Day 277: Mark: The Most Roman Gospel

four views, one news, Part Two
The traditional icon for the Gospel of Mark is a winged lion. For a discussion of why, see The Evangelist’s Symbols: Man, Lion, Ox, Eagle

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Mark 1:1

Yesterday, I wrote about Matthew being the most Jewish gospel. If you’re expecting upcoming blog posts about the distinctives of Luke and John, you’re not wrong. While I love our chronological reading plan, there is something to be said for reading each gospel through completely before you get to the next one. Otherwise, you tend to lose each Evangelist’s unique voice.

In seminary, one of the first things my New Testament professor lectured on was that there were four distinct views of Jesus’ earthly ministry, but that they all told the same story:

  • Matthew was a Jew, writing to Jews, about the Jewish Messiah
  • Mark was a Roman, writing to Romans, about Jesus the Perfect Son of Man (more on this in a minute)
  • Luke is a Gentile, writing to a specific Gentile (Theophilus, see Luke 1:1) about Jesus the Light to the Gentiles.
  • John is a disciple, writing to the church, about Jesus the Word of God made flesh.

I’ll cover Luke and John in future posts, but let’s look at what makes Mark so distinctively Roman. For this post, I’m very indebted to a blogger named Marty Solomon. He hasn’t posted in awhile, but his blog, Covered in his Dust is a great resource.

A Roman Pace

Mark is much shorter and moves at a much faster pace than the other gospels. In chapter one, Mark covers material that isn’t introduced until chapter four of Matthew and Luke. Of the sixty-three uses of the word “immediately” in the gospels, more than half come from Mark. Unlike Matthew and Luke, there aren’t many passages where Jesus is teaching in Mark, unless He is teaching in response to some question or criticism. There’s no Sermon on the Mount. There are only eight parables in Mark, compared to 23 in Matthew and 24 in Luke.

This reflects the Roman emphasis on action over the Hellenistic emphasis on philosophy. As Marty Solomon wrote on his post,

They are not easterners who value a treasure hunt buried in the text or an expectation that you would want to work through tough questions in order to unearth amazing truths. Romans want you to get to the point and tickle their fancy. And so Mark writes a gospel that is a fast-paced tale of all the things Jesus did. He bounces from story to story, keeping the characters moving and Jesus busy.

Marty Solomon, Mark a Roman Gospel

Roman Values

Marty Solomon notes that Greco-Roman culture was built on four pillars: education, health, entertainment, and competition. With that in mind, pay attention to the stories Mark tells just in Chapter One:

Education: Jesus is a master teacher. Mark 1:21-22 says,

21 And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. 22 And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.

Health: After Jesus healed Simon Peter’s mother in law, the “whole city” gathered at the door (of Peter’s house, presumably), bringing “all who were sick or oppressed by demons, and Jesus healed many of them (Mark 1:32-34). Later he healed a leper, and warned him not to tell anyone about it (verse 40-44). He didn’t listen, and as a result Jesus could no longer openly enter a town. Which brings us to the next pillar.

Entertainment: Greco-Roman culture loved to be entertained. The Greeks gave us Sophocles, Euripedes, and other playwrights whose plays are still performed today. And of course, Rome elevated spectacle to another level with the Colosseum and the Circus Maximus. So notice how Mark emphasizes how the crowds are constantly amazed with Jesus, and begin to follow Him everywhere he goes:

  • “At once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding area” (v. 28).
  • “The whole city was gathered at his door” (v. 32).
  • “Everyone is looking for you” (v. 37)
  • Even in desolate places, “people were coming to him from every quarter” (v. 45)

Competition: Greco-Roman culture gave us the Olympics and the gladiators. They loved competition. So notice how Jesus is described as being “better than” or “stronger than” someone or something else:

  • “After me [John the Baptist] comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie” (v. 7) 
  • “he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes” (v. 22).
  • “And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan” (v. 13).
  • “He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him” (v. 27).

Solomon writes, “I think there is a reason that many of us prefer the gospel of Mark. In short, we are Romans! We are westerners who are cut from the same cloth. It’s for the very same reasons we enjoy the shorter, faster, more entertaining gospel of Mark.”

But Mark has an agenda much deeper than simply entertaining his readers. He reveals his agenda in the very first verse:

  • The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
  • And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased (v. 11).
  • “I know who you are—the Holy One of God” (v. 24).

That last one came from a demon. So you have the narrator saying Jesus was the son of God. You have God saying He is the Son of God. You even have a demon saying He is the Son of God.

Ironically, in Mark’s entire gospel, only one human being proclaims Jesus as the Son of God. After the crucifixion, the centurion who had been stationed at the foot of the cross looked up and said, “Truly this man was the Son of God” (Mark 15:39).

Did you catch that? The most Roman gospel has the most crucial confession of faith coming from the mouth of a Roman.

For a deeper dive into this topic, check out The Four Witnesses: The Rebel, the Rabbi, the Chronicler, and the Mystic by Robin Griffith-Jones

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