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The Access Bible New Revised Standard Bible, written and edited with first-time Bible readers in mind.

The Gospel According To Mark - Introduction

Mark, the earliest continuous narrative * of Jesus' life known to have survived, depicts neither a miraculous birth nor a glorious resurrection appearance, but rather leadership that derives from service, power in suffering, and glory in death.

The story of the healing of the blind man of Bethsaida (Mk 8.22–26 ) serves as a paradigm for the Gospel. After his first ministrations, Jesus asks the man, “Can you see anything?” The man responds, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Only after Jesus lays his hands on the man a second time is clarity of vision achieved. In a similar manner, Mark's Gospel neatly divides into two sections. The first eight chapters present a Jesus who speaks in parables, * who uses the enigmatic self-designation “Son of Man,” who frequently orders those aware of his identity as Son of God or of his powers to heal to remain silent, and who is misunderstood by his Galilean community, his family, and even his disciples. Something momentous is happening, but the meaning of his person and mission is shrouded in secrecy and parable.

Clarity comes midway through the narrative. “Immediately” (one of the Gospel's favorite words) after the Bethsaida healing, Jesus asks his disciples about his identity. Following Peter's insight that Jesus is not John the Baptist, or Elijah, or one of the prophets, * but is in fact the messiah * ( 8.28–30 ), Jesus finally speaks “quite openly” ( 8.32 ): “Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, * and be killed, and after three days rise again” ( 8.31 ). The remainder of the Gospel, the “passion narrative,” details both the resistance to and the fulfillment of this prediction.

Peter rebukes Jesus; he and his fellow disciples cannot accept that the Lord's anointed would suffer and die. This failure of appropriate theology corresponds to their later failures in action: One disciple betrays Jesus ( 14.17–21 ); three others are unable to support him in Gethsemane ( 14.28–50 ); all desert him at the arrest ( 14.50 ); and Peter denies him (ch. 14 ). The women followers from Galilee ( 15.40–41 ) similarly fail in their intention to anoint * his body ( 16.1 ), and they flee from the tomb not to proclaim the resurrection but in silence and in fear ( 16.8 ). But some do recognize the meaning of Jesus' identity. The woman at the house of Simon the leper anoints his body for burial ( 14.8 ), and the centurion at the cross, upon seeing Jesus breathe his last, proclaims, “Truly this man was God's Son” ( 15.39 ).

Unlike the other canonical * Gospels, Mark records no resurrection appearances. The young man at the tomb reminds the women that Jesus had promised to return to his followers ( 16.7 , see 14.28 ), but the reconciliation recorded in Mt 16.20 is missing in the earliest manuscripts of Mark's Gospel. The early church added to Mark's original conclusion at 16.8 several resurrection appearances, but the Gospel may better be appreciated with its abrupt ending (see sidebar, “The Ending of Mark,” on p. 78 ). Like the two-stage healing in Bethsaida, Peter's incomplete recognition of Jesus' identity, and even the cry of dereliction, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” which Jesus utters from the cross, there is a second part to the story, unrecounted but well known to Mark's community. The blind man eventually sees; Peter will, as the other Gospels, Acts, and Paul's letters tell us, become an apostle * of the early church; Psalm 22 , with which Jesus' cry begins, ends with a celebration of redemption.

The evangelist's decision to record the words and deeds of Jesus in narrative form, as opposed to saying collections or miracle lists, and the emphasis on Jesus' victory through suffering both suggest the needs of the congregation to which the Gospel was addressed. For a community undergoing persecution, or struggling with delay of the return of the “Son of Man,” or facing alternative interpretations of Jesus' life and mission, the narrative provides guidance: Followers of Jesus will suffer, as he did; the Son will come like a thief in the night, so believers should remain steadfast and be prepared; Jesus is not some demi-god or miracle worker to be confused with or even compared to such figures as, respectively, Asclepius or Apollonius of Tyana. He is the one whose death ransoms many ( 10.45 ).

The identity of the author is not provided in the earliest manuscripts, although the church father Eusebius records a tradition that this Gospel was written by (John) Mark, Peter's companion (Acts 12, 15; 1 Pet 5.13 ). The narrative reveals the evangelist to be a Greek-speaking Christian, using the Septuagint * (LXX), the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, * and writing for an audience to some extent unfamiliar with Jewish practices and with the Aramaic * language ( 5.41; 7.3–4, 34; 15.26 ). Both Rome and Alexandria are proposed in early sources as sites of composition; current research has also proposed Galilee or Southern Syria. Whether the Gospel indicates awareness of the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple * in 70 CE is unclear. Mark 13.2 predicts the fall of the Temple, but the statement could well have been Jesus' own prediction.

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