AUTHOR AND HISTORY: Widespread evidence from the early church fathers affirms that Peter passed on reports of the words and deeds of Jesus to his attendant and writer, John Mark. He was not an eyewitness of Jesus, nor a disciple. Church father Papias, the Bishop of Hierapolis (c A.D. 120) accorded the account apostolic significance and reliability due to the fact that it came from Peter, that John Mark wrote down accurately as much as he could remember from Peter’s words. It’s interesting to note how accounts involving Peter are especially vivid, and how they often present the weaknesses of Peter, but omit praiseworthy or noticeable references to Peter found in Matthew and Luke.
WHO FOR: The gospel of Mark was most likely written in Rome around the mid- to late-50s A.D. (but some scholars date it in the mid- or late-60s). Peter affirmed the written account of John Mark “by his own authority for the reading of the church.” (From the Anti-Marcionite Prologue, written late 2nd Century A.D.)
The Gospel of Mark was therefore composed for the wider church as the record of the apostolic testimony of Peter. It was written for Jews and also Gentiles, as Jewish customs are explained to the reader. It was important for the author that the reader grasp that the coming of Jesus was the culmination of God’s work with Israel and the entire world.
THEME: In this gospel, Mark often returns to the theme of Jesus’ universal call to discipleship: this seems to be his main purpose as the narrative unfolds. He often categorizes his main audience as either followers or opponents of Jesus. In supporting this purpose, Mark narrates the identity and teaching of Jesus. This fact implies that discipleship for Mark is essentially a relationship with Jesus, not merely following a certain code of conduct. Fellowship with Jesus marks the heart of the disciple’s life, and this fellowship includes trusting him, confessing him, taking note of his conduct, following his teaching, and being shaped by a relationship to him. Discipleship also means being prepared to face the kind of rejection Jesus faced.
LITERARY FEATURES: From a literary perspective, Mark’s gospel is a fast-paced narrative, engaging in its variety of scenes (crowd scenes and private scenes interspersed) and story types (calling stories, recognition stories, conflict stories etc..). The result is a collage or mosaic of the life of Jesus. His aim is to paint a picture of Jesus’ life, character and the main purpose of his incarnation. It is obviously intended as a proclamation and apostolic work, not just a disinterested observation.
The gospel of Mark is a hero story, with Christ as the main protagonist. Mark was a storyteller, and selected his material by two criteria: he chose events that were TYPICAL or representative in the life of Jesus (e.g. miracles of healing, parables) and UNIQUE, once-only events (especially those connected with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus).
So read this gospel account as a travelling companion of John Mark. You have duties and chores to do, but when you return to the bible, you have a chance to hear another story about Jesus, to help you grow not just your picture of him, but your relationship to him as well.