Background:

We don't know much about the history of the Gospel of Mark. Scholars believe Mark was written just before or just after the fall of Jerusalem (70 C. E.), 30+ years after Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection. A lot of other information we would like to know is lost to the mists of history:

  • the identity of the author,
  • the location of the writing, and 
  • the issues roiling church and culture that prompted the writer to remember these particular events in Jesus' life or that shaped how they were told.

Many have filled in the gaps with rank speculation and educated guesses. Maybe Mark was written in Syria. Maybe Rome. Maybe Mark is the author. Maybe Peter supplied the eyewitness account. Maybe.

People speculate as to whether Mark’s primitive Greek indicates that the author was uneducated or non-native speaker. Mark’s inferior Greek along with the fact that he provides the story line and theological scaffolding for Matthew and Luke have led scholars through the centuries to ignore Mark in favor of the other gospels. As a result Mark’s gospel has inspired far, far fewer commentaries. In fact, only in the past couple of centuries have scholars moved beyond mistakenly viewing Mark as a crude abridgement or (more correctly) a primitive first draft, improved on by others, to appreciate Mark’s unique vision of Jesus.

Considered as literature, the Gospel of Mark is an original in the ancient world. It tells the story of a great man, but it is more than a biography in that it is anything but objective and dispassionate. Mark writes with a mission: he wants to inspire people (Yes, you!) to respond to Jesus/ life and to follow in his way. Mark is an evangelist. He wrote a gospel.

Gregory Hays, a classics scholar at the University of Virginia, recently observed in a book review, "To read a translation is like looking at a photo of a sculpture. It shows the thing but not from every angle." For this reason, I encourage you to read several Biblical translations and paraphrases. The New Revised Standard, the New International Version, Eugene Peterson's The Message, or David Bently Hart's The New Testament (which communicates nuances from the Greek without attending to readability), each bring out some features of the original more clearly than others.

We modern Christians tend to read small bits of the Bible and focus on linguistic minutia, word studies and such. This has value, but I hope you read larger sections at a time. This can help you grasp how Mark’s themes flow from story to story. This, in turn, may also help you appreciate Mark’s genius and message.

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