Mark By Professor J. Newton Davies. Edited by J E Bradburn.


The Earliest Gospel.

One of the assured results of Gospel criticism is that Mark is the earliest of our four Gospels. Many scholars like Allen, Rawlinson, Bartlett, and Stanton sometime before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Bacon and J Weiss date it after 70 A.D. on the grounds that the reference to wars and rumours of wars in Chapter 13 are to the clash between the Romans and the Jews. In any case, the use made of Mark by Matthew, Luke, and the author of the fourth Gospel points conclusively to the fact that it must have been written before 80 A.D.                                                                                     


The Place of Origin.

Most interpreters of this Gospel regard it as a Roman Gospel written to the church in that city not long after the terrible Neronic so vividly described in the annals of Tacitus. When it is read with that bloody catastrophe as a background we begin to understand the reasons for the great emphasis laid upon the heroic bravery of Jesus in the face of all His sufferings; and the important place given to the narrative of the Passion in this Gospel.


The Historical Situation.

The Roman province of Asia in which the seven churches were situated was one of the most prosperous parts of the empire. The wealth of its cities were seen in the splendour of their public buildings and in their religious worship, where, amid magnificent architecture, stately public and private sacrifices were performed with lavish munificence (showing unusual generosity), which not only made such occasions a splendid spectacle but a scene of luxurious feasting and every kind of sensual indulgence. The Christian who did not partake of such sacrificial feasts socially ostracised himself, and yet to partake meant grave moral temptation. It was no wonder that some were willing to compromise—the Nicolaitans, whom the writer censures in no measured terms;.


Revelation 2:14—29

 14 But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.

15 So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.

16 Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.

17 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.

18 And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write; These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire, and His feet are like fine brass;

19 I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first.

20 Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.

21 And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not.

22 Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds.

23 And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am He which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.

24 But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden.

25 But that which ye have already, hold fast till I come.

26 And he that overcometh, and keepeth My works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations:

27 And He shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father.

28 And I will give him the morning star.

29 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.


But that form of heathenism which no Christian could avoid, however he might keep himself aloof from the social and commercial life of his fellow citizens, was, the worship of the emperors, which was increasingly imposed upon all the inhabitants of the empire, whatever their race or religion  It was at Pergamum that a temple had first been built in honour of Augustus, and all his successors were in their turn deified ("making divine"), and similar temples were built in their honour. Domitian, in whose reign this book was in all probability written, was called, even in Rome, “Our Lord and our God.” This Cæsar-worship became the unifying religion of the empire; and in the provinces, where the benefits of Roman justice and peace were independent of the vices of particular emperors, it was sedulously (diligent in application or attention; persevering). encouraged by officials and  priests as a matter of policy. Just because this religion was universal in its scope it inevitably clashed with the Christian faith. Rome was tolerant of all religions; all her subject races might worship their own gods, for each of whom a place was found for them in the Pantheon; but the deified emperor demanded the worship of all his subjects.  An edict had been issued under Vespasian which condemned to death all who would not worship the image of the Beast.


Revelation 13:5 And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months [3½ years]


The magistrates had orders to treat the Christians as criminals, and this they did. Paul had found the Roman power friendly. More than once it protected him from the Jews, who were the persecutors of the church in his day (Acts 21:31—34. 23:12—24. Cp 27:42—43)He writes favourably of this power as that which restrains “the mystery of lawlessness


2 Thessalonians 2:6—7

6 And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time.

7 For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.


However, the author of Revelation identifies with the Beast, following the precedent set by the author of Daniel, who had pictured the world empires in the forms of a lion, a leopard, and so on. The readers of this Book well understood that the Beast was Rome. The first time Rome became the persecutor of the Christians was in Nero’s reign, when, in 64 A.D., to escape the opprobrium (something that brings disgrace) of having himself set the city on fire, Nero made the Christians the scapegoat and had his gardens lighted with Christians impaled on crosses smeared with pitch and set on fire. But that enormity was confined to those living in Rome. It was left for Domitian, morose, suspicious, cruel in the extreme, making war in his last mad years against almost all his subjects, to vent his worst fury on the Christians. In 93 A.D. the persecution raged not only in Rome but in Asia also, and the Christian blood poured out in the last four years of his reign seemed to John, the writer of this Book, to presage a universal martyrdom for all who were loyal to their faith, and to cry aloud to God for vengeance.


Revelation 6:9 And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held:


It was to encourage men to resist even unto blood the blasphemous claims of the Roman emperor that this “Tract for the Times” was written. It will re-occur.


The Latinisms, the allusion to Rufus (Mark 15:21, Cp Rom 16:13), the translation of Aramaic words, the explanation of Jewish customs and practices, the persistent tradition that links Mark with Paul, and Peter during their stay in Rome, all point to the imperial city where the Gospel was written.



John Mark’s name has long been associated with the authorship of this Gospel. The oft-quoted testimony of Papias, as well as the many references in the early Fathers, makes the association a very probable one. Zahn and Bartlett are of the opinion that Mark’s signature to his Gospel is to be found in the narrative of the young man who was so nearly arrested in the garden of Gethsemane (which is told only in this Gospel), for the narrative seems purposeless except to identify the young man with Mark, the author. The references to Mark and his home in the N.T. all indicate how favourably placed he was  to be a recorder of Gospel narrative. His home in Jerusalem was probably the place where Jesus and His disciples met for their Last Supper together, and the early Christian community must often have gathered there for prayer and fellowship.


Acts 12:12 And when He had considered the thing, He came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark; where many were gathered together praying.


Paul, Peter, and Barnabas were friends of the family. Some of the stirring scenes associated with Pentecost perhaps took place within this home (Acts 1:13—26). All this supports tradition and makes the testimony of Mark peculiarly valuable in reference to the ministry of Jesus.


Characteristics of the Author.

The characteristics of the evangelist are suggested or implied in his Gospel.

1.      It is very evident that he was a bi-lingual speaker. His narrative reminds us of a palimpsest (p æ l ɪ m p s ɛ s t / is a manuscript page, either from a scroll or a book, from which the text has been either scraped or washed off), the upper writing of which is Greek and the lower Aramaic. He is not translating, but his mind is so steeped in Semitic modes of thought that the structure of his sentences and the idioms he employs clearly reveal his Hebrew origin. On the other hand though, he is deficient in culture and his vocabulary is small, yet he is not without some feeling for the niceties of the Greek language, as evidenced in his striking use of the colourful imperfect tense and of some arresting Greek words.

2.      As a writer he is little concerned with either chronological or psychological development, though he seems to have been careful to confine the ministry of Jesus in Jerusalem to a week, and to have divided the last day of our Lord’s life into four periods corresponding to the Roman watches. Mark makes it quite clear also that Jesus gradually restricted His teaching, as it became more advanced, to a limited number of followers, i.e. to the Twelve. There is inevitably a simple natural development impressed on his record. He begins with the narrative of the baptism, which is followed by that of the temptation. Then we have the record of a specimen day in the life of Jesus, which reveals His popularity with the masses as a teacher and healer. After that comes a series of incidents in which Jesus clashes with the authorities; this opposition gradually grows in intensity until we come to the arrest in Gethsemane and the crucifixion. This simple story is crowned by a resurrection narrative. Mark’s narrative therefore, is seen to be made up of a series of episodes loosely linked together and chosen for their moral and spiritual value. They are selected with the express purpose of confirming the loyalty and strengthening the endurance of the much tried Christians in Rome. As a Christian himself of long standing, the author knows that following Christ is attended by many hardships and sufferings, and that it calls for rigid self-discipline and self-denial as well as a willingness to take up the cross in a very literal sense.

3.      His narrative indicates that he was peculiarly. (For detailed statement see Stanton’s article, Journal of Theo Studies, April 1925). This was in contrast to the custom of ancient educated rhetoricians (rhetoric), who avoided as far as possible the names of places and persons and the giving of exact numbers. Mark, on the contrary, tells us that the Temptation lasted forty days. Mark 1:13 and that the woman had suffered with an issue of blood for twelve years (Mark 5:25);his favourite expression for the disciples is “the twelve”; the disciples are sent out two by two (Mark 6:7); in the parable of the sower we note the parallelism between the three classes of seed that germinated, and the three that did not. Mark 4:1 forward); in the parable of the feeding of the five thousand the disciples have two hundred denaria worth of bread (Mark 6:37); while the ointment in Mariam’s cruse cost three hundred pence (Mark14:5).

4.      The evangelist was a man of divided opinions, one might even call them prejudices. For example, he seems to have thought that the purpose of Jesus teaching by parables was to confuse the minds of the unbelieving masses and to prevent them from understanding the message of the Master (Mark 4:11—12). In this he is clearly wrong and has done Jesus a grave disservice. Another prejudice which he has super-imposed on his narrative is the thought that the demons possessed a knowledge of the Messiaship of Jesus and of His Divine Sonship denied in the beginning even to the immediate followers of Jesus ((Mark 3:11). On the other hand his love of symbolism is shown when he informs us that when Jesus was crucified the veil of the temple was rent (torn) from top to bottom and that from the hours between 12 and 3darkness covered the whole land (Mark 15: 33—38).


Dependence on Peter.

Papias makes the following statement: “And the presbyter said this: Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered. It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings and deeds of Christ. For he neither heard the Lord, nor accompanied Him. But afterward, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who accommodated his instructions [of his hearers], but with no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord’s sayings. Wherefore Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he numbered them. For one thing he took especial care, not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements” (Fragment VI, Anti Nicene Fathers, volume I, pages154—155. Edinburgh Edition. Preserved in Eusebius, Eccles History, iii, 39). According to this, Mark was dependent on reminiscences of Peter. A careful study of his Gospel confirms this, for after a very cursory introduction the ministry of Jesus begins with a series of incidents in Capernaum, Peter’s home town, and it is in house that Jesus stays while in the city. Peter appears in this Gospel nearly always in an unfavourable light. None of the halo that later writers painted about his head, which is plainly visible in Luke, and Matthew, is to be seen.


Mark 8:33 But when He had turned about and looked on His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, “Get thee behind Me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.”


Mark 14:37 And He cometh, and findeth them sleeping, and saith unto Peter, Simon, “Sleepest thou? couldest not thou watch one hour?”


Mark 14: 66—72

66 And as Peter was beneath in the palace, there cometh one of the maids of the high priest:

67 And when she saw Peter warming himself, she looked upon him, and said, “And thou also wast with Jesus of Nazareth.”

68 But he denied, saying, “I know not, neither understand I what thou sayest.” And he went out into the porch; and the cock crew.

69 And a maid saw him again, and began to say to them that stood by, “This is one of them.”

70 And he denied it again. And a little after, they that stood by said again to Peter, “Surely thou art one of them: for thou art a Galilaean, and thy speech agreeth thereto.”

71 But he began to curse and to swear, saying, “I know not this man of whom ye speak.”

72 And the second time the cock crew. And Peter called to mind the word that Jesus said unto him, “Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice.” And when he thought thereon, he wept.                


Peter was in nowise injured by this frankness, since the church at Rome new how fully he had atoned for any lack of loyalty which he may once have shown in his following Jesus. The relative prominence given to the Twelve in the Gospel, and the fact, as Stanton points out, that Mark tells his narrative in the plural, though himself not one of the company who went about with Jesus, indicate that in many places in his narrative Mark is dependent on the personal recollections of one of the inner circle. For much of the teaching of Jesus in his Gospel, Mark would have recourse to a collection of the sayings preserved in the church, which corresponded in large a measure to that document which scholars designate by the letter Q.


Purpose of the Gospel.

The chief purpose of the Gospel is to portray the personality of Jesus in such a way that the church, in its hour of severe trial would receive power to endure and to remain faithful. The words, “Consider Him that hath endured such gainsaying of sinners against Himself that ye wax not weary, fainting in your souls” would form a very appropriate headline for this virile Gospel.


Hebrews 12:3 For consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.


The Portrait of Jesus.

The following are some of the outstanding features in the character of Jesus emphasised in the Gospel.

1.      The many sided-ness and wealth of Jesus’ personality. are brought out in the varying estimates that we have of Him in chapter 1. In verse 1 we have Mark’s own estimate in the words “Son of God”; in verse 7 the Baptists “mightier than I”, in verse 11 the judgement of God “Thou art  My beloved Son”; in verse 22 that of the people in the synagogue, that He “taught as having authority”; and in verse 24 the opinion of the demons, “The Holy One of God.” In the same chapter Jesus is presented in the following roles: He is One whose coming was anticipated by the prophets (vv2—3); a baptiser of men with the Holy Spirit (v7); a recipient of wonderful visions (vv9—11); One Whom is ministered to by angels (v13); a preacher of the Gospel of the Kingdom (verse 15); a maker of evangelists (vv16—20); an authoritive teacher of new truths (v22); One who could cast demons from men (verse 25); a healer of the sick and lepers (verse 31, & 40—45);a man of prayer (verse 35); and One whose soul is aflame with missionary passion (verses 38—39).

2.      The courage and modern heroism of the Master are apparent on every page. There is no trace of fear on the part of Jesus in the presence of demoniacs and lepers; He is perfectly calm and self-possessed when Scribes and Pharisee try to defame His character with their scornful insults; in the presence of high priests, Roman soldiers, and procurators He is every inch a King; and while a storm is raging on the lake He is asleep on the cushion. In this brief Gospel we have presented before us the sublime figure of One Who, though He is fully conscious that a terrible end awaits Him in Jerusalem, yet remains undismayed, pursuing His road with fearless tread.

3.      Another beautiful feature in the life of Jesus emphasised by Mark is His unfailing kindness and willingness to help. The physician’s is ever to be at the disposal of the most needy cases. The reply to the Scribes Luke 13:32 And He said unto them, “Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.” exactly expresses the character of Jesus as      outlined in this Gospel. No one appeals to Him in vain; the little children receive a blessing from His hands; distracted suffering women find in Him a real friend; and the ostracised of the community find in Him One Who truly understands their case and has for them a real sympathy.


Abiding Value of the Gospel.

Just as the first readers in Rome of this vivid portrayal of the Son of man were encouraged to face cruel tortures and punishments of unheard-of severity, and above all to maintain their loyalty and missionary zeal in the face of such colossal obstacles and continuous disappointments, so the Christian church today, in reading afresh the narrative of the life of Jesus as written by Mark, will be greatly strengthened and encouraged in its task of presenting the claims of Christ to an age bewildered by many conflicting emotions, torn by faction, burdened by many sorrows, weighed down by the spirit of materialism, and yet in its heart of hearts yearning for one who will be its guide and shepherd through the perplexing mazes of its day. The road to the future, it has been well said, is the road back to the New Testament. We cannot now effectively begin to walk that road than by reading and rereading this striking presentation of the Lord of life by John Mark.    


The Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.

This phrase, according to some interpreters, is a title for the complete Gospel, and not merely for this record. By it the author wanted to suggest that a written Gospel could only be a mere beginning of the Spiritual movement which it helped to make possible. It was necessary for redeemed lives to take up the narrative; and also complete the narrative of the crucifixion in every generation. Others think that what is meant is that the narrative of John the Baptist is the starting point of the Gospel. The probabilities are that the expression refers to the opening chapter as a whole, which aims at giving a typical day in the ministry of Jesus. The various incidents have been chosen to show the many-sided character of His work.

See the portrait of Jesus above. This typical introductory chapter fittingly closes with the statement “they came [or kept on coming] to Him from every quarter.”

The word Gospel is found far more frequently in Mark than in any other of the Gospels. Usually, as in 1:15, 8:35, & 10:29, it stands alone without further definition, indicating that when this Gospel was written it had become a technical term for the message of salvation proclaimed by the early evangelists.


Mark 1:14 Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, (scroll down for the twelve passages of the Kingdom).


It is defined as a “Gospel of God”—a message whose special aim is to inform men of the character and grace of God; here it is described as the Gospel of Jesus Christ, indicating that Christ is the sum and substance of the Gospel. The expression Jesus Christ, when this Gospel was written, had become a proper name henceforth there was no need to say “the Christ.”