Revealing the Gospels (Part one): The Gospel of Mark was First and Foundational
The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
One of my first classes in theological school was called “New Testament Study.” Our instructor, Dr. Stephen Moore, was a learned professor who believed strongly but also listened to his students patiently. Our first topic of study were the four Gospels.
I always had wondered why there were four Gospels; why couldn’t they all be combined so we didn’t have to flip through each one to get the whole story. I also wondered why there was so much repetition between them.
I was soon to discover why.
My first task was to research and write about Mark. Huh! Why Mark? It is the second Gospel. Well, I came to discover it was actually the first to be written. The exact date isn’t firm, but scholars put it at between 66 AD and 70 AD. In fact, all the Gospels were written after the books written by Paul, such as Romans, Galatians, etc..
Still curious about why there were four different Gospels, I found an ancient book written by Origen—one of the early church fathers—who lived in the late second and early third century. He viewed the Gospels as having a different meaning targeted at very distinct audiences. For instance, Mark was written for the gentiles—the general population outside of Judea. Coincidently, these were the same people Paul visited on his three missionary trips. The other three Gospels are directed toward distinct groups as well, which we will discuss in future writings.
The book of Mark
The book of Mark is part of what is called the Synoptic Gospels, which also includes Matthew and Luke. The reason for this is that they share common sources of information. The Gospel of John was written much later and is more spiritual than historical, and, as such, is not considered one of the Synoptic Gospels.
Mark was written first, and much of Mark is contained in some way in Matthew and Luke. The original text was written in Ancient Greek, which was the common language of the Roman Empire. This is what led many scholars to conclude it was written for the gentiles.
Another interesting aspect of Mark is that, while it was written first, it was likely finished last. The original writing of the Gospel ended at 16:8. 16:9-20 was almost certainly added by a scribe later and gives the account of Jesus’s post-resurrection appearances.
The word Gospel means “the good news.”
Specifically, the good news about Jesus. As such, Mark follows the life of Jesus. Mark can be very macabre at times, as many Christians were suffering some form of persecution. imposed by the existing Roman emperor. The Gospel of Mark also portrays a dim view of the disciples understanding of who Jesus was. Personally, I am more optimistic that the writer was actually portraying that the common path to the acceptance of Christ includes a lack of understanding. Our Faith increases over time and is especially reinforced by significant events. In this case, the death and resurrection of Jesus would have been the significant events for the disciples.
The very first line of Mark—”The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”— also gives us other clues. The first clue lies in the words “Son of God.” The capitalization of the word “Son” indicates Jesus’s divinity. But it is also a direct connection to Jesus’s relationship in the Holy Trinity. The second clue we receive is the intended purpose of the author. By saying, “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” the author intends to state the history of the good news of Jesus’s life. Ironically, or perhaps not, the words “the beginning” are true in terms of the whole account of the Four Gospels—the book of Mark itself is “the beginning.”
An interesting note about Mark, is the twenty occurrences of miracles or healings at Jesus’s hands, further highlighting his divinity. This may also make the reader ask: “why did the Disciples take so long to truly believe the messages of Jesus.” Again, I wonder if this interplay isn’t more of an indication of the human condition which caused them to move slowly in coming to believe in the power of Jesus.
The human author of Mark is believed to be unidentified.
While tradition holds that it was John Mark—Peter and Barnabas’s associate in the Book of Acts—scholars doubt his connection. While I describe a human author, it implies that the human author was inspired by God. This in an important distinction. If we believe that the Bible was written by human authors without divine inspiration, then the Bible itself loses its importance. We could also believe that God himself wrote the words of the Bible, and some do. However, scholarly critique suggests divine inspiration. Whether divinely written or divinely inspired it doesn’t change that it is the word of God.
I finally understand why Dr. Moore had us start here first. Mark is a great way to enter the Gospels and lays a good foundation for understanding.
While I express my opinions and provide scholarly interpretations for the text, each person experiences the Bible differently, and perhaps Mark will affect you differently than it has me.
Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman
Dr. Bruce L. Hartman is the author of Jesus & Co. and Your Faith Has Made You Well.
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