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This introductory course is designed to provide key insights into the book of Mark by pulling together a number of key resources: overview videos from The Bible Project, helpful contextual information from The ESV Study Bible, commentary recommendations from The Gospel Coalition, a single sermon that sums up the book from beginning to end by Mark Dever, and much more. By watching, listening to, and reading these resources, you’ll be better prepared to read, study, teach, or preach the book of Mark.
Of the four Gospels, Mark is most overtly a “docudrama,” consisting of noteworthy “clips” as well as typical or representative events; snatches of speeches or dialogues; and commentary by the narrator. Mark’s approach to the biographical data is that of a careful recorder. Mark’s Gospel, however, is not a biography in the modern sense, as there is no attempt to describe Jesus physically, treat his family origins, or portray Jesus’ inner life. Rather, like other ancient biographies (which were called a bios or “life”), Mark’s purpose is to speak about the actions and teachings of Jesus that present his ministry and mission. Of course, the book is at the same time an implied proclamation and apologetic work that hints at the redemptive meaning of the events recorded. All of the Gospels are hero stories. Additionally, Mark’s Gospel is made up of the usual array of subgenres found in the NT Gospels, including calling stories, recognition stories, witness/testimony stories, encounter stories, conflict or controversy stories, pronouncement stories, miracle stories, parables, discourses and sermons, proverbs or sayings, passion stories, and resurrection stories.
Even though the overall format of Mark’s Gospel is narrative, it does not possess a continuous story line but is a collection of discrete units. There are crowd scenes, small-group scenes, public scenes, and private scenes. The resulting book is a collage or mosaic of the life of Jesus. The best way to negotiate this format is to regard oneself as Mark’s traveling companion as he assembles his documentary on the life of Christ. The main unifying element in the mosaic is the protagonist, Christ himself.
Mark’s Gospel (the shortest of the four) is a fast-paced narrative. Mark tends to include vivid descriptive details, and he prefers Greek verbs that portray an action in process. He often records people’s responses to what Jesus did and said. Like all storytellers, Mark selected his material by two criteria: he chose events that were typical or representative in the life of Jesus (such as miracles of healing and the telling of parables), and unique, once-only events (esp. those connected with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus).
Though Mark wrote from Rome, the Gospel of Mark was composed for the wider church as the record of the apostolic testimony of Peter. Even during the early Patristic period, Gentile Christians were frequently mentioned as the recipients of this Gospel. Mark addresses an audience that is largely unfamiliar with Jewish customs. He intends to familiarize them with those customs, because only then will they understand the coming of Jesus as the culmination of God’s work with Israel and the entire world.
The ultimate purpose and theme of Mark is to present and defend Jesus’ universal call to discipleship. Mark returns often to this theme, and as the narrative unfolds he categorizes his main audience as either followers or opponents of Jesus. The outline demonstrates that Mark’s central effort in presenting and supporting this call is to narrate 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 that Jesus faced.
Mark 1:25, 34, 44; 3:12; 4:10–12; 5:18–19, 43; 8:30; 9:9
Mark 3:5; 4:38; 6:6; 7:34; 8:12, 33; 10:14; 11:12; 14:33–42
Mark 1:11; 3:11; 5:7; 8:38; 9:7; 12:6–8; 13:32; 14:36, 61; 15:39
Mark 1:16–34; 2:3–12, 23–28; 3:11; 4:35–41; 6:45–52; 7:1–23; 10:1–12
Mark 8:31; 10:45; 14:21, 36
Mark 2:28; 12:35–37; 14:62
Mark 8:34–38; 9:35–37; 10:35–45
Mark 4; cf. Mark 1:15; 9:1; 14:25; 15:43
Mark tells of Jesus’ coming to bring everlasting salvation, as prophesied in the OT, and to triumph over sin and Satan. The ultimate fulfillment comes with his crucifixion and resurrection.
Nancy Guthrie interviews Derek Thomas
The following recommendations are from D. A. Carson, New Testament Commentary Survey. 7th ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2013.