Gospel According to Mark: Analysis, Commentary, Background, History
The Gospel According to Mark is anonymous, undated, and has no direct information about the historical, social, or political context in which it was written. Because specific and direct information about where this gospel comes from is absent, scholars have had to act like detectives in order to figure out what, if anything, might be said about it with some authority.
The text of the Gospel According to Mark does not specifically identify anyone as the author. Not even 'Mark' is identified as the author - in theory, 'Mark' could have simply related a series of events and stories to someone else who collected them, edited them, and set them down in the gospel form. It wasn't until the second century that the title 'According to Mark' or 'The Gospel According to Mark' was affixed to this document.
Because of the reference to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE (Mark 13:2), most scholars believe that Mark was written some time during the war between Rome and the Jews (66-74). Most early dates fall around 65 CE and most late dates fall around 75 CE.
For whom was Mark writing? It is easier to make sense of the text if we read it in light of what the author intended, and that in turn would be heavily influenced by the audience he wrote for. Mark likely wrote for one specific Christian community, the one he was part of. He certainly cant be read as if he were addressing all of Christendom down through the ages, centuries after his own life ended.
Throughout the gospels, but especially in the gospel of Mark, we have regular examples of Jesus admonishing both people and demons not to reveal to others who he truly was. This has puzzled many scholars and given rise to a number of explanations, including the idea that even Jesus was unaware of his full identity.
Most scholars treat the gospels as their own independent literary genre which ultimately derives from the work of the author of Mark - a combination of biography, aretology, and hagiography among other things. Some, though, argue there is much more going on than is initially understood, and one recent line of research has involved tracing much in Mark to the influence of the Greek epics of Homer.
The oldest manuscripts of Mark end with verse 8 of chapter 16. This is a very abrupt ending; in fact in Greek it ends almost ungrammatically on a conjunction. The rest of the chapter that typically appears today contains language and symbolism which strongly suggest that they were taken from other, later sources; thus, validity of the rest of Mark is the subject of much speculation and debate.
Unlike the other synoptic gospels, Mark does not open with Jesus birth or childhood. The Jesus we find in chapter 1 of Marks gospel is already an adult and is already capable of powerful actions: healing, exorcisms, etc. Jesus fame also begins to spread, despite his requests that people remain quiet about him and his activities.
Unlike the other synoptic gospels, Mark does not open with Jesus birth or childhood. The Jesus we find in chapter 1 of Marks gospel is already an adult and is already capable of powerful actions: healing, exorcisms, etc. Jesus fame also begins to spread, despite his requests that people remain quiet about him and his activities.
This is the first appearance of Jesus in the earliest gospel account - full-grown and ready to begin his ministry. We have nothing here about Jesus conception, birth, or childhood - all very popular stories which play important roles in Matthew and Luke. If these were known events, why did Mark skip them?
Only now does Jesus ministry begin. The story of John the Baptist has been framed by references to the gospel - first with the introductory line that this text presents the gospel and now here again where Jesus actually begins to preach the gospel. This framing pattern, also called a chiastic device, is used frequently by Mark because it allows him to use both the internal passages and the framing passages to explain and interpret each other.
Capernaum is a city in Galilee often referenced in the gospels. Jesus is described as having spent enough time in and around Capernaum that it came to be known as Jesus own city. There are verses referring to Jesus healing and teaching here in all four gospels. Despite all of this, however, Jesus is also depicted in Matthew and Luke as having felt rejected by the towns inhabitants and cursing them.
Simon Peters mother-in-law is the first person to be healed of something other than possession by an unclean spirit. She has a fever which Jesus takes away; later he would also heal the lame, blind, and deaf, demonstrating increasing power over physical ailments.
Here we have a specific illness that Jesus heals, one which has caused fear and loathing for centuries: leprosy. Then again, it might have been some other skin disease that was mistaken for leprosy - or perhaps many skin diseases at the time were all categorized as leprosy.
In chapter 2 of Mark's gospel, Jesus is involved with a series of controversies that are arranged thematically. Jesus disputes various aspects of the law with opposing Pharisees and is depicted as besting them on every point. This is supposed to demonstrate the superiority of Jesus' new approach to understanding God over that of traditional Judaism.
Once again Jesus is back in Capernaum - possibly in the house of Peter's mother-in-law, although the actual identity of 'the house" is uncertain. Naturally, he is swamped by a mob of people either hoping that he will continue healing the sick or expecting to hear him preach. Christian tradition might focus on the latter, but at this stage the text suggests that his fame is due more to his ability to work wonders than to hold crowds through oration.
If God is the only one with authority to forgive people's sins, then Jesus assumes a great deal in forgiving the sins of a man who came to him to have his palsy healed. Naturally, there are a few who wonder about this and question whether Jesus should do it.
Jesus is depicted here preaching again and there are many people listening. It isn't explained whether this crowd also gathered in order for him to heal people or whether by this point the large crowds are attracted by his preaching alone. It also isn't explained what a 'multitude' is - the numbers are left to the imagination of the audience.
Even as Jesus is portrayed as fulfilling prophecies, he is also portrayed as upsetting religious customs and traditions. This would have been consistent with the Jewish understanding of prophets: people called by God to return Jews to the "true religion" that God wanted of them, a task that included challenging social conventions...
Among the ways Jesus challenged or defied religious tradition, his failure to observe the Sabbath in the manner expected seems to have been one of the most serious. Other incidents, like not fasting or eating with disreputable people, raised some eyebrows but didn't necessarily amount to a sin. Keeping the Sabbath holy was, however, commanded by God - and if Jesus failed to that, then his claims about himself and his mission could be questioned.
In the third chapter of Marks gospel, Jesus conflicts with the Pharisees continue as he heals people and violates religious rules. He also calls his twelve apostles and gives them specific authority to heal people and drive out demons. We also learn something of what Jesus thinks about families.
Jesus' violations of Sabbath laws continue in this story of how he healed a man's hand in a synagogue. Why was Jesus in this synagogue on this day - to preach, to heal, or just as an average person attending worship services? There's no way to tell. He does, however, defend his actions on the Sabbath in a manner similar to his earlier argument: the Sabbath exists for humanity, not vice-versa, and so when human needs become critical, it is acceptable to violate traditional Sabbath laws.
Jesus moves on to the sea of Galilee where people from all over come to hear him speak and/or be healed (that isn't explained). So many show up that Jesus needs a ship waiting for a quick getaway, just in case the crowd overwhelms them. References to the growing crowds that seek out Jesus are designed to point to both his great power in deed (healing) as well as his power in word (as a charismatic speaker).
At this point Jesus officially gathers together his apostles, at least according to the biblical texts. Stories indicate that many people followed Jesus around, but these are the only ones whom Jesus is recorded as specifically designating as being special. The fact that he picks twelve, rather than ten or fifteen, is a reference to the twelve tribes of Israel.
Here again Jesus is portrayed as preaching and, perhaps, healing. His exact activities are not made explicit, but it's clear that Jesus just keeps getting more and more popular. What isn't as clear is the source of popularity. Healing would be a natural source, but Jesus doesn't heal everyone. An entertaining preacher is still popular today, but so far Jesus' message has been depicted as very simple - hardly the sort of thing that would get a crowd going.
In these verses we encounter Jesus' mother and his brothers. This is a curious inclusion because most Christians today take the perpetual virginity of Mary as a given, which means that Jesus would not have had any siblings at all. His mother isn't named as Mary at this point, which is also interesting. What does Jesus do when she comes to talk to him? He rejects her!
Jesus use of parables expands greatly in this chapter. In fact, Jesus even explains why he uses parables so much: parables are difficult to understand and by using parables, he can ensure that not too many people will understand what he is talking about. Why would he want to keep his intentions and teachings secret, though?
Jesus' popularity has continued to grow. By this point, the crowds that gather to hear him speak are so large that he has to get into a boat on the water to address them. Jesus would have been considered a very good public speaker for his time in order to keep drawing such large groups to hear him, regardless of the actual content of his presentations.
It is no surprise that Jesus' apostles didn't understand what he was talking about when he delivered his parable about the seeds and the sower. It appears to be metaphorical, so the meaning isn't immediately obvious or intuitive to everyone hearing it. Naturally, they ask him about it.
Finally, Jesus explains to his inner circle of twelve apostles what the parable of the seeds means. This 'true' meaning is supposed to remain hidden from everyone else, but the reason for this is not explained. Readers should wonder about this because there is nothing obvious about why the true meaning should be limited to just a few - especially in light of the fact that, when all is said and done, this isn't an earth-shattering message.
Having explained the parable of the sower of seeds to his apostles, Jesus launches into several more parables. The timeline of events here is confusing because we were just reading about Jesus talking alone to his apostles, but he is now teaching parables to them - or have we shifted back to an earlier time when he was speaking to the crowd? And why are the explanations of the parables set right alongside the parables themselves?
During the trip across the Sea of Galilee, a large storm comes up - so large that the boat threatens to sink after so much water has entered it. How Jesus manages to stay asleep though this is unknown, but traditional commentaries on the passage say that he slept deliberately in order to test the faith of the apostles. If that is the case, then they failed, because they were so scared that they woke Jesus up to find out whether he cared if they all drowned.
In chapter 5 of Mark's gospel, Jesus continues to demonstrate his powers: he exorcises a 'legion' of demons, he heals a woman who merely touches his cloak, and he even raises a girl from the dead. Throughout this chapter the examples of Jesus' powers increase in drama and strength.
When we last left Jesus, he displayed his power and authority over nature by calming a storm that came over the Sea of Galilee. He has also, in numerous instances, exercised power and authority over people by healing their illnesses and forgiving their sins. Now Jesus returns to a theme not seen since chapter 1: casting out unclean spirits in an exorcism.
Because this event occurs in 'country of the Gadarenes,' which means near the city of Gadara, we are probably dealing with a herd of domestic swine owned by Gentiles because Gadara was a part of the hellenized, Gentile cities of the Decapolis. Thus, Jesus caused the death of a large number of pigs that were someone else's property.
The first verses introduce the story of Jarius' daughter (discussed elsewhere), but before it can finish it is interrupted by another story about a sick woman who heals herself by grabbing Jesus' garment. Both stories are about Jesus' power to heal the sick, one of the most common themes in the gospels generally and Mark's gospel specifically. This is also one of many examples of Mark's 'sandwiching' two stories together.
Before Jesus unknowingly healed the woman who had been suffering for twelve years, he had been on his way to attend to the daughter of Jarius, a ruler of a local synagogue. Every synagogue at the time was managed by a council of elders which was in turn presided over by at least one president. Jarius would thus have been an important man in the community.
In the sixth chapter of Marks gospel, Jesus continues his ministry, his healing, and his preaching. Now, though, Jesus also sends out his apostles to try to do the same things on their own. Jesus also visits his family where he receives something less than a warm welcome.
Here Jesus returns to his home - perhaps his home village, or perhaps it merely signals a return to Galilee from more Gentile areas, but it isn't clear. It also isn't clear whether he went home very often, but the welcome he receives this time suggests he didn't. He preaches once again in the synagogue, and just as when he preached in Capernaum in chapter 1, people are astonished.
Thus far, Jesus' twelve apostles have been following him from place to place, witnessing the miracles he performed and learning about his teachings. This included not only the teachings he has made openly to the crowds, but also secret teachings delivered only to them as we saw in chapter 4 of Mark. Now, however, Jesus is telling them that they will have to go out to teach on their own and work their own miracles.
When we last saw John the Baptist back in chapter 1, he was on a religious mission similar to that of Jesus: baptizing people, forgiving their sins, and exhorting them to have faith in God. In Mark 1:14 we learned that John was put in prison, but not informed by whom or for what reason. Now, we learn the rest of the story (though not one that is consistent with the account in Josephus).
The story of how Jesus fed five thousand men (were there no women or children there, or did they just not get anything to eat?) with just five loaves of bread and two fishes has always been one of the most popular gospel tales. It is certainly an engaging and visual tale - and the traditional interpretation of people seeking "spiritual" food also receiving sufficient material food is naturally appealing to ministers and preachers.
Here we have another popular and visual story of Jesus, this time with him walking on water. It is common for artists to portray Jesus on the water, stilling the storm as he did in chapter 4. The combination of Jesus' calmness in the face of the power of nature along with his working another miracle that amazes his disciples has long been appealing to believers.
Eventually Jesus and his disciples make it across the Sea of Galilee and arrive at Gennesaret, a town believed to have been located on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Once there, however, they don't escape being recognized. Although we have seen before that Jesus isn't very well known among those in power, he is very popular among the poor and sick. Everyone sees in him a miraculous healer, and everyone who is sick is brought to him so that they can be healed.
Jesus conflicts with Jewish religious tradition continue in the seventh chapter of Marks gospel. Of particular importance is his revaluation of what does and does not defile a person: what a person eats doesnt matter so much as what a person thinks or feels.
We have seen before that Jesus is willing to overturn traditions if current needs seem more important. In chapter 2, he and his disciples refused to fast when others might and they gathered food on the Sabbath. Here that same tendency is displayed again: his disciples fail to wash their hands before eating and Jesus doesn't do anything about it.
Previously, we read about Jesus allowing his disciples to ignore a tradition of ritually washing their hands before eating despite the complaints of the Pharisees. At the time, Jesus responded to the complaints by arguing first that the Pharisees were hypocrites for worshipping Jesus in words but not in their hearts and second that at least some of the Pharisees made a habit of placing human traditions over God's laws.
Jesus' fame is spreading beyond the Jewish population and on to outsiders -- even beyond the borders of Galilee. Tyre and Sidon were located to the north of Galilee (in what was then the Province of Syria) and were two of the most important cities of the ancient Phoenecian empire. This was not a Jewish area, so why did Jesus travel here?
We find that Jesus has left one Gentile area for another, traveling from Tyre and Sidon in the Province of Syria down south through the region dominated by the ten hellenized cities known as the Decapolis. Located primarily along the eastern edge of the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan river, these cities appear to have been populated by a large and educated audience - was Jesus trying to reach them?
The eighth chapter is the center of Marks gospel and here a couple important events occur: Peter confesses Jesus true nature as the Messiah and Jesus predicts that he will have to suffer and die but will rise again. From this point on everything leads directly to Jesus eventual passion and resurrection.
At the end of chapter 6, we saw Jesus feeding five thousand men (just men, not women and children) with five loaves and the two fishes. Here Jesus feeds four thousand people (women and children get to eat this time) with seven loaves.
In this famous passage, Jesus refuses to provide a 'sign' to the Pharisees who are 'tempting' him. Christians today use this in one of two ways: to argue that the Jews were abandoned because of their unbelief and as a rationale for their failure to produce 'signs' themselves (like casting out demons and healing the blind). The question is, however, just what is meant by 'signs' in the first place?
Throughout the gospels the primary opponents of Jesus have been the Pharisees. They keep challenging him and he keeps rejecting their authority. Here, Jesus contrasts himself with the Pharisees in an explicit manner not usually seen - and he does so with the now-common symbol of bread. In fact, the repeated use of 'bread' should by this point alert us to the fact that the previous stories were never about bread at all.
Here we have yet another man being healed, this time of blindness. Alongside another giving-of-sight story that appears in chapter 8, this frames a series of passages where Jesus gives 'insight' to this disciples about his coming passion, death, and resurrection. Readers must remember that the stories in Mark are not arranged haphazardly; they are instead carefully constructed to fulfill both narrative and theological purposes.
In the previous verses Jesus is depicted as helping a blind man to see again - not all at once, but gradually so that the man first perceives other people in a distorted manner ('as trees') and then, finally, as they truly are. That passage is commonly read as an allegory for people's spiritual awakening and growing to understand who Jesus really is, an issue thought to be made explicit here.
In the previous passage Jesus acknowledges that he is the Messiah, but here we find that Jesus refers to himself again as 'Son of man.' If he wanted news of his being Messiah to remain just among them, it would make sense if he used that title when out and about. Here, however, he is alone among his disciples. If he really acknowledges that he is the Messiah and his disciples already know about it, why continue to use a different title?
After Jesus' first prediction of his passion, he describes the sort of life he expects his followers to lead in his absence - although at this point he is speaking to many more people than his twelve disciples, so it is unlikely that most of the listeners could be aware of what he means by the phrase 'come after me.'
The ninth chapter of Mark starts out with one of the most important pre-passion events: Jesus' transfiguration, which reveals something about his true nature to a select inner group of apostles. After this, Jesus continues to work miracles but includes further predictions about his coming death as well as warnings about the dangers inherent in giving in to temptations to sin.
Jesus appears here with two figures: Moses, representing Jewish law and Elijah, representing Jewish prophecy. Moses is important because he was the figure believed to have given the Jews their basic laws and to have written the five books of the Torah - the basis of Judaism itself. Connecting Jesus to Moses thus connects Jesus to the very origins of Judaism, establishing a divinely authorized continuity between the ancient laws and Jesus' teachings.
As Jesus returns from the mountaintop with the three apostles, the connection between Jews and Elijah is made more explicit. It is interesting that this is the relationship focused upon most of all and not the relationship with Moses, even though both Moses and Elijah appeared on the mountain with Jesus. It is also interesting that Jesus refers to himself here as 'Son of man' again - twice, in fact.
In this interesting scene, Jesus manages to arrive just in the nick of time to save the day. Apparently while he was on the mountaintop with the apostles Peter, and James, and John, other disciples of his remained behind to deal with the crowds come to see Jesus and benefit from his abilities. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like they were doing a good job.
Once again Jesus is traveling through Galilee - but unlike his previous travels, this time he takes precautions to avoid being noticed by passing 'through Galilee' without also passing through various cities and villages. Traditionally this chapter is seen as the beginning of Jesus' final trip to Jerusalem where he would be killed, so this second prediction of his death takes on added importance.
Some theologians have argued that one of the of the reasons why Jesus did not make things plainer to his disciples in the past can be found here in their prideful concern over who would be 'first' and 'last.' Basically, they couldn't be trusted to put the needs of others and the will of God before their own egos and their own desire for power.
According to Jesus, no one qualifies as an 'outsider' so long as they sincerely act in his name; and if they are successful when it comes to performing miracles, they you can trust both their sincerity and their connection to Jesus. This sounds a lot like an attempt to break down the barriers that divide people, but immediately thereafter Jesus builds them up higher by declaring that anyone who is not against him must be for him.
We find here a series of warnings of what awaits those foolish enough to give in to temptations to sin. Scholars have argued that all of these sayings were actually stated at different times and in different contexts where they would have made sense. Here, however, we have them all drawn together on the basis of thematic similarity.
In the tenth chapter of Mark's gospel, Jesus appears to be focusing on the issue of powerlessness. In the stories about children, the need to abandon material wealth, and in his response to the request of James and John, Jesus emphasizes that the only way to properly follow Jesus and get to heaven is to be receptive to powerlessness rather than seeking personal power or gain.
As is usually the case wherever Jesus goes, he is accosted by large crowds of people - it's not clear if they are there to hear him teach, to watch him perform miracles, or both. As far as we know, though, all he does is teach. This, in turn, brings out the Pharisees who are looking for ways to challenge Jesus and undermine his popularity with the people. Perhaps this confrontation is supposed to help explain why Jesus stayed away from the Judean population centers for so long.
Modern imagery of Jesus commonly has him sitting with children and this particular scene, repeated in both Matthew and Luke, is a primary reason why. Many Christians feel that Jesus has a special relationship with children because of their innocence and their willingness to trust.
This scene with Jesus and a rich young man is probably the most famous biblical passage that tends to be ignored by modern Christians. If this passage were actually heeded today, it is likely that Christianity and Christians would be very different. It is, however, an inconvenient teaching and so tends to be glossed over entirely.
After hearing that it is impossible for rich people to get into heaven, Jesus' disciples were frankly astonished - and with good reason. Rich people have always been important patrons of religion, making great shows of their piety and supporting all sorts of religious causes. Prosperity has also traditionally been treated as a sign of God's favor. If the rich and powerful could not get into heaven, then how can anyone else manage it?
With all of these predictions of death and suffering that would occur at the hands of political and religious leaders in Jerusalem, it's interesting that no one makes much of an effort to get away - or even to convince Jesus to try and find another path. Instead, they all just keep following along as if everything would turn out alright.
Jesus uses this occasion to repeat his earlier lesson about how a person who wants to be "great" in the kingdom of God must learn to be the 'least' here on earth, serving all others and putting them ahead of one's own needs and desires. Not only are James and John rebuked for seeking their own glory, but the rest are rebuked for being jealous of this.
I wonder why, at the beginning, people tried to stop the blind man from calling out to Jesus. I'm sure that he must have had quite a reputation as a healer by this point - enough of one that the blind man himself was obviously well aware of who he was and what he might be able to do. If that is the case, then why would people try to stop him? Could it have anything to do with him being in Judea - is it possible that the people here are not happy about Jesus?
In the eleventh chapter of Mark's gospel, Jesus finally enters Jerusalem - the goal of his recent travels and the end stage of his entire ministry. Jesus' time is marked by conflict, prophecy, and curses and Jesus assumes the authority to tell everyone that the time for traditional Judaism is coming to a close.
After much traveling, Jesus arrives at Jerusalem. Mark structures the Jerusalem narrative carefully, giving Jesus three days before the passion events and three days before his crucifixion and burial. The entire time is filled with parables about his mission and symbolic actions referring to his identity.
One of the more infamous passages in the gospels involves Jesus cursing of a fig tree for not having any fruit for him despite the fact that it wasnt even the season for fruit. What sort of petulant individual would deliver a gratuitous, arbitrary curse? Why would this be Jesus only miracle in the environs of Jerusalem? In reality the incident is meant as a metaphor for something larger and worse.
After cursing the fig tree, Jesus and his disciples reenter Jerusalem and proceed to the Temple where moneychangers and those selling sacrificial animals are doing a lively business. Mark reports that this infuriates Jesus who overturns the tables and chastises them. This is the most violent we have seen Jesus yet and is quite uncharacteristic of him thus far but then again, so was cursing the fig tree, and as we know the two events are closely linked.
Jesus explains the power and importance of faith - it is faith in God that gave him the power to curse the fig tree and make it wither overnight and similar faith on the disciples' part will give them the power to work other wonders. They may even be able to move mountains, though that is arguably a bit of hyperbole on his part.
After Jesus explains to his disciples the meaning behind his cursing of the fig tree and cleansing of the Temple, the entire group returns yet again to Jerusalem (this is his third entry now) where they are met at the Temple by the highest authorities there. By this point they have gotten tired of his shenanigans and have decided to confront him and challenge the basis on which he has been saying and doing so many subversive things.
Jesus' time in Jerusalem is short, but in the twelfth chapter of Mark's gospel he has time to deliver a few lessons. Jesus tells a parable which appears designed to condemn the Temple authorities and predict an end to the Jews' place as God's chosen people, explains what the greatest commandment is, and explains the importance of sacrificing for God.
Jesus' parable of the wicked husbandmen is one of his most important, and for good reason it occupies the central position of Jesus' Jerusalem ministry. This parable is brimming with allegorical elements to a large number of Old Testament passages, all of which would have been meaningful to early Christian-Jewish audiences but probably meaningless to Gentiles who read or listened.
In the previous chapter Jesus bested his opponents by forcing them to pick one of two unacceptable options; here they attempt to return the favor by asking Jesus to take sides on a controversy over whether to pay taxes to Rome. Whatever his answer, he would get in trouble with someone.
In the previous passage, Temple authorities sent Pharisees and Herodians to trap Jesus into saying something that would get him into trouble. They failed, evidently teaching the authorities that if you want something done right you have to do it yourself. Now several Sadducees meet with Jesus in order to pose a new challenge to him.
Throughout Jesus' time in Jerusalem thus far, his experiences have been characterized by conflict: he is challenged or questioned in a hostile manner by Temple authorities and he responds harshly. Now, however, we have a situation where Jesus is questioned in a far more neutral manner. The contrast between the earlier incidents and this one makes the relatively neutral question appear almost sympathetic.
Jesus lectures people on the nature and identity of the Messiah. Mark's audience, of course, thought of Jesus as the Messiah, so they would have seen more levels of meaning to this. Traditionally Jews believed that the Messiah had to be a son of David - someone born from the lineage of David's family. Jesus, however, appears to be arguing that this makes no sense because the scriptures describe David as referring to the Messiah as 'Lord' rather than 'son.'
In the other two synoptic gospels, Jesus is recorded as delivering a long litany of corruptions and misdeeds committed by the Temple scribes. Here, however, we only hear about a few of the awful things they do. This reinforces Jesus' opposition to Temple authorities while also placing him firmly in the tradition of earlier Jewish prophets.
The purpose of the passage appears to be to explain what 'true' discipleship for Jesus was: being willing to give everything you have, even your livelihood, for the sake of God. Those who merely contribute from their own surplus aren't sacrificing anything, and therefore their contributions will not be considered much (or at all) by God. Which of the two do you suppose is most descriptive of the average Christian in America or the West generally today?
In the thirteenth chapter of Mark's gospel, Jesus is depicted as providing his followers with an extended prediction of a coming apocalypse. This Marcan Apocalypse is complicated by the presence of a fundamental tension in the narrative: even while exhorting his followers to be aware of the coming events, he also tells them not to get too excited over possible signs of the End Times.
Jesus' prediction of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem is one of the most important features in Mark's gospel. Scholars have been sharply divided on how to deal with it: was it a genuine prediction, demonstrating Jesus' power, or is it evidence that Mark was written after the Temple was destroyed in 70 CE?
This, the first section of Jesus' apocalyptic prediction, likely consists of events that were ongoing issues for Mark's community: deception, false prophets, persecution, betrayals, and death. The words Mark attributes to Jesus would have served to reassure listeners that however awful these experiences, Jesus knew all about them and they were necessary for the fulfillment of God's will.
After warning four of his disciples about the coming troubles that would afflict the world, Jesus now turns to the troubles that would soon afflict them personally. Although the narrative portrays Jesus warning just these four followers, Mark intended his audience to regard themselves as also being addressed by Jesus and for his warnings to resonate with their own experiences.
Up until this point, Jesus has been advising caution to the four disciples -- and by extension, that's what Mark has been advising to his own audience. As bad as things may seem to be, don't panic because it's all necessary and not an indication that the End is close. Now, however, a sign that the End is about to arrive is given and people are advised to panic.
The one section of Jesus' predictions in chapter 13 which definitely doesn't reflect recent events for Mark's community is the description of his "Second Coming," where he takes part in the apocalypse. The signs of his arrival are unlike anything that has come before, ensuring that his followers won't mistake what is going on.
Although the majority of chapter 13 has been directed at reducing people's anxiety towards the coming apocalypse, now Jesus is advising a more watchful stance. Perhaps people shouldn't be afraid, but they should definitely be vigilant and careful.
In the fourteenth chapter of Marks gospel, Jesus passion is set up by having people plot against and betray him, then having him arrested and brought before a council where he is to be judged. All of this is in preparation for the final events that are to occur in the next chapter.
These opening verses of chapter 14 describe the plot brewing against Jesus, but more important for Christian theology is their description of the timing of events. When, exactly, did Jesus' crucifixion occur relative to Passover?
Jesus being anointed with oil by an unnamed woman is one of the more interesting passages during Mark's passion narrative. Why does she choose to do it? What do Jesus' comments say about his ultimate feelings about the poor and destitute?
In contrast with the great faith of the woman in the previous verses who wasted expensive oil in anointing Jesus, Mark presents us with Judas Iscariot, the villain of Jesus' passion narrative. Every story needs a villain and Judas fills this role well, although it's unclear whether he should be condemned for this because he was, after all, simply carrying out the tasks God needed.
Was Jesus' final meal with his disciples also a Passover meal? That's been the general assumption by Christian theologians and there are some signs that this is the case. There are, however, also signs that it's not the case - the text is unclear on this point.
As was noted earlier, Judas' betrayal of Jesus was a necessary feature in the passion narrative - there was simply no way for him to act in any other manner. It is no surprise, then, that Jesus would be fully aware of it and not the least bit upset.
It is not without good reason that Jesus' 'last supper' with his disciples has been made the subject of so many artistic projects over the centuries: here, at one of the last gatherings attended by all, Jesus delivers instructions not on how to enjoy the meal, but how to remember him once he is gone. Much is communicated in just four verses.
Bracketing the important scenes of the Last Supper are two passages where Jesus foretells of his disciples betraying him. The first involves the 'worse' of the disciples: Judas, who would betray Jesus for his execution. The above passage, the second, involves the rest of the disciples, including Peter, who would deny his connection to Jesus out of shame or embarrassment and despite the profound meal of union which they had just shared.
The story of Jesus' doubt and anguish at Gethsemane (literally 'oil press,' a small garden outside the eastern wall of Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives) has long been thought one of the more provocative passages in the gospels. This passage launches the "passion" of Jesus: the period of his suffering up to and including the crucifixion.
With his betrayal and arrest, Jesus' active ministry is over. Jesus' passion technically began with the mental anguish he experienced in Gethsemane, but the physical torture he is about to experience at the hands of Roman authorities constitutes the 'passion' most people may have in mind when they hear the word.
Jesus' first trial takes place before the Temple priests. They have been plotting against him for some time and finally have him - but can they convict and execute him? Their plan nearly falls apart because of the unreliability of witnesses.
As Jesus predicted, Peter denies his association with him. Jesus also predicted the same for all his other disciples, but Mark doesn't narrate their betrayals. Peter's is interwoven with Jesus' trial, thus contrasting true confessions with false ones. Peter's actions are first described at the beginning of the trial, making this a 'sandwich' narrative technique employed so often by Mark.
In the penultimate chapter of Mark, Jesus is brought before the Roman authorities, sentenced to die, and crucified. The narrative of Jesus final day is carefully structured according to Roman customs of keeping time in three-hour intervals.
Jesus' appearance before Pontius Pilate presents the reader with at least as many historical problems as did Jesus' appearance before the Sanhedrin. Almost nothing here is historically plausible, but historical accuracy was probably not Mark's goal: there were larger theological and political objectives to pursue.
The historically inaccurate image of an indecisive Pilate is continued when he offers to release either Jesus or Barabbas to the crowds of Jews. Pilate is depicted as almost desperate to find an excuse to let Jesus go, but the blood lust of the Jews forces him to execute an innocent man.
It's true that beating prisoners was a Roman practice, but the scourging and mocking of Jesus is likely presented by Mark because it fulfills certain Jewish prophecies. Micah 5:1, in particular, declares that 'with a rod they strike the ruler of Israel on the cheek.'
Crucifixion may be one of the most horrible methods of execution ever invented. A person is nailed to a cross or stake and hangs there until their own weight suffocates them. The horrors of crucifixion are, however, glossed over by Mark in favor of the deeper theological meanings behind these events.
Jesus' death was not only foretold, but depicted as a necessary step in God's plan for humanity. There was never any choice in the matter - Jesus didn't choose to take on this task and didn't choose to die. It was God's will, not his own, that all of this happen. This is the essence of the 'good news' of Christianity: if God wants you to suffer horribly and die for the sake of some greater cause that you'll never be able to understand, then that's exactly what you are going to do.
Jesus' burial is important because without it, there can be no tomb from which Jesus can arise in three days. It's also historically implausible: crucifixion was intended as a shameful, horrible execution which included allowing the bodies to remain nailed up until they rotted off. It's inconceivable that Pilate would have agreed to turn the body over to anyone for any reason.
The exact length of the sixteenth chapter of Mar's gospel is a matter of debate. The oldest manuscripts end awkwardly after just eight verses. Most Bibles today present us with a Mark that is twenty verses long. Which is the 'correct' version and why?
After the Jewish sabbath, which occurs on Saturdays, women who were present at Jesus' crucifixion come to his tomb to anoint his corpse with spices. These are things his close disciples should have done, but Mark portrays Jesus' female followers as consistently showing more faith and courage than the men.
Jesus' commissioning of his remaining eleven disciples describes the post-resurrection ministry in a manner completely unlikely anything found elsewhere in the gospels. It draws upon a number of other gospel passages, but the information conveyed is closer to what we find in Acts, which also probably served as a source.
The oldest manuscripts of Mark end with verse 8 while the rest of the chapter contains language and symbolism which strongly suggest that they were taken from other, later sources. There appear to have been several efforts to end Mark differently because the verse 8 is not only abrupt, but ends the gospel on a note of fear and silence - hardly an appropriate message for the early Christian community.
List of major sources used in writing the articles and commentaries on the Gospel According to Mark