Sunday 13 January 2013


The Gospel of Mark is the shortest of the four canonical Gospels, and is regarded by many as the first Gospel that was written and that Matthew and Luke have used Mark extensively in writing their own Gospels.

Unlike the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, which have Infancy narratives and a genealogy, Mark has neither. His Gospel begins with the preaching of John the Baptist, continues with the Baptism of Jesus by John and then moves on to the public ministry of Jesus in Galilee, which is made up of preaching and healing. The journey of Jesus to Jerusalem takes up a large part of Mark’s Gospel. Jesus enters Jerusalem triumphantly, but soon encounters different groups antagonistic to him and matters soon come to a head resulting in his passion, crucifixion and death. Mark does not have any resurrection appearances of Jesus, but has only an episode of the empty tomb. The Gospel ends quite abruptly. The women who go to tomb to anoint the body of Jesus, which was not there, are told by a young man at the tomb to tell the disciples that Jesus would go before them to Galilee. However, the women say nothing to anyone because they were afraid. Since this seems at first glance a strange way to end the Gospel, verses 9-16 were added to Chapter 16. That these verses were added later is confirmed by the fact that the style of these verses is quite different from the rest of Mark’s Gospel and that these verses are a summary of the resurrection appearances of Jesus in the other Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. Various reasons are offered for the ending of Mark at 16:8. Some of those who think it was unintentional are of the opinion that the original ending is lost, others that the author died before he could complete the Gospel. However, there are others who are of the opinion that Mark deliberately ended the Gospel at 16, 8 and the reason for this is the connection with the Messianic secret.

There are certain characteristics that are unique to Mark’s Gospel. These are as under:
1.         Mark mentions explicitly and plainly that Jesus was baptised by John in the Jordan (1:9). While Matthew also mentions that it was John who baptised Jesus, he has a dialogue between Jesus and John before the Baptism. It is only after Jesus “grants permission” to John that John baptises him. Luke does not mention who baptised Jesus except that Jesus was also baptised along with the people. One possible reason for this is that the Evangelists were struggling with how they were to narrate the Baptism of Jesus and that too at the hands of John who in all the Gospels is inferior to Jesus. Thus it is assumed that Matthew and Luke writing after Mark made changes to the Marcan text. This is also given as one reason for the priority of Mark and the historicity of the Baptism of Jesus.

2.         The testing of Jesus in the wilderness does not have a dialogue between Jesus and Satan (1:12-13) like Matthew and Luke have. Mark is the only one of the three who mentions wild beats in his narrative (1:14).

3.         Jesus’ saying “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (2:27) is found only in Mark. It is possible that Matthew and Luke found this saying too radical to include in their Gospels.

4.         Mark’s is the only Gospel in which the family of Jesus come to restrain him because they think he has lost his mind (3:21-22). Matthew and Luke omit this scene from their narratives.

5.         Mark is the only writer in the New Testament who refers to Jesus as “son of Mary” (6:3). Though some think that Mark refers to Jesus in this manner because Joseph was dead by that time, a more probable explanation is that the townspeople of Jesus wanted to insult him by using this title. They could be saying that they knew who his mother was, but not his father.

6.         Only in Mark among the Synoptic Gospels does Jesus twice use external methods to cure (7:31-37 and 8:22-26). In the first of the two, one probable explanation is that since Jesus is in Gentile territory, he uses the methods of Gentile faith healers. In the second, since Mark alone has the scene where Jesus asks the disciples about his identity (8:27-30) immediately after this miracle, he could be comparing the two stages of the man’s healing to the two answers that are given about Jesus’ identity.

7.         The disciples’ in Mark are shown in a very poor light. Though they travel with Jesus and are with him constantly, they are not able to understand who he really is despite numerous explanations that Jesus gives about himself and his mission.

8.         Mark’s Gospel is known as the Gospel of the Messianic Secret, which is connected with the command to silence. Often in the Gospel, those who are healed are commanded or warned not to tell anyone who healed them and demons are always commanded not to make the identity of Jesus known. The explanation for this which has found favour with many is that Jesus did not want to be known only as a wonder worker or exorcist, but as the suffering son of God. This is also why after the first Passion and Resurrection prediction (8,31), there is no command to silence {except when they come down from the mountain of Transfiguration and here a time limit is set namely “until the Son of Man should have risen from the dead” (9,9)}.

9.         Son of Man is the major title used of Jesus in Mark. Jesus refers to himself as Son of Man a number of times in the Gospel (Mark 2:10, 2:28; 8:31; 9:9, 9:12, 9:31; 10:33, 10:45; 14:21, 14:41). Many 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) yet this comparison is not explicit; Mark’s Gospel creates this link between Daniel and Isaiah, and applies it to Christ. It is postulated that this is because of the persecution of Christians; thus, Mark’s Gospel encourages believers to stand firm (Mark 13:13) in the face of troubles.

10.       Mark often uses in his Gospel what is known as “Sandwich construction”. This means that an incident is begun, interrupted with another incident that is completed, and then the first incomplete and interrupted incident is completed.

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