Exd & Cnq



The Gospels: An Introduction



  • Most of the information about the life and teachings of Jesus is found in four NT documents:
    • The Gospels (literally "good news")

      • Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

  • But the oldest of these was probably written @ 65 AD at the earliest,

    • thirty years after Jesus' death

    • after all of the undisputed letters of Paul.


  • This does NOT mean that the gospels do not contain information about Jesus that dates back to the time of his ministry.

    • It DOES mean that this material had been reflected on and reinterpreted "theologically" for at least three decades.

  • The three stages of gospel tradition:

    • Stage One: The Ministry of Jesus

      • (early 30's AD)

      • historical preaching and activity of Jesus

    • Stage Two: The Preaching of the Apostles

      • ( 34-65 AD)

      • proclamation about Christ after the resurrection

    • Stage Three:  Work of the Evangelists

      • (65-110 AD)

      • personal contributions  of the gospel writers

  • first stage represents materials

    • rooted in the ministry of Jesus

    • passed on by eyewitnesses to his life.

    • Examples:

    • All four gospels relate basic facts about Jesus

      • baptized by John the Baptist, 

      • from Nazareth in Galilee, 

      • lived and was executed while Pontius Pilate was prefect of Judea, etc.

  • second stage represents insights from the preaching of the apostles after Jesus was raised from the dead.

    • Example:

      • many of the titles of Jesus ("Son of Man," "Lamb of God") make sense only if considered in light of the resurrection,

      • when, acc. to the gospels, everyone became aware of Jesus' true identity.

  • third stage represents the influence of each evangelist's particular concerns, interests and circumstances. 

    • This may have caused a particular writer either to add or subtract material,

    • or to reshape material that he already knew.

  • The gospels most closely resemble the ancient or Greco-Roman biography,

    • a type of writing intended to describe the character and integrity of a famous person

    • so that his/her life might serve as an example for others.


    • Often in Greco-Roman biographies, the main character has "divine" qualities

      • generally not considered to be divine themselves,

      • they often were described as a human representative of divine power,

      • or being "in-touch" with the divine.

        • θεος ανηρ ("divine man")

    • This genre also focuses on the death of the main character as the time when his integrity is most fully revealed.

      • true also of the gospels, esp. in Mark.

    • Being aware of the genre of the gospels helps us to know what to expect from the authors: 

      • less concerned with an objective chronology of the events of Jesus' life (an "objective history" or "historical truth")

      • more concerned with preaching (theological truth), so they structured their material with this as their primary goal.

        Figure 1: Composition of the Gospels 
        Figure 2: Composition of the NT


κατα μαρκον

The Gospel According to Mark


  • manuscript | title detail

  • Authorship

  • Traditionally, "John Mark" mentioned in Acts, and probably the "Mark" mentioned in Paul's letters, 1Pet and in Eusebius as:

    • a traveling companion to Paul and Peter, 

      • and Peter's 'interpreter.'

    • True?

    • Possible, but why portray the apostles so negatively, and why are key themes from Paul diminished/missing?

      • Ex: the significance of Jesus' resurrection (as opposed to his teachings or miracles) is a focus of Paul's letters-

      • but earliest copies of Mk ended w/ no resurrection.

    • Mk's religious convictions are unclear;

      • maybe the only Gentile gospel author.

    • a Greek speaker, either Gentile or a diaspora Jew (more likely).

  • Date

  • close to the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome at the end of the First Revolt is likely. 

    • The 'little apocalypse' in Mark 13:

      • Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple and siege of the city.

    • Genuine prophecy or apocalyptic?

    • prophetic lit had essentially died out by Jesus' time,

      • apocalyptic was common from 200 BC to 200 AD.

    • In either case, a date @ the temple's destruction is likely. 

      • Probably 65-75 AD.

  • Location

  • Eusebius claimed Rome, during Simon Magus' heretical preaching there.

  • Mk's focus on perseverance in the face of suffering may be the key to his location (and date of writing).

    • written to a community that endured persecution and apostacy.

    • Rome is a likely location,

      • Christians there were persecuted by Nero,

      • who blamed them for a fire that destroyed a quarter of the city in 64 AD.

    • Mk's community was a mix of Jews and Gentiles:

      • Mk explains Jewish customs 

      • translates Aramaic phrases for his reader.

      • Rome in the 60s AD fits this description.

  • Purpose

  • Various theories:

    • focus on Jesus' suffering to help persecuted Christians find meaning in their own suffering. 

    • lack of a resurrection scene shifts the focus from Jesus' resurrection to his life, teachings, and death (to counter Paul?)

      • but Mk records few of Jesus' teachings when compared to the other gospels

      • he rejects the idea that Jesus' miracles reveal his true identity.


In General

  • Of the NT gospels, Mk appears to be the first written.

    • only writing in NT to refer to itself as a 'gospel' (1:1).

    • In the Greco-Roman world, 'gospel' meant 'good news,' especially victory in battle.

      • [When an army was victorious, a messenger was sent home in advance to announce the victory.

      • also often used in relation to the birth of the emperor.]

  • Mk probably ended with 16:8.

    • Earliest manuscript copies of the gospel end here.

  • Mk can be divided thematically into two parts:

    • 1:1-8:26.          

      • Part One = Jesus' ministry of preaching and healing in Galilee.

        • 'Who is Jesus?'

        • Acc. to Mark, he is the Messiah, but not the one that Jews in the first century have been expecting.

    • 8:27-16:8.        

      • Part Two = Mark's understanding of the Messiah, as the one who must suffer and die for the sake of others. 

        • 'What does it mean to call Jesus 'messiah'?'


  • [1] sense of immediacy.

  • Action occurs rapidly in Mark,

    • Jesus' entire ministry seems to take place in just a few weeks (in contrast to John, where it lasts at least two years). 

    • word/phrase 'immediately/at once' occurs 42x;

      • Gk: ευθυς

      • [used 5x in MT,

      • only once in Luke (despite the fact that Luke has copied about 70% of the material in Mark into his own gospel),

      • 4x in the rest of the NT]

    • frequent use of the Gk και , meaning 'and' at the beginning of sentences/phrases/clauses.

    • [use of participles.

    • emphatic pronouns.]

    • Mk uses the 'historical present' tense-

      • past events from Mk's perspective are written using present tense verbs in Greek,

        • adding to the sense that things are happening rapidly. 

      • [usually corrected by translators to more accurately convey Mk's message-

        • it is also corrected by Mt and Lk.]


  • [2] Mk is more concerned w/ Jesus' deeds and actions than w/ his words

    • Jesus' healings, exorcisms, etc., are a form of teaching,

    • they confirm Mk's claims about Jesus' identity.

      • Jesus' teachings deal with the 'kingdom of God'

      • OT theme of 'divine reversal' (also Paul)

        • 'the last shall be first and the first shall be last.'

        • 'If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.' (9:35)

      • [a criticism of the present 'kingdom' in which Jesus lived

        • In God's kingdom the status of humans will be reversed,

        • so the current kingdom is the opposite of God's, and the opposite of what is just in God's eyes.]

        • the 'last'= the shamed- poor, diseased, afflicted, possessed, outcasts

        • the 'first'?

          • Those who prospered in Caesar's kingdom,

          • with wealth and authority- the honored.

          • [those sympathetic to Rome, exploiting others (Jews) for their own benefit.]

      • Jesus' actions are a form of teaching

        • Each healing or exorcism enacts divine reversal,

        • the 'last' become 'first,' foreshadowing the kingdom.

        • they point to the real nature of the kingdom,

        • not necessarily to the real nature of Jesus. 

          • not 'signs' that reveal him as Messiah,

          • but some miracles take place in stories that reveal Jesus' significance and identity.

            • Ex: Feedings, controlling the sea.

    • Often Mk will mention that Jesus taught,

      • without telling us the content of the teaching,

      • but telling us how the crowd responded (amazement/fear).


  • [3] Mk is dominated by a relatively long passion narrative

    • over 1/3 of the gospel deals with the last week of Jesus' life

    • 1/8 deals with the last 24 hours.

    • The fast pace slows in the last 3 chapters,

      • an hour-by-hour account of Jesus' arrest, trial, and crucifixion- his 'passion' (from Latin, 'to suffer').  

      • But the whole gospel foreshadows the passion:

        • Baptism, Death of JBapt

        • Three 'Son of Man'/Passion predictions (8:31; 9:30; 10:32)


  • [4] 'Intercalations': a story within a story  

    • Each of the stories helps to interpret the other.

      • Ex, Mark 11:12-25:

        • 11:12-14= Jesus curses a fig tree b/c it is not bearing fruit; not ready for him when he arrives.

          • 11:15-19= Jesus curses and symbolically destroys the temple by overturning the tables of the money changers in the court of Gentiles.

        • 11:20-25= As Jesus and his disciples leave Jerusalem they pass by the fig tree Jesus cursed to find it has withered and died.

          • If his curse on the fig tree came to pass, what does this say about his condemnation of the temple?

      • Others:

        • Raising of Jairus' daughter/woman with a hemorrhage.

        • Sending forth disciples/death of JBapt

  • [5] Jesus' ministry is focused in Galilee

    • Jesus' miracles occur in or around Galilee.

    • disciples told to go there to meet him after his resurrection.

    • scene shifts to Jerusalem in ch. 10 to describe the passion.

  • [6] MK is written for a gentile audience

    • Mark places Jesus within OT history,

      • but writes for an audience not fully aware of that history

    • explains Jewish rituals

    • translates Aramaic phrases

    • [uses geography to include Gentiles in Jesus' ministry:

      • 4x, Jesus travels 'to the other side' of the Sea of Galilee:

        • West side = region of Galilee (Jewish)

        • East side = region of the Decapolis ('10 cities,' Gentile)

          • On west side, he performs an exorcism, his reputation spreads.

          • travels to east side and does the same thing.

          • travels back to west, where he performs a series of healing miracles,

            • followed by the feeding of the 5000 (12 baskets= Israel)

          • travels back to east, where he does the same thing (feeding of 4000, 7 baskets= all of creation)

          • both times Jesus travels from west to east, the sea is stormy and he calms it; both times back it is calm.]

    • at least part of Mk's audience was not Jewish, [but again, Mk's assumption that the reader will understand his OT allusions suggests that some of the community must have been Jewish.]

  • [7] Mark uses repetition to emphasize a theme:

    • Triptychs/triads (threefold repetition):

      • examples:

        • 3 denials by Peter

        • 3 times Jesus finds the disciples sleeping

        • 3 opinions about who Jesus is (some say Elijah...)

        • 3 seed parables

      • others not so immediately obvious:

        • 3 passion predictions about the fate of the "Son of Man." (All after Peter's confession in ch.8)

        • 3 references to Jesus as "Son of God" (bap, trans, cruc)

        • 3 references to the "cup" as symbol of Jesus' sacrifice.

        • 3 repetitions of the Eucharistic formula

      • Diptychs (doubling)

        • 2 feeding miracles

        • 2x Jesus calms the sea.

          • The 2 above are in a doubled pattern

        • 2 stories of blind men being healed

        • 2x the 3-fold opinion about Jesus is repeated.

          • Once by the disciples

          • Once to Herod

      • These can form 'inclusios'-

        • stories symbolically connected to one another, material bracketed by repeated themes.

  • [8] Mk focuses, more than any other gospel, on Jesus' humanity

    • Jesus experiences the full range of human emotions

      • He feels anger, pity/compassion (?), even doubt.

    • he is not all knowing,

    • and his healing power even fails him.

      • When called 'good teacher,' he responds:

        • 'Why do you call me good? Only God alone is good.'

        • What might this say about Jesus in MK?

        • ...or, is it irony? (like 'prophesy' in 14:65)

  • [9] Mk surrounds Jesus' identity with secrecy.

    • 'the Messianic Secret,' recognized in the late 19th century by the German scholar William Wrede.

    • In Mk, Jesus never calls himself by the title 'Messiah,'

      • nor by synonymous titles,

      • such as 'Son of God' (or 'Savior' or 'Son of David,' etc.)

      • he never takes ANY title for himself in the gospel,

        • but 'Son of Man' in passion predictions might refer to himself.

      • One important exception, in 15:61,

      • Jesus is asked by the high priest if he is the messiah;

        • he responds 'I am'- but then makes a prediction about the appearance of the Son of Man.

      • In 8:29, Jesus asks, 'Who do you say that I am?'

        • Peter responds, 'You are the Messiah.'

        • Jesus tells him 'not to tell anyone.'

      • only demons know him (see 1:24, 34; 3:11; 5:7). 

      • exceptions...?

        • triumphant entry, crowds hail him as 'he who comes in the name of the Lord'

        • Bartimaeus, blind man who calls Jesus 'son of David.'

      • Although Jesus never calls himself 'Son of God,' title is still used for him 3x:

        • [2x, spoken by a 'voice from the heavens':

          • baptism (1:11)

          • transfiguration (9:7)

        • 1x, spoken by the Roman centurion at the foot of Jesus' cross when he dies (15:39).]

    • Also, MK claims Jesus taught in parables, so people would NOT understand him, then 'be converted and be forgiven.' (4:10-12)

      • [Jesus obscures his teachings to prevent the crowds from being saved!]

    • Why the secrecy? Some explanations:

      • Wrede: Jesus did not consider himself to be the Messiah; the early church did.

        • [MK responds to claims from those who knew Jesus and did not consider him messiah.

          • Jesus only used the title in secret.]

        • assumes Christians "made up" the claim that Jesus was the messiah, and put it on his lips despite the fact that he never said it.

        • largely rejected:

          • Jesus could not have avoided the question

            • If he said 'no,' did Christianity force the title on him?.

              • amounts to saying, 'Yes, he denied he was messiah, but he was wrong/lying. Oh, and he was God.'

            • If he said 'yes,' what did he risk?

      • maybe:

      • Messianic Secret has an historical basis,

        • Jesus acknowledged himself as Messiah to those closest to him,

        • but resisted public acknowledgment for fear of being misunderstood.

      • [explains other aspects of Mk's portrayal,

        • only person to correctly identify Jesus as Son of God is the Roman centurion who witnesses his death (15:39). ]

        • For Mk, Jesus' suffering and death confirm his status as messiah, so no one can correctly identify him as such until after the passion.

  • [10] In MK, the disciples are consistently portrayed as failing to live up to Jesus' expectations, and failing to remain loyal to him in the face of suffering.

    • Mark portrays the disciples as

      • incapable of understanding Jesus' teachings,

      • lacking in faith,

      • incapable of following his commands,

      • unable to comprehend his destiny,

      • ultimately betraying and abandoning him.

  • [examples:

    • 6:7-13, 9:14-29, 9:38-41
      -authority to cast out demons

    • 6:34-44, 6:45-52, 8:1-10, 8:11-21
      -unable to comprehend miracles

    • 8:34-38, 14:10-11, 14:43-52, 14:66-72
      -'whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.'

    • 9:33-37, 10:13-16, 10:35-45
      -'if anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.'

    • 14:32-42
      -'watch and pray that you may not undergo the test']

  • Equally unusual is Mark's favorable portrayal of minor characters, who are better disciples than the twelve:

    • [JBapt

      • denies himself to announce Jesus' arrival (1:7).

    • healed by Jesus, Simon's mother-in-law

      • 'waited on'/'served' Jesus and his disciples (1:31).

    • friends of the Paralytic

      • overcome great obstacles to bring him close to Jesus (2:4-5).

    • Jairus and woman afflicted w/ hemorrhage

      • humble themselves and fall down before Jesus when requesting his assistance. In both cases, Jesus fulfills their request.

    • Syrophoenician woman

      • humbles herself b4 Jesus and denies herself when asking him to heal her daughter despite the fact that she is a Gentile. 

    • unnamed exorcist

      • exorcizes demons in Jesus' name even though he not among his followers.

    • Bartimaeus

      • recognizes Jesus despite blindness; overcomes chastisement of crowd to get close to Jesus; immediately cured of blindness.

    • poor widow

      • gives up all she has to donate to the temple treasury; Jesus tells his disciples her contribution is worth more than all the others.

    • woman who anoints Jesus for burial

      • commended by him b/c she recognized his destiny; disciples don't.

    • Simon the Cyrenian

      • literally fulfills Jesus' command to 'take up the cross.'

    • Joseph of Arimathea

      • risks revealing himself as a follower of Jesus (all others have abandoned him) by asking Pilate for permission to remove Jesus' body from the cross for burial.]

  • Why the bad portrayal of the 12? Some possibilities:

    •  MK's church was not founded by the 12, so MK plays down claims of authority made by competing apostolic churches

      • [implies that there is no reason to accept apostolic tradition over his own,

      • b/c the apostles never clearly understood who Jesus was to begin with.]

    • MK highlighted the failure of the disciples to highlight Jesus' willingness to take them back,

    • incl. the invitation sent to them (but never received in the original version of the gospel) to join him in Galilee after his resurrection (16:6-8). 

      • [intended as encouragement for those  who had apostatized to come back into the community?]

[The Last Supper in Mk

  • a key moment in the gospel.

    • The story itself is brief (14:22-26) and

      • shares much w/ other synoptic portrayals

      • and 1 Corinthians 11:23-26.

    • 3 key elements:

      • 'eucharistic formula' in 14:22: '...he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them...'

      • bread = Jesus' 'body.'

        • Parallels symbolism of Passover meal,

          • all of the gospels symbolically connect Jesus' death to the Passover,

          • his death is sacrificial, a sin offering that brought freedom from slavery to sin and its consequences.

        • Bread is referred to in 2 feeding miracles Jesus performs in 6:34-44 (Feeding of the 5000) and 8:1-10 (Feeding of the 4000).

        • Both stories also contain the Eucharistic formula:

          • [Feeding of the 5000:
            'Then, taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples...'

          • Feeding of the 4000:
            'Then, taking the seven loaves he gave thanks, broke them, and gave them to his disciples to distribute...'

          • In both, Jesus' disciples distribute bread to the crowd.]

      • The symbolism in these stories works in two directions.


      • looks back to the Exodus, when the Israelites tested God in the desert by demanding he satisfy their hunger. 

        • God responded by raining manna (bread) from heaven, satisfying their physical hunger, as well as their 'spiritual hunger' or longing to have God's presence among them confirmed.

        • Similarly, Jesus, as a 'new Moses' satisfies the spiritual hunger of those who follow him-

          • Jews first (12 baskets left over in the first feeding story, symbolizing the 12 tribes)

          • but gentiles as well (7 baskets in the second story, symbolizing all of creation).

        • Again, in both stories the disciples distribute the bread, as it is the disciples to whom the bread is given at the supper. 

      • In this way, the stories foreshadow the Last Supper.

        • perhaps Mk's way of saying that at the supper, by accepting the bread, the disciples also accepted the responsibility of carrying on Jesus' mission after his death.

      • cup = Jesus' 'blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.'

        • 2 other references to the 'cup' with the same meaning:

          • In Ch 10:38, Jesus asks James and John,

            • 'Can you drink the cup that I drink?'

          • In Ch 14:36, Jesus prays to God,

            • 'Take this cup away from me.'

        • In both, the cup is a reference to Jesus' suffering and death on the cross.

      • for Mk, what does it mean for the disciples, and for all Christians, to take the bread and cup from Jesus at the Last Supper?]