Lesson 3 of 6
In Progress

Background of Mark

Revised by Kristofer Phan Coffman, 6/23

Mark is considered the earliest written of the four canonical Gospels. It is impossible to determine whether the Gospel was put into written form before or after the Roman army destroyed the temple in Jerusalem in 70 C.E., but this event is a landmark for determining the time of Mark’s composition. The preaching of Paul and the death of those who had known Jesus personally around this same time also brought an urgency for the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth to be kept alive in written form for succeeding generations.

The author of this Gospel remains unknown, but earliest tradition associates the book with a first-century Christian named Mark. Some identify this person as the John Mark who appears in the book of Acts, one who knew Peter and traveled with Paul (Acts 12:12, 25). Whoever the author might have been, the purpose of the Gospel’s writing is to focus attention solely on Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God.

Because of the link with Peter, the city of Rome is often looked to as the Gospel’s provenance, but others point to Galilee or Syria as possible locations as well. Some suggest that the evangelist’s acts of translating Aramaic words into Greek (for example, Mark 7:34; 15:34) offer a clue that the Gospel was written primarily for those outside of Judea. 

Throughout the Gospel there is a strong sense of the imminence of God’s rule and reign breaking in “immediately.” The frequent occurrences of this adverb heighten the urgency, suggesting that the parousia (the second coming of Christ) is near. The concluding verses of chapter 13 associate the parousia with Mark’s Passion Narrative, which unfolds in the following chapters through the four watches of the night. The periods of time named as the watches in 13:35-37 (and followed there by the command to “keep awake”) are all mentioned during Jesus’ passion: evening (14:17-31), midnight (14:32-42), cockcrow (14:53-72), and dawn (15:1-20).