A Study Series on the Gospel According to Mark

On May 26th, we began a study series on the Gospel of Mark. It is the shortest Gospel in the Bible and many biblical scholars consider it to be the earliest gospel ever written down on paper. How and why was it written and to whom was it written? How does this gospel begin and what is the significance of it? These were the questions that we explored as we oriented ourselves to the first century mindset, culture, and background during Jesus’s time. See below for the study guide used for our study. Feel free to use it as your review or study resource.

I. The Beginnings

(Mark 1:1)

A Word About Oral Tradition

Activity 1– (A game of “Telephone”)

 

First story:

A medieval peasant named Ignatius lived next to a busy cross-section of two ancient highways. One day, he saw a small child about to be crushed by a huge cart pulled by an ox. He ran to the child and pushed the child—Patricia–away from the road where the cart was headed. Unfortunately, immediately after his rescue of the girl, the cart passed over the monk, crushing him to death. The monk’s friends and family as well as the girl’s family members came out to see him on the road and built a memorial to remember his selfless act of love. The year was 1507, March 26th in the early afternoon right around mid-day. The place of this heroic act was at a small town outside what was used to be called Londonium.

 

Second story:

 

“Before my grandfather shipped off to Normandy, his last words were that he loved us very much. My grandpa, Roger Lewis, was 5 feet 6 inches tall, rather short for a typical soldier, but his spirit of warmth always surprised all those around him. After his death on Normandy, his belongings were sent back to us in a box which contained his silver watch, dog tag, a letter written to grandma, an empty cigarette box, a piece of the American flag which his grandfather gave to him after the Civil War ended. He was a proud corporal of the 82nd Airborne Infantry Division, which is now garrisoned in Fort Bragg, North Carolina today.”

 

Activity 1 debrief

What details did you remember? Which details did you want to emphasize? Did you choose to remember the emotion and the core message of the story or the details of the story? Why?

 

1. Gutenberg’s printing press (1040-50) wasn’t invented until the 11th century. So how did people tell stories and preserve history?

 

Imagine a world without formal education for all. Imagine a world where only the extremely privileged are well lettered. Imagine a world where paper and ink were way more expensive than it is today. Imagine a world where people memorized family stories, facts, geography, trade routes, landmarks, and books. Imagine a world where people heard the stories before they read them. Imagine, in this world, the stories of Jesus were not written down for many years, if not decades.

 

2. What did the ancient people think about writing?

 

Socrates (469-399 BCE) was a Greek Philosopher who thought and taught through argumentative dialogue, or dialectic. Socrates did not write down any of his thoughts, however his dialogues were recorded by his student and protégé, the philosopher Plato (428 – 347 BCE). Here Socrates discusses the deficiencies of writing.

 

“SOCRATES: You know, Phaedrus, writing shares a strange feature with painting. The offsprings of painting stand there as if they are alive, but if anyone asks them anything, they remain most solemnly silent. The same is true of written words. You’d think they were speaking as if they had some understanding, but if you question anything that has been said because you want to learn more, it continues to signify just that very same thing forever. When it has once been written down, every discourse roams about everywhere, reaching indiscriminately those with understanding no less than those who have no business with it, and it doesn’t know to whom it should speak and to whom it should not. And when it is faulted and attacked unfairly, it always needs its father’s support; alone, it can neither defend itself nor come to its own support.”*

*Plato. c.399-347 BCE. “Phaedrus.” Pp. 551-552 in Compete Works, edited by J. M. Cooper. Indianapolis IN: Hackett.

 

Then what about the authority of the Bible?

 

A Word about the authority of the Bible

Details and order of events in the gospels may not be exact (like playing back a video recording of those events), but we trust it to tell us the truth where it really matters—for example the virgin birth, public teachings, miracles, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and that he came to be our savior and lord forever.

 

 

Now let’s get to the writing. (“How writings start”) 

Activity 2: Picture yourself writing a book. First, write the beginning words of a TV ad for the new iPad. Don’t worry about the grammar, how brilliant it has to be, how original it needs to be etc. Just free write it for 2 minutes. Second, write the beginning words of a blockbuster sci-fi novel for 2 minutes. Thirdly, write for 2 minutes the beginning words of a text message sent to a friend who just found out his/her parents are getting divorced.

 

Activity 2 debrief

Let’s share our creative products.

Objective of the activity 2 was to demonstrate that a beginning of any intentional piece of writing often times reflect the writer’s reflection, attitude, and feelings toward the one(s) who will receive the message.

 

How do the Gospel of Matthew, Mark, and Luke each begin?

 

Activity 2: Write down your first impressions and findings after listening to the following:

 

Matthew:

An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham…”

 

Luke:

“Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed. In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.”

 

Mark:

“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’ ” John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins…”

 

Activity 2 debrief: How are they different from each other? How is the beginning of Mark different from the other two beginnings? Why do you think such difference exists?

 

A departing thought:

A careful study of the Gospel according to Mark (“Mark”) reveals Jesus’ repeated use of what some scholars call a “Messianic Secret” in which Jesus seemingly hides his true identity as the awaited Messiah. It goes something like this. Jesus does something miraculous such as driving out demons. The patient wants to talk to others about it, but Jesus warns him not to tell anyone about it. A bit odd isn’t it? What do you think?