Introduction to Mark, Part 3: Origin, Purpose, & Audience

This will be  a quick post- mostly a few quotes from scholars- to help orient you to some of what may be considered the “predominant” views on these highly debatable issues.  None of these are paramount for understanding the Gospel of Mark, which is why we won’t expend much energy here!

Origin/Authorship

“The tradition of the early church then affirms consistently that this gospel was written by Mark in Rome as a record of Peter’s teaching, most probably while Peter was still alive and therefore not later than the early sixties of the first century” (R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark [New International Greek Testament Commentary], p. 38).

Ultimately, we cannot be entirely sure who wrote it or what occasioned it, but that does not significantly affect its interpretation.  These factors are not as important for gospels studies as for the epistles.

Occasion/Purpose

“If the Gospel of Mark was indeed written in the middle 60s, then it was written at a time of severe Christian persecution at the hands of the megalomaniac Nero (ruled AD 54–68). This emperor, increasingly hated and despised by his own people, promoted his deification (which at his death was denied by the Senate). More than any emperor before him, he encouraged the use of the honorific titles ‘god’, ‘son of god’, ‘lord’, ‘saviour’ and ‘benefactor’. Writing in the last two or three years of Nero’s life, when the Jewish rebellion was in its early stages, when persecution of Christians was severe, and when many ‘prophets’ and ‘deliverers’ were making themselves known, the Markan evangelist puts forward Jesus as the true son of God, in whom the good news for the world truly has its beginning…” (Craig Evans, “Mark,” New Dictionary of Biblical Theology).

Audience

In this case, It is better to speak of “audience” than “readership” since “literacy in the ancient Mediterranean world was probably ‘no more than 10 percent, although the figure may have risen to 15 or 20 percent in certain cities’” (quoted in France, p. 9).  It is certainly not intended only for that small a percentage of the populace, so we must concluded that it, like most ancient Christian documents, was meant for circulation and oral performance in churches…it is indeed a masterful and beautifully woven narrative.

Food of thought: If it was meant to be read aloud in its entirety, then why do we break it down into small chunks and study it privately on our own? First, because it was not written to us, though it was written for us.  Second, the point is well taken, and we ought to orally read and engage Scripture both individually and corporately!

Our next and final post on the “Introduction to Mark” will address the structure of Mark (which is really exciting, despite what you may be thinking!).  Then we’ll dive into 1:1!  Thanks for reading.

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