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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Mark

- Mark

by Thomas Constable

WRITER

The writer did not identify himself by name anywhere in this Gospel. This is true of all four Gospels.

"The title, ’According to Mark’ (. . . [kata Markon]), was probably added when the canonical gospels were collected and there was need to distinguish Mark’s version of the gospel from the others. The gospel titles are generally thought to have been added in the second century but may have been added much earlier. Certainly we may say that the title indicates that by A.D. 125 or so an important segment of the early church thought that a person named Mark wrote the second gospel." [Note: Donald A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, p. 172. See ibid, pp. 726-43 for a brief discussion of the formation of the New Testament canon.]

There are many statements of the early church fathers that identify the John Mark who is frequently mentioned in the New Testament as the writer.

The earliest reference of this type is in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History (ca. A.D. 326). [Note: The Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius Pamphilus, 3:39:15.] Eusebius quoted Papius’ Exegesis of the Lord’s Oracles (ca. A.D. 140), a work now lost. Papius quoted "the Elder," probably the Apostle John, who said the following things about this Gospel. Mark wrote it though he was not a disciple of Jesus during Jesus’ ministry or an eyewitness of Jesus’ ministry. He accompanied the Apostle Peter and listened to his preaching. He based his Gospel on the eyewitness account and spoken ministry of Peter. Mark did not write his Gospel in strict orderly sequence, meaning either chronological order [Note: Martin Hengel, "Literary, Theological, and Historical Problems in the Gospel of Mark," in Studies in the Gospel of Mark, p. 48.] or rhetorical and artistic order [Note: Robert A. Guelich, Mark 1-8:26, p. xxvii.] , but he recorded accurately what Peter remembered of Jesus’ words and deeds. He considered himself an interpreter of Peter’s content. By this "the Elder" probably meant that Mark recorded the teaching of Peter for the church though not necessarily verbatim as Peter expressed himself. [Note: Richard C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Mark’s Gospel, p. 12.] Finally "the Elder" said that Mark’s account is wholly reliable.

Another important source of the tradition that Mark wrote this Gospel is the Anti-Marcionite Prologue to Mark (A.D. 160-180). It also stated that Mark received his information from Peter. Moreover it recorded that Mark wrote after Peter died and that he wrote this Gospel in Italy. [Note: The Anti-Marcionite Prologue.] Irenaeus (ca. A.D. 180-185), another early church father, noted that Mark wrote after Peter and Paul had died. [Note: Against Heresies, 3:1:2.] Other early tradition documenting these facts comes from Justin Martyr (ca. A.D. 150-160), Clement of Alexandria (ca. A.D. 195), Tertullian (ca. A.D. 200), the Muratorian Canon (ca. A.D. 200), and Origen (ca. A.D. 230). This testimony dates from the end of the second century. Furthermore it comes from three different centers of early Christianity: Asia Minor (modern Turkey), Rome (in Italy), and Alexandria (in Egypt). Thus there is strong external evidence that Mark wrote this Gospel.

The Mark in view is the John Mark mentioned frequently in the New Testament (Acts 12:12; Acts 12:25; Acts 13:5; Acts 13:13; Acts 15:36-39; Colossians 4:10; Philemon 1:24; 2 Timothy 4:11; 1 Peter 5:13; et al.). He was evidently a relative of Barnabas who accompanied Barnabas and Paul on their first missionary journey but left these apostles when they reached Perga. He became useful to Paul during Paul’s second Roman imprisonment and was also with Peter when Peter was in Rome. Peter described him as his "son," probably his protégé. [Note: For a table comparing Peter’s address in Acts 10:36-40 and the structure of Mark’s Gospel, see Carson and Moo, p. 193.]

It seems unlikely that the early church would have accepted this Gospel as authoritative, since its writer was a secondary figure, without having convincing proof that Mark wrote it. Perhaps Luke showed special interest in John Mark in Acts because he was the writer of this Gospel more than because he caused a breach between Paul and Barnabas. [Note: A. E. J. Rawlinson, The Gospel According to St. Mark, p. xxxi.]

"It is evident that he [Mark] was a charismatically endowed teacher and evangelist. . . . A careful reading of the Gospel will serve to introduce the author as a theologian of the first rank who never forgot that his primary intention was the strengthening of the people of God in a time of fiery ordeal." [Note: William L. Lane, The Gospel according to Mark, p. 23.]

DATE

The earliest Mark could have written, if the testimonies of the Anti-Marcionite Prologue and Irenaeus are correct, was after the death of Peter and Paul. The most probable dates of Peter’s martyrdom in Rome are A.D. 64-67. Paul probably died as a martyr there in A.D. 67-68. However, Clement of Alexandria and Origen both placed the composition of this Gospel during Peter’s lifetime. This may mean that Mark wrote shortly before Peter died. Perhaps Mark began his Gospel during Peter’s last years in Rome and completed it after Peter’s death.

The latest Mark could have written was probably A.D. 70 when Titus destroyed Jerusalem. Many scholars believe that since no Gospel writer referred to this event, which fulfilled prophecy, they all wrote before it. To summarize, Mark probably wrote this Gospel sometime between A.D. 63 and 70.

ORIGIN AND DESTINATION

Most of the early Christian tradition says Mark wrote in Italy and, specifically, in Rome. [Note: Irenaeus, and Clement of Alexandria.] This external testimony finds support in the internal evidence of the Gospel itself. Many indications in the text point to Mark’s having written for Gentile readers originally, particularly Romans. He explained Jewish customs that would have been strange to Gentile readers (e.g., Mark 7:2-4; Mark 15:42). He translated Aramaic words that would have been unfamiliar to Gentiles (Mark 3:17; Mark 5:41; Mark 7:11; Mark 7:34; Mark 15:22). Compared to Matthew and Luke he used many Latinisms and Latin loan words, indicating Roman influence. He showed special interest in persecution and martyrdom that would have been of special interest to Roman readers when he wrote (e.g., Mark 8:34-38; Mark 13:9-13). Christians were suffering persecution in Rome and in various other places throughout the empire then, especially after Nero began to persecute Christians in A.D. 65. Finally the early circulation and widespread acceptance of this Gospel among Christians suggest that it originated from and went to a powerful and influential church. [Note: Walter W. Wessel, "Mark," in Matthew-Luke, vol. 8 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, p. 609.]

CHARACTERISTICS

Linguistically, Mark used a relatively limited vocabulary when he wrote this Gospel. For example, he used only about 80 words that occur nowhere else in the Greek New Testament compared with Luke’s Gospel that contains about 250 such words. Another unique feature is that Mark also liked to transliterate Latin words into Greek. However the Aramaic language also influenced Mark’s Greek. He evidently translated into Greek many of Peter’s stories that Peter spoke in Aramaic. The result was sometimes rather rough and ungrammatical Greek compared with Luke who had a much more polished style of writing. However, Mark used a forceful, fresh, and vigorous style of writing. This comes through in his frequent use of the historical present tense that expresses action as happening at once. It is also obvious in his frequent use of the Greek adverb euthys translated "immediately." [Note: See Rodney J. Decker, "The Use of euthys (’immediately’) in Mark," Journal of Ministry and Theology 1:1 (Spring 1997):90-121.] The resulting effect is that as one reads Mark’s Gospel one feels that he or she is reading a reporter’s eyewitness account of the events.

"Though primarily engaged in an oral rather than a written ministry, D. L. Moody was in certain respects a modern equivalent to Mark as a communicator of the gospel. His command of English was seemingly less than perfect and there were moments when he may have wounded the grammatical sensibilities of some of the more literate members of his audiences, but this inability never significantly hindered him in communicating the gospel with great effectiveness. In a similar way, Mark’s occasional literary lapses have been no handicap to his communication in this gospel in which he skillfully set forth the life and ministry of Jesus." [Note: David K. Lowery, "A Theology of Mark," in A Biblical Theology of the New Testament, p. 67.]

Mark addressed his readers directly (e.g., Mark 2:10; Mark 7:19), through Jesus’ words (e.g., Mark 13:37), and with the use of rhetorical questions addressed to them (e.g., Mark 4:41). This gives the reader the exciting feeling that he or she is interacting with the story personally. It also impresses the reader with the need for him or her to respond to what the story is presenting. Specifically, Mark wanted his readers to believe that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God, and to follow Him.

Historically, Mark recorded many intimate details that only an eyewitness would observe, which he evidently obtained from Peter (e.g., Mark 1:27; Mark 1:41; Mark 1:43; Mark 2:12; Mark 3:5; Mark 7:34; Mark 9:5-6; Mark 9:10; Mark 10:24; Mark 10:32). He stressed Jesus’ acts and gave a prominent place to His miracles in this Gospel. He recorded a lesser proportion of Jesus’ words and a greater proportion of His works than Matthew did. Jesus comes through Mark’s Gospel as a man of action. Mark emphasized Jesus’ role as the Servant of the Lord.

"Mark’s story of Jesus is one of swift action and high drama. Only twice, in chapters 4 and 13, does Jesus pause to deliver extended discourses." [Note: J. D. Kingsbury, Conflict in Mark: Jesus, Authorities, Disciples, p. 1.]

Candor also marks this Gospel. Mark did not glorify the disciples but recorded them doing unflattering things such as criticizing Jesus. He also described the hostility of Jesus’ family members toward Him. He stressed the human reactions and emotions of Jesus.

Theologically, this Gospel presents a high Christology beginning with the introduction of Jesus as the Son of God (Mark 1:1). Mark revealed Jesus’ preference for the title "Son of man," which He used to describe Himself frequently.

PURPOSE

These characteristics help us understand Mark’s purpose for writing, which he did not state directly. Mark’s purpose was not just to give his readers a biographical or historical account of Jesus’ life. He had a more practical purpose. The biographical material he chose to include and omit suggests that he wanted to enable his Christian readers to endure suffering and persecution for their faith effectively. To do this he recorded much about Jesus’ sufferings. About one third of this Gospel deals with the passion of Jesus. Moreover there are many other references to suffering throughout the book (e.g., Mark 1:12-13; Mark 3:21-22; Mark 3:30-35; Mark 8:34-38; Mark 10:30; Mark 10:33-34; Mark 10:45; Mark 13:8; Mark 13:11-13). Clearly Mark implied that faithfulness and obedience as a disciple of Jesus will inevitably result in opposition, suffering, and perhaps death. This emphasis would have ministered to the original readers who were undergoing persecution for their faith. It is a perennial need in pastoral ministry. It is interesting that the theme of suffering is strong in Peter’s first epistle too. Evidently this was a subject that lay heavy on Peter’s heart.

Mark had a theological (Christological) as well as a pastoral (discipleship) purpose in writing. It was to stress the true humanity of the Son of God. Whereas Matthew presented Jesus as the Messiah, Mark showed that He was the human servant of God who suffered as no other person has suffered. Mark stressed Jesus’ complete obedience to His Father’s will. This emphasis makes Jesus an example for all disciples to follow (Mark 10:45). One wonders if Mark presented Jesus as he did to balance a tendency that existed in the early church, by Docetists and others, to think of Jesus as divine but not fully human.

MARK’S POSITION AMONG THE GOSPELS

It is common today for scholars to hold Markan priority. This is the view that Mark wrote his Gospel first and the other Gospel evangelists wrote after he did. This view has become popular since the nineteenth century. Before that, most biblical scholars believed that Matthew wrote his Gospel first. Since then many scholars have concluded that Mark was one of the two primary sources that the other Synoptic Gospel writers used, the other being Q. [Note: See my note on the introduction to Matthew for a fuller discussion of Q.] There is presently no definitive solution to this problem of which came first, though by far the majority of scholars favor Mark.

Scholars favoring Markan priority base their view on the fact that Mark contains about 90 percent of what is in Matthew and about 40 percent of what is in Luke. Matthew and Luke usually follow Mark’s order of events, and they rarely agree against the content of Mark when they all deal with the same subject. Matthew and Luke also often repeat Mark’s wording, and they sometimes interpret and tone down some of Mark’s statements. Normally Mark’s accounts are fuller than Matthew and Luke’s suggesting that they may have edited his work.

However sometimes Matthew and Luke agree against Mark in a particular account. Luke omitted a large section of Mark’s material including all of what is in Mar_6:45 to Mar_8:26. Moreover in view of the likelihood that Mark wrote in the 60s, if he wrote first, Matthew and Luke may have written after the fall of Jerusalem. This seems unlikely since that event fulfilled prophecy, but neither writer cited the fulfillment as such. [Note: John D. Grassmick, "Mark," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament, p. 98. For fuller discussion, see the commentaries and works on Bible introduction.]

All things considered I favor Matthean priority. This view is currently enjoying a resurgence in popularity. William Farmer has been a leader among those who hold Markan priority. [Note: William R. Farmer, The Synoptic Problem.] However this debate is not crucial to the interpretation of the text.

Outline

I.    Introduction Mark 1:1-13

A.    The title of the book Mark 1:1

B.    Jesus’ preparation for ministry Mark 1:2-13

1.    The ministry of John the Baptist Mark 1:2-8

2.    The baptism of Jesus Mark 1:9-11

3.    The temptation of Jesus Mark 1:12-13

II.    The Servant’s early Galilean ministry Mark 1:14 to Mark 3:6

A.    The beginning of Jesus’ ministry Mark 1:14-20

1.    The message of the Servant Mark 1:14-15

2.    The first disciples of the Servant Mark 1:16-20

B.    Early demonstrations of the Servant’s authority Mark 1:21-34

1.    Jesus’ teaching and healing in the Capernaum synagogue Mark 1:21-28

2.    The healing of Peter’s mother-in-law Mark 1:29-31

3.    Jesus’ healing of many Galileans after sundown Mark 1:32-34

C.    Jesus’ early ministry throughout Galilee Mark 1:35-45

1.    The first preaching tour of Galilee Mark 1:35-39

2.    The cleansing of a leprous Jew Mark 1:40-45

D.    Jesus’ initial conflict with the religious leaders Mark 2:1 to Mark 3:6

1.    The healing and forgiveness of a paralytic Mark 2:1-12

2.    The call of Levi and his feast Mark 2:13-17

3.    The religious leaders’ question about fasting Mark 2:18-22

4.    The controversies about Sabbath observance Mark 2:23 to Mark 3:6

III.    The Servant’s later Galilean ministry Mark 3:7 to Mark 6:6 a

A.    The broadening of Jesus’ ministry Mark 3:7-19

1.    Jesus’ ministry to the multitudes Mark 3:7-12

2.    Jesus’ selection of 12 disciples Mark 3:13-19

B.    The increasing rejection of Jesus and its result Mark 3:20 to Mark 4:34

1.    The increasing rejection of Jesus Mark 3:20-35

2.    Jesus’ teaching in parables Mark 4:1-34

C.    Jesus’ demonstrations of power and the Nazarenes’ rejection Mark 4:35 to Mark 6:6 a

1.    The demonstrations of Jesus’ power Mark 4:35 to Mark 5:43

2.    Jesus rejection by the Nazarenes Mark 6:1-6 a

IV.    The Servant’s self-revelation to the disciples Mark 6:6 to Mark 8:30

A.    The mission of the Twelve Mark 6:6-30

1.    The sending of the Twelve Mark 6:6-13

2.    The failure of Antipas to understand Jesus’ identity Mark 6:14-29

3.    The return of the Twelve Mark 6:30

B.    The first cycle of self-revelation to the disciples Mark 6:31 to Mark 7:37

1.    The feeding of the 5,000 Mark 6:31-44

2.    Jesus’ walking on the water and the return to Galilee Mark 6:45-56

3.    The controversy with the Pharisees and scribes over defilement Mark 7:1-23

4.    Jesus’ teaching about bread and the exorcism of a Phoenician girl Mark 7:24-30

5.    The healing of a deaf man with a speech impediment Mark 7:31-36

6.    The preliminary confession of faith Mark 7:37

C.    The second cycle of self-revelation to the disciples Mark 8:1-30

1.    The feeding of the 4,000 Mark 8:1-9

2.    The return to Galilee Mark 8:10

3.    Conflict with the Pharisees over signs Mark 8:11-13

4.    Jesus’ teaching about the yeast of the Pharisees and Herod Mark 8:14-21

5.    The healing of a blind man near Bethsaida Mark 8:22-26

6.    Peter’s confession of faith Mark 8:27-30

V.    The Servant’s journey to Jerusalem Mark 8:31 to Mark 10:52

A.    The first passion prediction and its lessons Mark 8:31 to Mark 9:29

1.    The first major prophecy of Jesus’ passion Mark 8:31-33

2.    The requirements of discipleship Mark 8:34 to Mark 9:1

3.    The Transfiguration Mark 9:2-8

4.    The coming of Elijah Mark 9:9-13

5.    The exorcism of an epileptic boy Mark 9:14-29

B.    The second passion prediction and its lessons Mark 9:30 to Mark 10:31

1.    The second major prophecy of Jesus’ passion Mark 9:30-32

2.    The pitfalls of discipleship Mark 9:33-50

3.    Lessons concerning self-sacrifice Mark 10:1-31

C.    The third passion prediction and its lessons Mark 10:32-52

1.    The third major prophecy of Jesus’ passion Mark 10:32-34

2.    Jesus’ teaching about serving Mark 10:35-45

3.    The healing of a blind man near Jericho Mark 10:46-52

VI.    The Servant’s ministry in Jerusalem chs. 11-13

A.    Jesus’ formal presentation to Israel Mark 11:1-26

1.    The Triumphal Entry Mark 11:1-11

2.    Jesus’ judgment on unbelieving Israel Mark 11:12-26

B.    Jesus’ teaching in the temple Mark 11:27 to Mark 12:44

1.    The controversy over Jesus’ authority Mark 11:27 to Mark 12:12

2.    The controversy over Jesus’ teaching Mark 12:13-37

3.    Jesus’ condemnation of hypocrisy and commendation of reality Mark 12:38-44

C.    Jesus’ teaching on Mt. Olivet ch. 13

1.    The setting Mark 13:1-4

2.    Warnings against deception Mark 13:5-8

3.    Warnings about personal danger during deceptions Mark 13:9-13

4.    The coming crisis Mark 13:14-23

5.    The second coming of the Son of Man Mark 13:24-27

6.    The time of Jesus’ return Mark 13:28-32

7.    The concluding exhortation Mark 13:33-37

VII.    The Servant’s passion ministry chs. 14-15

A.    The Servant’s anticipation of suffering Mark 14:1-52

1.    Jesus’ sufferings because of betrayal Mark 14:1-11

2.    Jesus’ sufferings because of desertion Mark 14:12-52

B.    The Servant’s endurance of suffering Mark 14:53 to Mark 15:47

1.    Jesus’ Jewish trial Mark 14:53 to Mark 15:1

2.    Jesus’ Roman trial Mark 15:2-20

3.    Jesus’ crucifixion, death, and burial Mark 15:21-47

VIII.    The Servant’s resurrection ch. 16

A.    The announcement of Jesus’ resurrection Mark 16:1-8

B.    The appearances and ascension of Jesus Mark 16:9-20

1.    Three post-resurrection appearances Mark 16:9-18

2.    Jesus’ ascension Mark 16:19-20

Carson and Moo divided the book a bit differently, as follows. [Note: See Carson and Moo, pp. 169-72.]

I. Preliminaries to the ministry Mark 1:1-13

    Transition Mark 1:14-15

II. First part of the Galilean ministry Mark 1:16 to Mark 3:6

    Transition Mark 3:7-12

III. Second part of the Galilean ministry Mark 3:13 to Mark 5:43

    Transition Mark 6:1-6

IV. The concluding phase of the Galilean ministry Mark 6:7 to Mark 8:26

    Transition Mark 8:27-30

V. The way of glory and suffering Mark 8:31 to Mark 10:45

    Transition Mark 10:46-52

VI. Final ministry in Jerusalem Mark 11:1 to Mark 13:37

    Transition Mark 14:1-2

VII.    The passion and empty tomb narratives Mark 14:3 to Mark 16:8

End Map

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