The book of Mark (Mark 1)

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Although the book does not name its author, tradition going back to the church father Papias (ca. 130) claims that John Mark wrote this Gospel on the basis of the reminiscences of the apostle Peter (Papias claims to have received this tradition from someone called “the elder”). See also The book of Matthew for reference to this church father. John Mark appears repeatedly in the New Testament and is associated with Paul (Colossians 4:10), Barnabas (Acts 15:39) and Peter (1 Peter 5:13).

Some church fathers (e.g. Irenaeus) asserted that Mark wrote after the death of Peter, which would place his Gospel at about A.D. 67. Clement of Alexandria, however, claimed that it was written while Peter was in Rome, which would place it any time after about A.D. 4. We know that Mark was associated with Peter late in Peter’s life (1 Peter 5:13), but that does not exclude the possibility of an earlier association between the two. A date between 50 and 70 is probable, and some point in the 60’s seems preferable.

Mark addressed his Gospel to Gentile Christians, perhaps to those facing increasingly trying conditions in Rome. Because Mark’s Gospel was written to a Gentile audience, he often explained Jewish customs or translated Aramaic for his readers (Mark 3:17, 7:2-4, 15:22), and only once did he quote directly from the Old Testament law.

The notorious fire of Rome in A.D. 64 – probably set by Nero himself but blamed on  Christians – resulted in  widespread persecution and martyrdom. Some interpreters, assuming a Roman audience for Mark’s Gospel and a historical setting during the time of Nero’s persecutions, believe that Mark was especially written to encourage Christians to persevere in the face of persecution (see e.g. 3:22, 8:34-38, 13:8-13). However, Mark’s general purpose appears to have been precisely what Papias claimed it was: to preserve Peter’s account of the life and teachings of Jesus.

As you read, attempt to enter vicariously into Mark’s vivid account of Jesus’ ministry. Note not only what Jesus said but also what He did and the emotional impact His words and actions had on others. Watch for revelations of Jesus’ humanity, as Mark revealed Him to be at the same time the Son of God and the Son of Man.

Did you know that a synagogue could be established in any town where there were at least ten married Jewish men (1:21)? Did you know that in addition to being labelled traitors, tax collectors were notorious for their dishonesty? They were banned from serving as witnesses or judges and were expelled from the synagogue (2:14). Did you know that Jesus spoke Aramaic but undoubtedly also understood Greek and read from the Scriptures in classical Hebrew(5:41)? Did you know that Jewish rabbis counted 613 individual statutes in the law and attempted to differentiate between “heavy” and “light” commands(12:28)? Did you know that during the Passover and the week-long Feast of Unleavened Bread, the population of Jerusalem increased from about 50,000 to several hundred thousand (14:2)? Did you know that death during crucifixion was due to heart failure (15:24)?


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