Gems From Mark’s Gospel
JEHOVAH’S spirit inspired Mark to write an action-packed account of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry. Though this Gospel does not say that Mark was its writer, there is evidence of this in the works of Papias, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Origen, Eusebius, Jerome, and others whose writings span the first four centuries of our Common Era.
According to tradition, the apostle Peter provided the basic information for this Gospel. For example, Origen said that Mark wrote it “in accordance with Peter’s instructions.” But Mark apparently had access to other sources too, for the disciples met in his mother’s home. In fact, since Mark probably was the “young man” who eluded those arresting Jesus, he may have had personal contact with Christ.—Mark 14:51, 52; Acts 12:12.
Written for Whom?
Mark apparently wrote primarily with Gentile readers in mind. For instance, his concise style was suited to the Roman nature. He defined “corban” as “a gift dedicated to God” (7:11) and indicated that the temple could be seen from the Mount of Olives. (13:3) Mark also explained that the Pharisees “practiced fasting” and the Sadducees “say there is no resurrection.” (2:18; 12:18) Such comments would be unnecessary for Jewish readers.
Of course, reading Mark’s Gospel can benefit anyone. But what background features can help us to appreciate some of its gems?
God’s Son a Miracle Worker
Mark recounts miracles Christ performed by God’s power. For instance, on one occasion there was such a crowd in a house that in order for a paralytic to get healed, he had to be lowered near Jesus through an opening dug in the roof. (2:4) Because the house was crowded, the man may have been taken up a ladder or an outside staircase. But why the need to dig through the roof? Well, most roofs were flat and rested on beams running from wall to wall. Across the beams were rafters covered with branches, reeds, and the like. On top was a thick layer of earth coated with a plaster of clay or of clay and lime. Therefore, to get the paralytic into Jesus’ presence, men had to dig through the earthen roof. But what a blessing after they did so! Christ healed the man, and all those on hand glorified God. (2:1-12) What an assurance that Jehovah’s Son will perform marvelous cures in the new world!
Jesus performed one of his miracles aboard a boat when he hushed a windstorm on the Sea of Galilee after being awakened while asleep on “a pillow.” (4:35-41) The pillow apparently was not the soft kind now used as a headrest in bed. It may have been a mere fleece that oarsmen sat on or a bolster or cushion serving as a seat at the stern. At any rate, when Jesus told the sea, “Hush! Be quiet!” those present had evidence of faith in action, for “the wind abated, and a great calm set in.”
Ministry in the Decapolis
Crossing the Sea of Galilee, Jesus entered the Decapolis, or ten-city region. Though these cities undoubtedly had large Jewish populations, they were centers of Greek or Hellenistic culture. There, in the country of the Gerasenes, Jesus freed from demon possession a man who “had his haunt among the tombs.”—5:1-20.
At times, tombs hewed out of rock were haunts of the insane, criminal hideouts, or dwellings of the poor. (Compare Isaiah 22:16; 65:2-4.) According to a 19th-century work, a visitor to the area where Jesus encountered this demoniac said of such a home: “The tomb was about eight feet in height on the inside, as there was a descent of a steep step from the stone threshold to the floor. Its size was about twelve paces square; but, as no light was received into it except by the door, we could not see whether there was an inner chamber as in some of the others. A perfect sarcophagus still remained within, and this was now used by the family as a chest for corn and other provisions, so that this violated sepulcher of the dead had thus become a secure, a cool, and a convenient retreat to the living.”
Jesus and Tradition
On one occasion, the Pharisees and some scribes complained that Jesus’ disciples ate with unwashed hands. For the benefit of Gentile readers, Mark explained that the Pharisees and other Jews ‘did not eat unless they washed their hands up to the elbow.’ Upon returning from the market, they ate only after cleansing themselves by sprinkling, and their traditions included “baptisms of cups and pitchers and copper vessels.”—7:1-4.
Besides sanctimoniously sprinkling themselves before eating, these Jews baptized, or immersed in water, the cups, pitchers, and copper vessels they used at meals. How tradition-bound they were was illustrated by scholar John Lightfoot. Citing rabbinical works, he showed that much attention was given to such details as the amount of water, the manner, and the time satisfactory for washing. Lightfoot quoted a source indicating that certain Jews washed carefully before meals so as to avoid injury by Shibta, “an evil spirit which sits upon men’s hands in the night: and if any touch his food with unwashen hands, that spirit sits upon that food, and there is danger from it.” No wonder Jesus condemned the scribes and Pharisees for ‘letting go the commandment of God while holding fast the tradition of men’!—7:5-8.
Jesus’ Final Public Ministry
After reporting on Jesus’ later ministry in Galilee and His work in Perea, Mark focused attention on events in and around Jerusalem. For instance, he told about an occasion when Christ was observing people drop money into the temple treasury chests. Jesus saw that a poor widow contributed only ‘two small coins of very little value.’ Yet, he said that she gave more than all the others, for they contributed out of their surplus, whereas ‘out of her want, she dropped in her whole living.’ (12:41-44) According to the Greek text, she contributed two lepta. The lepton was the smallest Jewish copper or bronze coin, and its monetary value is practically negligible today. But this poor woman did what she could, furnishing a fine example of unselfishness in supporting true worship.—2 Corinthians 9:6, 7.
As Jesus’ ministry drew to a close, he was questioned by Pontius Pilate, whose name and the title “prefect” appear on an inscription found at Caesarea in 1961. In outlying provinces like Judea, a governor (prefect) had military control, was responsible for financial administration, and served as a trial judge. Pilate had authority to release Christ, but he yielded to Jesus’ foes and sought to satisfy the crowd by handing him over for impalement and freeing the seditious murderer Barabbas.—15:1-15.
There are various traditions regarding Pilate’s later life and death. For instance, the historian Eusebius wrote: “Pilate himself, the governor of our Saviour’s day, was involved in such calamities that he was forced to become his own executioner and to punish himself with his own hand: divine justice, it seems, was not slow to overtake him.” Regardless of such a possibility, however, the death of utmost import was that of Jesus. The Roman army officer (centurion) who witnessed Christ’s death and the extraordinary events surrounding it spoke truth indeed when he said: “Certainly this man was God’s Son.”—15:33-39.
[Picture Credit Line on page 30]
Pictorial Archive (Near Eastern History) Est.
[Picture Credit Line on page 31]
Israel Department of Antiquities and Museums; photograph from Israel Museum, Jerusalem