| Back to Home Page | Back to Book Index |


Introduction to the Book of Mark


I. Writer


The names of the authors of the book of gospels were all concealed. It was known from the materials of the early church history that the author of this book was Mark. Mark was his Latin name, and his Hebrew name was John (see Acts.12:12). It was said that his family was rather wealthy and had a spacious house, which was chosen as the place for the Feast of the Passover by the Lord with His disciples. Besides, after the ascension of the risen Lord, about a hundred and twenty disciples were gathered to pray in that house, and then the day of Pentecost accomplished (see Acts.1:12-15; 2:1). The house was generally called “the house of Mark”. It was also said that the garden of Gethsemane was also of Mark’s family. The Lord and His disciples could often go there to pray. That was why Judas knew the Lord surely went to that garden after the supper and led the soldiers of the council to go to take Jesus there. When Jesus was caught, the young man who left the linen cloth and fled from them naked might be Mark himself, for it had not been mentioned in other three gospels.

The life of Mark was greatly influenced by his mother Mary (see Acts.12:12), his brother in law Barnabas (see Col.4:10), the apostle Paul (see 2Tim.4:11) and the apostle Peter (see 1Pet.5:13). His mother loved the Lord so much that she devoted her house and garden to the Lord and then made it for the church to pray, thus causing the church in Jerusalem to grow steadily and even advancing the gospel to the whole world. We could say that the whole history of the Christianity started from the house of Mark.

Barnabas, the cousin of Mark, was a Levite, of Cyprus by birth (see Acts. 4:36). He might hear the gospel from Mark’s mother and then believed the Lord. During the great revival of Jerusalem, Barnabas sold his land and devoted the money to the church (see Acts.4:37). Later, he was sent by the church to Antioch to establish the believers there. And he brought Paul (the primitive name was Saul) who believed the Lord not long from Tarsus to Antioch to be fellow-workers in the ministration of the Lord (see Acts.11:22-26).

Later, the Holy Spirit sent Barnabas and Paul to preach the word of the Lord, and they had Mark also as attendant (see Acts.13:1-5). Unfortunately, it might be on account of the fact that Mark was born in a rich family and could not bear the hardships of journeying outside, he left them and went back to Jerusalem halfway (see Acts.13:13). Afterwards, for the sake of Mark, Paul and Barnabas could not be fellow-workers and they went their separate ways. Barnabas took Mark and left Paul (see Acts.15:36-41). Nevertheless, after a few years, Mark came back to Paul and served the Lord zealously. Paul asked the saints in Colosse to receive Mark in the epistle (see Col.4:10) and confessed that they were fellow-workers (see Philemon 24) and Mark was a good attendant who was serviceable to Paul for ministry (see 2Tim.4:11).

Mark also enjoyed a close relation with the apostle Peter. When Peter had been saved out of the prison by the angel, having become clearly conscious , he came to the house of Mary, the mother of John who was surnamed Mark (Acts. 12:12). The maid Rhoda in the family of Mark could recognize the voice of Peter even though she had not seen his face. It could be inferred that Peter was not a stranger to this family, but familiar with the family of Mark. Peter called Mark “the son” in his letters (1Pet.5:13). It was possible that Mark was saved by the leading of Peter, so Peter regarded him as his spiritual son. In addition, it could also be inferred from the report of the early history and the content of the gospel of Mark that Mark had ever followed Peter to learn to serve the Lord, and even the whole book of Mark was dictated by Peter. See the detailed information in the next point.


II. It was also Called “the Gospel of Peter”


Mark was not one of the twelve disciples who followed the Lord, but he described the Lord’s words and deeds so vividly and minutely that as seeing with his eyes. He recorded the details carefully, no matter a certain act or gesture of the Lord, or an unnoticeable place or period of time, e.g.: “in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight” (1:35); “sit down in groupssat down in ranks, in hundreds and in fifties” (6:39-40); “Immediately, when they saw Him, all the people were running to Him, greeted Him.” (9:15); “Then He took a little child and set him in the midst of them. And when He had taken him in His arms…” (9:36); “Jesus sat opposite the treasury” (12:41).

Were these records out of the imagination of Mark himself? By no means! All the records in this book were the oral account of the apostle Peter. Therefore, there were many Bible commentators who called the gospel of Mark “the gospel of Peter”.

According to the early church history, Mark had ever been called as the interpreter of Peter, so he recorded the gospel dictated by Peter in Greek, namely, this Book of Mark. Papias said: “Mark recorded what he remembered…”. Justin Martyr called this book as “the memoirs of Peter”. Irenaeus said: “after Peter and Paul had departed from this world, Mark recorded what Peter had uttered”. Origen said: “the gospel written by Mark was guided by Peter”.

Except for the collateral evidences, we can also conclude that this book is instructed by Peter according to many internal evidences from this book.

(1)      The name of Peter was mentioned in many places of this book, but was not mentioned in the same matter in other books of gospel. For example, “And Simon and those who were with Him searched for Him.” (1:36); “And Peter, remembering, said to Him, "Rabbi, look! The fig tree which You cursed has withered away."” (11:21); “Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked Him privately,” (13:3); “But go, tell His disciples--and Peter--that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you."” (16:7).

(2)      On the contrary, the particular good performance of Peter was purposefully hidden in this book. For instance, it neither mentioned the matter of Peter’s walking on the sea (cf. Mark 6:50-51 and Matt.14:28-31), nor recorded the matter of rock and the keys of the kingdom of the heavens (cf. Mark 8:29-30 and Matt. 16:17-19).

The purposeful mention and omission have both indicated that the book relates to Peter.

Apart from that, Peter was almost all on the spot concerning the facts recorded in this book ---- he had personally heard and seen what Mark had recorded. Therefore, we can see the shadow of Peter from everywhere of this book.


III. The Time and Location the Book was Written


It is generally acknowledged among the Bible scholars that the Book of Mark is firstly completed among the three “Synoptic Gospels” (namely, the Book of Matthew, the Book of Mark and the Book of John). And the other two books of them were adapted from the Book of Mark and added some other materials. Therefore, the time when this book was written had to be earlier than the Book of Matthew and the Book of Luke, during about 50AD to 60AD.

Concerning the location that the book was written, there were many different reports ---- some said it was written in Rome and some said it was written in the great city of Alexander in Egypt. However, according to the reliable reasoning, the book ought to be written to the Romans, so it was of great possibility that the book was written in Rome. The word “Babylon” in the 5th chapter of the first Book of Peter, verse 13, is the watchword of Rome.


IV. The Recipients


According to the content of this book, it was written to the Romans: 

(1)      In this book, it seldom quotes the scriptures of the Old Testament ---- about a half of the quotations in the Book of Matthew. Matthew quoted the scriptures of the Old Testament for 128 times, but Mark only 63 times.

(2)      This book seldom mentions the matters with the Jewish background. When it is unavoidable, the Book always gives the explanations. For example, “the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder” (3:17); "Talitha, cumi," which is translated, "Little girl, I say to you, arise (5:41).”; Corban"--' (that is, a gift to God) (7:11); on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they killed the Passover lamb, (14:12).

(3)      There are many Latin vocabularies in this book. For instance, “guardsman (6:27)”; “utensils (7:4)”; “tax (12:14)”; “farthing (12:42)”, “the centurion (15:38, 44, 45)” and etc.

(4)      The “fourth watch of the night (6:48; 13:35)” in this book was recorded according to the Roman timing method, not the “the third watch (see Luke 12:38)” in the customs of the Jews.

(5)      The book particularly mentioned “Simon, a Cyrenian, the father of Alexander and Rufus (15:21)”, for believers in Rome knew Rufus (see Rom. 16:13).


V. Special Points


The book has the special points as follows:

(1)  It is generally written according to the order of time.

(2)  Although this book is the shortest one in the four gospels, it provides more detailed facts than that in the other three books of gospel.

(3)  It skips over the birth of the Lord Jesus and the matters of His early years, but records the part of His public service, especially his service in the later period. Nearly a third of the book relates to the process of His suffering in the last week.

(4)  The Lord Jesus in this book appeared in the status of bondservant, so the description of His work emphasized the signs and miracles like healing the disease and casting off the devil and etc., but rarely referred to long sermons or parables, for it was suitable for a bondservant to say less word and do more works.

(5)  The book particularly shows that the Lord Jesus is the “bondservant”, so the wording is special. For example, immediately the Spirit “drives him out” into the wilderness (1:12 in the original). There were more than forth times of the words, such as “immediately”, “instantly”, thus indicating that He worked almost ceaselessly.

(6)  The Lord Jesus, the bondservant of God, in this book was extremely diligent and busy. He was always engaged in His works, no matter on the land or sea or in the wilderness, from morning to night. At even, when the sun did set, He was busy in healing the illness (1:32) until the midnight, and rose in the morning long before day (1:35). Thus, He had no time to rest, even could not eat bread (3:20; 6:31), even His relatives said, He was out of his mind (3:21).


VI. General Description


Jesus Christ is “the Son of God” (1:1,11; 3:11; 5:7; 9:7; 14:61 and etc.), so He has the power of doing the signs or miracles, such as healing the disease or casting off the devil, which made the people admire Him. Even when He had expired on the cross, the centurion could not help from saying, Truly this man was Son of God (15:39).

This Son of God was incarnated and took a bondman's form and did the perfect servant of God on the earth. He “moved with compassion” toward men’s pains (1:41), and “grieved at” men’s hardening of their heart (3:5), and had the feeling of “being amazed and oppressed (14:33)” so He relied on God by more “prayer (1:35; 6:46; 14:35)”. He devoted Himself unto “the will of God (8:33; 14:36)” and finally drank the “cup of bitterness” given by God on the cross (10:38; 14:36; 15:34).


VII. Its Relations with Other Books in the Bible


    The Gospel of Mark, like other three gospels, depicts Jesus Christ. However, the four books depict Him from different aspects: the Lord in the Book of Matthew is presented as the king, in Mark as the bondman, in Luke as the son of man and in John as the Son of God. The four living creatures in chapter four of the Revelation resemble the four aspects of the Lord in the four gospels. In Matthew the Lord is like a lion, in Mark a calf----firstly sowing and then being sacrificed as an offering on the alter, in Luke a man, and in John an eagle (see Ex. 19:4; Deut. 32:11).

    The Book of Matthew regards Jesus as the “Branch of righteousness to grow up to David” (Jer. 33:15), coming to be king on earth, so he was called the son of Abraham (the Father of nations) and the Son of David (the first king of Israel) (Matt. 1:1). A king must have his genealogy on account of his royal pedigree (Matt.1:1-17). The Book of Mark presents Jesus as “my servant the BRANCH” (Zech. 3:8), Jehovah’s “righteous servant” (Is. 53:11), “but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:7-8). A bondman’s birth is too insignificant to be recorded, so there is no mention of the genealogy of Jesus. The Book of Luke shows us that Jesus is the son of man (a perfect man), so it traces back to Adam (Luke 3:23-38), the patriarch of mankind. The Book of John refers to Jesus as the Son of God (the perfect God), who has neither beginning of days nor end of life. Therefore, John dates back to the beginning (John 1:1) ---- the eternity without beginning.

         Note that the Gospel of Matthew ends in the Lord’s resurrection, Mark in His ascension, Luke in the promise of the descent of the Holy Spirit and John in His second coming.


VIII. Key Verses 


         “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Mark. 10:45)


IX. Key Words


         Immediately” or “straightway” (1:10,18,20,21,29,30,31,42,43; 2:2,8,12; 3:6; 4:5,15,16,17,29; 5:2,13,29,30,36,42; 6:25,27,45,50,54; 7:35; 8:10; 9:15,20,24; 10:52; 11:2,3; 14:43,45; 15:1) (39 times)


X. Outlines of the Book


A.  The Preparation of the Bondservant:

1.  The preparation of the way of the bondservant (1:1-8);

2.  The baptism of the bondservant (1:9-11);

3.  The “being tried” of the bondservant (1:12-13);

B.  The Service of the Bondservant:

1.  The service in Galilee with the disciples (1:14-3:35);

2.   The service in Galilee that trained the disciples (4:1-7:23);

3.  The service in Galilee and the areas around it with the disciples (7:24-9:50);

4.  The service in borders of Judea and Berea (10:1-52);

5.  The service in Jerusalem (11:1-13:37);

C.  The Obedience of the Bondservant unto death:

1.  The preparation and typification of the suffering (14:1-42);

2.  Be taken up and judged and being denied (14:43-72);

3.  Be condemned and mocked (15:1-20);

4.  Be crucified on the cross (15:21-41);

5.  Be buried (15:42-47);

D.  The Resurrection and Ascension of the Bondservant:

1.  The resurrection and revelation (16:1-18);

2.  He was taken up into heaven and worked with the disciples (16:19-20).


── Caleb HuangChristian Digest Bible Commentary Series

   Translated by Mary Zhou