactor, an editor, who by writing this drama down makes various theological points (see below). Still, the Greek grammar of Mark is by no means great – especially when compared to Luke’s Gospel! – so it could be that Mark’s Gospel is just a rapid succession of vivid pictures loosely strung together without much attempt to bind them into a literary whole. However, redaction critical studies on Mark see the book as a well-constructed, coherent narrative. Examples of this include the threefold passion prediction cycle.

Sources: Mark's disputed relation with Q Gospel

Many mainstream textual critics agree that Matthew as we now have it and Luke depend upon Mark and the theorized lost "sayings" gospel called Q.Associated with the subject of "Markan priority" discussed below, is the question raised whether Mark depends on the Q gospel at all. Several possible relationships are offered: Mark supplementing the sayings source, Q as a supplement to Mark, even "a critical debate by Mark with the Christology of the sayings source" [1].

The existence of Q was suggested originally to account for the "double tradition" material, that material which is present in both Matthew and Luke but not Mark. Some scholars, like Burton Mack (1993 pp 177-9), discuss "a myriad of interesting points at which the so-called overlaps between Mark and Q show Mark's use of Q material for his own narrative designs." [2]. On the other hand Udo Schnelle (1998 p 195) finds that "a direct literary connection between Mark and Q must be regarded as improbable" and looks to connections through the oral tradition [3].


Unlike both Matthew and Luke, Mark does not offer any information about the life of Jesus before he begins his ministry: there is no nativity in Mark, as in Matthew (1:18-2:12) and Luke (2:1-20), nothing about John the Baptist's birth (as in Luke 1), no massacre of the infants (Matthew 2:13-23), and no childhood tales (Luke 2:41-52). Neither is there a genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:1-17 or, differently, Luke 3:23-38). The detailed narrative concentrates on the miracle stories, omitted by the later synoptics, show us otherwise (compare e.g. Mark 1:19 and Luke 4:38a; Mark 5:21-43 and Matthew 9:18-26).

Other characteristics unique to Mark

  • Son of Man is the major title used of Jesus in Mark (2:10, 28; 8:31; 9:9, 12, 31; 10:33, 45; 14:21, 41). Many people have seen that this title is a very important one within Mark’s Gospel, and it has important implications for Mark’s christology. Jesus raises a question that demonstrates the association in Mark between ‘Son of Man’ (compare Daniel 7:13-14) and the suffering servant in Isaiah 52:13-53:12 – “How then is it written about the Son of Man, that he is to go through many sufferings and be treated with contempt?” (9:12b, NRSV) The answer is that it isn’t! At least, not explicitly; Mark’s Gospel creates this link between Daniel and Isaiah, and applies it to Christ. It’s postulated that this is because of the persecution of Christians; thus, Mark’s Gospel encourages believers to stand firm (13:13) in the face of troubles.
  • The testing of Jesus in the wilderness for forty days contains no discourse between Jesus and Satan and only here are wild beasts mentioned.(1:12-13)
  • Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man numerous times.
  • The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.(2:27) omitted from both Matt 12:1-8 and Luke 6:1-5
  • Jesus' family say he is out of his mind. (3:21)
  • Among the synoptics Mark contains the smallest number of parables or riddles; only 12. (John has 3. None of them are found in Mark)
  • Only Mark counts the possessed swine; there are about two thousand! (5:13)
  • Only place in the New Testament Jesus is addressed as "the son of Mary". (6:3)
  • Two consecutive healing stories of women, make use of the number twelve. (5:25 and 5:42)
  • The taking of a staff and sandals (6:8-10) are prohibited in Matt 10:10 and Luke 9:3 and 10:4
  • The longest version of the story of Herodias' daughter's dance and the beheading of John the Baptist (6:14-29)
  • Mark's literary cycles:
  • 6:30-44 - Feeding of the five thousand;
  • 6:45-56 - Crossing of the lake;
  • 7:1-13 - Dispute with the Pharisees;
  • 7-14-23 - Discourse about food defilement.
  • 8:1-10 - Feeding of the four thousand;
  • 8:10 - Crossing of the lake;
  • 8:11-13 - Dispute with the Pharisees;
  • 8:14-21 - Incident of no bread and discourse about the leaven of the Pharisees.
  • Jesus heals using his fingers and spit (7:33);
  • Jesus must lay his hands on a blind man twice to cure him (8:22);
  • The 'Messianic Secret' motif (e.g. 1:32-34; 3:11-12); Demons know of Jesus and his secret identity. He is NOT just a wonder-worker! Jesus is the Son of God.
  • There are no 'favorite' disciples (contra John)
  • Even though the 12 disciples are Jesus' close traveling companions, they still have difficulty understanding his teachings and wonder who he is.
  • Mark is the only synoptic gospel that does not contain "The Lord's Prayer", unless one accepts (11:25-26)
  • When Jesus is arrested a young naked man flees. (14:51-52)
  • A woman anoints Jesus' head. There is no mention of her hair. (14:3-9)
  • Witness testimony against Jesus does not agree (14:56)
  • Jesus gives the direct answer,"I am"(14:62)
  • The cock crows "twice" as predicted (14:72)
  • The cloak is royal purple (15:17) and in John (19:2) In Matthew (27:28) it is a common scarlet military cloak.
  • Simon of Cyrene's sons are named. (15:21)
  • A summonded centurion is questioned. (15:44-45)
  • The women ask each other who will roll away the stone. (16:3)
  • A young man sits on the "right side". (16:5)
  • Afraid, the women flee from the empty tomb. They "tell no one" what they have seen. (16:8) Close of short ending text.
  • Disciples are told by the resurrected Jesus they can handle serpents and drink poison without harm (16:18);
  • Mark is possibly the easiest gospel recognizable as a product of pre-scientific people in the ancient world. (Also see Galen's-On Jews and Christians in its ENTIRETY and Robert Wilken's The Christians as the Romans Saw Them, Yale, 1986)

Markan priority among the Synoptic gospels

The synoptic problem is an investigation into how the gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke used each other or common sources. Most researchers into the synoptic problem have concluded that Mark was written first and used by Matthew and Luke ("Markan priority"). Markan priority was first proposed in 1786 but it did not come to dominate critical scholarship until the mid-19th century. The major alternative to Markan priority, aside from the traditional view that Matthew was written first, is the view that an early Aramaic Matthew was used by Mark and Luke, after which it was freely rendered into Greek, then further edited and collated with already written Mark and Luke, bringing the text into better agreement, to give the familiar Greek Matthew.

Of the two solutions to the synoptic problem the Two-Source Hypothesis posits that the gospels of Matthew Mark and Luke all also draw extensively from a now-lost "sayings" gospel—called Q after German Quelle, "source". Out of a total of 662 verses, Mark has 406 in common with both Matthew and Luke, 145 with Matthew alone, 60 with Luke alone, and at most 51 peculiar to itself, according to a common concordance.

The "little Apocalypse" of Mark 13

Exegesis is often made to show correspondences with the calamities of the First Jewish Revolt of AD 66–70. Jesus' remarks in 13:1–2, seen as a reference to the destruction of the Temple, would place the work after AD 70. The passage predicts that the Temple would be torn down completely—"Not one stone will be left upon another." Indeed, the Temple was completely destroyed by the forces of the Roman general Titus (Josephus, Jewish War VI). (The Western Wall, which still stands, was not a part of the Temple proper, but rather part of a larger structure on which the Temple and other buildings stood.) This fulfilled prophecy would place the passage before the destruction of Jerusalem, for readers who affirm the reality of prophecies; others speculate that this an example of a vaticinium ex eventu (NL, loosely "prophecy after the event"; cf. Book of Daniel).

Losses and early editing

Mark is the shortest gospel. Manuscripts, both scrolls and codices, tend to lose text at the beginning and the end, not unlike a coverless paperback in a backpack. These losses are characteristically unconnected with excisions. For instance, Mark 1:1 has been found in two different forms. Half of the discovered texts before the 2nd century contain the phrase "Son of God", while half do not. (NB: The article "the" is not present in Greek MSS; it was instead added to English translations for flow and compatibility with Church doctrine. "A Son of God" would also be a correct translation, as would the omission the article entirely.)

An axiom adopted by some readers, though not by professionals generally, is: "A shorter version generally means an earlier form." Judicious editing of unwanted material, however, may also produce a shorter document. The discovery of sections that have been deleted in the familiar, canonical Mark, quoted in a letter of Clement of Alexandria, is discussed in the entry for Secret Gospel of Mark.

Interpolations may not be editorial, either. It is a common experience that glosses written in the margins of manuscripts get incorporated into the text as copies are made. Any particular example is open to dispute of course, but one may take note of Mark 7:16, "Let anyone with ears to hear, listen," which is not found in early manuscripts.


There was some dispute among textual critics in the 19th century as to whether 16:9-20, describing some disciples' encounters with the resurrected Jesus, were actually part of the original Gospel, or if they were added later. The oldest extant manuscripts do not contain these verses and the style differs from the rest of Mark, suggesting that they were a later addition. A few manuscripts even include a different ending after verse 8. By the 5th century, at least 4 different endings have been attested. (See Mark 16 for a more comprehensive treatment of this topic.)

The third-century theologian Origen quoted the resurrection stories in Matthew, Luke, and John but failed to quote anything after Mark 16:8, suggesting that his copy of Mark stopped there, but this is an argument of silence. Critics are divided over whether the original ending at 16:8, which ends the Gospel at the empty tomb without further explanation, was intentional or accidental from the loss of a final sheet or even the author's death. Some of those who believe that the 16:8 ending was intentional suggest a connection to the theme of the Messianic Secret.


  • Bultmann, R., History of the Synoptic Tradition, Harper & Row, 1963.
  • Brown, R. E., Fitzmeyer, J. & Murphy, R. (eds.), Jerome Biblical Commentary, Prentice Hall, 1968.
  • Dewey, J., “The Survival of Mark’s Gospel: A Good Story?”, JBL 123.3 (2004) 495-507.
  • Grant, Robert M., A Historical Introduction to the New Testament Harper and Row, 1963: Chapter 8: The Gospel Of Mark
  • Holmes, M. W., "To Be Continued... The Many Endings of Mark", Bible Review 17.4 (2001).
  • Mack, Burton L., 1993. The Lost Gospel: The Book of Q and Christian origins," HarperSanFrancisco.
  • McKnight, E. V., What is Form Criticism?, 1997.
  • Perrin, N., What is Redaction Criticism?
  • Schnelle, Udo, 1998. The History and Theology of the New Testament Writings (M. Eugene Boring translator), Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998.
  • Telford, W. (ed.), The Interpretation of Mark, Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 1985.
  • Perrin, Norman & Duling, Dennis C., The New Testament: An Introduction, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 1982, 1974
  • Stephen Neill and Tom Wright,The Interpretation of The New Testament 1861-1986, Oxford University Press, 1990, 1989, 1964
  • Lynn Thorndike's classic study, The History of Magic and Experimental Science
  • Andrew D. White, History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom constantly reprinted

Related Internal Links of Interest

Storytelling Myth Parable Resurrection Hero Miracle Supernatural Tradition Ritual Gospel of John Rudolf Bultmann Curiosity Science

External links

Online translations of the Gospel of Mark:

Related articles:

  • "Gospel of Mark", New Catholic Encyclopedia, [4]. A bit dated, but very informative.
  • A textual commentary on the Gospel of Mark Detailed textcritical discussion of the 300 most important variants of the Greek text (PDF, 411 pages)
  • The various endings of Mark Detailed textcritical description of the evidence, the manuscripts, and the variants of the Greek text (PDF, 17 pages)
  • Secret Gospel of Mark Description of an altered Gospel of Mark in Egypt, mentioned in a letter by Clement of Alexandria, with images.
  • Easton's Bible Dictionary, 1897: mainstream Protestant scholarship of the 19th century summed up for the average reader

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