Author of the Gospel

Gospel of Mark (Chapter 1 – 16) – Be Diligent
– Presented on 21 Mar 10 by the Adult ” Class (Teacher: Felix and Joshua)

Gospel of Mark

The page on the right shows a very old text of the Gospel according to Mark.

An Old Manuscript

It is in the Coptic language, and this manuscript was found in the sands of the Sinai desert in Egypt.

This page is one of the thousands of ways in which God, by His Providence, preserved the text of Mark’s Gospel to us today.

Not only does God inspire the writing of His Word, He has also preserved His Word to us today by proliferating hundreds of thousands of copies of His Word, so that we are able to accurately reconstruct, through the science and art of textual criticism, the original text which Mark wrote.

Author of the Gospel

The write of the Gospel of Mark was also known as John, and his full name, John Mark, is mentioned three times in the New Testament.

Early in the church’s history, Herod put James, the son of Zebedee, John’s brother, to death. Herod found that this pleased the Jews, and so he had Peter arrested too. Herod intended to deal with Peter after the Feast of the Unleavened Bread. But just the night before Peter was to be presented to the Jews by Herod, an angel miraculously delivered Peter from prison. The church had been praying for Peter’s release, and it was in John Mark’s house that they had their prayer meeting.

1. John Mark’s Name is also mentioned in:

  • Acts 12:25 – And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had completed their service, bringing with them John, whose other name was Mark.
  • Acts 15:37 – Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark.

2. John Mark’s Life:

Col 4:10 informs us that Mark and Barnabas were cousins.

  • Col 4:10 – Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions— if he comes to you, welcome him)

Mark also knew Peter well from his youth, and Peter regarded Mark as his spiritual son.

  • 1Peter 5:13 – She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son.

Early in the infant church’s history, there was a severe famine in Judea. As a result the members of the church in Jerusalem were undergoing considerable hardship. When the church at Antioch heard of this, they took a collection, and Barnabas and Saul went to Jerusalem to present this gift to the congregation there. In Ac 12:25, we are told that on their way back, Barnabas and Saul brought along John Mark with them back to Antioch.

Acts 13 records the beginning of the Apostle Paul’s first missionary journey. He was still called “Saul” then.

Mark accompanied Barnabas and Saul on this first missionary journey, ministering with them as a helper in Salamis, Cyprus.

However, halfway during the first missionary journey, Mark deserted Barnabas and Saul at Perga, Pamphylia, to return to Jerusalem.

For this reason, when it came to the second missionary journey, Paul refused to take John Mark, and had a sharp disagreement with Barnabas on this matter. Acts 15:36-39 records this incident for us:

  • Acts 15:36 to 39 – And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.“ Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus.

After that incident, Mark disappears from the historical records of the New Testament for quite a few years, before reappearing once again as Paul’s accepted companion in gospel ministry in Col 4:10 and Phm 24.

  • Col 4:10 – Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions – if he comes to you, welcome him)
  • Phm 24 – and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.

By the time of Paul’s death, he considered Mark a useful co-worker. In 2Tim 4:11, Paul expressed his earnest desire that Mark be brought by Timothy to him in his imprisonment.

  • 2Tim 4:11 – Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.

The a/m is the record of the life of John Mark as can be pieced together from the New Testament.

3. Characteristics of John Mark as the author of the Gospel.

a. The first thing to note was that he was very familiar with the land of Palestine.

Considering that he did not physically accompany Christ as one of His disciples during His three-year ministry, Mark betrayed an intimate knowledge of the physical geography of the land of Israel – inserting accurate place names from his reconstruction of Christ’s journeys as described by Peter.

  • Mark 5:1 – They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes.

After Jesus calmed the storm, the disciples came to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which Mark was able to identify as the country of the Gerasenes (Mk 5:1)

  • Mark 8:10 – And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha.
  • Mark 11:1 – Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples

Note the detailed manner by which Mark named the places and described their proximity to each other.

Mark was one who was intimately acquainted with the land of Palestine.

b. Mark also possessed a good grasp of Jewish manners and customs. There are many examples of this scattered throughout his Gospel, we will just look at two of them.

  • Mark 1:21 – They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes.

Mark understood that on the Sabbath, Jesus would go to the Synagogue to preach.

  • Mark 7:2 to 4 – they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.

In the a/m passage, note that Mark took pains to explain the Jewish traditions of ritual cleanliness, so that non-Jewish readers of his gospel will be able to understand what is going on. Mark is especially mindful of his Gentile readers.

c. There are also many Aramaisms in the Gospel of Mark. Aramaic was one of the commonly spoken languages amongst the Jews, and Mark would use Aramaic or Aramaisms, and then explain them to his non-Jewish readers.

  • Mark 3:17 – James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder)
    “Boarnerges” is an Aramaic name in the plural, which Mark translates into plain Greek for his readers, telling them that it means “Sons of Thunder”.
  • Mark 5:41 – Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.”

This is a very interesting verse, especially for Bible translators. Mark gives the original words Jesus spoke when He commanded the little girl, “Talitha cumi”. Literally translated, this should read, “Little girl, arise!”. However, when Mark translated the Aramaic into Greek, he added the words “I say to you”, so that the entire sentence reads, “Little girl, I say to you, arise”. This is because “Talitha cumi” in Aramaic is a command, and to bring out the force of the command in Jesus’ words, Mark added the clause “I say to you”. This is a Spirit-inspired instance of dynamic equivalence translation in the Bible, thought-for-thought rather than word for word literalism in translation.

This ought to caution us against a strict insistence on only using formal equivalence translations.

  • Mark 7:11 – But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”‘ (that is, given to God)

Mark here again helpfully translates the Aramaic word “Corban”, telling us that it means “Given to God”.

d. Mark’s gospel story is really Peter’s gospel story.

We have preserved to us today, the testimony of one Papias, who was the Bishop of Heirapolis in AD. 120. Papias wrote that he was told personally by the Apostle John that:

  • Mark was Peter’s writer.
  • Mark wrote down accurately as much as he could remember of Peter’s words, as Peter taught the various churches he ministered to as an apostle and elder.
  • Mark was neither a disciple of Christ during His three and a half years’ earthly ministry, nor was he an eye-witness of many of the things that Jesus did and said.
  • Mark desired not to omit anything nor misrepresent anything in the writing of his gospel.

The apostolic authority for the Gospel According to Mark comes really from Peter.

Because of this, Mark records more of Peter’s words and thoughts and actions than the other gospels, particularly details which Peter himself would know, or would find memorable.

Let us see a few examples:

The three synoptic gospels all describe what happened at the Transfiguration of Christ. All three tell of how Peter offered to build three tents – one for the Lord Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah. But it is only Mark that tells us why Peter made this offer, “For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified.” (Mark 9:6)

All four gospels write about Peter’s denial of Christ before the rooster crowed. But Mark tells us much more about what Peter thought, how he felt, what he said and how he said it, as well as what he did. These are details which Peter himself would remember most vividly, and Mark came to know if through Peter’s repeated teaching on this incident:

  • Mk 14:66 to 72 – And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.“ But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.“ But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.

On the day that Jesus rose from the dead, some women went to His tomb, only to find that the Lord’s body was not there. An angel told them the good news that Christ is risen. They the angel gave them instructions to carry back to the disciples. Only Mark adds a significant detail in what the angel said, “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee.” (Mark 16:7)

Mark is the shortest gospel, and many of the events in Christ’s life which Mark writes about are also to be found narrated in the other synoptic gospels – Matthew and Luke.

However, owing to his close connection with Peter, Mark gives a significant amount of vivid details not found in the other gospels.

We will look at two examples:

Mark gave vivid details of the Gospel

i. All four gospels recount what happened when the Lord Jesus fed the 5000 men with 5 loaves and 2 fishes. In all the accounts, only Mark reveals the interesting detail that the grass was green – indicating that it was the spring rain season, before the hot summer, which would have turned the grass dry and brown.

Mark reveals more details on the healing

ii. Another example is the healing of the a deaf and dumb man. Only Mark gives us very specific details about what Jesus did to heal him. Matthew only tells us that Jesus healed him. Mark tells us how Jesus actually did it.

e. Finally, there is the distinct possibility of an autobiographical reference in Mark 14:51-52. An interesting incident occurred on the night of Jesus’ arrest which is recorded only in Mark’s gospel:

  • Mk 14:51 to 52 – And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.

Many commentators believe that this young man was Mark himself. Out of modesty, he did not include his own name. By the way, that he was “naked” here does not mean that he was wearing his birthday suit – it means that they got his outer garment, but he was still wearing his inner garments.

So much for John Mark the author. We proceed now with a discussion of his audience – who he was writing to.

4. Who are the Audience.

Mark wrote his Gospel specifically for Gentile non-believers, more specifically, for the church in Rome, for their own benefit and for them to use in evangelising their neighbours.

We have seen how, because of this, Mark carefully explained Jewish traditions and institutions, and how he meticulously translates the sense and force of the Aramaic expressions he used. We are going to observe a few more examples.

a. First, Mark used Roman time references throughout his gospel.

In Mark 6:48, there is a reference to the fourth watch of the night – this is the Roman way of referring to the time period from 3:00am to 6:00am:

  • Mark 6:48 – And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them

Mark 13:35, “in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning” cycles through the 4 three-hour periods of the night from 6:00pm in the evening to 6:00am in the morning. Again, this expression is a Roman way of referring to time:

  • Mark 13:35 – Therefore stay awake – for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning

b. Mark also liberally employed Latin terms instead of their Greek equivalents, because his Roman audience was more familiar with these Latin terms. So, we were to read Mark in the original Greek text, one would in these instances abruptly find Latin words:

In Mk 6:27, we read that “the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head”. The word “executioner” in the original text was speculator, a Latin term for the executioner.

In Mk 12:14, the Pharisees and Herodians, wanting to trap the Lord Jesus, asked him, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”. The word Mark used for “taxes” is census, a Latin term for the poll-tax.

We have two more examples of Latinisms for you:

i. We all know the story in Mark 12:42 of the poor widow who put in two small copper coins. Mark wanted to explain to his Roman Gentile audience what that two small copper coins were actually worth in Roman currency, said that it made up a “penny” – and he used the Latin reference to the Roman coin quadrans.

ii. In describing how Pilate released Barabbas to the crowd in Mark 15:15, but had Jesus scourged, Mark used the more familiar Latin term flagellare, from which we get our English word “flagellate”.

Finally, there is one piece of possible evidence that ties in Mark’s gospel as particularly written to the Romans:

i. All three synoptic gospels tell of how Simon the Cyrene was compelled to carry Jesus’ cross, but only Mark adds the detail that Simon the Cyrene in Mark 15:21, was also father of Alexander and Rufus. Why give this added detail, that seems to be entirely inconsequential, and does not appear to add to the spiritual significance of his gospel?

The answer may lie in Rom 16:13, “Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord”. It is highly likely that this Rufus mentioned in Rom 16:13 is the same Rufus of Mark 15:21. At the very least, the fact that Mark pointed out that Simon the Cyrene was the father of Alexander and Rufus meant that Alexander and Rufus were well known to his intended audience. And it could be because both Alexander and Rufus were members of the church at Rome.