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MARK - Introduction

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Mark - Introduction

Supplemental Commentary:



Until modern times the Second Gospel was but little studied and commented upon, since almost all its narratives are found in Matthew and Luke.  But modern critical studies now attach great importance to this Gospel.  Most non-Catholic critics consider Mark to be the first written Gospel, one of the sources used by the authors of the First and of the Third Gospels, and consequently our most reliable guide in judging the nature and mission of the historical Jesus.  For the evaluation of these opinions the reader should consult the article on the Literary Relations of the First Three Gospels.

St. Mark.  The author of the Second Gospel was  known either by the Hebrew name of John (Acts 13, 5.13) or the Latin name of Mark (Acts 15, 39; Col. 4, 10; 2 Tim. 4, 11; Philem. 24; 1 Pet. 5, 13.  In Acts 12, 12.25; 15, 37 he is called "John who was surnamed Mark."  All of the above-mentioned passages speak of one and the same person.  Few modern critics question this identification, though the Roman Martyrology distinguishes "Mark the Evangelist and the Apostle of Egypt" (April 25) from "John Mark, disciple and cousin of Barnabas" (September 27).  Identifying them, we find in the texts quoted considerable information concerning the life of St. Mark.  Although his cousin Barnabas was a native of Cyprus (cf. Acts 4, 36), Mark was probably born in Jerusalem, for his mother Mary resided there.  She seems to have been fairly well-to-do.  Her home served as a place of assembly for the Christians of Jerusalem---possibly the "upper room" of the Last Supper and of the Descent of the Holy Spirit.  In 44 A.D. Mark left Jerusalem for Antioch in the company of Paul and Barnabas (Acts 12, 25).  In the following year he accompanied them on the missionary journey through Cyprus, but upon reaching the mainland at Perge in Pamphylia he returned home to Jerusalem.  He seems to have been considerably younger than Paul and Barnabas.  Hence, it was probably the dread of further physical hardships rather than a dispute over methods or principles that induced their assistant to abandon the missionaries.  In any case Paul was greatly offended by Mark's desertion.  In 50 A.D. Mark was again in Antioch, probably having returned with Barnabas after the Council of Jerusalem.  In the same year he accompanied his cousin on a second missionary journey in Cyprus.  Thereafter we lose sight of him for a few years.  We find him, however, in Rome during both of St. Paul's imprisonments in that city (61-63, 66-67 A.D.).  During this same period he assisted St. Peter, who, writing from Rome, calls Mark his "son."  This may be either a term of affection or may signify that Peter had given him spiritual birth in Christ through baptism.

The Author.  That St. Mark wrote the Second Gospel should be beyond question.  Some fifty years ago the theory of a "proto-Mark," a writing upon which the present Mark was thought to be based, was current; but today the Marcan authorship of this Gospel is supported not only by Catholic scholars but by many non-Catholic critics.  Tradition has never associated the authorship of the Second Gospel with anyone but Mark.  Such ancient writers as Papias, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Tertullian explicitly attest the Marcan authorship.  Early Christian literature has much implicit testimony to its existence.  If we read the Gospel itself, we soon see that the author was a Palestinian Jew, familiar with Palestine and with the customs and institutions of its inhabitants.  His own Semitic mentality is plainly reflected in his thought and language.  All this fits Mark admirably.

The oldest and by far the most important testimony concerning the origin of St. Mark's Gospel is the statement of Papias (c. 120 A.D.) which has been preserved for us by the Church-historian Eusebius (Hist. Eccles. III. 29, 15).  The immense importance of this testimony lies in the fact that Papias himself is merely quoting the words of "the Elder," who is commonly believed to be none other than St. John the Apostle.  The statement of Papias is as follows: "This also the Elder used to say, 'Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, although not in an orderly arrangement, the sayings and deeds of the Lord, as far as he recalled them.  For he himself neither heard the Lord nor was he His follower, but he was later on, as I have said, a follower of Peter.  The latter used to deliver his instructions as circumstances required, but not like one who draws up an orderly arrangement of our Lord's activity.  Hence Mark did nothing wrong in thus writing down certain things as he remembered them.  For his sole purpose was to omit nothing of what he had heard and to falsify nothing in recording this.'"

From these words we might rightly conclude, not only that Mark wrote an account of Christ's ministry according to the preaching of St. Peter, but also that this account is identical with our Second Gospel.  For (a) this Gospel lacks the "orderly arrangement," i.e., the artificial disposition of material according to subject-matter, that is seen so clearly in the First Gospel and in part also in the Third; (b) the choice of subject-matter and its general chronological arrangement are exactly the same in this Gospel, which was intended primarily for Gentile Christians, as they are in Peter's discourse to the Gentile centurion Cornelius (Acts 10, 36-43); (c) the many graphic details that are recorded in this Gospel come from one who was an eye-witness of these scenes; (d) the most distinctively Petrine touch, a tribute to the humility of Peter's preaching, is seen in the fact that in this Gospel such things as might redound to his honor are lightly passed over by Mark, whereas those of little or no credit to him are mentioned, even where the other Evangelists omit them.  Considering all these facts, we are not surprised to learn that St. Justin (c. 150 A.D.) called this Gospel simply "the Memoirs of St. Peter."

Nature and Characteristics.  Since Mark's main purpose in writing was merely to give a faithful reproduction of St. Peter's preaching, his Gospel is by far the most primitive of all, even though the Aramaic Gospel of St. Matthew was written at a somewhat earlier period.  Mark's language is the ordinary koine Greek of every-day life as spoken by the Jews of the Diaspora.  He does not make the slightest pretense at composing a piece of "fine literature."  Yet there is a certain great charm and beauty in this very simplicity.  His style is direct, vigorous and characterized by a realism that one would expect to find in a primitive narrative.  The uneven structure of the sentences, the frequent use of the historical present, the vividness and graphic touches that are seen throughout, all show that this is essentially an oral narrative of an eye-witness.  Nevertheless, we should not conclude from this that St. Mark acted merely as an amanuensis who mechanically records the speeches of another.  Mark and not Peter is the true author of this Gospel; he alone was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write down this story which Peter had told over and over again to the first Christians.

Purpose of the Gospel.  From the nature and origin of this Gospel, it follows that Mark's scope and purpose are identical with Peter's scope and purpose in preaching these truths, i.e., to show that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Son of God.  For this reason Mark emphasizes mainly the deeds and miracles of Christ to prove His divine mission.  No other Gospel so forcefully depicts the divine power of Jesus, which is shown especially in His power over demons.  But at the same time no other Gospel gives us such a vivid picture of the true humanity of Christ, for Mark is pre-eminently the historian of the earthly life of Jesus.  Since an account of Christ's teachings would distract somewhat from this main purpose, Mark records very little of the words of Christ---not much more than a few parables and a part of the Eschatalogical Discourse.  Hence his Gospel is much shorter than the others, even though it is generally longer and more complete than Matthew and Luke in the narratives which he has in common with them.

Circumstances of its Composition.  Early tradition and modern criticism are agreed on this, that the Second Gospel was written before the Third.  But it is certain that St. Luke wrote his Gospel before he composed the Acts of the Apostles, i.e., some time prior to 63 A.D.  On the other hand we know that Mark did not write his Gospel until he had lived for some time with St. Peter at Rome, to which city St. Peter may have gone in 42 A.D. (cf. Acts 12, 17).

The Second Gospel was written at Rome and intended primarily for the Christians of that city.  Early tradition attests that it was written at the express request of the faithful of Rome.  These consisted principally of Greek-speaking Gentile converts.  The internal evidence confirms the truth of this tradition.  For (a) Mark's language is typical of the Greek spoken at Rome, as its Latinisms and even words borrowed directly from Latin prove; its Semitisms and few Aramaic words are relics from the original oral Gospel of St. Peter; (b) Mark directs his Gospel principally to Gentile readers for whom he often explains Jewish customs and institutions.

Integrity.  The end of the Second Gospel (chapter 16) has come down to us in a fourfold form.  (a) In the two best Greek manuscripts, Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus, and in a few manuscripts of the oldest versions the Gospel ends with 8.  (b) A few manuscripts give after 8 a short conclusion of about thirty words.  (c) The Vulgate together with the vast majority of Greek manuscripts give after 8 the conclusion which we have in our text (9-20).  (d) A reading known to St. Jerome, and found also in the recently discovered Washington Codex, has the same conclusion as (c) but also inserts in 15 before the words "Go into the whole world" a rather long statement of Christ about the overthrow of Satan's power.

What is to be said of each of these four readings?  Most literary critics admit that Mark did not intend his Gospel to end with 8, and hence that the manuscripts which end here, form (a), are based upon an early copy in which the original conclusion of Mark's Gospel was accidentally lost.  The short conclusion of form (b) is generally conceded to be a later composition of some scribe who noticed that the Gospel could not end with 8.  The insertion of form (d) has all the characteristics of being an apocryphal addition.  Form (c) is very well attested in the manuscripts.  Since it forms a substantial part of the Vulgate, Catholics hold that this conclusion is a part of the canonical and inspired Scriptures.  The view that this conclusion was added by some inspired author other than St. Mark after the original conclusion of his Gospel was lost cannot be demonstrated, according to the Pontifical Biblical Commission in its decision on June 26, 1912.



I. The Public Ministry of Jesus 1-13
1. Preparation for the Public Ministry 1, 1-13

2. Inauguration of the Ministry in Galilee 1, 14 -- 3, 19

3. Second Period of the Ministry in Galilee and Across Its Lake 3, 20 -- 7, 23

4. Ministry Mostly in the Regions Bordering on Galilee 7, 24 -- 9, 49

5. Ministry on the Journey to Jerusalem 10

6. Last Ministry in Jerusalem 11-13.
II. The Passion, Death and Resurrection 14-16
1. The Last Supper 14, 1-31

2. The Passion and Death of Jesus 14, 32 -- 15, 47

3. The Resurrection of Jesus 16, 1-18

4. The Ascension of Jesus 16, 19-20

Confraternity Bible:



The second Gospel was written by St. Mark who, in the New Testament, is sometimes called John Mark.  Both he and his mother, Mary, were highly esteemed in the early Church, and his mother's house in Jerusalem served as a meeting place for Christians there.  He was associated with St. Paul and St. Barnabas (who was Mark's cousin) on their missionary journey through the island of Cyprus.  Later he accompanied St. Barnabas alone.  We know also that he was in Rome with St. Peter and with St. Paul.  Tradition ascribes to him the founding of the Church in Alexandria.  His feast falls on April 25.

It is historically certain that St. Mark wrote the second Gospel, that he wrote it in Rome sometime before the year 60 A.D., that he wrote it in Greek for the Gentile converts to Christianity.  Tradition tells us that St. Mark was requested by the Romans to set down the teachings of St. Peter.  This seems to be confirmed by the position which St. Peter has in this Gospel.  In this way the second Gospel is a record of the life of Jesus as seen through the eyes of the Prince of the Apostles.

St. Mark's purpose is to show to the Romans that Jesus is the Savior, and that He is divine.  To this end he attends more to the miracles of our Lord than to His sermons, giving only a few of the parables at length.  The author, however, gives in some detail the events he narrates, and leaves the impression of an eyewitness.  His language is simple, and yet earnest and full of charm.