Bible Study – The Gospel According to Mark – An Introduction

Switch to Night mode

Since the beginning of the Gospel tradition Mark has been viewed as an inferior, abridged version of the book of Matthew.

Augustine’s statement that “Mark imitated Matthew like a lackey and is regarded as his abbrevitor” was the prevailing line of thinking until about the first half of the nineteenth century.

As a result of scholarly investigation of the first three Gospels, it was determined that Mark was actually the first Gospel.

What do we know about the book of Mark?

It might surprise you to find that there has been some controversy regarding the authorship of the book called “The Gospel according to Mark”. Much like the writers of the other Gospels, the writer does not identify himself. He does not declare the occasion for its writing as do Luke (1:1-4) and John (20:30-31).

The titles for all four Gospels were given by the church sometime during the first half of the second century. The standard naming convention for a Gospel was “The Gospel according to …” .

Usually an Apostle like Matthew, John or a major figure such as Luke, is used to name a Gospel. Mark was not considered a prominent figure Biblically, nor does he appear often in the text. Let’s examine the references containing Mark that the Bible does provide.

Acts 12:11-12 tells us a bit about Mark’s family.

Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know without a doubt that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were anticipating.” When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying.

1) What was happening in these two verses?

○ Peter was released from jail by an Angel.

○ He took refuge at Mary mother of Mark’s house.

○ People were worshiping and praying at Mary’s house.

2) What was Peter’s first action when he realized he been set free?

○ He sought refuge there at a sister in Christ’s house.

3) What do these verses say about Mark’s mother?

○ She was a devoted Christian.

4) What lessons can we learn from these verses?


a. Tradition tells us the author of this Gospel was a Jewish Christian named John Marcus.

b. The Roman name of Marcus may indicate Roman citizenship.

c. It is thought that the Last Supper took place took place in Mary’s house.

When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. Acts 1:13-14 (NIV)

Paul wrote to the church in Colossians verse 4:10 :

My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.) Col 4:10 (NIV)

5) What more about Mark can we ascertain from what Paul wrote in Collossians?

○ He was a contemporary of Paul’s.

○ Mark was there on Paul’s’ third missionary journey.

○ Mark and Barnabas were cousins.

6) Why do you think Paul mentions that Mark is Barnabas’ cousin?

○ To introduce Mark to the Church.

Another reference to Mark is in Acts 13:13, where Mark left the journey at Perga, returning to Jerusalem:

From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem. Acts 13:13 (NIV)

Mark leaving the mission caused a rift between Paul and Barnabas over Mark accompanying them on the second missionary journey:

Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. Acts 15:36-40 (NIV)

7) Describe what happens in the above verses?

○ Paul and Barnabas disagree on whether Mark should be included on this trip..

○ Paul and Barnabas part company over the dispute.

8) Why was Paul upset with Mark?

○ He felt Mark had deserted them earlier.

A decade will pass before we hear from Mark again in Philemon 24:

Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers. (NIV)

9) What does this verse tell us about Paul and Mark?

○ They were working together again.

In 2 Timothy 4:11, Paul’s last letter a few years later, he again mentions Mark:

Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry. (NIV)

10) Describe Paul’s request in this verse?

○ He asks for Mark specifically.

11) What is Paul’s reasoning for asking that Mark join him?

○ Paul finds Mark helpful.

The last Biblical reference to Mark comes from 1 Pet 5:13 which simply states:

She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark. (NIV)

12) What is Peter saying in this verse about Mark?

○ He is probably saying that Mark came to faith through the preaching of Peter.

Church father Papias (A.D. 140) states that Mark served as a secretary to Peter and recorded Peter’s testimony. Mark as Peter’s interpreter is supported by Eusebius and others and is credited to information received from disciples of the Apostle John around 90 to 100 A.D. The order in which Mark presents his Gospel mirrors that of Peter’s recitation of those events in the book of Acts. (3:13-14 and 10:36-43)

The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. Acts (3:13-14)

You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached– how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

“We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen–by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Acts (10:36-43)

13) Is the similarity between Peter’s account of the Gospel story and Mark’s version in any way supportive of the theory of Mark as Peter’s secretary?

The date of the writing of the Gospel is also difficult to discern from scripture. The most compelling internal evidence that could point us to a specific time period would be Mark’s emphasis of Jesus as the suffering Son of God ,and on suffering discipleship, suggesting Mark’s audience to have been Christians undergoing persecution.

This would place the date of writing as around the time of Caligula’s attempt to place a statue of himself in the guise of Zeus in the temple of Jerusalem. (Josephus Ant. Book 18 Chapter 2 ). Caligula, called Caius by Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, was murdered in 41 A.D.

Josephus wrote:

“Hereupon Caius, taking it very heinously that he should be thus despised by the Jews alone, sent Petronius to be president of Syria, and successor in the government to Vitellius, and gave him order to make an invasion into Judea, with a great body of troops; and if they would admit of his statue willingly, to erect it in the temple of God; but if they were obstinate, to conquer them by war, and then to do it.”

14) What does Joesphus say Caligula was going to do?

○ Threatened war on Judea by way of Syria.

15) What did Judea have to do to avoid this war?

○ Desecrate the temple by placing a statue of Caligula in the Holy of Holies.

The second persecution within a few decades of Jesus’ crucifixion was under Nero in Rome. This theory places the writing of Mark in the early to mid 60’s.

Gaius Cornelius Tacitus wrote Annals (book 15 verse 44) in the late first or early second century:

“all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man’s cruelty, that they were being destroyed.”

16) What does Tacitus tells us the reason for this persecution was?

17) Why did Nero choose Christians to blame the fire on?

Further evidence that Mark was writing to Romans is the fact that Mark felt the need to explain Jewish practices to his readers, and even interprets Aramaic forms that remain in the text. These practices point to a Gentile audience. We will examine these when we study those verses.

Where this Gospel was written is less certain, again Rome is likely.

18) What do you think Mark’s main points were when he wrote this book?

○ That Jesus was the prophesied Messiah

○ The message of Christ coming is true in spite of the Jewish peoples rejection.

○ The Gospel is the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel and can not be understood a part from its historical context.


Leave a Reply