Introduction to Mark's Gospel
We'll introduce the Gospel of Mark using 5 basic questions:
We've also provided some links to more info
Who wrote Mark?
The author isn't named in the text, but early church tradition consistently affirms that the author is Mark. This is believed to be the same Mark (or John-Mark), who appears throughout the New Testament as the companion of Paul, Barnabas and Peter. Mark worked closely with the apostle Peter (1 Peter 5:13), and it is widely believed that Mark's gospel is a record of Peter's experiences and teaching.
Who was Mark?
We don't know a great deal about Mark. He was a Jewish Christian, although he had a Roman name (Marcus). His mother was a believer whose home was used for prayer meetings (Acts 12:12), and he was the cousin of Barnabas. One of the most interesting things we know about him, is that at one point he abandoned Paul and Barnabas on one of their journeys (Acts 15:36-41). Barnabas wanted to give Mark a second chance (possibly because of his family connection!), but Paul doesn't think it is wise to take him. We might think that this is the end of Mark's story, but we know from 2 Timothy 4:11 that eventually Mark is reconciled to Paul, and as mentioned above, he later became an assistant to Peter. God graciously continues to use Mark, even though he had made mistakes in the past.
Where was Mark when he wrote?
Mark was probably in Rome with Peter. One of the reasons we think this is because he uses lots of Roman terms (for example see Mark 15:16). He also includes information that would grab the attention of a Roman audience (e.g. the Roman Centurion at the foot of the cross in Mark 15:39).
Where were the readers living?
If Mark was written in Rome, it would make sense that his first readers were the Christian community in Rome as well. However, it is recorded by one historian that after Mark had written the gospel he took it to Alexandria in order to preach to the Egyptians.
When was Mark written?
Mark was probably written around 64-65AD. At this time, Christians were living under great persecution from the Emperor Nero. It is likely that Mark was written before Peter's death.
When compared to other books of the Bible?
Mark was written at about the same time as 1 and 2 Peter. Mark was probably the first of the four gospel accounts to be written, as the other gospels, especially Matthew and Luke, seem to use Mark as one of their sources of information.
Why did Mark write his account?
Mark begins his story with the words: "The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God." The word for gospel that Mark uses more simply means "Good News". Mark writes so that all the people of the world will discover the good news of Jesus Christ. Mark's gospel describes in detail who Jesus is and what he did on the earth. He wants us to see that Jesus is the one whom God sent into the world to save it. (Mark 10:45).
If Mark was written in Rome in AD 64-65, then he was writing at a time when there was great deal of persecution for Christians, even to the point of torture and martyrdom. Consequently, one of the reasons Mark writes the way he does is to encourage them to keep going in the face of such terror. Verses like Mark 8:34-38 take on a whole new emphasis when read in this context.
What is in Mark's Gospel?
Below is an outline† based on geographic location:
- Wilderness - 1:1-15
- Galilee - 1:16-8:21
- On The Way - 8:22-10:52
- Jerusalem - 11:1-15:39
- Tomb - 15:40-16:8
You will see that if you follow this pattern that the section 'On the Way' (8:22-10:52) is the centre of Mark's story. This section is bracketed by two accounts of Jesus' healing the blind. It is as if in this middle section, we begin to clearly see the path that Jesus is on. A path that leads Jesus Christ, the Son of God to a death that would save people from their sins.
†This outline is from a lecture by Matthew Sleeman, who adapted the outline of Bas Van Iersel. Van Iersel, B.M.F. Mark: A Reader-Response Commentary. London: T & T Clark International, 1998.
What about the ending?
Mark probably finished his book at v8 of Chapter 16. The earliest and most reliable manuscripts don't have Mark 16:9-20. The language used is quite different to the rest of Mark's writing, so it is probably a postscript by another author. In addition, Mark's Gospel ends quite nicely at Mark 16:8.
What should I do with those last verses then?
As with all Scripture, no doctrine or application is based on a single verse but is supported by other verses throughout the Bible. If you decide to teach this section, make sure that the things you are saying are compatible with the rest of Scripture. (You should be doing this anyway!)
For a fuller answer on this question see Should Mark 16:9-20 be in the Bible? from the Got Questions website.
For a more in-depth introduction, see:
This article is much longer, but it covers some of the debates and arguments that we've skipped over here.
Alternatively, the NIV Study Bible introduction is also available online: