The Gospel of Mark: A Brief Introduction

By Mel Futrell

Mark, the second and shortest of the four gospels is perhaps the most vivid in its language and description of events covered by the gospel writers. This sixteen chapter book was written by John Mark, an apparent native of Jerusalem, who is mentioned a total of nine times in five different books of the New Testament. Consider those references.


1. In connection with his mother and her house in Jerusalem where brethren were gathered together praying (Acts 12:12).

2. As being selected by both Barnabas and Saul to travel with them on the 1st Missionary Journey (Acts 12:25).

3. Explicitly as departing from them in Pamphylia and returning to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13).

4. For being Barnabas’ choice to travel with them on the 2nd Missionary Journey (Acts15:37).

5. By Luke as traveling with Barnabas to Cyprus after Paul and Barnabas separated over a disagreement about him accompanying them (Acts 15:39).

6. As being the cousin of Barnabas (Col. 4:10).

7. In a complimentary request by Paul to Timothy as being useful to Paul (2 Tim. 4:11).

8. Along with others as a fellowlaborer with Paul (Philemon 24)

9. By Peter as being his spiritual son (1 Peter 5:13).

Although Mark’s name was not originally appended to the book and his name is not specifically stat- ed in the text itself, he is almost unanimously viewed as the actual writer. Ancient and highly regarded evidence in the form of testimony from Papias (A.D. 70-163?) and Irenaeus (A.D. 130-200) exists from around A.D. 140/185 that confirms the book as being penned by John Mark the companion of both Paul and Peter. The writer Irenaeus wrote as follows:

“Matthew composed a written Gospel for the Hebrews… Mark too, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, handed on to us in writing the things proclaimed by Peter. Luke, the follower of Paul, wrote down in a book the Gospel preached by him. Then John, the disciple of the Lord who had rested on his breast, produced a Gospel while living at Ephesus in Asia.”

Thus we have evidence from less than a hundred years following the apostolic age, the First Century, which testifies to the fact of Mark as the author of this gospel. Additionally, though the designation, The Gospel According to Mark, is not original to the book it is ancient nonetheless. It is believed to trace back at least to the time of Justin (A.D. 150), if not earlier.

The traditional date range assigned to the writing of The Gospel of Mark places it in the mid to late A.D. 60’s. Some older commentators believed it to have been written as early as A.D. 50. But the truth is, we just don’t know. What we do know is that Mark 13’s account of Jesus’ prophetic description of the fall of Jerusalem in the year A.D. 70, demands a date of writing prior to that monumental event. My own judgment, based upon the dating of Luke/Acts, would be that the Gospel of Mark was written pre A.D. 62 — perhaps sometime in the A.D. 50’s. But thankfully our knowledge of and appreciation for the inspired book of Mark is not dependent on our knowing the exact date of its composition.

The Gospel of Mark does not contain a birth or infancy record of Jesus as do the books of Matthew and Luke. Mark begins with the ministry of John the baptizer (1:1-8) and moves quickly to a brief treatment of the baptism and temptation of Jesus (1:9-13). From there, “Mark presents Jesus as the mighty Messiah and Son of God who exercises extraordinary authority to overcome the forces of Satan, sin, and disease. This powerful Messiah has not come to conquer the Roman legions, but to suffer and die as the Servant of the Lord and to pay the ransom for sins.”  The late Bible language authority Ralph Earle was correct in referring to Mark’s gospel as “the gospel of action”.  Jesus is pictured as on the move and on the go teaching, preaching, providing, and performing miracles that demonstrate who He was and is. No fewer than eighteen miracles of Jesus are recorded on the pages of The Gospel of Mark. “For its length Mark relates more miracles of Jesus than the other gospels.”

In reviewing and researching commentaries, dictionaries, and encyclopedias on or about The Gospel of Mark one will inevitably encounter the theory that Mark’s gospel was written first and that both Matthew and Luke copied from it. This is known as The Two-Source Theory and as brother Wayne Jackson has noted it, “is relatively recent and without substance– though widely advocated by liberal writers.” The whole radical issue is identified as The Synoptic Problem. But for those who believe in the verbal, plenary inspiration of the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 2:13; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21), there is no Synoptic Problem. Each of the writers of the four gospels was moved by the Holy Spirit to write what they wrote. However, if one of these men was aware of and familiar with the gospel narrative of one or more of the others, (Luke 1:1-4) that in no way would diminish the role of the Spirit of God in guarding and overseeing the writing of the four canonical gospels.

Lastly, just a reminder that the “controversy” surrounding the ending of The Gospel of Mark [i.e. vss.9-20], is not really a controversy at all. One authority has written: “It is found in nearly every manuscript of the New Testament ever written. It is the longest single textual variant in the New Testament…Only the dreaded and hated Aleph and B and (one other manuscript) do not have the passage and even then, room is left for it in B.”

And as we begin this New Year may we be reminded that just as Mark himself was found profitable to Paul (2 Timothy 4:11), may we find the Gospel of Mark profitable and very useful to ourselves.