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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible


- Mark

by Arthur Peake



“ MARK, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately everything that he remembered, without, however, recording in order what was either said or done by Christ. For neither did he hear the Lord, nor did he follow Him; but afterwards, as I said, (attended) Peter, who adapted his instructions to the needs (of his hearers) but had no design of giving a connected account of the Lord’ s oracles. So then Mark made no mistake, while he thus wrote down some things as he remembered them; for he made it his one care not to omit anything that he heard, or to set down any false statement therein.” [72]

[72] Additional notes on many passages in this gospel will be found in the commentaries on Mt. and Lk. For Table of Parallel Sections see page 679.

This famous testimony of Papias (Bishop of Hierapolis in Asia Minor, c. 125) is clearly intended to apply to the second gospel. The evangelist is the Mark who figures in the NT (Acts 12, 15, 2 Timothy 4:11). Papias’ tradition need not be taken at its face value. With regard to Mk.’ s accuracy, it protests too much. On other sides, the character of the gospel itself supports it. That some of the material comes from Peter is not improbable, since the narrative only becomes detailed when Peter appears on the scene. The strong evidence for an Aramaic background to the gospel favours the view that Mk. is an interpreter, if not of Peter, then at least of early Palestinian tradition. [73] The whole purpose of Mk.’ s work is evangelistic; his aim is to make men believe in Jesus as the Son of God. His work, therefore, may very well be a record of preaching. Many of Mk.’ s stories must have been often used in the earliest propaganda of the Church. It is not impossible that his record is based on Peter’ s sermons in Rome, and in any case the readers expected are Gentile, possibly Roman, Christians. That the gospel lacks order is only partially true. It points to a clear development in the ministry of Jesus. After a glimpse of the simple beginnings in Galilee, we come to the period when the interest evoked is national, when Jesus organises His disciples for evangelisation, and when the official classes become definitely hostile. Then, almost in the full tide of His influence, Jesus gives up the public ministry in order to prepare the inner circle of disciples for the apparent disaster of the Cross. Finally, Jesus Himself leads the way to Jerusalem to challenge the authorities and accept His doom. A narrative that exhibits such a development cannot be called disorderly, but Papias’ informant is so far right that we cannot claim chronological accuracy for Mk. in detail.

[73] See Allen in Oxford Studies in the Synoptic Problem; Wellhausen, Einleitung in die drei ersten Evangelien 2 ; and Rendel Harris in ET. xxvi. 248.

Mk. is now generally recognised as the earliest of our existing gospels. The limited scope of the book, which corresponds with the range of the earliest apostolic witness ( Acts 1:22), suggests its priority to the more inclusive narratives of Matthew and Luke. A detailed comparison of the gospels usually shows the divergences of Lk. and Mt. from Mk. to be of a secondary character. Mk. describes the human emotions and characteristic gestures of Jesus more freely than do his fellow-evangelists (study, e.g., Mark 3:5; Mark 10:14; Mark 10:21; Mark 3:34; Mark 9:36; Mark 10:16 with parallels). The numerous disparaging references to the disciples in Mk. which are either toned down or omitted in the other gospels also point to the priority of Mk. (See Mark 4:13; Mark 6:52; Mark 8:17 f; Mark 9:10; Mark 9:32; Mark 9:34, with parallels, and see note on Mark 4:13.)

Mk.’ s treatment of the Twelve has been held to indicate a bias in favour of Paul. Some scholars detect a high degree of artificiality in Mk.’ s narrative, due to a Pauline tendency or to some other theological presupposition (see especially Bacon, Loisy, and Wrede). At the same time, Mk. is charged with an almost over-popular interest in the miraculous. The naï ve realism, which undoubtedly characterises the gospel, is not readily compatible with the apologetic, now obscure, and now subtle, which these scholars suppose the evangelist to have forced on his material. The readers who delighted in the detailed stories of exorcism, e.g. Mark 5:1-Proverbs : and Mark 9:14-Joel :, would hardly have followed the attempt to elevate Paul by depreciating the Twelve. Where references to the dullness of the disciples seem artificial, they are still best explained as an overzealous repetition of a characteristic feature of the earliest apostolic tradition.

To date the gospels is always hazardous. If the second gospel be really a record of Peter’ s preaching at Rome, it cannot be earlier than 63. Chapter 13 does not show any knowledge of the fall of Jerusalem. The gospel was, therefore, probably in existence before 70. If the view that Acts was drawn up to assist Paul’ s defence before Nero could be established, Mk.’ s date must be put back still earlier.

Literature. Commentaries: ( a) Montefiore, Salmond (Cent.B), Glover, Bacon, Allen; ( b) A. B. Bruce (EGT), Gould (ICC), Menzies, Swete, Plummer (CGT); ( c) B. Weiss (Mey.), Holtzmann, Lagrange, Wohlenberg (ZK), Loisy, Klostermann (HNT), J. Weiss (SNT), Wellhausen; ( d) Chadwick (Ex.B), Horton, The Cartoons of St. Mark. Other Literature: Wrede, Messiasgeheimnis; J. Weiss, Das ä lteste Evangelium; J. M. Thompson, Jesus according to S. Mark; Bennett. The Life of Christ according to St. Mark; Pfleiderer, Primitive Christianity, vol. ii.