Introducing the New Testament, 2nd Edition

A Historical, Literary, and Theological Survey


7. Mark

Video Introduction


This chapter offers a brief overview of the contents of Mark’s Gospel, followed by discussion of historical background, distinctive features, and major themes.

In terms of historical background, most scholars believe that Mark was the first Gospel written and that it was produced shortly before or after 70 CE by a Christian who wrote for a community of largely gentile believers. Church tradition has identified the author with John Mark, a companion of Peter in Rome, but this identification is disputed and cannot be confirmed.

Only a small amount of the material in Mark’s Gospel is unparalleled—most of the stories told here are also found in Matthew and/or Luke. Still, Mark’s Gospel is noted for its sense of urgency, its colloquial style, its use of intercalation, and its abrupt ending (which led Christians in earlier times to compose what they thought were more suitable endings for the book).

Mark’s Gospel is usually thought to emphasize the humanity of Jesus in a more evident way than the other Gospels. The crucifixion of Jesus is particularly central to the plot of Mark’s story and to the theology of the Gospel’s author. Mark’s Gospel also displays a somewhat curious “secrecy” theme, by which the identity of Jesus is intentionally shrouded in mystery. As for the message of Jesus, Mark’s Gospel emphasizes above all Jesus’s proclamation of the kingdom of God as both a present, in-breaking reality and a future, imminent hope. Finally, Mark’s Gospel portrays Jesus’s disciples as cowards and fools who repeatedly disappoint him and ultimately fail him.

Study Questions

  1. Who was John Mark, and why has church tradition associated the Gospel of Mark with him—and with Peter? What points do scholars offer for and against acceptance of those associations?

  2. List three features of Mark’s Gospel that make it distinctive in terms of literary style.

  3. What is distinctive about the ending of Mark’s Gospel. and what two theories do scholars propose to explain why the Gospel ends as it does?

  4. Compare Mark’s emphasis on the death of Jesus to the significance accorded Jesus’s death in the letters of Paul and in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. How might Mark be said to occupy an “intermediate position” between Paul and the other Gospel writers?

  5. What is the “messianic secret” theme? How have scholars accounted for this motif in the past and what explanations for the theme would remain in favor today?

  6. Cite two implications of Mark’s claim that the kingdom of God is a present reality as well as a future one.

  7. Summarize Mark’s treatment of the disciples. What explanations have scholars offered for why the disciples are portrayed in this way?

Explore Readings

These readings provide a chance for you to explore the New Testament in more depth. The boxes from the text are included here, as well as bibliographies and outlines for the books of the New Testament.

All the Explore readings can also be downloaded as PDFs here.

Video: Exorcism in Mark

Video: Ransom and Atonement in Mark

Video: Minor Characters in Mark