Mark 1: “Introduction”

Welcome to Mark!

Below is helpful information I found in Fee and Stuarts Book, “How to Read the Bible Book by Book:

Orienting Data for Mark

Content: the story of Jesus from his baptism to his resurrection, about two-thirds of which tells of his ministry in Galilee, while the last third narrates his final week in Jerusalem

Author: anonymous; attributed (by Papias, ca. a.d. 125) to John Mark, a sometime companion of Paul (Col 4:10) and later of Peter (1 Pet 5:13)

Date: ca. a.d. 65 (according to Papias, soon after the deaths of Paul and Peter in Rome)

Recipients: the church in Rome (according to Papias), which accounts for its preservation along with the longer Matthew and Luke

Emphases: the time of God’s rule (the kingdom of God) has come with Jesus; Jesus has brought about the new exodus promised in Isaiah; the kingly Messiah came in weakness, his identity a secret except to those to whom it is revealed; the way of the new exodus leads to Jesus’ death in Jerusalem; the way of discipleship is to take up a cross and follow him

Specific Advice for Reading Mark

It was a killing time in Rome. The church was experiencing the Neronian holocaust, in which many believers had been burned alive at Nero’s garden parties and two of the church’s more important figures (Peter and Paul) had been executed. Soon after, there appeared among them a small book (Mark’s Gospel), written to remind them of the nature of Jesus’ own messiahship (as God’s suffering servant) and to encourage cross-bearing discipleship.

Mark has been described as one who cannot tell a story badly. In part this is due to his vivid style, which is what also gives his Gospel the sense of being rapid-fire. Almost every sentence begins with “and” (cf. KJV); forty-one times he begins with “and immediately” (which does not always refer to time but to the urgency of the telling), and twenty-five times with “and again.” But he also includes little details, including the Aramaic words of Jesus on six occasions. All of this reflects both a written form of oral recounting and the memory of an eyewitness.

Peter’s Role in the Gospel

The prominent place of Peter in the Gospel and the fact that early on so much happens in and around Peter’s house in Capernaum suggest that the tradition has it right—that the Gospel in part reflects Peter’s own telling of the story. But Peter’s role in the Gospel is anything but that of a hero. He who urged others to “clothe yourselves in humility” (1 Pet 5:5) does not forget his own weaknesses while following Jesus; you will want to look for these features as you read. But at the end, after he vehemently denied knowing his Lord (Mark 14:66–72), he also remembers that the angel told the women at the tomb, “Go, tell his disciples and Peter” (16:7, emphasis added).

But brief and breathtaking as Mark’s Gospel is, it is not at all simple. Indeed, Mark tells the story with profound theological insight. Absolutely crucial to your reading with understanding is to note how he presents Jesus as Messiah. Three things emerge at the beginning that carry all the way through to the end: (1) Jesus is the kingly Messiah, (2) Jesus is God’s suffering servant, and (3) Jesus keeps his identity secret.

Messianic Secret

Mark’s telling of the story thus emphasizes the “messianic secret,” the “mystery of the kingdom of God,” namely, that the expected coming King knew he was destined to suffer for the sake of the people. The demons, who recognize him, are silenced (1:25, 34;3:11–12); the crowds to whom the King comes with compassion are told not to tell anyone about his miracles (1:44; 5:43; 7:36;8:26); when finally confessed as Messiah by the disciples, he tells them to tell no one (8:30). What no one expects is for God’s King to be impaled on a cross! But Jesus knows—and he silences all messianic fervor, lest it thwart the divine plan that leads to the cross. When the disciples are clued in to the “mystery,” even they fail to get it (8:27–33); they are like the blind man who has to be touched twice (8:22–26; in their case, by Jesus’ resurrection).