Gospel of Mark

From RationalWiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Mark and his catty companion.
Light iron-age reading
The Bible
Icon bible.svg
Gabbin' with God

Mark is the second book of the New Testament of the Bible. It is preceded by Gospel of Matthew and followed by Luke.

Mark is considered to be one of two primary sources for the three synoptic gospels along with the Q document. Mark does not address the birth or infancy of Jesus. Instead, the reader is brought immediately into Jesus' theology and preachings as Jesus is being baptized by John. Mark is far less focused on Jesus' days of teaching than he is on the Passion which takes up the majority of the works of Mark.

Authorship and dating[edit]

Main article: Authorship of the New Testament

Although written anonymously and in third-person, the author of the Gospel of Mark is believed, per Christian tradition, to be Mark, the interpreter of Peter the Apostle. However, this tradition should be taken with a grain of salt, for Papias, the originator of this tradition, was, by far, no scholar. It has been suggested that the book was originally intended as fiction and further that its author understood the non-historicity of Jesus.

The Gospel of Mark is considered the first of the gospels written because the only material it contains that is not contained in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke are a few insignificant details that anyone in his right mind would edit out. It can be dated to 67 CE by its apocalyptic Oliviet Discourse, for it mentions "wars and rumors of wars", a reference to the First Jewish Revolt, tells of the persecution of Christians under Nero, who died in the summer of 68 CE, tells the Judeans to "flee to the mountains", which would be stupid after the autumn of 67 CE, and, especially telling, prays that the flight of the Judeans may not be in the Winter. Documentation of these events sets the lower limit on the date of authorship at about 67 CE, but does not rule out the possibility that the gospel was actually written much later.

Historical figures[edit]

It is likely that Mark’s Jesus figure is based/derived on a real earthly being attested in Josephus’ Jewish War—”Jesus son of AnaniasWikipedia”. Likewise it is likely that Mark’s “John the Baptist” figure is based/derived on a real earthly being attested in Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews. But that does not mean that “John the Baptist” met ”Jesus son of Ananias” on the Jordan and performed a baptism, any more than the movie “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” means Lincoln hunted Vampires.

It appears that the Markan author used the works of Josephus as inspiration for his Jesus and John the Baptist figures, which means the composition date is post 93 CE, and more likely second-century.[1][2][3]

Contents of Mark[edit]

Mark begins with the baptism by John and the calling of the twelve. Mark 4 introduces some of the parables of Jesus. Mark 8 forward begins the discussions of Jesus' last days, with the actual entrance into Jerusalem to be found in Mark 11.

Baptism by John[edit]

Richard Carrier holds that the John the Baptist scene is most likely fictional.[4] And Carrier argues that pre-existing pagan cults also used the "baptism" concept as an initiatory rite and that the gospel scene is an etiological mythWikipedia that explains the purpose of baptism to the Christian initiate. Carrier writes,

I found and cite numerous peer reviewed treatments of the John the Baptist scene that plainly point out that Mark has obviously invented it to suit his purposes—contrary to those who don’t notice this and thus mistakenly think it goes against Mark’s interests. It doesn’t. It’s an etiological myth, a category of myths that explain the origins and meaning of rituals—in this case baptism, in which Mark has the famous John “the Baptist” declare Jesus his superior and successor. Which is not a statement against interest; it’s exactly what Mark would want to invent.[5]

Temple cleansing by Jesus[edit]

R.G. Price asserts that the cleansing of the temple scene is the product of the imaginative interpretation of a passage in Hosea by the Markan author and has no historical basis.[6][7] Other scholars like Burton L. MackWikipedia also assert that the scene is fiction. Mack writes, "The temple act cannot be historical. If one deletes from the story those themes essential to the Markan plots, there is nothing left over for historical reminiscence."[8]

Theology and Style[edit]

Mark is written for a predominantly Greek audience. His allusions to the Old Testament tend to be a way of setting the scene, rather than direct fulfillment of Jewish prophecy. The one notable exception is the Passion, which does cast Jesus' trial and death as the fulfillment of Jewish prophecy. Throughout Mark, Jesus is not the "Son of God" as with the other three gospels, but the "Son of Man". The Jesus character in Mark is more political and direct than he is prophetic. The wording of Mark's parables emphasizes moral codes and spiritual behaviors that are grounded in this world.[9]

When Jesus speaks of the end of human history he says, "But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father."[10] In this passage (which appears in Matthew as well[11]) Jesus specifically exclude himself from this knowledge of eschatological timing, creating a breach in his alleged omniscience and the unity of the Trinity. This might suggest that the author of this text was an Arian.

Differences from Matthew and Luke[edit]

  • Mark frequently explains Jewish ritual, another example that the book is intended for a Gentile audience.
  • Jesus is addressed as the Son of Mary, as well as names his brothers and sister.
  • "The Sabbath is made for man; man is not made for the Sabbath" (Mk 2:27) does not appear in Matthew, Luke or Gospel of John.
  • Strong emphasis on the role of John the Baptist including a detailed description of the beheading of John.
  • Mark contains details obscure and unnecessary, such as Mark 3:21, Mark 6:5, and Mark 14:51, which do not appear in either Matthew or Luke.
  • The phrase from verse 16:18, "and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them," is found only in Mark.
  • Mark is more willing to provide negative material about Jesus, such as the disciples rebuking Jesus in Mark 4:38 and Jesus healing many but not all in Mark 1:34 (c.f. Matthew 8:16).[12]

Alternate endings[edit]

See the Wikipedia article on Mark 16.
Mark’s strange ending . . . has no appearances of Jesus following the visit of the women on Easter morning to the empty tomb!
—James Tabor[13]

The original ending of Mark is chapter 16 verse 8, "[The women] said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid." The Greek version of Mark ends in what is apparently mid-sentence. The final two words are εφοβουντο γαρ, this is significant because nowhere else in ancient Greek is a sentence ended with the word γαρ (meaning "for").

Mark is the only canonical gospel with significant various alternate endings. However, most of the contents of the traditional longer ending, verses 16:9-20, are found in the other gospels and are not unique to MarkWikipedia. This longer ending appears to be an interpolation added early in order that Mark's ending resemble those of the other gospels.

All alternate endings are forgeries, which include: a short ending summarizing the traditional longer ending; and a long ending detailing Jesus' role in defeating sin, inserted around the fifth century (see Gospel of Mark §. EndingWikipedia).[14][15][16]

Up a creek without a paddle[edit]

In the longer ending, Jesus went through a litany of signs that would identify those who believed:

  1. In Jesus' name they would cast out devils.
  2. They would speak with new tongues.
  3. They would pick up serpents without harm.
  4. They would drink poison with no ill effect.
  5. They would cure the sick by laying on hands.

Some of the Pentecostal churches have taken at least some of these precepts literally, particularly the ones about speaking in tongues and handling snakes.[17]

Historizing trend after Mark[edit]

The canonical gospels when laid out chronologically illustrate the progression towards historizing a bodily resurrection. Neil Godfrey writes:

  • Mark merely has an empty tomb and no resurrection appearance, and this is the sort of indicator that one reads in Greco-Roman stories of Heracles and co — the disappearance of the body was the conventional indicator that the deceased had been taken to join the gods.
  • Matthew has a resurrection appearance or two, and in the first one the women hold Jesus by the feet. In the second one Jesus stands on a mountain and some disciples are not even convinced it is Jesus.
  • Luke has Jesus vanishing before the eyes of onlookers and appearing mysteriously in the middle of closed rooms, but to persuade disciples he was nonetheless flesh he told them to touch him and watch him eat.
  • John then has the famous doubting Thomas scene where Jesus, after having asked his disciples to have a look at his flesh, appears again to require they (or at least one of them) thrust their hands into his side. He then starts a fire on a beach and cooks everyone a meal of fish.

So even within the gospels themselves we can see an evolution of the idea of the resurrection of the physical body.[18]

The Secret Gospel of Mark[edit]

See the Wikipedia article on Secret Gospel of Mark.

In 1958 an American researcher claimed to have found a letter, in a library in Israel, from a Bishop named Clement of Alexandria which discussed a heretical version of the Gospel of Mark. According to this letter Clement was suggesting that this non-canonical version was not something Christians should read. If true it would explain a weird passage in Mark, but the explanation would be one that a lot of fundamentalists wouldn't like. The canonical gospel mentions that Jesus took a trip to Jericho and then the very next sentence describes him leaving Jericho, raising the question of what he did there. According to the alleged secret gospel Jesus apparently duplicated his Lazarus trick, raising a young man from the dead. Jesus then got to know this young man and decided to teach him some "secrets of the Kingdom of God" involving this kid dressing up in nothing but a loincloth and having nighttime meetings with Jesus. However, nobody else has seen this letter and it could just as easily be a hoax. Assuming it isn't a hoax, a longer version of Mark "for initiates only" while the shorter version has the wink-wink-nudge-nudge references to pederasty cut and more edifying material added, is an example of milk before meat. As the church ossified into a political institution, the shorter Mark would have become canonical and secret Mark would have been suppressed entirely.[19]

Greek names of the disciples of Jesus[edit]

The Gospel of Mark was originally composed in Greek for a Greek-speaking audience and later translated into Syriac, Latin and Coptic.

Greek names of the disciples per Mk. 3:13-19[20]
Name (in order of presentation) Mentions by name (3:20–16:8) Base Name Modifier Cognomen Cognomen given by Jesus "Church Pillars" per Paul c. 53 CE (Galatians 2:9)[21][22]
Simon Peter ~20[23][24][25] Símōnos
ΚηφᾶςWiktionary[note 1]
Jacob/James (son of Zebedee) ~10[26] Iákōbos
ton tou Zebedaiou
τὸν τοῦ Ζεβεδαίου
John (brother of Jacob/James) ~10[27] Iōánnēs
ton adelphon tou Iakōbou
τὸν ἀδελφὸν τοῦ Ἰακώβου
Andrew 1[28][29] Andréas
Philip 0[30] Phílippos
Bartholomew 0[31] Bartholomaîos
Matthew 0[32] Matthaîos
Thomas 0[33] Thōmâs
Jacob (son of Alphaeus) 0[34][note 2] Iákōbos
ton tou Halphaiou
τὸν τοῦ Ἁλφαίου
Thaddeus 0[35] Thaddaîos
Simon (the Cananean) 0[36] Símōnos
ton Kananaion
τὸν Καναναῖον
Judas Iscariot 2[37] Ioúdas

Jesus put a name on Simon, and that name was Petron. Notably the Markan author does not have Jesus appoint Simon as he did the other disciples, but just calls him a name.[38][39]

  • Petron is not a proper name, it literally means "Rock" or "Stone" in Greek.[40][41]
  • Boanerges is defined within Mark as "Sons of Thunder".[42]
  • Some of the proposed meanings for Iskarioth:[43]
  1. “a man from Qarioth”
  2. “robber” or “assassin”
  3. “the liar” or “the false one”
  4. “red-head” or “red dyer”
  5. "to deliver” i.e. it was he who delivered Jesus to the authorities.
  6. “a man from Jerusalem”[44]

The name Judas Iscariot as literally meaning "Jerusalem Jew" is coherent with Tom Dykstra's argument that the Gospel of Mark is a polemic against the Torah observant (hence "Jewish") leaders of the Christian Jerusalem church who appear as the figures: Peter; James/Jacob; and John in the Markan gospel. And that the name Judas Iscariot is a reference to the Torah observant Christians still supporting said Jerusalem church. Dykstra writes,

Mark was written after a conflict had developed between Paul and the Jerusalem Christian leadership under the leadership of the "pillars" Peter, James, and John. For the [Markan] Gospel's original readers, the picture of obtuse, glory-seeking, slothful disciples couldn't help but bolster the authority of the one Apostle who was not so characterized [i.e. Paul]. . . . in the terms of Mark's own day and Paul's perspective, the real traitors are among the Christian Jewish leadership, not the non-Christian Jews. The name Judas ("Jew") corresponds so well to Paul's view that his opponents were traitors to the cross of Christ by being zealots for Jewish traditions [e.g. being Torah observant], that it is reasonable to suppose Mark deliberately named the betrayer Judas for that reason.[45]

See also[edit]


  1. Kēphas is a name that means Rock in Aramaic, whereas Petron is a name that means Rock in Greek
  2. Three ambiguous mentions of Jacob/James occur at: the transfiguration Mark 9:2; the Mount of Olives Mark 13:3; and the Garden of Gethsemane Mark 14:33. However as Dennis R. MacDonald (2014:11) notes of the Boanerges, "In every instance but one they speak in unison". And given that these ambiguous mentions also identify John as present, then they are unlikely to be mentions of Jacob son of Alphaeus.



  1. Per Godfrey, Neil (2 April 2019). “Much More Fully Informed History for Atheists — A Scholarly Introduction to the Two Jesus Parallels”. Vridar. Mahlon Smith writes: "[Ted Weeden now concludes] that Josephus himself created the story of Jesus son of Ananias and that Mark used his account. If this is the case, Mark could have been composed no earlier than 80 ce."
  2. Miller, Merrill P. (2017). “The Social Logic of the Gospel of Mark: Cultural Persistence and Social Escape in a Postwar Time”. In Crawford, Barry S.; Miller, Merrill P. Redescribing the Gospel of Mark. SBL Press. pp. 207–400. ISBN 978-0-88414-203-4. "In a monograph comparing the story of Jesus of Nazareth in Jerusalem and the story of Jesus ben Hananiah in Jerusalem, Ted Weeden Sr. has occasion to draw on Kloppenborg’s discussion of the Roman ritual of evocatio to argue that Josephus has himself composed the series of portents and prodigies as a theology of evocatio, obviously not in order to demonstrate the effectiveness of the Roman ritual, but to show that God had decided to abandon the temple because of the tyranny, false prophecy, and bloodshed of the rebels. The final portent, the oracle of Jesus-Ananias (Weeden’s shortened form for Jesus ben Hananiah) against the city, the temple, and the people represents the devotio. […] Weeden has presented an impressive list of parallels between Jesus of Nazareth in Jerusalem and Jesus-Ananias in Jerusalem in a Greco-Roman environment in which the penchant for mimetic writing was a central feature of literary production. —(pp. 263–264)"
  3. Doudna, Gregory L. (2019). “Is Josephus’s John the Baptist Passage a Chronologically Dislocated Story of the Death of Hyrcanus II?”. In Pfoh, Emanuel; Niesiolowski-Spanò, Lukasz (ed.). Biblical Narratives, Archaeology and Historicity: Essays In Honour of Thomas L. Thompson. Bloomsbury–T&T Clark. pp. 119–137. ISBN 978-0-567-68657-2. "This article proposes that Josephus’s ‘John the Baptist’ passage in Antiquities is a chronologically displaced story of the death of Hyrcanus II, the aged former high priest, by Herod the Great in either c. 34 or 30 BCE. "
  4. Misquoting Mythicism: Syncretism and Dying/Rising God Parallels w/ Richard Carrier” @time 01:22:57. YouTube. Godless Engineer. 20 December 2019.
  5. Carrier (22 December 2019). "Tim O'Neill & the Biblical History Skeptics on Mythicism".  Richard Carrier Blogs.
  6. Price, R. G. (13 January 2019). "Cleansing of the Temple – Intertextuality Overturns the Consensus".  rationalrevolution.net.
  7. Price, R. G. (2018). "Deciphering the Gospels Proves Jesus Never Existed - Examples".  decipheringthegospels.com.
  8. Godfrey, Neil (13 February 2010). "Why the Temple Act of Jesus is almost certainly not historical".  Vridar.
  9. Alfred Blunt ap. Bowman, John (1965). The Gospel of Mark: The New Christian Jewish Passover Haggadah. Brill Archive. p. 95. "[When we view the Marcan picture of Jesus] in isolation, it strikes us at once as being a very meagre story. . . . The Marcan Jesus is an austere figure, mysterious, stormy, and impervious. This portrait is drawn with the utmost economy of line and colour."  cf. Godfrey, Neil (15 January 2019). "Why Jesus in the Gospel of Mark is so Sparsely Drawn: An Explanation".  Vridar.
  10. RationalWiki:Annotated Bible/Mark#Mark 13:32
  11. RationalWiki:Annotated Bible/Matthew#Matthew 24:36
  12. Marcan priority, Wikipedia, accesssed 28 January 2016
  13. Tabor, James (1 April 2018). "The “Strange” Ending of the Gospel of Mark and Why It Makes All the Difference".  Biblical Archaeology Society.
  14. "Gospel of Mark".  Religions Wiki.
  15. Robert H. Stein, "The Ending of Mark," Bulletin for Biblical Research 18.1 (2008): 79-98 (84). "[T]here is universal agreement that the shorter ending, the shorter ending followed by the longer ending, and the longer ending with the Freer Logion after v. 14 are not Markan but are later scribal additions added to 16:8. The only endings of Mark that we possess that merit consideration are 16:8 and the longer ending, 16:9–20."
  16. Carrier, Richard (2009). "Legends2 | Mark 16:9-20 as Forgery or Fabrication".  Errancy Wiki. "The style, logic, and content of the LE ['Longer Ending' of Mark] all demonstrate against Markan authorship, indeed decisively even by themselves, the more so together . . . . The manuscript evidence and even the Patristic evidence strongly confirm this conclusion in every respect . . . . And all the leading experts agree . . . . There is therefore no rational basis for believing the LE was written by Mark."
  17. Pastor among suspects in illegal snake bust. The Associated Press, 11 July 2008. In Kentucky, snake handling is a misdemeanor and punishable by a $50 to $250 fine. In Middlesboro, Kentucky in 2008, 10 people were arrested and 125 venomous snakes were confiscated as part of an undercover sting operation against the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name.
  18. Comment by Neil Godfrey—10 April 2011—per "Does the notion of a crucified messiah need a historical easter experience?". 5 April 2011.  Vridar.
  19. See also Shawn Eyer, The Strange Case of the Secret Gospel According to Mark: How Morton Smith's Discovery of a Lost Letter by Clement of Alexandria Scandalized Biblical Scholarship at The Gnostic Society Library.
  20. English-Greek Parallel New Testament. Kevin P. Thompson. 2011. p. 124. 
  21. Elmer, Ian J. (2010). "Pillars, Hypocrites and False Brothers". In Wischmeyer, Oda; Scornaienchi, Lorenzo. Polemik in der frühchristlichen Literatur: Texte und Kontexte. Walter de Gruyter. pp. 150, n. 75. ISBN 978-3-11-022354-5. "[In the Epistle to the Galatians] Paul refers to James, Peter and John as “the ones reputed to be important” (2:6; cf. 2:2) and “reputed pillars” (2:9), to which he adds the comment, “whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearances” (2:6)." 
  22. "Galatians 2:9 (MGNT)".  Blue Letter Bible.
  23. GreekLexicon.org: Simon (Peter) —Mk 3:16 14:37 15:21
  24. GreekLexicon.org: Peter —Mk 3:16 5:37 8:29 8:32 8:33 9:2 9:5 10:28 11:21 13:3 14:29 14:33 14:37 14:54 14:66 14:67 14:70 14:72 14:72 16:7
  25. Cassidy, Richard J. (2007). Four Times Peter: Portrayals of Peter in the Four Gospels and at Philippi. Liturgical Press. p. 17. ISBN 978-0-8146-5178-0. "Mark records Peter’s spoken words in six scenes, and in two of these scenes Peter speaks twice (14:29, 31; 14:68, 71). Simply on the basis of the frequency of his spoken words, Peter must be considered Jesus’ most prominent disciple." 
  26. GreekLexicon.org: Jacob/James Boanerges —Mk 1:19, 29 3:17 5:37 6:3 9:2 10:35 10:41 13:3 14:33 15:40 16:1
  27. GreekLexicon.org: John Boanerges —Mk 1:19 3:17 6:25 8:28 9:2 9:38 10:35 10:41 11:30 11:32 13:3 14:33
  28. GreekLexicon.org: Andrew —Mk 1:16, 29 3:18 13:3
  29. Godfrey, Neil (22 March 2014). "Why is Peter's Brother, Andrew, Overlooked So Much in the Gospel Narrative?".  Vridar.
  30. GreekLexicon.org: Philip —Mk 3:18
  31. GreekLexicon.org: Bartholomew —Mk 3:18
  32. GreekLexicon.org: Matthew —Mk 3:18
  33. GreekLexicon.org: Thomas —Mk 3:18
  34. GreekLexicon.org: Jacob/James Son of Alphaeus —Mk 3:18
  35. GreekLexicon.org: Thaddeus —Mk 3:18
  36. GreekLexicon.org: Simon —Mk 3:18
  37. GreekLexicon.org: Judas —Mk 3:19 14:10 14:43
  38. Gundry, Robert (2000). Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross, Chapters 1 - 8. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 165. ISBN 978-0-8028-2910-8. "[Per Mark 3:13-19] pinning the new name “Peter” on Simon (with the resultant stylistic disasters that Σίμωνι, “Simon,” does not go into the accusative case, as do the other names because of their appositive relation to the accusative τοὺς δώδεκα, “the Twelve,” and that Πέτρον, “Peter,” is in the accusative not as one of the appositives to τοὺς δώδεκα [the twelve] but as an appositive to ὄνομα, “name”). In fact, then, neither “Simon” nor “Peter” is part of the delayed list. We can tell from the word order of Mark’s interruptive statement that emphasis falls, not on the meaning of the new name for its significance to Simon, but on the act of renaming for its signifying Jesus’ authority: ὄνομα [name] comes right after the verb and Πέτρον [Petron] does not appear till after the following τῷ Σίμωνι [to Simon]. Thus: “and he put a name on the [aforementioned] Simon, [i.e.] Peter.”" 
  39. Tolbert 1996, p. 145, n. 27. "[Per Mark 3:13-19a] Simon is in the dative case rather than the expected accusative case used for all the other names of disciples. See the discussion in E. Best, Following Jesus: Discipleship in the Gospel of Mark (JSNT Sup 4; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1981), 180-81."
  40. Clement Grene Cowardice, Betrayal and Discipleship: Peter and Judas in the Gospels [PDF]. "Mary-Anne Tolbert has claimed that Peter’s nickname is given as a specific reference to the ‘rocky ground’(πετρῶδες) of the Parable of the Sower of Mark 4:1-20. [Tolbert, Sowing, p. 145.] The description of the seed sprouting up quickly, only to wither away under the heat of the sun, might indeed seem like an apt allegorical description of Peter’s career as a follower of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel. —(p.120)"
  41. Tolbert 1996, p. 195, n. 31. "The disciples’ change of state from initial faith to fear and failure . . . has caused considerable confusion in Markan scholarship. Some scholars, emphasizing the deeply negative depiction of the disciples in the later chapters, have argued that for Mark the disciples are the opponents of Jesus or the object of the author’s strongest polemic (see, e.g., Weeden, Mark—Traditions in Conflict, 26–51; and W. Kelber, The Oral and the Written Gospel: The Hermeneutics of Speaking and Writing in the Synoptic Tradition, Mark, Paul, and Q (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), 97–99, 125–29)."
  42. MacDonald 2014, p. 11. "The Markan Evangelist not only translates the joint nickname [Boanerges] but also makes a point that it was Jesus who created it . . . Its significance for Mark lies in his translation “Sons of Thunder.” Earlier the Evangelist introduced James and John as fishermen who abandoned their father’s boat. If one were to look for an analogy to them in classical Greek literature, one set of brothers should instantly come to mind: Castor and Polydeuces, the twin sons . . . known as the Dioscuri, “Sons-of-Zeus.” Zeus, of course, was the god of thunder and lightning, and the Dioscuri were sailors; they were among the Argonauts who accompanied Jason to retrieve the golden fleece. [In every instance but one they speak in unison, e.g. the request to sit at the glorified Jesus’ right and left hand]."
  43. Taylor, Joan E. (2010). "the Name 'Iskarioth' (Iscariot)" Journal of Biblical Literature. 129. 367–83
  44. MacDonald 2014, pp. 11–12.
  45. Dykstra 2012, pp. 116–117.