Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States

The Gospel of Mark - Jesus Christ the Son of Man

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It does us great honor to reflect that the evangelist to Egypt and originator of the Coptic patriarchal line was himself the composer of the second Gospel. Our beloved apostle, whose name as a boy was the Hebrew "John" (God is gracious), came after his conversion to Christ to adopt the Roman surname "Marcus" (Hammer)—just as "Petrus" replaced Simon and "Paulus" replaced Saul. We learn from the Acts that he was a fellow-laborer in the missions of St. Paul; and though he was the unfortunate source of a contention between Paul and Barnabas,1 the difference was later resolved, and Paul speaks of him affectionately during his last days of Roman imprisonment.2

St. Mark is probably most famous association is with St. Peter. The church father Papias tells us this:

Mark, who was the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatever he remembered...For neither did he hear the Lord, nor did he follow Him; but afterwards he followed Peter, who adapted his instructions to the needs of his then Mark committed no error in writing down the details he remembered; for he made it his one aim not to omit or misrepresent any details that he had heard.

Another church father, Clement of Alexandria, tells us that the people of Rome were so pleased by the preaching of Peter that they begged Mark, his attendant, to write down the things spoken. Thus we have a very early tradition that St. Mark's gospel was the outgrowth of St. Peter's words; this fact is manifested so fully in the gospel's text that we may say the Gospel of Mark is in essence the Gospel of Peter.

The imprint of St. Peter's mind can be found everywhere in the gospel. The gospel begins its narrative exactly where Peter could give his own recollections—the preaching of the Baptist and the calling of Andrew and himself.3 The healing of St. Peter's mother-in-law is mentioned quite early.4 On the Mount of Transfiguration, when St. Peter had offered to erect three tabernacles, we have the very personal detail that "he knew not what he said."5 He gives a detailed account of St. Peter's denials, and—alone among the Evangelists—records that St. Peter "warmed himself at the fire"6 and that the cock crew twice.7 Conversely, St. Peter's humility is evident in the Gospel's omission of the blessing our Lord bestowed on him, "You are Peter, and on this rock will I build My church," while recording the following rebuke, "Get behind me Satan.8

In accordance with St. Peter's nature, the gospel story's movement is quick and impetuous. It does not take the time to dwell on long conversations as in St. John,9 or extended sermons as in St. Matthew,10 or complex parables as in St. Luke.11 St. Mark instead unrolls the public life of our Lord in a series of striking acts that give his gospel the sense of a rapid and dramatic play. The rapidity is helped by St. Mark's favorite connector, "immediately".12 Rather than delving into the depths of Christ's mind, he prefers to remain on the exterior (leaving the interior to be worked out fully by St. John several decades later), especially reporting the miracles He performed, which constantly struck the multitudes with a sense of trembling and awe.13

As with the other evangelists, St. Mark emphatically brings out our Lord's divinity, as when He is described as "Lord of the Sabbath"14 and "Son of the Most High God".15 But St. Mark also most vividly portrays our Lord's humanity—his human soul and spirit. When a leper falls at His feet begging for mercy, our Lord is pierced with "compassion", which moves him to grant the leper's request instantly.16 Jesus casts a loving look upon the young man who naively thought himself blameless before the law.17 When He sees the Pharisees' bent on catching Him in His words, He "looks around them in anger" and is grieved at their impudence.18 St. Mark even describes how the Lord once perceived the scribes' evil intentions in His spirit,19 much the same as a regular man would suddenly come upon a certain realization of mind. The examples could be multiplied; but these are sufficient to show the real, tangible humanity of our Lord, who experienced the entire range of thoughts and emotions which are common to man.

Another signature style of St. Mark is his tendency to relate certain minute, graphic details which add a life-like touch to the story. When Christ heals a paralytic, St. Mark indicates that there was no room in the house, "not even at the door", helping us to visualize a scene of several men and women compressed tightly together in a corner of a house.20 When Jesus is asleep in a boat, Mark points out the "pillow" on which the sacred head rested, painting for us a picture of majestic peace in the midst of outward chaos.21 When the bleeding woman touches Jesus, He "turned around in the crowd", then "looked around to see her who had done this thing".22 When the crowd sees Jesus, they run to him "on foot".23 Maybe the most endearing action is when Jesus sees the little children and takes them up into his arms, pressing them close to his heart as a father does his child, and blesses them.24 At every turn St. Mark's gospel is full of life and movement. This is peculiar to St. Mark; while the other evangelists show hints of it on occasion,25 St. Mark is replete with detail.

The supreme brevity and simplicity of St. Mark's gospel has led scholars to the likely conclusion that it is chronologically the first written of the four gospels. St. Mark's style in the original Greek is "rough", or unpolished; that is, he did not aim at a classical Greek composition full of verbal niceties as in Aristotle, but at a plain, direct catalogue of facts for the words and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth.

The evangelists St. Matthew and St. Luke almost certainly had the Gospel of St. Mark before them as they composed their gospel histories; for all but 30 verses in St. Mark can be found in either St. Matthew or St. Luke. And it is inconceivable that St. Mark's gospel, which existed for years as the only authentic record of Jesus, could have circulated among the churches so long without ever reaching the hands of St. Matthew, St. Luke, and St. John. But each of the other evangelists possessed precious material which St. Mark had omitted; and each in their turn contributed what the Holy Spirit saw fit for the edification of the Church. St. Matthew and St. Luke preserved St. Mark's general order and scheme; thus the first three gospels are called "synoptic" (Greek, similar in appearance). St. John departs from the synoptic model and, having been gifted with a lofty grasp of spiritual things, is led to construct a gospel which uniquely brings out the divine, meditative, and exalted inner life of the Master. While St. John is the most spiritually developed of the gospels, and St. Matthew and St. Luke represent an intermediate state, St. Mark is the bedrock and foundation of all.

1 Acts 15:37 – 40
2 2 Tim 4:11, Phil 1:24
3 1:1,16
4 1:30–32
5 9:6
6 14:54
7 14:72
8 8:27–33
9 e.g. Nicodemus, the Samaritan Woman, and the Eucharistic Discourse of Ch. 6
10 Mt 5–7
11 Lk 13–16
12 e.g. 1:28, 1:42, 2:2, 2:12, 3:6, 4:15, 16, 17, 5:2, etc.
13 e.g. 2:12, 4:41, etc.
14 2:28
15 5:7
16 1:41
17 10:20,21
18 3:5
19 2:8
20 2:2
21 4:37
22 5:30,32
23 6:33
24 10:16
25 see, for example, Mt 8:3

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