Introduction to Mark

The New Testament includes four gospel accounts, the gospels of MatthewMarkLuke, and John. The first three are categorized as ‘synoptic’ gospels, meaning “to see together.” The term is a compound of the Greek preposition sun (“together”) and optikos (“to see”), hence - “to see together.”

The three synoptic gospels present similar accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus and have much literary material in common. In many passages, the Greek text behind the material shared by Matthew and Mark is virtually an exact match, therefore, many commentators believe both were derived from a single source (the so-called “Q” text - from the German word for “source,” Quelle).

Scroll Photo by Taylor Flowe on Unsplash
[Photo by Taylor Flowe on Unsplash]

In contrast to the three synoptic versions, much of the material in the 
Gospel of John is unique; however, each gospel account also includes information not found in the other accounts. The Gospel of Mark is the shortest of the four accounts, and probably the oldest.

‘Mark’ is an anglicized version of the Latin name, Marcus, a common name in the Roman Empire. No one named Mark is ever identified in this gospel account. Its title in the Greek text is the Gospel according to Mark, a designation assigned to it in the second century based on church tradition. It was not part of the original book. Ancient testimony identified Mark as the author.

According to the church historian, Eusebius of Caesarea:

  • “Mark became Peter’s interpreter and wrote accurately all that he remembered, not, indeed, in order of the things said or done by the Lord. For Mark had not heard the Lord, nor had he followed him, but later on, as I said, followed Peter, who used to give teaching as necessity demanded but not making, as it were, an arrangement of the Lord’s oracles, so that Mark did nothing wrong in thus writing down single points as he remembered them. For to one thing he gave attention, to leave out nothing of what he had heard and to make no false statements in them” (Ecclesiastical History. 3.39.15. See also Hist. Eccl. II.15).

Eusebius describes Mark as Peter’s “interpreter” who recorded the memories of the Apostle. Mark was not a direct disciple of Jesus and, presumably, he became a believer after his resurrection. Eusebius provided further information about Mark that he attributed to Clement of Alexandria:

  • “When Peter had publicly preached the word at Rome, and by the Spirit had proclaimed the Gospel, that those present, who were many, exhorted Mark, as one who had followed Peter for a long time and remembered what had been spoken, to make a record of what was said; and that he did this, and distributed the Gospel among those that asked him” (Ecclesiastical History. 6.14.6-7).

Irenaeus of Lyon (circa A.D. 175) corroborates this information:

  • “Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, also himself handed on in writing the things that had been preached by Peter” (Adv. Haer. 3.1.1).

Other “Church Fathers” who assigned authorship to Mark included Justin Martyr (approximately A.D. 150), Tertullian (A.D. 207), Origen of Alexandria (A.D, 240), Eusebius of Caesarea (A.D. 325), Epiphanius of Cyprus (A.D. 350), and Jerome around A.D. 350, the original translator of the Latin Vulgate.

No early church tradition assigns authorship to anyone other than Mark. It seems Mark compiled his account from the recollections of Peter. The contents of his gospel make this scenario plausible. Numerous passages bear evidence of eyewitness accounts, and, in one of the later books of the New Testament, a man named “Mark” was working with Peter in Rome - (1 Peter 5:12-14).

One tradition identifies Mark as “John, also called Mark,” who was mentioned in the Book of Acts.  Paul referred to a companion named “Mark” in his second letter to Timothy. He may or may not have been the same Mark recorded in Acts since Marcus was a common name - (Acts 12:12, 12:25, 15:37-39, 2 Timothy 4:11).

Mark was probably Jewish, or a Gentile convert to Judaism since he was familiar with Jewish customs and the Old Testament. One tradition claims he was from a priestly family. His gospel account also shows his knowledge of the geography of Palestine.


Church tradition holds that Mark wrote his gospel for Christians living in Rome during a time of hostility and persecution. Many of the Christians in the city were Gentiles. Ancient sources are unanimous that Mark’s gospel was composed in Rome.

The Gospel of Mark frequently explains the meaning of Aramaic terms for its audience, something the Author would be unlikely to do if his original readers were Jewish. Likewise, he also describes Jewish customs, another unnecessary effort if Mark was written for Jewish audiences - (Mark 3:17, 5:41, 7:3-11, 7:34, 10:46, 12:18, 14:36, 15:34-42).

The Gospel transliterates several Latin terms into Greek letters. For example, denariuscensus, and praetorium. While it transliterates Latin terms into Greek letters, it does not explain their meanings, suggesting the first audience of Mark was familiar with the Latin language and Roman culture, something that would be true of any group living in Rome, Gentile or Jewish - (Mark 6:37, 12:14, 15:16).

As the editor, Mark cites the Old Testament infrequently, and most of his citations are placed on the lips of Jesus. When he does so, he uses the Greek version of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, not the Hebrew Bible. This also points to a Gentile and Greek-speaking audience. Gentile believers would have been unfamiliar with the Old Testament in the original Hebrew language.

Thus, Mark wrote in Greek for a Greek-speaking audience, but he was also acquainted with Latin. His Gospel was intended for Gentile believers residing in or near Rome. The testimony of the early Church Fathers places him alongside Peter in the city of Rome sometime in the 60s of the first century A.D.


The Gospel of Mark provides no historical information useful for establishing a date of composition. The testimony of the early Church Fathers is split between a date before or after the death of Peter. However, most likely it was written shortly before or after his death, presumably in or shortly after A.D. 64 and the so-called Neronian Persecution of Christians in Rome.

Early tradition is unanimous. Purportedly, Peter died during the final years of the reign of Emperor Nero (A.D. 54-68); probably in the aftermath of the great fire that destroyed much of the city in A.D. 64. To divert blame for the conflagration, Nero blamed the Christians of Rome and began a short but vicious persecution.

The lack of any reference to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 suggests Mark was composed before the event. It is not unreasonable to assume Mark would have correlated the prediction of the Temple’s destruction by Jesus with the actual event - (Mark 13:14, Luke 19:41-44, 21:20-24).

Based on Church tradition, the date of Nero’s death, the association of Mark with Peter, and the probable date of Peter’s death, as well as the events of A.D. 66-70 in Judea, the best estimate gives a date range for Mark between A.D. 63 and 69.


While the gospels of Matthew and Luke contain much of the same material as Mark, the latter includes stories peculiar to it, including:

  • (Mark 4:26-29) – The secretly growing seed.
  • (Mark 7:32-37) – The story of the deaf and mute man.
  • (Mark 8:22-26) – The blind man.
  • (Mark 13:33-37) – The parable of the householder.
  • (Mark 14:51) – The young man who escaped naked.

The Gospel of Mark is shorter than Matthew and Luke since it includes fewer stories and less teaching material. However, it often provides fuller versions of the same stories recorded in Luke and Matthew. For example, the controversy about eating with unwashed hands, and the deliverance of a demonized boy - (Mark 6:14-29, 7:1-23, 9:14-29).

Mark makes frequent use of irony. For example, the religious leaders of Israel were always confounded by Jesus; in contrast, the poor Gentile Syro-Phoenician woman was commended for her great faith - (Mark 7:24-31).

The use of the Old Testament is like that of Matthew and Luke, and they all have some material in common. By one count, the Gospel of Mark has fifty-eight (58) Old Testament citations. However, it includes three Old Testament passages not found in Matthew or Luke. Most Old Testament citations follow the Greek Septuagint translation rather than the Hebrew original - (Mark 9:48, 10:19, 12:32).

The major literary themes of Mark include discipleship, faith, openness to Gentiles, and the image of Jesus as the Messiah who is “on the way” to Jerusalem and his death.


Mark can be divided into two halves of roughly equal length:

  • The ministry in Galilee - (Mark 1:1-8:26).
  • The Journey to Jerusalem and the Death of Jesus - (Mark 8:27-16:8).

The account begins with a prologue followed by thirteen stories about the ministry of Jesus in Galilee. Chapter 4 presents several parables about the Kingdom of God. The ministry in Galilee includes teaching, exorcisms, and healings. His work is characterized by the enthusiastic reception of Jesus by the crowds but also growing opposition from Jewish religious leaders.

The second half begins with the confession of Peter that Jesus is the “Christ,” followed by the disclosure that he would die in Jerusalem. Jesus was “on the way” to Jerusalem and his inevitable death on a Roman cross. In the city, he would be “delivered over” by the Temple authorities for execution by Pilate - (Mark 8:27-9:1).

Chapters 11 through 16 describe the last week of Jesus in Jerusalem and his final teachings given in and near the Temple, culminating in his arrest, trial, and execution.


I. In Galilee - (1:1-8:26):

     A. Prologue - [1:1-13]
     B. Ministry and Opposition in Galilee - [1:14-3:6]
     C. Parables and Miracles in Galilee - [3:7-6:6]
     D. Opposition, Disputes and Faithlessness - [6:7-8:26]

II. Journey to Jerusalem and Death - (8:27-16:8):

     A. On the Way to the Cross - [8:27-10:52]
     B. Arrival and Reception in Jerusalem - [11:1-13:37]
     C. The Death of the Messiah - [14:1-15:47]
     D. The Resurrection - [16:1-8]

  • The Messiah Arrives - (In the ministry of Jesus, the kingdom of God arrived, commencing with his baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist – Mark 1:1-3)
  • The Forerunner - (John arrived in Judea to prepare the way of the Messiah and herald the Good News of the Kingdom, as predicted in Isaiah)
  • Rend the Heavens! - (The Spirit of God and the voice from heaven confirmed the calling and identity of Jesus – Son, Messiah, and Servant of the LORD)



The Word Made Flesh

Language of the New Testament