The best way I know to introduce this book is to compare it with the other three Gospels. Of course, it is one of the three synoptic Gospels, meaning that it is written with a chronological perspective, moving logically from one scene to the next. John, the non-synoptic Gospel, is not written in chronological order which makes it seem more difficult to many readers. It’s often helpful for students of the Bible to recognize that each of the four Gospels is written for a different audience. This aspect of differing audience has a unique result for each book that, when understood, makes the books easier to understand in relation to each other; the result being that they are in harmony with each other rather than in conflict. Each one tells the truth about the life of Jesus, and yet they don’t all tell exactly tell the same stories in exactly the same way, but when you understand that they are written for culturally diverse groups of people, each coming to understand Christ from their own points of view, we can not only comprehend them more easily, but we can also take an important lesson about sharing the message of Christ with diverse people in our own day.
Matthew was written for a Jewish audience, and this is why it is full of instances where its author points out what was done to fulfill prophecy. You don’t see much of that in Mark and Luke, since their audiences didn’t know the Jewish prophets all that well. Luke was written by a Greek so, go figure, he wrote it for a largely Greek audience. It is full of descriptions that are similar to those found in Greek literary and philosophical traditions, of actions followed by explanations of the actions with Jesus playing the role (so to speak) of the Master, and the rest of us being the disciple (student) who is being taught the lesson.
John is unique in that he wrote to the mass audience, but unlike things written for mass consumption today, it isn’t dumbed down to the least common denominator, it is kicked up to a heavenly point of view. I would suspect John’s approach would have been confusing to many gentiles in his day, but in our day it ties all of humanity together as one family.
Now we come to Mark. While the Jewish perspective was centered on law and prophecy, and the Greek mind tended towards philosophy and intellect, Mark appealed to the man of action, and in the first century there was a very large audience composed of people who came from a culture that had little time for speculations about ancient prophecies and philosophy, for they were busy running the world; the Romans. Interesting isn’t it, that if you look carefully, you’ll find these three paralleled today in Christianity.
Mark’s gospel is a busy book full of action. He flies right past the Sermon on the Mount, preferring to move on to the next miracle, and he describes miracles with a flourish not found in the other gospels. If you like action, you’ll love Mark!
How did that happen?
Unlike Matthew and John, Mark was not an eyewitness to most of the scenes he described, in fact there is only circumstantial evidence that he was present at any of them. He was not an apostle, and he isn’t associated as one of the “big” followers of Jesus, but he does appear in Scripture.
John Mark, our author, was the son of a well-known woman named Mary, who was a leading follower of Jesus at the time of the death of James. Her home in Jerusalem was an early gathering place for the disciples there, and is the place Peter returned to when he was released from prison in Acts 12:12 ff. where “John who is also called Mark” is mentioned. Mary was also the sister of Barnabas of the Jerusalem church. (Col. 4:10; Acts 4:5-6, 37; 9:26-27; 11:22-24) Thus, from the earliest days of the church, and maybe before that, John Mark would have frequently found himself in the company of the apostles who had been closely associated with Jesus during His earthly ministry. Can you imagine being a youth hanging out with the apostles day after day in your own home?
As the years went by, John Mark was closely associated as the assistant for Paul and Barnabas (Acts 12:25; 13:5; 15:37-39) and later with Peter (1 Peter 5:13) and again with Paul (Col. 4:10; 2 Timothy 4:11). Certainly, then, Mark had every opportunity to have heard the eyewitness accounts of the apostles, and showed that he was far from a casual believer.
Some more recent scholars have suggested that Mark couldn’t have written an inspired account of the life of Jesus. I’m sure these scholars are much smarter than I am, because I can’t see the point of such speculations, unless Mark hasn’t reported something in a way that it fits nicely into a particular scholar’s theological conclusions, and if that is the reason, then it’s a bad reason. It also strikes me as odd that a “Christian” scholar can’t see that God can use anyone for his purposes, as though one must go to the “right” school to be taken seriously. Luke wasn’t an eyewitness either, but few, if any, question his gospel, since Luke was with Paul. John Mark was with all of the apostles and spent years with both Paul and Peter. In fact, many believe he wrote this account with Peter’s oversight.
You are free to think what you will of course, but as for me, Mark is as valid an account as Matthew, Luke or John, and is well worth our careful attention and study.