Tuesday, June 11, 2019

According to Mark: Introduction

A few weeks ago, I mentioned in another post that the book of Mark is a good place to start when reading the Bible for the first time. I have recommended it for that on a few occasions, and many others do the same. Since I last spoke about it, though, it has been on my mind to do a study on Mark’s gospel for Quest Forums. After a bit of time planning things out, I am ready to forge ahead with it.

Approaching the Study

Before introducing the book itself, though, I want to introduce my approach. I want Quest Forums to continue to be responsive, so I am not going to work exclusively on this long-term study. For the time being, there will continue to be two articles/videos a week. One will be for Mark, and the other will be for whatever else I have going on. That means either commentary on other passages or concepts, remarks on current issues and their biblical implications, or answers to questions. Basically, what has been normal Quest Forums content to this point.

As for the length of the study, I cannot really say yet. Mark is 16 chapters long, so it will take me some time to get through it in a once-weekly approach. But the plan is going to be to make it accessible. There will hopefully be something for everyone, things that people coming to the Bible for the first time will be able to use and things for the further growth of mature Christians. Mark is not the hardest book to read in Scripture, but that does not mean everything in it is easy to understand. My goal is to unpack its meaning, both in key concepts and challenging passages. I believe having that foundation in Mark is good equipment for understanding the rest of the Bible, as well. Between knowing how to interpret and learning what the core of God’s revelation to us is, it will make it easier for everything to come together.

Background of Mark

Now on to Mark itself. Though the second book in the New Testament, it is widely believed to have been the first gospel written. Gospel, meanwhile, is an old English word that means “good news.” It is the name we give to this book and the other three (Matthew, Luke, and John) with the same subject matter. All four tell of the life of Jesus Christ, His ministry, unjust crucifixion, and resurrection. The message of what Jesus has done is the “good news” for humanity, which is how the church has always understood it (cf. Rom. 1:9, 16; 1 Cor. 9:23; Eph. 1:13). Applying it to these four books in particular is largely a result of Mark itself. The opening verse says, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). So the gospel means both the message of salvation found in Christ, as well as the specific books that tell His history.

We do not know precisely when Mark was written, but we can make a good guess at it. Based on their similarity, Luke (the third gospel) was most likely written with Mark used as a reference. Acts, the sequel to Luke, was composed by A.D. 62 during the first Roman imprisonment of the Apostle Paul (cf. Acts 28:16–31). Luke would have been completed before that, probably in A.D. 61, meaning that Mark would have been done earlier. A date around A.D. 55–60, well within living memory of the events it describes, is an entirely reasonable assumption for the composition of Mark.

Authorship is another matter of reasonable conjecture. The Gospel of Mark does not name its author, but it takes its title from John Mark, the companion of the Apostles Paul and Peter (Acts. 12:25; 1 Peter 5:13). Tradition states that Mark compiled the recollections of Peter concerning the life of Jesus and set them down in writing so they could be accurately and widely distributed. The tradition of Mark’s authorship is unanimous in the writings of the Church Fathers, and seeing as it makes little sense to falsely attribute the gospel to such a minor New Testament figure, the tradition is largely upheld as correct.

Themes and Style of Mark

As we move through the book, it is important to be on the lookout for a few themes that Mark seems to have wanted to emphasize, as well as the style in which he does so. First and most important is the centrality of Jesus Christ, which should be fairly obvious just from Mark 1:1 that I mentioned earlier. Mark wanted to make clear the special status of Jesus. The Lord is presented as both the authoritative Son of God and as the suffering Son of Man who alone has the ability to forgive sins.

Second, Mark shows us the nature of discipleship through the life of Jesus. On the one hand, the disciples themselves are presented as poor role models. They frequently fail to understand what Jesus is doing and to have faith in Him. Theirs is generally an example not to follow. Jesus, on the other hand, is presented as perfectly faithful to the will of the Father. Though it meant suffering to the point of death, He was committed to fulfilling His purpose in bringing about salvation. Those who follow Jesus should emulate that commitment out of gratitude for what Christ accomplished on our behalf, and in anticipation of the glory we will share with Him. This is the model Mark presents.

The style of Mark, meanwhile, is vivid and fast-paced. If you read through it, you will see frequent uses of words like “immediately,” “just then,” and “at that moment.” These mostly translate one Greek word, euthys. Of its 63 uses in the New Testament, 41 occur in the book of Mark.

Along with that, but less noticeable in English, is Mark’s use of something called “historical present tense.” Over 100 times, he uses verbs in the present tense to describe past action. This was intended to give the book a lively feeling, which you can think of as akin to the script for a play. A script does not say something like, “Romeo entered stage right and walked underneath the balcony,” but “Romeo enters stage right and walks underneath the balcony.” It brings the reader right into the action. Considering Mark was written at a time when most reading was done orally even if the reader was alone, this was a subtle way to make the message engaging. Reading it is practically an act of performance, putting you right in the middle of the story as it happens.

Though written in the 1st Century A.D., it is important above all things to remember that Mark is part of the inspired Word of God given to us by the Holy Spirit. The author was used for this aspect of it, but the Spirit is the source of the book's power. That is why the gospel still speaks relevantly 2,000 years later. With a bit of mental effort and a heart opened with prayer, we too can be transported by it to the life of Jesus. There, we can grasp the importance of His ministry and the value of following in His footsteps. I look forward to walking through this with you and hope we will all find things to strengthen our faith and improve our understanding of Scripture. And as always, if you have questions along the way, let me know. I will be more than happy to do what I can to help you find the answers. Thank you for joining Quest Forums in our study of the Gospel according to Mark.

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