Mark and His Gospel
JEHOVAH God inspired Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to record the earthly ministry of his Son, Christ Jesus. Their records provide us with a fourfold strong foundation for our faith that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah, the seed of Abraham and God’s only-begotten Son. Additionally thereby we are equipped to effectively stop the mouths of the faithless and the scorners.
It appears that each of these four writers composed his account of Jesus’ life as a man with some definite purpose in mind as well as according to what most impressed him. Thus Matthew wrote primarily for the benefit of the Jews and showed that Jesus was indeed their long-looked-for Messiah. Mark wrote particularly for the benefit of the Romans and so pictured Jesus as the miracle-working Son of God. Luke aimed for a comprehensive, logically coherent and chronologically accurate record; while John, writing some forty years after the others, made it a point to make his account supplemental, dealing primarily with matters they did not cover.
Who was Mark? Luke describes him as “John who was surnamed Mark”. (Acts 12:12, NW) He was not one of the twelve apostles, nor does it seem that he was a constant companion of Jesus. He is thought to be the young man Mark himself tells about at Mark 14:51, 52 (NW): “But a certain young man wearing a fine linen garment over his naked body began to follow [Jesus] nearby, and they tried to seize him, but he left his linen garment behind and got away.” It seems reasonable to conclude that this was Mark in view of the fact that Mark is the only writer who records this incident. And in leaving himself unidentified he would be following the example of others; Matthew doing the same at Matthew 9:10 and John, most likely, also at John 18:15.
While Mark may thus have shown interest while Jesus was on earth, the fact that Peter refers to him as “my son” would seem to indicate that Mark became a Christian due to Peter’s efforts. (1 Pet. 5:13) That he had some acquaintance with Jesus seems most reasonable in view of the fact that his mother’s house was in Jerusalem and served as a meeting place for the early Christians. Thus it was to her house that Peter immediately went upon being miraculously released from prison, “where quite a few were gathered together and praying.”—Acts 12:5-17, NW.
MARK’S RELATIONS WITH PAUL
Mark was associated with Paul and Barnabas, later with Barnabas alone, and also at one time with Peter, in Babylon. When Paul and Barnabas started out on their first missionary tour “they had John [Mark] also as an attendant”. (Acts 13:5, NW) He was their assistant as they traveled from Antioch in Syria to Selucia, throughout the island of Cyprus and then on to Perga in Pamphylia, in Asia Minor, at which place “John withdrew from them and returned to Jerusalem”.—Acts 13:13, NW.
Just why Mark left Paul and Barnabas and returned to Jerusalem the record does not state; evidently Luke here charitably fails to state the reason. That it could hardly have been a good reason seems apparent from what took place later on, when Paul and Barnabas prepared to start out on their second tour, for Luke tells us: “For his part, Barnabas was determined to take along also John, who was called Mark. But Paul did not think it proper to be taking this one along with them, seeing that he had departed from them from Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work.” In fact, Paul felt so strongly about this that “there occurred a sharp burst of anger, so that they separated from each other, and Barnabas took Mark along and sailed away to Cyprus. Paul selected Silas and went off after he had been entrusted by the brothers to the undeserved kindness of Jehovah”. Whether the fact that Mark was his cousin influenced Barnabas we will let the reader judge.—Acts 15:36-40, NW.
That Mark proved himself later on is apparent from Paul’s changed attitude toward him. Paul includes Mark among his fellow workers and commands the Christians at Colosse to welcome Mark whenever he should come to them. Toward the close of his ministry Paul wrote Timothy: “Take Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministering.”—Col. 4:10; Philem. 24; 2 Tim. 4:11, NW.
The candor and carefulness of Luke in giving us such details not only strengthens our faith in the authenticity of the account but also provides good admonition for Jehovah’s servants today. Paul did not let Mark’s deflection at Pamphylia embitter him against Mark. Rather, he followed the course of love which “does not keep account of the injury”. (1 Cor. 13:5, NW) No doubt Paul was only too glad to have Mark’s assistance after he had demonstrated his dependability. Mark likewise showed the right spirit; he neither got discouraged and quit nor did he nurse a grudge against Paul. Rather, he took to heart the rebuke implied by Paul’s rejection of his services and profited thereby. So in the end we find Paul and Mark again working together to defend and legally establish the good news.
MARK’S ACCOUNT OF JESUS’ LIFE
Most likely Mark wrote his account between the years A.D. 60 and 65, about twenty years after Matthew wrote his but some thirty-five years before John wrote his account. The overwhelming evidence points to his having written it in Rome.
Mark’s account of Jesus’ earthly ministry, much shorter than the other three, makes up for its brevity by a fast-moving tempo. Briefly he touches on the ministry of John the Baptist, Jesus’ baptism and temptation in the wilderness, and by the fourteenth Mr 1 verse 14 of the first chapter he has the reader plunging into Jesus’ Galilean ministry, preaching the good news of the Kingdom, calling his disciples and performing miracles. After causing the high points of Jesus’ activity to pass in swift review he gives us the details of Jesus’ final public ministry, his arrest, trial, execution, burial and resurrection.
Of all the accounts of Jesus’ life Mark’s is the most graphic, the most vivid as well as the richest in interesting details. Clearly the one from whom Mark received his information was not only an eyewitness but also a very close observer. Who was this one? According to Papias, early second-century Christian, it was none other than the apostle Peter.
Peter’s being a man of action, intense, impulsive, would help explain why the account of Jesus’ life that he influenced emphasizes the miracles and actions of Jesus rather than his teachings. The main reason, however, for Mark’s employing the style he did undoubtedly was his desire to appeal to the Romans. This is borne out also by his use of Latin expressions and his repeated explanations of Aramaic terms such as “Boanerges” and “corban”.—Mark 3:17; 5:41; 7:11, 34; 12:42, NW.
Higher critics in their efforts to discredit the fourfold testimony regarding Jesus’ life have claimed that Mark merely abridged what Matthew and Luke wrote; some even claiming that there was but one original account and the others are variations of it. But, if Mark merely purposed to present a condensed version of Jesus’ ministry, why is it that he adds so many details that the others failed to mention? For instance, in telling about Jesus’ curing the man with the withered hand, Mark records not only that Jesus looked around at the Pharisees watching what Jesus would do, but that he did so “with indignation, being thoroughly grieved at the insensibility of their hearts”. (Mark 3:5, NW) And in reporting Jesus’ cleansing of the literal temple in Jerusalem, Mark alone informs us that Jesus “would not let anyone carry a utensil through the temple”. (Mark 11:16, NW) Mark’s (or Peter’s) own style is also apparent in a stronger wording of the rebukes Jesus administered to his own disciples. Compare Matthew 8:26 and Mt 16:8 with Mark 4:40 and Mr 8:17.
The Christian disciple Mark had many privileges of service. While, like Peter, he manifested weakness at one time, he recovered to become an effective and dependable servant of Jehovah God and assistant to the apostles Paul and Peter. His record of Jesus’ ministry, together with its special characteristics, gives added testimony to the fact that Jesus Christ indeed lived and that he was none other than the Son of God.