Introduction to the Bible - 41 - Mark

The Gospel of Mark

by Louis Berkhof


 We may divide the contents of Mark's Gospel, that treats of Christ as  the mighty Worker, into five parts:

 I. The Advent of the mighty Worker, 1:1--2:12. Jesus is heralded as the  mighty One by John the Baptist, and proclaimed as the Son of God by the  Father, 1:1-13. After calling some of his disciples, He taught the  Galilean multitudes as one having authority, worked mighty miracles  among them, as the casting out of demons, the healing of Peters  mother-in-law, the cleansing of a leper, etc., and showed His authority  to forgive sins, 1: 14--2:12.

 II. The Conflict of the mighty Worker, 2: 12--8: 26. In connection with  the feast of Levi, the fact that the apostles did not fast, and that  they plucked ears of corn on the sabbath, Jesus gives the Pharisees  instruction regarding the purpose of his coming, and the moral  character of the requirements of his Kingdom, 2:13--3: 8. The healing  of the man with the withered hand leads to the enmity of Pharisees and  Herodians, which caused the withdrawal of Jesus. The Lord now chose  twelve apostles and continued his mighty works, so that even his  friends and relatives sought to restrain him, and his enemies claimed  that He did them through the power of the devil, 3: 9-35. Next we find  him teaching the people regarding the origin, the quiet growth,  independent of mans efforts, and the future strength of the Kingdom of  God, 4:1-34. His divine power shines forth in his calming the sea, his  curing the demoniacs in the land of the Gadarenes and the woman that  had the issue of blood, and his raising the daughter of Jairus, 4:  36--5 : 43. He finds no faith at Nazareth, and now sends out the twelve  into the cities of Galilee, 6:1-13. Herod, hearing of Christ, stands in  awe of him, believing him to be John the Baptist, whom he beheaded,  6:14-29. Withdrawing with the twelve to a desert place, He feeds the  five thousand, and after that shows his power over nature by walking on  the sea, 6: 30-56. The Pharisees accost him, because his disciples eat  bread with unclean hands, 7:1-23. He now cures the daughter of the  Syro-Phoenician woman and the deaf and dumb man at Decapolis, where He  also feeds the four thousand, 7: 24-8: 9. Once more the Pharisees ask  him for a sign. Leaving them, He restores the sight of the blind man at  Bethsaida, 8:10-26.

 III. The Claim of the mighty Worker, 8: 27--13: 37. The Lord shows the  necessity of his suffering, leads his disciples to confess him as  Messiah, and points out what is required of them, 8:27-38. His power  and glory are seen in the transfiguration and in the miracle following  this, 9:1-29. Then follows a second revelation of his future suffering,  followed by teachings regarding humility and offenses, 9: 30-50. In  Perea Christ, tempted by the Pharisees, gives his opinion on the  question of divorce; then He blesses little children and points out the  way of life to the young ruler, 10:1-31. For the third time He reveals  his future suffering, and prepares his disciples for a life of service,  10: 32-45. At Jericho He restores the sight of Bar-timeus. Next he  enters Jerusalem amid loud hosannas, curses the fig-tree and cleanses  the temple, 10: 46--11: 26. In the temple He reveals his superiority by  answering the questions of Pharisees, Sadducees and Herodians, and  points to himself as Davids Lord, 11: 27--12: 44. Then he speaks of his  coming in glory, 13.

 IV. The Sacrifice of the mighty Worker, 14:1--15 : 47. Preparation is  made for Jesus death by the Sanhedrin and Judas on the one hand, and by  Mary of Bethany on the other, 14:1-11. The passover is eaten and the  Lords supper instituted, 14:12-25: In Gethsemane follows bitter agony  and captivity, 14: 26-52. Then the Lord is tried and condemned by the  Sanhedrin and by Pilate, and finally He is crucified, 14: 53--15 : 47.

 V. The mighty Worker as Conqueror of Death, 16:1-20. Women go to the  grave on the first day of the week and are directed by the angels to go  to Galilee, 16:1-8. The Lord appears several times, gives blessed  promises, and at last ascends to heaven, 14:9-20.


 There are certain characteristics by which the Gospel of Mark is  distinguished from the other Gospels:

 1. The most striking peculiarity of the second Gospel is its  descriptive character. It is Marks constant aim to picture the scenes  of which he speaks in lively colours. There are many minute  observations in his work that are not found in the other Synoptics,  some of which point to its autoptic character. He mentions the look of  anger that Christ cast on the hypocrites about him, 3: 5; relates the  miracles, performed immediately after the transfiguration, with greater  circumstantiality than the other Gospels, 9: 9-29; tells of Jesus  taking little children in his arms and blessing them, 9: 36; 10:16;  remarks that Jesus, looking at the young ruler, loved him, 10: 21, etc.

 2. This Gospel contains comparatively little of the teaching of Jesus;  it rather brings out the greatness of our Lord by pointing to his  mighty works, and in doing this does not follow the exact chronological  order. Teaching is subordinate to action, though we cannot maintain  that it is ignored altogether. Mark, though considerably smaller than  Matthew, contains all the miracles narrated by the latter except five,  and besides has three that are not found in Matthew. Of the eighteen  miracles in Luke, Mark has twelve and four others above this number.

 3. In the Gospel of Mark several words of Christ that were directed  against the Jews are left out, such as we find in Mt. 3: 7-10; 8: 5-13;  15: 24, etc. On the other hand more Jewish customs and Aramaic words  are explained than in the first Gospel, f. i. 2:18; 7:3; 14:12; 15:6,  42; 3:17; 5:41; 7:11, 34; 14: 36. The argument from prophecy has not  the large place here that it has in Matthew.

 4. The style of Mark is more lively than that of Matthew, though not as  smooth. He delights in using words like euthus or eutheos and polus  prefers the use of the present and the imperfect to that of the aorist,  and often uses the periphrastic einai with a participle instead of the  finite verb. There are several Latinisms found in his Gospel, as  kenturion,kordantes, krabbatos,praitorion, spekoulator and phragelloun.


 Just as in the case of Matthew we are entirely dependent on external  testimony for the name of the author of the second Gospel. And the  voice of antiquity is unanimous in ascribing it to Mark. The most  ancient testimony to this effect is that of Papias, who says: "Mark,  the interpreter of Peter, wrote down carefully all that he recollected,  though he did not [record] in order that which was either said or done  by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him; but  subsequently, as I have said, [attached himself to] Peter, who used to  frame his teaching to meet the [immediate] wants [of his hearers] ; and  not as making a connected narrative of the Lords discourses. So Mark  committed no error, as he wrote down some particulars just as he called  them to mind. For he took heed to one thing--to omit none of the facts  that he heard, and to state nothing falsely in [his narrative] of  them." Several other church fathers, such as Irenaeus, Clement of  Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, Jerome, Eusebius, e. a., follow in his  wake; there is not a dissentient voice.

 We cannot glean a single hint from the Gospel itself as to the identity  of the author. It may be that the obscure young man who followed Jesus  in the night of his betrayal. 14: 51, 52, and who, stripped of his  garment fled naked in the darkness of night, was the author himself.  The house of Marks mother was at least in later time a rendezvous for  the disciples of the Lord, Acts 12:12; so that it is not improbable  that Jesus and his disciples ate the Paschal supper there, and that  Mark, hearing them depart, left his bed and stole after them. This  would immediately explain the acquaintance of the author with this  interesting fact.

 Some scholars have expressed doubt as to the identity of Mark, the  evangelist, and John Mark, the companion of Barnabas and Paul. The  general consensus of opinion, however, favors this. Proceeding on the  assumption that this view is correct, we find Mark mentioned first in  connection with Peter's deliverance from prison in 44 A. D. After  leaving the prison walls the apostle went to "the house of Mary, the  mother of John, whose surname was Mark," Acts 12:12. From the way in  which Luke introduces his mother we gather that Mark was a well known  person, when the Acts were written. The fact that Peter calls him his  son, I Peter 5:13 naturally leads to the supposition that in his early  years he had frequent intercourse with the apostle and was through the  instrumentality of Peter led to a saving knowledge of the truth. He was  a cousin of Barnabas and hence a Jew, probably even of a priestly  family, Acts 4: 36. When Barnabas and Paul set out on their first  missionary journey, Mark accompanied them until they came to Pamphylia,  when for some unknown, but as it seems reprehensible reason, he turned  back. At the beginning of the second missionary journey he was minded  to accompany the apostles again, but Paul positively refused to accept  his services. He now accompanied his uncle to Cyprus. When we next hear  of Mark, about ten years later, he is spoken of by Paul as one of those  few "fellow-laborers that have been a consolation to him," Col. 4:10;  Philem. 24. In his last letter the apostle speaks of Mark once more,  and in such a laudatory manner as to prove that Mark has fully regained  his confidence, II Tim. 4:11. The last we hear of Mark in Scripture is,  when Peter sends the greetings of Mark, his son, to the Christians in  Asia Minor, I Peter 5:13. These four passages lead us to the following  construction of his later history: He was with Paul during the apostles  first imprisonment at Rome and then intended to visit the congregation  of Colossae. We have no reason to doubt that he carried out this  purpose. After Pauls release Mark was at Rome with Peter, who in  writing to the Christians of Asia Minor assumes that they know Mark.  Apparently he made another visit to Asia Minor, since Paul requests  Timothy, II Tim. 4:11 to take Mark with him, when he comes to Rome.  After the death of Peter he is said to have visited Alexandria, where  he was the first to found Christian churches, and finally died a  martyrs death. This tradition, though old, is not without suspicion.

 It seems that Mark was "like Peter more a man of action than of deep  and abiding principle, a man of fervor and enthusiasm rather than of  persevering effort; but he was transfused by the power of the same  Christ who transfused Peter into the man of rapid, continued and  effective effort in the missionary work of the Church." Gregory, Why  Four Gospels, p. 163.

 The relation of Mark to Peter deserves special attention. Scripture  speaks of this in the two places already mentioned, and tradition  abundantly testifies to it. Papias says that "Mark was Peters  interpreter and wrote down carefully all that he recollected." Clement  of Alexandria also says that he wrote down the discourses of Peter, as  he remembered them. Irenaeus, Tertullian and Jerome all style Mark "the  interpreter of Peter." Tertullian even says that "the Gospel published  by Mark may be reckoned Peter's, whose interpreter he was." And Origen  still stronger: "Mark wrote his Gospel according to the dictates of  Peter." Similarly Athanasius. All these testimonies agree in asserting  that Mark was dependent on Peter in writing his Gospel; they disagree,  however, as to the degree of dependence, some claiming merely that Mark  recorded what he remembered of Peters preaching, and others, that he  wrote what Peter dictated. Which representation is the true one?

 The title of the Gospel is against the dictation theory, for if Peter  had dictated the Gospel, it would in all probability have been called  by his name, just as the Epistles dictated by Paul are universally  ascribed to him. On the other hand the autoptic touches in the Gospel  make it probable that in some parts of his work Mark employed the very  words of Peter; they also suggest a possible basis for the later  tradition that Peter dictated to Mark. However, it is not impossible  that some of the Church fathers accentuated the dependence of Mark on  Peter unduly, merely to enhance the authority of his work. The true  relation of the evangelist to the apostle is expressed in the words:  "Mark was the interpreter (hermeneutes) of Peter." This does not mean  that he accompanied Peter on his missionary journeys as dragoman,  translating Aramaeic discourses into Greek (Davidson), or Greek into  Latin (Bleek); but that he was Peters scholar and in his Gospel  interprets i. e. sets forth the doctrine of Peter for those who have  not heard the apostle.

 The Gospel itself incidentally testifies to the relation in which it  stands to Peter. There are many touches that indicate first-hand  knowledge, as in 1:16-20; 1:29; 9:5; 15:54, 72; 16: 7. Some things  found in the other Synoptics are unexpectedly omitted by Mark, as  Peters walking on the water, Mt. 14: 29; his appearance in the incident  of the tribute money, Mt. 17: 24-27; the statement of Christ that He  prayed for Peter individually, Lk. 22: 32; the significant word spoken  to him as the Rock, Mt. 16:18. In other cases his name is suppressed,  where it is used by Matthew or Luke, as 7:17 cf. Mt. 15: 15; 14:13 cf.  Lk. 22:8.

 The authorship of Mark is quite generally admitted; yet there are some,  such as Beischlag and Davidson e. a. who deny it. They maintain that  our present Gospel does not tally with the description of Papias, where  he says that Mark wrote down the things he heard of Peter "not in  order." Wendt supposes that Papias had in mind a series of narratives  that are embodied in our present Gospel, a sort of Urmarkus. But when  Papias said that the evangelist wrote "not in order," he did not say  anything that is not true of our Mark, for in it we do not find things  in the order of their occurrence. And in ancient literature there is  not a single trace of an Urmarkus.


 1. Readers and Purpose. External testimony enlightens us respecting the  circle for which the Gospel of Mark was intended; it points to Rome and  the Romans. Clement of Alexandria says that many of the converts of  Rome desired of Mark that he should write down the discourses of Peter.  Jerome also speaks of this "request of the brethren at Rome"; and  Gregory Nazianzen says: "Mark wrote his Gospel for the Italians." If we  now turn to the Gospel itself, we find that it was peculiarly adapted  to the Romans. They were a strenuous, a very active people; Marks  Gospel is pre-eminently the Gospel of action, and is written in a brisk  lively style. The fact that the argument from prophecy holds an  inferior place in it, and that so many Jewish customs and Aramaeic  words are explained, points away from the Jews; while the Latin words  contained in the gospel, the reference to the Roman manner of divorce,  10:12, the reduction of a coin to the Roman quadrans, 12:42, the  knowledge of Pilate presupposed in 15: 1 (cf. Mt. 27: 1 and Lk. 3:1),  and the introduction of Simon of Cyrene as the father of Alexander and  Rufus, 15:21 (cf. Rom. 16:13),--all point to Rome.

 It stands to reason that the purpose of Mark in writing stood in the  closest relation to the circle of readers for whom he intended his  Gospel. It is certainly true, as Zahn asserts, that his intention was  to record the beginning (arche) of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, i. e.  the beginning of its preaching and of its course; but he has this in  common with the other Synoptics; it is nothing distinctive (cf. p. 58  above). The theory of Hilgenfeld and Davidson, following Baur, that the  Gospel of Mark was written to conciliate the two opposing parties of  the apostolic age, the Petrine and the Pauline, and therefore carefully  avoids the exclusivism of Matthew as well as the universalism of Luke  can only be sustained by the most forced and artificial  interpretations. Neither does the gospel support the view of Weiss,  that it was written at a time, when the hope of Christs second coming  was on the decline, and intended to show that the Messianic character  of Jesus mission was sufficiently attested by His earthly life. Mark's  aim was simply to record the gospel narrative without any special  dogmatic aim, but to do this in such a manner as would be most suitable  for the Romans, the busy Romans, the people of action. Hence he places  special emphasis on the acts of Christ. For those who loved conquest  and admired heroism he desired to picture Christ as the mighty  Conqueror that overcame sin and all its consequences, yea even death  itself.

 2. Time and Place. As to the time when Mark wrote his Gospel the  witness of the early Church is not unanimous. Irenaeus says that after  the death of Peter and Paul Mark wrote down what he had heard Peter  preach. Clement of Alexandria places the composition of the Gospel  before the death of Peter, stating that, when Peter heard of it, "he  neither obstructed nor encouraged the work." Jerome informs us that  Peter "approved and published it in our churches, commanding the  reading of it by his own authority~" Others say that Peter dictated to  Mark. The question to be decided is therefore, whether Mark wrote  before or after the death of Peter. It is generally assumed that the  testimony of Irenaeus is the most trustworthy. It is possible that some  of the later Church fathers insisted on Marks having written the Gospel  during the life of Peter, in order to clothe it with apostolic  authority. Zahn would harmonize the testimony of the fathers by  assuming that Mark began his work before and finished it after the  death of the apostle; and that Peter on hearing of Mark's venture at  first said nothing regarding it; then, seeing a part of the work,  rejoiced in it; and still later, when it had almost reached its perfect  form, sanctioned it, Einl. II p. 203.

 Turning to the Gospel itself, we find that it contains no positive  evidence as to the time of its composition. Some inferred from 13: 24  as compared with Mt. 24: 29 that it was written after the destruction  of Jerusalem, the evangelist being conscious of the lapse of a certain  period between that catastrophe and the day of Christs return. But the  foundation is too slender for the conclusion. With greater probability  others infer from 13:14, "let him that readeth understand," that the  destruction of the city was still a matter of expectation. This seems  to follow also from Marks utter silence regarding that calamity. The  probable conclusion is therefore that the year 70 A. D. is the terminus  ad quem for the composition of this Gospel. From Col. 4:10 we may infer  that it was written after 62 A. D., for if Paul had known Mark as an  evangelist, he would most likely have introduced him as such. A place  of still greater importance is II Peter 1: 15. "Yea I will give  diligence that at every time ye may be able after my decease to call  these things to remembrance." Here Peter seems to promise that there  will be a record of his preaching after his demise. We would therefore  date the Gospel between 67 and 70 A. D. Davidson without good reasons  places it in the beginning of the second century, about 125 A. D.  Regarding the grounds for his position, (1) that in this Gospel belief  in the divinity of Christ is more pronounced than in the first century;  and (2) that the word euangelion is used in a sense foreign to the  apostolic age, we merely remark that they are both unproved  assumptions.

 The testimony of the fathers points, almost without a dissenting voice,  to Rome as the place, where Mark composed his gospel. Chrysostom,  however, testifies that "Mark wrote in Egypt at the request of the  believers there. But in another statement he admits that he really  knows nothing about it.

 3. Method. Augustine called Mark "the abridger of Matthew," assuming  that the second Gospel was an abbreviated compilation from the first.  This theory has since been defended by several scholars of the Tubingen  school, but is now abandoned. The general features of the Gospel do not  bear out that view. Zahn finds that Mark based his Gospel both on the  oral communications of Peter and on the Hebrew Matthew, Einl. II p.  322. Davidson denies the originality and priority of the Gospel by  making it depend to a great extent on Matthew and Luke, Introd. I p.  478. Salmon finds throughout the Gospel many evidences of the priority  and independence of Mark, but believes that in other places he is, with  Matthew and Luke, dependent on a common source, Introd. p. 155. The  prevalent opinion at present is that Marks Gospel was prior to the  other two, though, at least according to some, he may have employed the  euangelion of Matthew. But in order to maintain this priority its  defenders have resorted to such artificial and unlikely theories that  they in part defeated their own purpose. The theory of an Urmarkus has  been broached, but found little acceptance. The opinion of Dr. Arthur  Wright that we must distinguish between a proto-, a deutero- and a  tritoMark, a distinction applied to oral tradition by him, is now by  others applied to written documents. Cf. Holdsworth, Gospel Origins p.  108.

 Here again the great difference of opinion proves that it is quite  impossible to trace in all details the origin of the material found in  this Gospel. The great objection to several of the theories propounded  is that they seek to account for the origin of Mark in a too mechanical  way. We may be certain of two things: (1) that Mark derived the  greatest part of his material from the preaching of Peter that had  gradually assumed a definite shape in his mind; and (2) that he has  recorded partly the ipsissima verba of Peter (except for the occasional  change of we into they), and partly merely the substance of the  apostles kerugma in a form and with interpretations of his own. For the  rest of his material he probably depended on the Hebrew original of  Matthew.


 The integrity of the Gospel of Mark is generally maintained, with the  exception, however, of the last twelve verses, regarding which there is  a great difference of opinion. The critical camp of the past century is  just about equally divided, although at present the tide is somewhat  against these verses. The reasons for rejecting them are both external  and internal. These verses are wanting in the two oldest and most  valuable manuscripts, viz, the Sinaitic and the Vatican. Eusebius and  Jerome and a few others state that they were wanting in almost all the  Greek copies of the gospels of their time. It is possible, however,  that the testimony of Jerome and the rest resolves itself into that of  Eusebius. This is all but certain with respect to that of Jerome, as  even Davidson admits. They are wanting also in the important MS. k,  representing the African text of the old Latin Version, which has  another and shorter conclusion, like that in MS. L. They are also  absent from some of the best MSS. of the Armenian Version. Then the  style of this section is abrupt and sententious, not graphic like that  of the rest of the Gospel. It makes the impression of a collection of  brief notices, extracted from larger accounts and loosely combined. Its  phraseology is also peculiar. Thus prote sabbatou, verse 9 is used  instead of he mia ton sabbatou as in 16 :2. The verb poreuesthai, which  occurs three times in this section, is not found in the body of the  Gospel. Neither is the word theasthai, 16:11, 14. Another unique  feature is the use of ho kurios as a designation of Christ, verses 19,  20.

 These verses have also found ardent defenders, however, among whom  especially Dean Burgon must be named, though he is perhaps a little too  positive. In his work on, "The last Twelve Verses of the Gospel  according to Mark," he put up an able defense. The authenticity of this  section is favored by the following considerations: It is found in most  of the uncial MSS. and in all the cursives, though some of these mark  it with an asterisk, or indicate that it was absent in older copies.  Moreover its absence from Aleph and B looks somewhat suspicious. It is  also incorporated in most of the ancient Versions, of which the Itala,  the Curatorian and Peshito Syriac, and the Coptic are older than any of  our Greek codices. All the existing Greek and Syriac lectionaries, as  far as they have now been examined, contain these verses. Irenaeus  quotes the 19th verse as a part of the Gospel of Mark. Justin Martyr  too in all probability testifies to the authenticity of these verses.  And several of the later fathers, such as Epiphanius, Ambrose and  Augustine certainly quote from them. And as far as internal evidence is  concerned, it seems very unlikely that Mark would end his Gospel with  the words ephobounto gar without recording a single appearance of the  Lord. Moreover these verses contain too many peculiarities to be a  forgery.

 We cannot delay to discuss the causes for the variation of the MSS, nor  to review the different conclusions to which scholars have come as to  the extent of Marks Gospel. They who wish to study the subject can do  so in the work of Burgon, in the Introductions of Guericke and Salmon  and in Urquharts New Biblical Guide VII, where this section is  defended; and in the work of Westcott and Hort, "The New Testament in  Greek," and in the Introductions of Reuss, Weiss, Davidson and Zahn,  who reject it.

 It seems to us that the ground offered for the rejection of these  verses by external testimony is rather slender and uncertain, while the  internal evidence is weighty indeed. In view of it we are inclined to  accept one of two possible conclusions: either that Mark himself added  these verses some time after he had written his Gospel, possibly  culling his material from Matthew and Luke; or that someone else wrote  them to complete the work. The latter is favored by the Armenian Gospel  that was written in 986 and was discovered by F. C. Conybeare in 1891,  and which has the superscription above this section: "Of the Presbyter  Ariston." In either case we see no reason, however, to doubt the  canonicity of this part of Marks Gospel, though some have attempted to  make this suspicious especially by pointing to the unlikely (?)  miracles of verses 17, 18. Cf. Luke 10:19.


 Though the external testimony to the canonicity of Mark's Gospel is not  so abundant as that for the Gospel of Matthew, yet it is sufficient to  establish this beyond a shadow of doubt. It is quoted by at least two  of the apostolic fathers, by Justin Martyr and by the three great  witnesses of the end of the second century, Irenaeus, Clement of  Alexandria and Tertullian, and is referred to as a part of the Word of  God by several others. We find no expressions of doubt in the early  Church.

 The special purpose of this Gospel in the canon is to show us Christ in  his divine power, destroying the works of satan, and conquering sin and  death. More than other Gospels it places prominently before us the work  of Christ in behalf of those that are bound by the shackles of satan  and are suffering the consequences of sin. We here see the Lion out of  the tribe of Juda, conquering and ever to conquer. Mark is the only one  of the evangelists that speaks of the future Kingdom of God as coming  with power, 9:1. In that way this Gospel has special significance for  the Church of all ages. It gives her the blessed assurance that her  future is entrusted to One who has shown himself a mighty Conqueror,  and who is abundantly able to save to the uttermost all who believe in  Him.