Mark 1

Introduction

The shortest of the four gospels by far, Mark has gained prominence in recent days, especially from modern higher critics. Beginning in the early 1800s, liberal scholars started to insist that Mark was written first (the Church historically acknowledged that Matthew held that distinction), around 60 A.D., and that Matthew and Luke both borrowed from Mark and other sources for their accounts. This position is so popular that it is generally assumed and unquestioned in many works. Part of the reason for this preference is Mark’s emphasis on Jesus’ actions rather than his theology – something liberal scholarship very much tends to stress and avoid, respectively.

It is true that Jesus’ actions are the highlight of Mark. Much less time is given to his background and his teachings compared to the other gospels. Mark presents Jesus as a man of action, constantly on the move from one event to the next. Mark’s use of εὐθύς (euthus, “immediately”) is regularly noted in commentaries, as Jesus went “immediately” to his next place or miracle. (Mark contains 41 of the New Testament’s 51 occurrences of the word, and it appears in all but three of his 16 chapters.)

Several of the Early Church Fathers (including Papias, Ignatius, and Eusebius) linked Mark with Peter, noting that Mark had become Peter’s disciple and that he had recorded many of Peter’s teachings and memories, albeit not necessarily in chronological order. This would certainly account for the personal influences found throughout the book, yet the sporadic nature of the selection of events. It also may explain why Mark alone would include the angel’s command that the women should “tell his disciples, even Peter” (Mark 16:7) that Jesus had been raised.

It seems that Mark was writing to a Roman audience, who did not understand certain Jewish terms and traditions, so he had to explain them (see Mark 3:17; 5:41; 7:3, 11, 19, 34; 15:22, 42). Additionally, Mark pointed out that Simon, who carried Jesus’ cross, “was the father of Alexander and Rufus” (Mark 15:21). Later, in Romans 16:13, Paul greeted a Rufus in Rome. These are the only two occurrences of the name.

Chapter one completely skips Jesus’ early life. Instead, Mark introduced John the Baptizer as the promised messenger who would “prepare the way for the Lord” (Mark 1:3) and moved directly to the account of Jesus’ baptism.

Mark’s introductory note is interesting. He intended to not let Jesus’ background overshadow his mission. This was common in Roman culture. The families and background of servants was unimportant; they just needed to do their jobs. By not including Jesus’ family history, Mark put the emphasis on his identity as tied to his mission: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

Notice the lack of detail in Mark’s account of Jesus baptism and temptation (Mark 1:9-12; four verses) compared to Matthew’s (16 verses) and Luke’s (15 verses). Mark’s point was clear: John announced him, Satan tested him, then he went to work.

The rest of chapter one covers the same amount of time as Matthew 4-8. In these 32 verses, Jesus began his preaching ministry, began to call his disciples, and performed three individual miracles (casting out a demon, curing a fever, curing leprosy) and many others (Mark 1:34). Yet, in doing all of that, Mark recorded only about seven sentences of Jesus’ actual speech. Again, for Mark and his readers, Jesus’ actions really did speak louder than his words. Mark’s presentation also pointed out that, even early on, Jesus did not necessarily seek publicity and notoriety. Though that certainly came, he silenced the demons (Mark 1:25, 34), spent time alone (Mark 1:35), and preferred the rural villages (Mark 1:38, 45).