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New Testament Survey



The Gospel of Mark

Key Verse(s):

Key Chapter(s):

Key Word(s) or Concept(s)


            Who is the author?

 How do you know this?

            Who is the audience?

 How do you know this?

            Is there a particular problem?

            Is there a key theme to the book?

            How is Jesus presented?

            What is the main emphasis of the account?

Suggested Reading beyond the Key Chapter(s):


The second of the Gospel accounts is also the shortest. This is a Gospel of action which places a heavy demand upon its readers to accept Jesus as the Son of God (1:1,11; 3:11; 5:7; 9:7; 13:32; 14:36, 61-62).

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God;
Mark 1:1

Theme and Purpose


Mark writes about “Christ the servant.” The concepts of service and sacrifice flow throughout this Gospel. He writes during his stay in Rome, to a Gentile audience. Mark focuses on presenting a Christ who gave Himself for mankind in an effort to encourage the new Christians in a time of persecutions. His purposes can be summed up as follows:.

For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.
Mark 10:45

Authorship and Date

From the earliest of traditions, John Mark has been held to be the author of this Gospel. This book, like all of the Gospels, does not name its author. The validity of the tradition is strengthened by both internal evidence and the argument that a relatively minor player such as Mark would not have been given credit for the work if he had not written it. Luke’s development of Mark in the book of Acts may have been the result of Luke either using or knowing of Mark’s Gospel.

Mark’s history (see below) clearly shows the life of Mark as being closely related to the Apostles. Tradition holds that Mark’s Gospel is Peter’s recollections of Christ. Part of the uniqueness of this Gospel is the shadow of Peter which surrounds it. Mark may have had as many as twenty years to spend with Peter, so he could have gleaned much knowledge during this time used in composing the Gospel.

The issue of dating is partially dependent upon one’s resolution of the synoptic problem. – but not totally. The need for a Jewish Gospel could have compelled Matthew to write fully apart from Mark or any other Gospel. As we have previously discussed, each of the Gospels is written to a different audience and for a different purpose. Mark was considered to be an abstract of Matthew from Augustine (4th Century) until the early part of the nineteenth century. At that time, the synoptic question arose afresh in scholarly circles, resulting in a re-visitation of the traditions of the past.

Even though the parallels of "Mark" in Matthew and Luke are striking, it is entirely possible that they are using the same source as Mark. And, why would an eyewitness, Matthew, need to rely upon some other written account so heavily, especially one by a probable non-witness? For example, the banquet of Matt 9:9-13 and Mark 2:13-17 was held in Matthew’s own house! He did not need Mark’s written account to record this story. All of this may suggest that Matthew is the first Gospel, since the first church was Jewish, the audience of Matthews Gospel.


The parallels are more striking than might first be imagined. Matthew includes nearly all of the Markian materials. Luke includes about half of Mark’s materials. Neither of the other two synoptic writers vary from the sequence of events found in Mark. Further, Matthew and Luke frequently repeat exact wording from this short Gospel.

At the same time, if there is no literary dependence by Mark on the other two Gospels, there is no reason to date one based upon a date of the other. Clearly, Mark’s account is written prior to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple (Chp 13). This makes the date no later than the mid-60s. Tradition holds to an earlier date, and if one accepts Mark as being the first Gospel, it could date to the early 50s.


One argument for the priority of Mark is its short, direct approach. The Greek language which is used is “rough,” unpolished. Many feel Matthew and Luke felt compelled, in part, to write a “smoother” Gospel. Or so goes modern scholarship.

Who is Mark?

John is the Hebrew name and Mark, or Marcus, is his Latin name. On three New Testament occasions, Mark is mentioned by both names (Acts 12:12, 25; 15:37). He is also mentioned as John (Acts 13:5, 13), while elsewhere he is called Mark (Acts 15:39; Col 4:10; Philemon 24; 2 Tim 4:11; 1 Pet 5:13).

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The personal touch of Mark is seen by many in the incident in Mark 14:51, 52. There, the young man with Jesus is frightened by the arrest of Christ and flees into the night, naked, leaving his robe behind. Tradition and many scholars think this is Mark writing about himself.


On a personal examination of Mark, one finds his presence in the New Testament as meeting the condition of apostolic authorship. Mark himself is not an Apostle, but his ties to the pillars of the church strongly support his ability to prepare the Gospel. He was a Jewish Christian whose mother, Mary, was apparently a rich widow. She opened her home in Jerusalem for meetings of the early church (Acts 12:12). There is some tradition which holds this was the home where the Last Supper was held.

John Mark was Barnabas’ cousin (Col. 4:10). Barnabas was instrumental in having Mark added to the missionary party for Paul and Barnabas’ trip to Jerusalem for the famine relief (Acts 12:25). He then accompanied Barnabas and Paul on the first missionary journey. However, for unknown reasons, he turned back to Jerusalem when the party went inland to Asia at Perga in Pamphylia (Acts 13:5,13).

Barnabas was desirous of taking Mark along on the second missionary journey, but Paul refused to do so because of the earlier defection. As a result, Barnabas and Paul broke up. Paul went with Silas, while Barnabas took Mark to Cyprus (Acts 15:36-41). Paul and Mark later reconciled for Mark was with Paul during his imprisonment in Rome, apparently serving as his delegate in Asia Minor (Philemon 24; Col. 4:10). Paul also instructed Timothy to send Mark to Rome to be with him during his (Paul’s) final imprisonment (2 Tim. 4:11).

Mark was with Peter in Rome at the time of the writing of 1 Peter. Peter regarded John Mark as his spiritual son (1 Peter 5:13).

Uniqueness of the Gospel

Mark spent most of his Christian life with the Apostles, either on missionary journeys or in Rome or Asia Minor. Almost certainly this Gospel is being written to the Christians in Rome to encourage them. Rome was much like modern day America. How frequently do we as Christians become discouraged just reading the newspaper or watching television? Mark’s audience faced a similarly decadent society.

As a result, Mark presents a Jesus who was persecuted and suffered, all without denying the Will of God. Jesus is the Worker, the Servant of the Lord, who focuses on the task at hand and carries on without complaint and without wavering from the path being traveled. Christ is the faithful Servant going about His business. This is reflected in the key verses for this book.

34 And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. 35 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it. 36 For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? 37 Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
Mark 8:34-37

Indeed, what is more important than man’s soul?

Mark’s Gospel is a Gospel of action. The key Greek word, eutheos, is introduced early in the Gospel and occurs more than 40 times. The word is generally translated straightway, immediately, or forthwith. The word is found only once in Luke and but seven times in Matthew. Jesus is always in action or causing action in this book. Christ is recording as presenting some 38 parables in Scripture, but only eight of these are found in Mark. On the other hand, Mark records over half of the miracles performed by Christ. This is the highest proportion of any of the Gospels.

Peter’s shadow is present in the Gospel. If one compares Peter’s outline of Christ’s life as found in Acts 10:36-43, one has the outline of Mark’s Gospel. Further evidence of this reliance on Peter is found elsewhere in the Gospel. There is a vividness of detail throughout the Gospel which suggests Mark had access to the reminiscences of a close eyewitness such as Peter (1:16-20,29-31,35-38; 5:21-24,35-43; 6:39,53-54; 9:14-15; 10:32,46; 14:32-42). Along with the sermon mentioned above, there is a strong use of Peter&s words and deeds in this account (8:29,32-33; 9:5-6; 14:29-31,66-72). Further, there is Mark’s inclusion of the unique words "and Peter" in 16:7. This leaves the impression of the personal imprint this action had on Peter, a remembrance Peter would be happy to repeat.

But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you.
Mark 16:7

Lastly, Mark’s Gospel is an argument for the necessity of the Cross. There is a dominate movement of Jesus toward the cross. Chapter 8 marks the turning point of the Gospel. From that point on, Jesus and his disciples were "on the way" (9:33; 10:32) to the Cross and the Resurrection. The journey started in Caesarea Philippi in the north through Galilee to Jerusalem in the south. The rest of the narrative (36%) is devoted to events of the Passion Week (11:1--16:8). Mark’s Gospel is rightly called a Passion story with an introduction. But what an introduction it is, for only if Jesus is the Christ, as Mark alleges in his opening paragraph, could the events of the Cross be beneficial.

Special Consideration

There is a great deal of controversy over the proper ending of Mark’s Gospel. This is truly one of those areas which properly belong to an Introduction Course rather than a survey. A review of the ancient manuscripts shows there are, at least, three different endings to the Gospel. The most abrupt ending are those manuscripts which stop at 16:8. Next is the familiar ending of the King James which has verses from Mark 16:9-16:20. In between, there is a short ending which adds a couple of verses after 16:8.


This is a transmission problem of the manuscripts. The concern is that the oldest of the manuscripts, those dating before the time of Jerome in the 4th century are the ones which end at 16:8. Jerome notes that few manuscripts which he has seen have the “longer” ending -- but it did exist! However, all of the essential elements found in 16:9-16:20 are found in other portions of Scripture. To the extent they are not, one must be careful not to create a doctrine from this potentially suspect Scripture.


I phrase the above in this fashion as a demonstration of the efforts of some to justify their positions. Review these verses carefully. From 9-11, there is an outline of the early events of Resurrection Sunday. Verses 12 and 13 reminds us of the story found in Luke about the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13ff). The next couple of verses are Mark’s version of the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20. Notice this is, however, where the differences start. Verse 16 speaks of baptizing in the name of Jesus. This has led, at least, one denomination to insist that one is not properly baptized unless it is solely in the name of Jesus Christ – no Father and Holy Spirit for them!


Verses 17 and 18 give the “signs” of those who follows. One sign is new tongues. This verse is a cornerstone of the charismatic movement’s insistence on the necessity of tongues. But another of these signs is the handling of poisonous snakes. While Paul is bitten without adverse consequences by a poisonous snake (Act 28:35), this is the only place in the New Testament even close to this “sign.” Yet, there exists a small group of “snake handlers” in the Christian community who use poisonous snakes as part of the worship service. And, as one might expect, they frequently are bitten and die. Also, note that another sign is the drinking without effect of poisons! There is no example of this happening in the New Testament.

Interestingly enough, although Mark’s Gospel is the apology for the Cross, he only records one of Jesus’ seven statements from the Cross – and it is the same one as Matthew!

And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? Which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
Mark 15:34

Mark does, along with Matthew record the tearing of the Temple veil (Mark 15:38; Matt 27:51). With the death of Christ, the way is opened for men to find God.


I          The Preparation of the Servant for Service (1:1-13)

II         The Preaching and Manifestation of the Servant (1:14-3:6)

III        The Persecution and Opposition to the Servant (3:7-8:13)

IV       The Preaching and Preparation of the Disciples (8:14-10:52)

V         The Passion of the Servant in Jerusalem (11:1-15:47)

VI       The Prosperity of the Servant in Resurrection (16:1-20).

For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.
Mark 10:45



Who is Barabbas?

7 And there was one named Barabbas, which lay bound with them that had made insurrection with him, who had committed murder in the insurrection. 8 And the multitude crying aloud began to desire him to do as he had ever done unto them. 9 But Pilate answered them, saying, Will ye that I release unto you the King of the Jews? 10 For he knew that the chief priests had delivered him for envy. 11 But the chief priests moved the people, that he should rather release Barabbas unto them. 12 And Pilate answered and said again unto them, What will ye then that I shall do unto him whom ye call the King of the Jews? 13 And they cried out again, Crucify him. 14 Then Pilate said unto them, Why, what evil hath he done? And they cried out the more exceedingly, Crucify him. 15 And so Pilate, willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified.
Mark 15:7-15

Would you give your life for a Barabbas?

How important is the Resurrection to you?


What contemporary audience would find Mark appealing? Why?

Are you a servant of the Lord?

How do you show that you are?


If all of Mark’s material is found in Matthew and Luke, why is this Gospel included in the Bible?

Notice the progression in the Gospels. Matthew closes with the Resurrection. Mark closes with the Ascension.

So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.
Mark 16:19




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