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An Introduction to the New Testament



Occasion. The gospel is Christianity's contribution to literary types. It is without doubt the most effective literary form of religious expression that has ever been devised.[1]

As we approach the Greek gospels, we naturally turn to Greek literature to see what precedents or analogies it affords for this new literary type. The origins of Greek biography are found in Xenophon's Cyropaedia and his Memorabilia of Socrates (430-350B.C.), and it developed somewhat luxuriantly in the Alexander romance of the later centuries before Christ. Such works no doubt created a taste for biography among the Greeks, as the works of Plutarch (ca. A.D.90) show, but they seem to have had little influence upon the early gospels.

Much closer parallels to the Gospel of Mark, at least, are afforded by the Elijah and Elisha cycles of the Books of Kings: I Kings, chapter 17-II Kings, chapter 2; and I Kings 19:19, II Kings chapters 2-13. It is a striking fact that almost everything Jesus is reported

[1] In ancient manuscripts of the gospels, the collected four are entitled Gospel," each one receiving a heading: "According to Matthew," "According to Mark," "According to Luke," and "According to John." This use of the preposition kata is difficult, but it is probably distributive in force—"(The Part) According to Matthew," etc.


as doing in Mark has parallels in these cycles, which it is plain had a great influence on the writer. Indeed, the shadow of Elijah or Elisha falls on almost every page of the Gospel of Mark, and it would seem that for some reason the selective memory of the early church instinctively recorded about Jesus anything that recalled the doings of these great prophets. Of course, the idea that John was Elijah come back to earth as Forerunner of the Messenger of the Covenant, Mal. 3:1; 4:5, had a good deal to do with this. But it is hardly fair to quote these cycles as literary precedents for Mark, since they did not exist as literary units but only as parts of the Books of Kings.

Our earliest Christian literature, the letters of Paul, gives us glimpses of the form in which the story of Jesus and his teaching first circulated. That form was evidently an oral tradition, not fluid but fixed, and evidently learned by all Christians when they entered the church. This is why Paul can say, "I myself received from the Lord the account that I passed on to you," I Cor. 11:23. The words "received, passed on" [1] reflect the practice of tradition—the handing-down from one to another of a fixed form of words. How congenial this would be to the Jewish mind a moment's reflection on the Tradition of the Elders will show. The Jews at this very time possessed in Hebrew, unwritten, the scribal interpretation of the Law and in Aramaic a Targum or translation of most or all of their Scriptures. It was a point of pride with them not to commit these to writing but to preserve them

[1] paradidonai = tradere, traditio


unwritten but unaltered.[1] In such circles it would be entirely natural to treat the earliest account of Jesus' deeds and words in just this way. It is to this practice that Paul unmistakably refers, quoting from the Christian tradition our oldest account of the institution of the Lord's Supper, I Cor. 11:24, 25. It will be noted that he speaks of having previously passed this account on to the Corinthians. He speaks in a similar way in I Cor. 15:3-7 of the resurrection accounts which he had communicated to them: "I passed onto you as of first importance, the account I had received."

Acts similarly speaks of "remembering the words of the Lord Jesus," 20:35, and quotes words of Jesus that have never been found in any written gospel. Clement of Rome, in writing to the Corinthians about A.D.95, in two places—13:1 and 46:7, 8—quotes sayings of Jesus not quite like any in our gospels, admonishing his readers in both passages to "remember the words of the Lord Jesus." Polycarp of Smyrna in his letter to the Philippians, about A.D. 107-17, does the same, introducing the quotation with the words, "Remembering what the Lord said," Phil. 2:3. It seems clear that all four are quoting an Oral Gospel.[2]

This is internal evidence. Is there any external evidence,

[1] This attitude is clearly reflected in the story that Gamaliel the First, about A.D. 50, seeing a written copy of an Aramaic translation of Job, immediately had it destroyed. The Targum was not to be written but remembered; cf. Meyer Waxman, History of Jewish Literature (New York, 1930), II, p. 113.

[2] All these writers quote written documents in quite another way: I Cor 7:1; Gal. 3:13; Acts 1:20; I Clem. 47:1, 2; Pol. Phil. 3:2.


any possible reference to such a work, in out earliest Christian writings? It was, of course, the Jewish practice to preserve in oral form the sayings of the great rabbis, as the Pirqe Aboth ("The Sayings of the Fathers") shows. Conditions among the earliest Christians, who thought of Jesus as among other things a "rabbi"—Mark 9:5; 10:51; 11:21; 14:45, etc.—or a "teacher" (twelve times in Mark), favor such a way of preserving his teaching; it would, in fact, have been inevitable; and subsequent quotations seem to show its use, as we have seen. But is there anything that looks like an actual ancient mention of it by name?

In the early years of the second century there lived in Hierapolis, in Asia, a Christian bishop named Papias, who made it his business to interview any Christian of the previous generation who came near and to record these memorabilia in a book, which he called Interpretations of the Lord's Sayings. Though the book existed in convent libraries in Europe until the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, [1] it seems now to have disappeared, except for a few fragments of it quoted by ancient or medieval writers. One of these was Eusebius, who in his famous Church History, finished in A.D. 326, quoted this sentence from Papias:

"So then Matthew composed the Sayings in the Aramaic language and each one translated them as [best] he could."[2]

[1] A. Harnack, Geschichte der altchristlichen Litteratur: Die Ueberlieferung, und der Bestand (Leipzig, 1893), p. 69.

[2] Church History iii. 39, 15.


It has proved impossible to apply this strange statement to the Gospel of Matthew, which demonstrably rests upon written Greek sources, some of them shared with Luke. It cannot be understood to mean one of the sources of the gospels, as was at one time supposed. If it means that Matthew wrote the Sayings, in Aramaic, his action was contrary to the whole Jewish procedure of his day. But Papias does not say "wrote" as he does when speaking of Mark's gospel, just before; his word here is "composed" (so Lightfoot)—a word that seems to be quite appropriate to what may be called "oral composition."[1]

The composition of the original Oral Gospel would naturally come from some personal follower of Jesus, like Matthew. It would inevitably be in Aramaic, the language Jesus used. When the Greek mission began, it would of course be translated (still orally) into Greek, and variously translated as different missionaries found occasion to put it into Greek. As Luke puts it in his preface, 1:2, "the original eyewitnesses who became teachers of the message have handed it down to us." It would seem that it was the task of the "teachers" to teach this Oral Gospel to new converts, very much as the Jewish Tanna'im (teachers) taught the oral interpretation of the Law to their disciples. It is to oral instruction in this tradition that Luke refers, when he proposes to provide

[1] According to the new Liddell and Scott Dictionary, snggrafw means to compose a writing or speech, or draw up a contract or motion. Isocrates i. 3 speaks of "those who compose hortatory discourses [logond] addressed to their friends" (Norlin, Isocrates ["Loeb Library"], I, 7). The middle is used of "getting speeches [logond] composed" (Plato Euthydemus 272a).


for Theophilus a fuller and more exact account of the things Theophilus "has been orally taught."[1]

It seems probable that what Papias here refers to is the original Oral Gospel, and that the tradition of the church was that it was the work of Matthew. So understood, Papias' bewildering observation "and each one translated them as best he could" becomes perfectly clear and natural.

Such an identification solves a number of problems:

1. It explains Papias' statement, which has never been fitted into early Christian literary history.

2. It explains what Paul, Luke, Clement, and Polycarp were quoting from.

3. It explains why Matthew's name should later have been given to the leading written gospel; he had from the beginning been the great primitive figure behind the (oral) gospel.

4. It corroborates Luke's remark in his preface, 1:2, about the original eyewitnesses becoming teachers of the message and handing it down through oral tradition. What could be more natural, if the apostle Matthew composed the Oral Gospel they had all been taught?

5. It corresponds exactly with Palestinian Jewish attitudes toward the middle of the first century—the oral preservation of groups of sayings of great teachers.

6. It explains the use of the phrase "Remember the words" in Luke (Acts 20:35) and Clement (13:1; 46:7) and "Remember what the Lord said when he

[1]kathchqhd .


taught" in Polycarp (Phil. 2:3). Matthew's work was called "The Words" or "Oracles."

7. It corroborates the general critical dismissal of the Matthaean Logia, as not a written document.

On the whole, the mysterious Logia of Matthew would seem to have been the original Oral Gospel, reflected in Paul, Luke, Clement, and Polycarp. They are spoken of as "logoi," it is true, in Acts 20:35 and I Clem. 13:1 and 46:7, but the second Oxyrhynchus fragment of Sayings of Jesus (Oxyrhynchus Papyri 654, ca. A.D. 250) begins, "These are the .... Words [logoi] which Jesus .... spoke," so that it is altogether natural for Luke and Clement to speak of these earlier sayings of his by that name.

It is natural for us moderns to suppose that the first written gospel was simply the writing-down of this Oral Gospel, and some scholars have leaped to that conclusion. We instinctively feel that, if we had known it, we would have written it right down. This would have been a Greek way of doing; it was a Greek saying that if you found a saying of one of the philosophers and had no paper, you should write it upon your garments!

But the Jewish mind moved in exactly the opposite direction, and it was among Christians of Jewish blood that the first gospel tradition took shape. And when we compare the fragments of this Oral Gospel that we have found in Paul, Acts, Clement, and Polycarp with Mark, to our amazement not one of the fragments reappears in Mark. We may therefore conclude without hesitation that, whatever the origin of the Gospel of


Mark, it did not originate through the writing-down of the Oral Gospel. It does not contain the fragments of that gospel that have come down to us, nor any of these fragments.

The existence of this Oral Gospel in fact really renders our problem more difficult than ever. For if the early Christians had an Oral Gospel, why produce a written one? We can hardly suppose the Roman church, in which Mark evidently arose, was without the Oral Gospel; Paul and Peter had both lived and labored in Rome, and Clement's use of it in writing to the Corinthians shows that by his time (ca. 95) certainly, it was well known there. The Oral Gospel must have been the prevalent and dominant gospel form there. If a written gospel originated there, it must have done so under the shadow of this Oral Gospel, which it must have been designed to supplement. What situation could have brought this about? There must have been some very definite, specific occasion that, in the midst of a nonliterary Christianity and in the presence of the accepted Oral Gospel, precipitated the writing of the first written gospel. In one of the few surviving fragments of Papias' Interpretations, he says:

Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately everything that he remembered, without however recording in order what was either said or done by Christ. For neither did he hear the Lord speak, nor did he follow him, but afterwards, as I said, attended Peter, who adapted his instructions to the needs of his hearers, but had no design of giving a connected account of the Lord's oracles. So then Mark made no mistake while he thus wrote some things as he remembered them; for he made it his one care not to omit anything that he heard, or to set down any false statement therein.[1]


While there is much that is vague about this fragment, and we would give a good deal for its context, it seems to bring up the picture of Peter, an old man, visiting Rome in his later years and there preaching in his native Aramaic to the Greek congregation. They must have listened with rapt attention as the old apostle told of his walks and talks with Jesus in Galilee, and of the swift tragedy of betrayal and crucifixion which had followed in Judea. Then suddenly Peter is himself snatched from them and suffers martyrdom. It was one of the most famous of all martyrdoms; St Peter's marks the supposed spot on the Vatican Hill,[2] and legends like the stirring "Domine, quo vadis?" have gathered about it.[3] It must have filled the Roman congregation with grief. No more would they hear the old man uttering his inimitable reminiscences of Jesus, for with his death a priceless treasure of such memories perished from the earth.

But not entirely. For as the old man had preached, there had stood beside him, of course, now one, now another of them, who could understand his Aramaic speech and immediately translate it into Greek for his Roman hearers. He had used these memories only to

[1] Eusebius Church History iii. 39. 15.

[2] Cf. Eusebius Church History ii. 25. 7.

[3] Acts of Peter, chap 35.


illustrate and strengthen his own preaching, and from hearing some incidents over and over a number of times and putting them into Greek, a capable and alert interpreter would come to have a very definite memory of their wording. Out of such memories, Papias means to say, one of these interpreters named Mark composed his gospel.[1]

It is certainly a fact that almost everything in Mark might have been obtained from Peter, and much of the roughness and obscurity of the book would be explained on such a theory of its origin. Papias' reflection upon its order of treatment is probably due to his greater regard for Matthew, which he knew and no

[1] A. H. McNeile argues that the word "interpreter" (ermhnethd ) in Papias "does not imply that while St. Peter was preaching in Aramaic, St. Mark gave to his audience a Greek translation of his words sentence by sentence" (An Introduction to the Study of the New Testament [Oxford, 1927], p. 48). But in Gen. 42:23 (LXX) (cú. I Cor. 14:28) the word is used of immediate personal translation or interpretation. If Peter visited Rome, and the tradition that he did is overwhelming, he would require such help in addressing his Greek-speaking congregation, just as Marshal Joffre did on his visit to America, when U. S. Grant III was his usual interpreter, and as visitors to the Orient—China, India, Japan—constantly do today. Someone must have acted as Peter's interpreter on these occasions, and Mark's gospel seems clearly to have been written in Rome. McNeile's interpretation that "Peter preached in Aramaic and that St. Mark at a later time, after the Apostle's death in fact, set down in Greek for other circles of Christians all that he remembered" too much dilutes the plain meaning of Papias' words: Markod men ermhneuthd Petrou genomenod, osa emnhoemsen, akribvd egrajen. I Pet. 5:13 first links Peter, Mark, and Rome, doubtless in allusion to Mark's service rendered to Peter there, and what came of it. The Roman church, it must be remembered, was a Greek church from the beginning until toward the middle of the third century. Our first Roman Latin father is Novatian, ca. A.D. 250.


doubt preferred for its greater richness of teaching and tradition.

The chief question about Mark is its relation to these Petrine memoirs: Is it identical with them, or is it based upon them and some other source, perhaps the much discussed Matthean-Lucan source "Q," that is, Quelle or source? The latter position has often been assumed, the opening paragraphs of the gospel being referred to the redactor, or editor, who supposedly blended the two sources into what we know as Mark. Indeed, Bacon went so far as to say that Mark 1:1-13 was the masterpiece of the redactor.

But if we look closely and coldly at these paragraphs, we find a great deal that does not support this view.[1] The opening words, "The Beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ," at once create a problem. Are they a title, or do they form part of the first sentence? Indeed, what is the first sentence in Mark? Is it verse 2, verses 2, 3, or verse 4? Modern interpreters offer different answers to this question. It is evident that the writer, whoever he was, was not very fortunate in his opening lines.

He is no better in his first quotation, the famous Malachi ("My Messenger") oracle, Mal. 3:1, which he attributed to Isaiah and attached to Isa. 40:3. The editorial writers who produced the gospels of Matthew and Luke made no such mistake, which is much more easily understood in a primitive document like the Petrine memoirs than in the work of a redactor.

[1] Cf. E. J. Goodspeed, "The Marcan Redactor," in Leary, From the Pyramids to Paul (New York, 1935), pp. 57-66.


John the Baptist is abruptly introduced, as though well known to the reader (doubtless through the Oral Gospel already mentioned). He is rather cryptically spoken of as "preaching a baptism of repentance into forgiveness of sins." His clothing and fare are described, probably in token of his resemblance to the other desert prophet Elijah, but so crisply that few readers, ancient or modern, have understood the allusion.

Jesus, too, is abruptly introduced—because already well known from the Oral Gospel used by Paul and his converts. There is no scruple about describing him as accepting a repentance baptism. The description of the heavens as split or ripped open and the Spirit plunging down like a dove to enter into him is so harsh and bold that two actual redactors—Matthew and Luke—have greatly softened it. Mark describes Jesus as taken possession of by the Spirit, but in Matthew and Luke the Spirit simply lights upon him. Mark's idea of the Spirit entering him is in fact so extreme that it has hardly ever been translated even into English, although it is probably the key to his understanding of Jesus.[1]

The Spirit's control of Jesus is described in the roughest terms: It drives or throws him into the desert. All this is greatly softened by the Matthean and Lucan redactors, who change the word to "leads" or "guides." Verse 13 is a perfect knot of riddles and has suggested to some interpreters the most grotesque ideas of primitive initiation rites and circles drawn in

[1] Cf. B. W. Bacon, Beginnings of Gospel Story (New York, 1909), p.12


the sand. But as a matter of fact it is simply a very loose reminiscence of Ps. 91:11-14; the references to "God's beloved"—"in the desert"—"among wild animals"—and "looked after by angels" are unmistakable. Yet so obscurely is it all reflected that some skilled modern interpreters have altogether missed it.[1]

It seems clear that this is not the work of any redactor; these are the traits and traces of an original source, unrevised. A redactor might be so unequal to his task that he would let some of these things stand, but certainly no redactor would have missed them all. We know how Matthew and Luke handled this very passage, and they left hardly one of these things unchanged. The passage, in short, shows just the roughness, harshness, obscurity, and difficulty that we should expect in a work written in the circumstances Papias suggests—at arm's length, from memory, after the sponsor for the stories was gone and could not be consulted. This is just the way Mark would sound if the writer were trying to put down something he had heard, just as he heard it, without dressing it up after his own ideas of taste. It is just the way some other parts of Mark do sound, such as the reference to Abiathar as high priest in 2:26, whereas I Sam. 21:1-6 tells this story of Abiathar's father, Ahimelech, who paid for his friendly deed with his life. Here, again, a redactor should have mended matters. The two stories of the feeding of the multitude, 6:41, 8:6, so manifestly variant accounts of the same event, show the absence of the redactor's hand; Luke and John

[1] W. C. Allen, St. Mark (New York, 1915), p. 57.


omitted the second, though it is true Matthew included both.

After these opening paragraphs we find ourselves in 1:16 in the more or less immediate presence of Peter and continue so throughout the book, except for the story of Herod and John the Baptist, 6:14-29. The Little Apocalypse of chapter 13 is the most extended piece of discourse in the book and may have been taken up into it ready-made or nearly so. But, on the whole, it must be agreed that the Gospel of Mark comes very near being the memoirs of Peter of which Papias spoke, which were written down from memory soon after the martyrdom of Peter in A.D. 64-67, by one of his Greek-speaking interpreters in Rome.

Contents. The gospel begins, as we have seen, with a few sentences pointing out the prophetic oracles fulfilled in the appearance of John the Forerunner. Among John's penitents Jesus appears, seeking baptism. With that experience there comes to him a great sense of commission. The Spirit of God takes possession of him and hurries him into the desert for a mysterious ordeal of temptation. Only after John's arrest does Jesus begin to preach. He declares that the time has come for the reign of God to begin on earth and calls on the people to repent and believe the good news. Unlike John, he goes about among the villages. and cities, preaching. He calls four Capernaum fishermen to be his companions and teaches in the synagogue there. He casts out demons and cures the sick. (The whole gospel is cast in the ancient religious vocabulary of demon and marvel.) He turns his back upon


his sudden popularity and journeys about, his public the unchurched "people of the land" who simply could not carry out the scribal refinements of pharisaic religion, 1:1-39.

Dr. Horton has written a book on The Cartoons of St. Mark.[1] And Mark can be considered as a series of great pictures, boldly and simply drawn. A situation is sketched. Jesus appears in the midst of it, and says something or does something that relieves it. It has often been remarked that his words flash through these scenes like a bright sword, with a power and genius quite beyond the skill of the evangelist. We may contrast the situation in John, where it is sometimes hard to tell where Jesus leaves off and the evangelist begins, e.g., John 3:16. The distinction which these sayings of Jesus, in Mark, possess is a strong guaranty of their nearness to the actual scenes they describe.

Moving on about Galilee, Jesus cures a leper, which embarrassingly increases his fame, and then a paralytic on the Sabbath, which incenses the Pharisees. Their hostility is increased by his calling a tax collector to follow him and by his eating with such people. His disciples disregard the current fasts; he is indifferent to the refinements of the Law of the Sabbath, and finally on the Sabbath he cures a man whose hand is withered. As a result the Pharisees plot to put him to death, 1:40-3:6.

Before this peril Jesus retreats with his disciples to the seashore, 3:7. He seems to adjust his plans to the new situation by calling twelve men to be his associates

[1] R. F. Horton, The Cartoons of St. Mark (New York, 1894).


and messengers and by resorting to parables or figures, which partly veil and yet convey his message. He stills the tempest, casts out demons, raises Jairus' daughter, and preaches at Nazareth, where his townsmen's refusal of his message fills him with surprise. He sends the Twelve out to preach repentance, cast out demons, and cure the sick. He feeds the multitudes (as Elisha had done)[1] and again saves the disciples from storm. The criticism of the scribes and Pharisees about his practice of eating with unwashed hands leads him to denounce their insincerity and sweep away the whole doctrine of clean and unclean foods, 3:7-7:23.

After thus throwing down the gauntlet to his enemies in Galilee, he again retreats, 7:24, this time to the vicinity of Tyre and Sidon. He wishes no one to know of his presence and returns by a roundabout way to the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Again he feeds the crowds, and the Pharisees confront him with a demand for a sign of his authority. He retreats a third time, 8:27, this time to the villages about Caesarea Philippi, to the north of Galilee. He asks the disciples who people say he is and who they think him to be. Peter says, "You are the Christ." Jesus warns them not to say this about him to anyone, 7:24-8:30.

Increasingly conscious of the peril confronting him, Jesus tells his disciples that he must soon be put to death but, in language evidently taken from Hos. 6:2, declares his faith that even in death God will not

[1] II Kings 4:42-44.


forsake him: "He will revive us in two or three days; he will raise us up that we may live before him."

The transfiguration follows. The great painters of the Renaissance have made us think of the transfiguration as a sort of feat of levitation, but of course it was really a great spiritual experience. The disciples are beginning to think of Jesus as Messiah, which might mean any one of many things. In the transfiguration experience his closest followers learn to think of him along with Moses and Elijah—the great molders of Israel's religion. It is in that realm that his Messiahship, his anointing, lies, 8:31-9:50.

Jesus now turns sharply upon his foes, 10:1. Three times he has given ground before them; now he takes the offensive. The period of seclusion is over—the retreats, the incognito. He sets out for Judea. It is as though he had resolved that, if he must face death in his work, he would not do it obscurely in some corner of Galilee but conspicuously, dramatically, in Jerusalem, the capital, and before the Jewish people gathered for its great annual feast. Of course. Mark does not say this in so many words. We have a strange feeling in Mark that we are very close to the mind of Jesus; we are nearer to his confidence than anywhere else in the New Testament, yet very little is explicitly told about his hopes and plans.

There is indeed a stern picture of him as he goes on his way: "As they went on their way up to Jerusalem, Jesus walked ahead of them, and they were in dismay, and those who still followed were afraid." No longer affable and familiar, he is now remote and absorbed,


striding on alone before them, unapproachable and wrapped in his own thoughts. He has never been like this, and the sight fills them with dismay and fear. He breaks his silence only to repeat his dark forebodings of what is to happen in Jerusalem—disgrace and death, though not without resurrection too, 10:1-34, Zebedee's sons are so oblivious of his mood that they actually ask for the leading places in his coming triumph. He reaches Jericho, then as he draws nearer Jerusalem, Bethphage and Bethany. Jesus has secretly prepared for his triumphal entry, so that he may come into the city not as a warrior Messiah but as a peaceful prophet, such as Zechariah had described. His fame has preceded him, and the pilgrims welcome him with cheers. He enters the city and visits the Temple, as if in preparation for the momentous morrow. Then, as it is late, he goes out with the Twelve to lodge in Bethany, 10:35-11:11.

The next day he throws down the gauntlet to the priests and Sadducees. He clears the Temple of buyers and sellers and denounces their abuse of it in his unforgettable way. Chesterton says that Jesus' style was gigantesque—full of camels leaping through needles and mountains being hurled into the sea. The next day the Temple authorities call upon him to give an account of himself and tell by what authority he has taken his highhanded action. He parries and at the same time answers their question with another about John's authority, which they are afraid to answer. He tells the story of the Vineyard and the Wicked Tenants, to show what he thought of them. Nothing


could be more dramatic than these debates in the Temple courts, with throngs of eager pilgrims hanging on the words. Eight centuries before Amos had challenged the Hebrew priesthood, but a greater than Amos was here, 11:12-12:44.

The simple Galilean disciples wonder at the Temple's splendor: "What wonderful stones and buildings!" But to his mind they are all simply ripe for overthrow. "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be torn down." The discourse on the fall of the city and the end of the age follows, 13:1-37.

Jesus' preparations for the Passover supper are made with the same secrecy that had marked his arrangements for his triumphal entry. By the story of the man with the pitcher of water, Mark clearly means to convey the sense of apprehension and precaution that colored these anxious days in Jerusalem. They have been staying outside the city in Bethany, but the Passover must be eaten, at whatever risk, in Jerusalem itself.[1] Even there at the Supper, when they are all safely gathered at table, there is foreboding and suspicion; one of the Twelve will betray him; and in the Passover bread and cup he sees the symbols of his redemptive death.

Up to the last night of his life Jesus did not give up hope that he might win his people to his message. Stopping after the Supper to pray in the garden on the Mount of Olives, he is arrested by a posse from the high priests, and after a hurried examination is tried

[1] Deut. 16:5-7.


before the Roman governor and immediately executed. The story is told with a restraint and simple power that make it one of the classics of heroic tragedy 14:1-15:47. The Gospel of Mark breaks off abruptly, 16:8, with glimpses of resurrection.[1] Its dilapidation must be due to its absorption in Matthew, which no doubt seemed to its first readers an improved and enlarged form of Mark. Certainly Matthew quickly replaced Mark, which probably fell into disuse and neglect. Mark twice promises a reunion of Jesus with his disciples in Galilee, 14:28; 16:7, and that is just what Matthew proceeds to record, in 28:9, 10, 16-20. As Matthew is following Mark's language very closely, phrase by phrase, in 28:1-7, it is altogether likely that he continued to use Mark in this way to the end, and as he actually gives us the very climax which Mark has twice foreshadowed, there seems to be no reasonable doubt that he derived it from Mark. That Mark was complete when Matthew used it is altogether likely; as we have seen, the loss of its conclusion is probably the result of its being replaced in popular use by the newer Gospel of Matthew.

It is reasonable to conclude that Mark originally

[1] Mark 16:9-20 is absent from the Vatican and Sinaitic manuscripts ot the fourth century; from the Old Latin Bobiensis, fifth or sixth century; the Old Syriac Sinaitic manuscript, fourth or fifth century, and from some Georgian, Armenian, and Ethiopic codices. The Codex Regius, eighth century, follows Mark 16:8 with the Short Conclusion, preceded with the words jerete pou kai tauta —"This also is in some cases present." After the Short Conclusion it proceeds, "This also is current after 'For they were afraid,'" and gives the Long Conclusion, 16:9-20.


ended with an account of the reunion of Jesus with the disciples in Galilee.[1] Reassembled as he had ordered in their old haunts, they felt his presence once more, heard his voice again, and knew that he had come back to them never to leave them until the end.[2] It is a little surprising, and perhaps not without significance, that the gospel which began with Arche—the beginning—would in this case have ended with telos—the end.

Christian antiquity did not greatly prize the Gospel of Mark. Hippolytus described Mark as "stub-fingered," a man whose fingers were thumbs.[3] What he meant was that Mark, compared with Matthew, seemed clumsy and obscure. Augustine thought Mark a condensation of Matthew.

It was left for modern learning to perceive the extraordinary values of the Gospel of Mark. For while it has no difficulty in pointing out, as we have done, the solecisms and obscurities, even the mistakes, of the gospel and the meagerness of its account of Jesus' teaching, it fully recognizes the historical worth of the gospel, which brings us nearer to the immediate circle of Jesus' followers than any other record of him that we possess. It is as though Mark felt that he was in the presence of something too great for him to master or control, which he must simply record as faithfully

[1] Goodspeed, New Solutions of New Testament Problems (Chicago, 1927), pp.116-22.

[2] As Dr. George A. Buttrick recently put it, "Their memory of Jesus had quickened to a presence" (Life, December 28, 1936), p. 49.

[3] kolobodaktuloV (Refutation vii. 18).


as he might. This is why we get in Mark as in no other gospel this strange vague sense of great things close at hand—conflicts, insights, purposes, decisions. It shows us Jesus not primarily as a teacher but as a man of action. He moves through the narrative with masterful vigor, finally even facing the nation's priesthood not with mere words but with bold acts of reformation. It is not without significance that in this earliest gospel we see Jesus as a man of action.

Indeed, the Gospel of Mark possesses the quality of action to a higher degree than any of the others.[1] Matthew has made so much of Jesus' teaching that we have almost forgotten that he had another very different side. When he saw an evil, he did something about it. It was this trait of his and not his teaching that cost him his life, for it was his cleansing of the Temple that sealed his fate. It was more than the priestly authorities could brook.

The three retreats of Jesus before his foes and then his turning against them and attacking them in their stronghold give Mark a dramatic quality peculiarly its own, and its thrilling account of the betrayal, arrest, trial, and death of Jesus makes it the supreme martyrdom, for Matthew and Luke have done little but elaborate it here. From one point of view, indeed, Mark is a martyrdom, for the shadow of the cross already falls across the narrative from the beginning of the third chapter (3:6) on. It remained the pattern gospel to the end of the gospel-making age, and,

[1] Cf.. E. W. Burch, "Tragic Action in the Second Gospel," Journal of Religion, XI (1931), 346-58.


informal and unambitious as Mark's narrative is, no more convincing or dramatic account has ever been written of the sublime effort of Jesus to execute the greatest task ever conceived—to set up the Kingdom of God on earth.

Problems. It is now fairly settled that the Gospel of Mark is the earliest of the gospels and did not develop out of an earlier stage as a Primitive Mark, as once supposed. Its place of composition was certainly Rome.[1] It must have been written after the Jewish War of A.D. 66-70; compare 13:14-20:

"As soon as you see the dreadful desecration standing where he has no right to stand" (the reader must take note of this), "then those who are in Judea must fly to the hills; a man on the roof of his house must not go down or go into the house to get anything out of it, and a man in the field must not turn back to get his coat. .... There will be such misery in those days as there has never been since the beginning of God's creation until now, and never will be again."

This is an unmistakable reflection of the horrors of the siege of Jerusalem; Josephus himself declared that no other city ever suffered such miseries (Wars v. 10. 5); certainly it would be difficult to imagine anything worse than what he describes (Wars v. 12-vi. 9). Josephus says that eleven hundred thousand people perished in the siege, and whatever may have been the correct figure, this shows what was thought in the first century about the matter. Such stories about the

[1] B. W. Bacon, Is Mark a Roman Gospel? (Cambridge, 1919).


fall of Jerusalem are evidently back of Mark, chapter 13.

We cannot therefore regard the date of the death of Peter (A.D. 64? 67?) as the terminus a quo for the book. Certainly as we have it, including the Little Apocalypse of chapter 13, Mark was written after A.D. 70, but not very long after, since Matthew soon made it the basis of his own gospel.

But was chapter 13 an original part of the book? This brings us to our most serious Marcan problem—Mark's use of sources. Efforts have been made to show that he made use, for example, of the hypothetical "Q" (the supposed second common source of Matthew and Luke). They rest primarily on the occurrence in Mark of a few small but striking items which appear also in the common non-Marcan portions of Matthew and Luke. Believing that a probability of literary relationship is thus created, some scholars proceed to build up a body of common material of more dubious resemblance. The mistake in this procedure lies in its tacit assumption that the ultimate documents of the Synoptic Gospels must have been mutually exclusive, which is manifestly the reverse of probable.

The written sources of the gospels rested not so much upon the fixed Oral Tradition, which was of very definite content and limits, as upon such elements of Jesus' life and teaching as had found their way into Christian preaching and suffered modification and amplification under the stress of Christian experience. This is the sort of thing that underlies what Papias


says of the oral materials out of which Mark was written.

As a matter of fact, Mark shows few traces of the use of written sources. As we have seen, the evangelist is not a redactor. The Little Apocalypse of chapter 13 comes nearest to being a written source; it has been identified with the Christian apocalypse which Eusebius says was given to the Christians in Jerusalem on the eve of the siege and led them to make their escape from the doomed city to Pella (Church History iii. 5. 3).

Eusebius says that "the people of the church in Jerusalem had been commanded by a revelation, vouchsafed by approved men there before the war, to leave the city and to dwell in a certain town of Perea called Pella." This certainly sounds very much like Mark 13:14, though it must be admitted there is no mention of Pella in Mark. Moreover, the revelation mentioned by Eusebius was in anticipation of the siege; the Little Apocalypse of Mark looks back upon it. Further, a "revelation" does not necessarily suggest a written apocalypse; compare Gal. 2:2; I Cor. 14:26; II Cor. 12:1. It remains true that the warning to flee from Jerusalem is contained in Mark, chapter 13, and is reported in a more specific form in Eusebius, but a documentary dependence of Mark upon such a work can hardly be maintained.

The fall of Jerusalem is understood in chapter 13 to mark a definite stage in the progress of the apocalyptic program but not the end of it, for before the end the good news must first be preached to all the heathen,


13:10. The persecuted Christians can find that much comfort in it, 13:7, 8, 10, 13. A whole series of matters incident to the siege and destruction of the city appears in the chapter: the desecration of the Holy City, 13:14; the escape before the siege, 13:14-16; the dreadful misery, 13:19. The chapter as a whole reflects the horrors of persecution, 13:9-13; the siege and fall of Jerusalem, 13:14-20; and the apocalyptic hope, 13:21-27, followed by the warning to be on the watch, 13:28-37. Even such a memory would, in any case, be modified by the evangelist to suit its function in his gospel, where it carries the persecution and martyr interest to its peak, 13:11-13. For the martyrdom of Peter, which we have seen probably gave the impulse to the writing of Mark, did not stand alone. It was but one, though the most notable, of a series of martyrdoms that ravaged the Roman church. Peter's memories culminated in the great account of Jesus' own martyrdom, and in a time when the horrors of persecution were fresh in the Christian mind, Jesus' passion would loom as a supreme model for his followers.[1] Such a narrative of his sufferings would nerve the Roman Christians against the renewal of such persecutions as they had recently suffered; Certainly in August of A.D. 64, as Tacitus records.

We may therefore think of the Gospel of Mark as first undertaken under the impulse to preserve the martyred Peter's memories of Jesus, especially of his martyrdom, for a Roman public just emerging from

[1] D. W. Riddle, The Martyrs (Chicago, 1931), chap. viii.


persecution and likely at any time to have to face another one; and completed and published, doubtless with the aid of other Roman memories of Peter's preaching, soon after the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.[1]

Wellhausen's stimulating suggestions about Mark have recently been revived and summarized by Lightfoot.[2] They are: that Mark consists of little sections which at first had a separate existence; that the book has been subjected to revision; and that it reflects contemporary church beliefs and conditions. The recognition of the little sections, drawn from contemporary preaching, accords very well with the view of the origin of Mark that has been outlined above. The revision theory is less probable: It is possible that Mark, if first put forth after the death of Peter, sustained some later addition after the fall of Jerusalem;

it may possibly have been supplemented by the introduction of the Little Apocalypse, not long after the main body of it was first written down. But anything like a revision or a series of revisions is made very improbable by the nature of the book itself. That Peter's preaching should have developed, keeping pace with the developing church life, is likely enough; he must have preached almost thirty-five years. It is not

[1] We must not suppose that all available material on the subject was drawn upon, however, since the long current account of the Last Supper (reported from the Oral Gospel in I Cor. 11:24, 25) has not colored the account of the same event in Mark 14:22-25, and the Oral Gospel's account of the resurrection appearances, I Cor. 15:4-6, seems to have been quite different from that of Mark, as nearly as we can determine it.

[2] R. H. Lightfoot, History and Interpretation in the Gospels (New York, 1935). p. 23.


necessary to suppose that his preaching underwent no development during this time or that Mark was a colorless or mechanical interpreter. That Mark should have put his own stamp upon the gospel in writing it is not in the least improbable; modern oriental interpreters frequently adjust the addresses, which they stand by to translate, to their own views and those of the public before them.

The longest continuous narrative in Mark is the account of the trial and death of Jesus, 14:1-16:8, and this fact is sometimes alleged to mean that Mark found that account already substantially formed. No doubt it was a matter which had been told over and over again in Christian preaching before Mark wrote it down. But did he have it before him in written form, that is, did he owe it to a written source? Here, as in the Little Apocalypse, the question of Mark's sources—that is, written sources as distinguished from oral information—becomes acute.

Now it is at once apparent that these particulars—anointing, Passover, Last Supper, agony, betrayal, arrest, examination, denial, trial, crucifixion, resurrection—did not select or record themselves. They may perhaps be said to fall naturally into a certain order, though Luke has departed from Mark's order in some considerable details. Mark's order may have been orally communicated by Mark's informant, or it may have been created by him as the most natural sequence for the several items; they do not seem capable of any more reasonable arrangement.

There is no serious reason for supposing that anyone


has previously put them in written form; that would have been a most unnatural thing for Jewish hands to do in view of the first-century Jewish aversion to written composition. And Christian eschatological expectation would have left no room for such a proceeding in ordinary circumstances; what point could there be in writing down an account of Jesus' Passion, when he might at any time reappear on the clouds of heaven? The effort to push written accounts of the Passion into the first generation after Jesus' death loses sight of the prevailing Christian mood in that period as Paul reflects it, I Cor. 7:29-31. It is remarkable enough that we possess written accounts as early as Mark. The first Christians were not the kind of people that write books—they lived in a first-century Jewish atmosphere definitely averse to literary composition, even to taking notes—and they cherished an apocalyptic expectation that promised neither time nor reason for such efforts. It is therefore a mistake to postulate written documents before those of which we have certain knowledge, and even these call for very definite and pressing situations to explain their appearance.

To push back the Passion narrative of Mark to an earlier document, therefore, does not make the problem easier; it makes it more difficult. It leaves us with the further problem, which cannot be avoided, of accounting for the composition of the earlier document. What pressing situation called it forth? Why did it have to be written? And all the time we must honestly


remember that the farther back the writing-down of it is pushed, the more difficult it becomes to explain. Of course, the incidents of those last momentous days and those hours of grim, dreadful tragedy would be burned into the memories of those who shared them, and of them Peter is the one most likely to have told and retold them most unforgettably. First, because he was apparently the most outspoken and energetic of the group and, second, because his owe defection is so emphasized, 14:27-31, 66-72. The Passion narrative of chapters 14-15 is almost wholly free from the miraculous; the darkness, 15:33, and the rending of the Temple veil, 15:38, are the only item? that even suggest any interruption of the natural order. It would in fact be difficult to write a more objective piece of sheer, stark tragedy than these seven tremendous pages. Their greatness lies in their Spartan restraint and their terrible, unsparing simplicity. One feels that the writer is so profoundly moved that he cannot for an instant relax his hold upon his feelings or they will sweep him away. And if they show great story-telling power, it is just the power that has characterized the most of the Gospel of Mark from its beginning.

Nor is the bulk of Mark such as to demand a labored sourcing of its contents. It is a little book—really only a pamphlet—of some forty pages, which can be read aloud in an hour. Built up it no doubt was, but primarily from memories of Peter's preaching, enriched with such matters as the fate of John, 6:17-29, and possibly the core of the Little Apocalypse, chapter 13.


But there is no sufficient reason to suppose that even these came to the evangelist's hands in written form.

The undoubted want of cohesion [1] which has been detected in Mark is just what one would expect if the book had the origin suggested by Papias. Peter would ordinarily tell incidents in Jesus' work to illustrate or enforce some point he was making in his own preaching, just as Papias says; these materials, scattered through Peter's discourses. Mark afterward assembles from his memory of Peter's sermons. It is very natural, therefore, for each of the detached items or units into which Mark, chapters 1-12, so easily falls should seem to deal with some problem of early Christian thought or life; it was for that that Peter meant them.[2] It is also probable that Mark colored his material with his own theological views and gave the work a stamp of his own, almost as positively as Matthew and Luke did in writing their gospels.[3]

The association of Peter, Mark, and Rome, reflected in the famous fragment of Papias, really appears much earlier, in I Pet. 5:13: "Your sister-church in Babylon, chosen like you, and Mark my son wish to be remembered to you." We shall see that I Peter was written by the Roman church late in the first century, and in these words it clearly connects Peter, Mark, and Rome—the "Babylon" seated on seven hills of Rev. 17:5, 9. This combination, Peter-Mark-Rome, at once

[1] McNeile, An Introduction to the Study of the New Testament (Oxford, 1927), pp. 50 and 51.

[2] F. C. Grant, The Growth of the Gospels (New York, 1933), p. 105.

[3] C. H. Dodd, The Gospel in the New Testament (London, 1926), pp. 13-16.


suggests the traditional origin of the Gospel of Mark and was probably meant by the writer of I Peter to do so. It comes as near to a direct reference to the posthumous Petrine Gospel of Mark as anyone writing under the name of Peter could very well come; the writer of II Peter, long after, manifestly overdoes it when he makes the reference to the gospel explicit: "I will also take care that after I am gone you will be able at any time to call these things to mind," 1:15.

As to the original conclusion of Mark, in view of Mark's repeated promise of a Galilean reunion—"After I am raised to life again, I will go back to Galilee before you," 14:28, and "He is going before you to Galilee; you will see him there, just as he told you," 16:7—combined with the continuity of the account of a Galilean reappearance in Matthew with Matthew's faithful use of Marcan material. Matt. 28:1-10, 16-20, it seems plain that Mark ended with an account of a Galilean reappearance, which may be reconstructed on the basis of Matthew's form of it, as follows:

And Jesus met them and said, "Good morning!" And they went up to him and clasped his feet and bowed to the ground before him. Jesus said to them, "You need not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee and they will see me there." And they went with great joy and ran to tell his disciples. And the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. There they saw him and bowed down before him. And Jesus came up to them and said, "Go and preach the good news to all the heathen. I will always be with you, to the end."



Bacon, B. W. The Beginnings of Gospel Story (New York, 1909).

----. The Gospel of Mark: Its Composition and Date (New Haven, 1925).

----. Is Mark a Roman Gospel? (Cambridge, 1919).

Gould, E. P. The Gospel According to St. Mark (New York, 1913).

Grant, F. C. The Growth of the Gospels (New York, 1933).

Lightfoot, R. H. History and Interpretation in the Gospels (New York, 1935).

Menzies, A. The Earliest Gospel (London, 1901).

Montefiore, C. G. The Synoptic Gospels, Vol. I (2d ed.; London,1927).

Streeter, B. H. The Four Gospels (New York, 1925).

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