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Evan Roberts Quote : Christian Books : CHAPTER IV THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST. MARK

The Books Of The New Testament by Leighton Pullan


[Sidenote: The Author.]

John Mark was the son of a Mary who was an influential member of the Church at Jerusalem, as the Church met in her house (Acts xii.12). He was a cousin of Barnabas (Col. iv.10), who had been a man of some property. It has been thought that Mark was the |young man| referred to in the account given by this Gospel of the arrest of Jesus in the garden. To others the incident would probably have appeared insignificant. He lived at Jerusalem during the famine in A.D.45, and Barnabas took him to Antioch on returning thither from Jerusalem at that time. He accompanied St. Paul and St. Barnabas on St. Paul's first missionary journey, and laboured with them at Salamis in Cyprus. It is possible that Acts xiii.5 means that John Mark had been a |minister| of the synagogue at Salamis. At any rate, the Greek can be so interpreted. After crossing from Paphos to the mainland of Asia Minor, the missionaries arrived at Perga. Here St. Paul made the great resolve to extend the gospel beyond the Taurus mountains. St. Mark determined to leave him. Perhaps he was not prepared for so magnificent an undertaking as a |work| which included the conversion of the Gentiles (Acts xiv.27), or for the substitution of the leadership of St. Paul for that of St. Barnabas.

St. Mark returned to Jerusalem, and was again at Antioch about the time of St. Paul's rebuke of St. Peter. Possibly St. Mark followed the example of most of the Jewish Christians at Antioch in inducing St. Peter and St. Barnabas to withdraw from {50} fellowship with the Gentile converts. Whether he did so or not, it is certain that St. Paul refused to take St. Mark with him on his second missionary journey, A.D.49. St. Barnabas then went home to Cyprus with St. Mark. We hear no more of the future evangelist until A.D.60, when we find that he is with St. Paul in Rome, and completely reconciled to him. He is the apostle's |fellow-worker| and his |comfort| (Col. iv.11; Philem.24). About four years later, St. Paul, in writing shortly before his martyrdom to Timothy, requests him to come to Rome by the shortest route, and to take up Mark on the way, |for he is useful to me for ministering| (2 Tim. iv.11). The last notice that we have of St. Mark in the New Testament illustrates how complete a harmony had been effected between the expansive theology of St. Paul and the once cramped policy of St. Peter and St. Mark. In his First Epistle St. Peter refers to |Mark, my son,| and his words make it certain that the two friends were then together at Babylon, i.e. Rome.

In the 4th century it was widely believed that St. Mark was the founder of Christianity in Alexandria, and the first bishop of the see which was afterwards ruled by St. Athanasius and St. Cyril. It is important to notice that this tradition appears first in Eusebius, and is not mentioned in the extant works of Clement and Origen, the great luminaries of the early Alexandrian Church. But it seems to be too well supported by the great writers of the 4th century for us to regard it as a fabrication. If the tale is true, St. Mark must have brought Christianity to Alexandria either after the death of St. Peter about A.D.65, or about A.D.55, in the interval between his separation from St. Paul and his stay with him at Rome.

The early Fathers, so far as their testimony remains, are unanimous in ascribing this Gospel to St. Mark, and they are equally unanimous in tracing the work of St. Mark to the influence of St. Peter. Justin Martyr speaks of the |Memoirs of Peter| when referring to a statement which we find in {51} Mark iii.17. Papias closely associates the two saints in his account of the Gospel, and gives us his information on the authority of John the Presbyter, who was a disciple of the Lord. Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Origen say practically the same thing. This evidence is overwhelming, and it is uncontradicted by any early authority. The statement of Papias is as follows: |And the elder said this also: Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately everything that he remembered of the things that were either said or done by Christ; but, however, not in order. For neither did he hear the Lord, nor did he follow Him; but afterwards, as I said, he attended Peter, who adapted his instructions to the needs of his hearers, but had no design of giving a connected account of the Lord's words. So then Mark committed no error in thus writing down certain things as he remembered them; for he made it his special care not to omit anything that he heard, or to set down any false statement therein.| By calling St. Mark an interpreter, Papias perhaps means that he translated statements made in Aramaic into Greek, which was the language most used by the Christians of Rome until the 3rd century after Christ. By saying that St. Mark wrote not in order, Papias probably means that the Gospel is not a systematic history of all our Lord's ministry, or an orderly arrangement of subjects placed together with a view to instruction like those in Matthew. So far as we are able to test them, the facts are related chronologically in the great majority of cases.

Papias does not tell us when St. Mark wrote his Gospel. Irenaeus writes: |Matthew also published a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, Peter and Paul preaching the Gospel at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, delivered to us in writing the things that had been preached by Peter.| {52} St. Peter and St. Paul probably died not later than A.D.65. Eusebius quotes from Clement of Alexandria |that Peter having publicly preached the word at Rome, and having spoken the Gospel by the Spirit, many present exhorted Mark to write the things which had been spoken, since he had long accompanied Peter, and remembered what he had said; and that when he had composed the Gospel, he delivered it to them who had asked it of him, which when Peter knew, he neither forbad nor encouraged it.| Clement is here relying upon |the presbyters of old,| and the antiquity of the tradition is proved by the fact that it does not claim St. Peter's direct sanction for the Gospel. Both Irenaeus and Clement were probably born about A.D.130, or earlier. Irenaeus was acquainted with Rome, where St. Peter taught, while Clement lived at Alexandria, where St. Mark was probably bishop. Moreover, Clement's office of head-catechist at Alexandria had been previously held by at least three predecessors, who must have handed down traditions of first-rate value. The testimony of Clement with regard to St. Mark is not inconsistent with that of Irenaeus. The Gospel was probably written while St. Peter was alive, and when he was dead, was given to the Church. Possibly it underwent some revision before publication. Now, as St. Peter evidently had not taught in Rome when St. Paul wrote the Epistle to the Romans in A.D.56, and as St. Mark was in Rome when he wrote the Epistle to the Colossians in A.D.60, we may reasonably date this Gospel about A.D.62. It seems to be later than Colossians, as there is no indication of St. Peter's being in Rome when that Epistle was written.

[Sidenote: Literary Style.]

The internal evidence afforded by the Gospel strongly corroborates the belief that it was based upon the discourses of one who had been with our Lord during His ministry. It is marked by a vivid and dramatic realism. There is a fondness for rapid transitions from one scene to another, as may be illustrated by the {53} fact that the Greek word for |immediately| occurs no less than forty-one times. In i.27 the actual form of an original dialogue is shown in the abrupt and broken sentences employed. St. Mark uses different tenses of the Greek verb -- present, perfect, imperfect, and aorist -- with singular freedom, not because he did not know Greek well enough to write with more regularity, but because he is carried away by his interest in the facts which he relates. The student will find good instances of this interchange of tenses in v.15 ff.; vi.14 ff.; viii.35; ix.34 ff. St. Mark's language shows that he was well acquainted with the Greek version of the Old Testament, which has exercised considerable influence on his style.

There are many picturesque phrases, such as |the heavens rent| (i.10) and |devour houses| (xii.40). There are little redundancies in which the author repeats his thoughts with a fresh shade of meaning, as |at even, when the sun did set| (i.32); |he looked steadfastly, and was restored, and saw all things clearly| (viii.25); |all that she had, even all her living| (xii.44). There is a frequent use of popular diminutives, such as words for |little boat,| |little daughter,| |little dog.| This is probably due to provincial Custom, and may be compared with the fondness shown in some parts of Scotland for words such as |boatie,| |lassie| or |lassock,| etc. There are several Hebraisms. Some of the Greek words are frankly plebeian, such as a foreigner would pick up without realizing that they were inelegant. There are also some Aramaic words and phrases which the writer inserts with a true artistic sense and then interprets -- Boanerges (iii.17), Talitha cumi (v.41), Corban (vii.11), Ephphatha (vii.34), Abba (xiv.36), and Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani (xv.34). The Greek also contains numerous grammatical irregularities which betray the hand of a foreigner, {54} as in ii.26; iv.22; vi.52; vii.4, 19; ix.18, xi.32; xiii.34. The use of participles is clumsy, especially in the account of the woman with the issue of blood (v.25 ff.). Finally, there are more Latin words and idioms than in any of the other Gospels. Latin idioms may be seen in v.23 and xv.15, and instances of Latin words are speculator (vi.27), centurion (xv.39), sextarius (vii.4), denarius (vi.37), quadrans (xii.42). In xii.42, xv.16, Greek words are explained in Latin.

These facts corroborate the tradition that the writer was a Palestinian who stayed in Rome, and knew personally some one who had exceptional knowledge of our Lord's actual words.

The narrative is particularly fresh, and abounds in vivid details such as would have been likely to linger in St. Peter's memory. The green grass whereon the crowds sat, and the appearance of flower-beds which they presented in their gay costume (vi.39, 40); the stern of the boat, and the pillow whereon our Lord slept (iv.38); the Gerasene demoniac cutting himself with stones (v.5); the woman who was a Syro-Phoenician but spoke Greek (vii.26); Jesus taking children in His arms (ix.36; x.16); the street where the colt was tied (xi.4); the two occasions on which the cock crew (xiv.68, 72); and St. Peter warming himself in the light of the fire (xiv.54); -- such are some of the instances of the writer's fidelity in recording the impressions of his teacher. This Gospel also abounds in proper names, both of places and persons. Among the latter may be mentioned the name of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar (x.46); the names of Alexander and Rufus, the sons of Simon of Cyrene (xv.21); Salome, the mother of Zebedee's children (xv.40); and Boanerges, their surname (iii.17). Equally remarkable is the manner in which the emotions of our Lord and others are recorded. We notice the indignation and grief which He felt in the synagogue (iii.5); His compassion for the unshepherded people (vi.34); His deep sigh at the sceptical demand for a sign from heaven (viii.12), {55} His displeasure at the disciples for keeping the children from Him (x.14); His undisguised love for the rich young man who yet lacked one thing (x.21); His tragic walk in front of the apostles (x.32); the intensity of feeling with which He was driven into the wilderness (i.12), and overturned the tables and seats in the temple (xi.15). St. Mark always seems to be painting our Lord from the life.

In spite of the fact that St. Mark shows that he knew well how to compress the material which was at his disposal, there is hardly a story which he narrates in common with the other synoptists without some special feature. We may notice the imploring words of the father of the lunatic boy (ix.2), the spoken blessing on little children (x.16), the view of the temple (xiii.3), and Pilate's question of the centurion (xv.44). None of these things are narrated in the other Gospels. In ix.2-13 we have the story of the Transfiguration, with the statement that the garments of our Lord |became glistering, exceeding white; so as no fuller on earth can whiten them.| We are also told that St. Peter then addressed our Lord as |Rabbi,| and that |he wist not what to answer.| The same significant phrase, |they wist not what to answer Him,| occurs in St. Mark's account of the agony in the garden (xiv.40). These are only a few instances out of many which show St. Mark's originality, and they are just such personal reminiscences as we might expect St. Peter to retain.

[Sidenote: Character and Contents.]

Just as the style is realistic and the narrative circumstantial, so the contents are practical. |He went about doing good| is the impression which this Gospel gives us of our Lord. The teaching which He announced to the people is made less prominent than in Matt. If we count even the shortest similitudes as parables, we find only nine parables in Mark. Equally remarkable is the absence of quotations made by the writer. He records numerous references made by our Lord to the Old Testament, though fewer than Matt. or Luke, but the only quotations made by St. Mark {56} himself are in i.2, 3 (Mal. iii.1; Isa. xl.3) and xv.28 (Isa. liii.12). On the other hand, we find eighteen miracles, only two less than in the much longer Gospel of St. Matthew. The theological tone of Mark may be described as neutral. There is no trace of the innocent preferences which Matt. and Luke show toward this or that aspect of the teaching of Jesus. In Mark we do not find so strong an approval of the more permanent parts of the Jewish Law, or so strong a denunciation of the Pharisees who exalted the external adjuncts of the Law, as we find in Matt. Nor do we find such parables as the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son, by which Luke lays emphasis upon the truth that the Jews have no monopoly of holiness, and that the outcast is welcome to the gospel. Mark is less Jewish than Matt., less Gentile and Pauline than Luke. It used to be said that this was the result of |trimming,| and intended to bridge over the differences between two different schools of theology. But the charge has broken down. St. Mark, though not anti-Jewish, regards Christ as above the law of the sabbath (ii.28), and teaches the necessity of new external religious forms (ii.22). Though he is not Jewish, and though he omits the statement made in Matt. xv.24, a statement indicating that the Jews had the first right to be taught by the Messiah, he does record, like Matt., the still harder statement of the same fact made to the Syro-Phoenician woman (vii.27). The truth is that St. Mark is neutral simply in the sense that he faithfully records a story which was moulded before doctrinal conflicts had taken place between Christian believers. The doctrine of St. Mark is archaic.

One of the most distinctive features of this Gospel is the decisive clearness with which it shows how Jesus trained and educated His disciples. The simplicity with which St. Mark describes the faults of the friends of our Lord is as remarkable as the vigour with which the gestures and feelings of our Lord are portrayed. St. Mark relates how that early in the ministry of Jesus, His friends (iii.21) said that He was mad, and that |His {57} mother and His brethren| (iii.31) sought to bring Him back. The discipline and education of the disciples are recorded with a plain revelation of their mistakes and their spiritual dulness. When they had settled in Capernaum Christ shows them that He must find a wider sphere of work (i.38); He meets with a significant silence their obtrusive remonstrance when the woman with the issue of blood caused Him to ask, |Who touched My clothes?| (v.30, 31); He tells them with affectionate care |to rest a while,| when they had been too busy even to eat (vi.31); He rebukes them gravely when they put a childish interpretation upon His command to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod, the formalists and the Erastian (viii.17); they are unintelligent and uninquiring when He prophesies His death and resurrection (ix.32), and after this prophecy they actually dispute about their own precedence (ix.34); when Christ goes boldly forward to Jerusalem, they follow with fear and hesitation (x.32); He rebukes the niggardly criticism of those who were indignant with the |waste| of the perfume poured upon His head (xiv.6); and in Gethsemane |they all left Him and fled| (xiv.50).

Among these disciples, St. Peter is prominent, and though his confession of the Messiahship of Jesus is recorded, a confession which is necessarily central in the Gospel (viii.29), St. Mark neither records that our Lord designed him as the rock, nor his commission to feed the Lord's lambs and sheep. On the other hand, St. Mark inserts things which were often of a nature to humble St. Peter. He records the crushing reprimand which he received when he criticized the Lord's mission (viii.33); it was Peter's fanciful plan to erect three tabernacles on the scene of the Transfiguration (ix.5), it was Peter who informed the Lord that the fig tree had withered after His curse (xi.21), it was Peter whom Christ awoke in Gethsemane by uttering his name |Simon| (xiv.37); and Peter's denial appears doubly guilty in this Gospel, inasmuch as he did not repent until the cock crew twice (xiv.68, 72). At the {58} beginning (iii.16) and at the end (xvi.7) Peter occupies a special position. But the conduct of Peter is narrated in a fashion which renders the notion of fiction quite impossible. The Gospel cannot have been written by a hero-worshipper wishing to glorify a saint of old, but must surely have been written by |the interpreter of Peter.|

In comparing the contents of Mark with those of Matt. and Luke, we are struck by the absence of many of our Lord's discourses. Yet we find an eschatological discourse about the second coming in xiii., though much shorter than those in Matt. xxiv. and xxv. The genuineness of Mark xiii. has been assailed, and it has been described as an apocalyptic |fly-sheet,| which was somehow inserted in the Gospel. There is no reason for believing this theory to be true. The chapter was in Mark when it was incorporated into Matthew, and its teaching agrees with that attributed to our Lord in the collections of Logia. We have also the beginning of the charge given to the apostles (vi.7-11; cf. Matt. x.). There are a few echoes of the Sermon on the Mount, and only a specimen of the final denunciation of the Pharisees, which occupies a whole chapter in Matt. (Mark xii.38-40, cf. Matt. xxiii.). We find a few statements made by our Lord which are peculiar to this Gospel: e.g. -- |the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath| (ii.27), |foolishness| coming from the heart (vii.22); |every sacrifice shall be salted with salt| (ix.49); |Father, all things are possible unto Thee,| in the touching filial appeal during the agony (xiv.36). Here alone have we the tiny parable about the growth of the blade of corn (iv.26), and that of the porter commanded to watch until the master's return (xiii.34). There are two miracles peculiar to Mark, the cure of the deaf-mute (vii.32) and of the blind man at Bethsaida (viii.22). Among the miracles recorded in Mark, the cures of demoniacs are prominent. This is in peculiar contrast with John, where we find no cure of demoniacs recorded.

In marked contrast to St. Luke, St. Mark appears indifferent {59} to the political conditions of the countries where our Lord worked. Thus Herod Antipas is simply called |the king| (vi.14), whereas both in Matt. and Luke he is correctly called by the title of |tetrarch,| which only implies governorship of a portion of a country. Yet the narrative of St. Mark shows that he was quite aware of facts which can only be explained by the political conditions which he does not describe. He knows that Tyre and Sidon, Caesarea Philippi and Bethsaida, which were not under Herod Antipas, were more safe for our Lord than Capernaum. And he knows that in travelling to Jerusalem He was in greater danger than while He remained in Galilee, and was meeting His doom at the sentence of Gentile officials. Although St. Mark is silent as to the names of many of the places which our Lord visited, he gives us numerous indications of the various scenes of our Lord's labours. We are thus able to fix the geographical surroundings of nearly all the more important events, and construct an intelligible plan of our Lord's ministry. We can see how He made the shores of the lake of Gennesaret the focus of His mission, and went on evangelistic journeys from Capernaum into Galilee. The time of these journeys was largely determined by circumstances, such as the unregulated enthusiasm of the mob, the spite of the scribes at Capernaum, or the anger of Herod's court at Tiberias. Towards the end of the ministry in Galilee our Lord devoted Himself to the deeper instruction of His Apostles and their initiation into the mystery of His death (vii.24 ff.; viii.27 ff.). For such teaching the mountain slopes of Lebanon and Hermon afforded scenes of perfect calm and beauty.




Winter A.D.26 till after Pentecost 27.

The preparation for the ministry; i.1-13. -- The mission of John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus, the temptation.


Pentecost A.D.27 till before Passover 28.

The ministry of Jesus in Galilee, journeys from Capernaum; i.14-vi.13. -- The call of the four fishermen, Jesus preaches and heals at Capernaum (i.14-34).

First missionary journey, in towns of Galilee: leper cleansed, return to Capernaum (i.38-ii.1). Work in Capernaum, five grounds of offence against Jesus, Jesus followed by crowds of hearers on the sea-shore (ii.2-iii.12). Appointment of the twelve, Christ accused of alliance with Satan, the unpardonable sin, Christ's relation to His mother and brethren. He begins to teach in parables about the kingdom (iii.13-iv.34).

Second missionary journey, on the eastern shore of the lake of Gennesaret: the storm calmed, Gerasene demoniac and swine (iv.35-v.20). Return to the western shore, the cure of the woman who touched His garment, Jairus' daughter raised (v.21-43).

Third missionary journey, in the western highlands, including Nazareth, where He is rejected, and adjacent villages, the mission of the twelve (vi.1-13).

[Perplexity of Herod and death of John the Baptist, vi.14-29.]



Passover A.D.28 till before Tabernacles 28.

Climax of missionary work in Galilee, journeys from Capernaum; vi.30-ix.50. -- Christ in a desert place feeds the 5000, visits Bethsaida, walks on the sea, returns to Gennesaret, heals many (vi.30-56). Teaching about defilement (vii.1-23).

Fourth missionary journey, to the north-west into Phoenicia: the Syro-Phoenician woman, departure from Tyre and Sidon, approach to the sea of Galilee through Decapolis, cure of the deaf-mute (vii.24-37). Christ feeds the 4000 (viii.1-9) Christ takes ship to Dalmanutha, Pharisees seek a sign, Jesus takes ship to the other side, the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod, cure of a blind man at Bethsaida (viii.10-26).

Fifth journey, to towns of Caesarea Philippi, special teaching of the select few: Peter's confession of Christ, Christ's first prediction of His death (viii.27-ix.1). Transfiguration, lunatic boy cured, journey through Galilee, second prediction of death, arrival at Capernaum, the value of a child's example, the danger of causing one to stumble (ix.2-50).


Tabernacles, September A.D.28 until early 29.

Journey to Jerusalem through Peraea: x. -- Christ forbids divorce, blesses children, the rich young man, the difficulties of the rich, Christ's third prediction of His death, the request of Zebedee's sons, Christ's announcement of His mission to serve, blind Bartimaeus cured at Jericho.



Passover A.D.29.

Last days at Jerusalem, and afterwards; xi.1-xvi.20. -- Entry into Jerusalem, the withered fig-tree, cleansing of the temple, the duty of forgiveness, Christ challenged (xi.). The parable of the vineyard, three questions to entrap Christ, His question, denunciation of scribes, the widow's mites (xii.).

Predictions of destruction of temple, of woes and of the second coming (xiii.).

The Council discuss how they may arrest Jesus, the woman with the ointment, Judas' bargain, the Passover, Gethsemane, the betrayal, the trial before the Council, Peter's denial (xiv.). Jesus delivered to Pilate, trial, Jesus and Barabbas, the mockery, crucifixion, burial by Joseph of Arimathaea (xv.).

The women at the sepulchre, the angel (xvi.1-8).

Appendix with summary of appearances of the Lord (xvi.9-20).

Note on the Concluding Section. -- The origin of xvi.9-20 is one of the most difficult of questions, (a) The section is not found in the two famous Greek MSS., the Vatican and the Sinaitic, nor is it found in the very ancient Sinaitic Syriac MS. It is also lacking in one Latin MS. (k), which represents the Latin version used before St. Jerome made the Vulgate translation, about A.D.384. The great scholar Eusebius, A.D.320, omitted it from his |canons,| which contain parallel passages from the three Gospels. (b) The language does not resemble the Greek employed in other parts of the Gospels, differing from it in some small particulars which most strongly suggest diversity of authorship. (c) Much of the section might have been constructed out of the other Gospels and Acts; e.g. ver.9 is thought to be derived from John xx.14, and ver.14 from John xx.26-29. (d) Mary Magdalene is introduced as though she had not been mentioned previously; but she has already appeared thrice in Mark (xv.40, 47; xvi.1). On the other hand, it is obvious that the Gospel could never have ended with the words |for they {63} were afraid,| in ver.8. All the old Latin MSS. contain the present section except k, and perhaps originally A. The evidence of the Vatican and the Sinaitic MSS. is not so strong as it appears to be at first sight. The end of Mark in the Sinaitic was actually written by the same scribe as the man who wrote the New Testament in the Vatican MS. And the way in which he has arranged the conclusion of the Gospel in both MSS. suggests that the MSS. from which the Sinaitic and the Vatican were copied, both contained this or a similar section. Moreover, there is considerable reason for thinking that he acted under the personal influence of Eusebius. The verses are attested by Irenaeus, and apparently by Justin and Hermas, and were therefore regarded as authentic, or at least as truthful, by educated men at Lyons and Rome, in the 2nd century. A possible solution is offered by an Armenian MS. (A.D.986), which assigns the section to the |presbyter Ariston.| This is probably the presbyter Aristion whom Papias describes as a disciple of the Lord (Eusebius, H. E. iii.39). The conclusion of St. Mark's MS. probably became accidentally detached, and vanished soon after his death, and the Church may well have requested one who knew the Lord to supply the deficiency.

Eusebius, H. E. iii.39.

Op. cit. iii.39.

Eusebius, H. E. vi.14.

Also in Matt. xxvii.46. Observe also the explanation of Beelzebub (iii.22), Gehenna (ix.43), Bartimaeus (x.46), Golgotha (xv.22). Also the explanation of Jewish customs in vii.3, 4; xiv.12.


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