To Whom Did Mark Write his Gospel?

22 Mar
Mark's Gospel - 3

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If we are to believe the testimonies of Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria that Mark wrote out Peter’s Gospel for the Roman Christians, could it be reasonably shown within the Gospel that this is true? The answer to this question is “Yes, and no!” While there is no direct evidence within the Gospel of Mark that shows his labor was spent upon Roman believers, there is some very good indirect evidence that implies his Gospel was written with the Roman believer in mind.

First of all, we need to keep in mind that Mark (Peter’s Gospel) was originally intended for Jews in Palestine. The late Dr. Robert L. Lindsey has demonstrated that although Mark’s Gospel shows poor Greek syntax, if one translates it back into the Hebrew or Aramaic it has very good syntax in those languages. So, Mark represents a very literal translation from Peter’s words, even keeping the original Semitic word order.

Knowing this, we can understand that, because Mark carries over some Aramaic words into his Gospel, but immediately translates them, this shows Mark’s original readers were not Jews whose mother tongue was Hebrew or Aramaic. A few examples of what I am saying can be found in various parts of his narrative. First of all,  in Mark 3:17 he uses the Aramaic Boanerges and then translates it into sons of thunder. Another would be korban in Mark 7:11, meaning given to God. One more would be Jesus words from the cross: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani” meaning my God, my God, why have you forsaken me? The fact that Mark **must** translate these words or phrases shows that, though the original Gospel was for Palestinian Jews (proved by Dr. Lindsey’s work, showing a Semitic syntax), Mark was writing it down for gentiles or at least people unfamiliar with Hebrew or Aramaic.

Another peculiarity in Mark is that he must explain certain Jewish terms or customs. For example, Mark 7:1-3 shows some of Jesus disciples eating without washing their hands. According to the Jewish Oral Law, most Jews and especially Pharisees didn’t eat anything without cleansing themselves, but why would Mark have to explain this to Jews? Another example could be found in Mark 15:42-43 concerning the preparation day—the day before the Sabbath. Now whether we interpret this to be the day before the weekly Sabbath or the Passover Day when all the leaven must be removed from one’s dwelling, why would this need to be explained to the Jews? Therefore, Mark was writing for folks who were probably not Jewish and were not familiar with their customs.

This is fine and probably not new to anyone reading this, but how do we put these gentiles to whom Mark is writing into the city of Rome where Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria claim Peter preached? Well, there are Latinisms transliterated into the Greek found in Mark’s narrative. First, in Mark. 6:27 he uses spekoulator (G4688) for and executioner which is derived from the Latin specularorius meaning, guard, spy, investigator. In Mark 7:4 xestes (G3582), sextarius in the Latin, is used for pots. In Mark 15:39, 44-45 Mark uses kenturion (G2760) for centurion (Latin = centurio), yet both Matthew and Luke use the Greek equivalent, hekatontraches (G1543).

Probably more convincingly, Mark uses some Latin idioms in his written Gospel. For example, when the disciples walked through the fields plucking grain to eat as they went, the Greek hodon poiein (G3598; G4160) is equivalent to the Latin iter facere, meaning to make one’s way. Another is found in Mark 3:6 and 15:1 where the Jewish authorities “took counsel” (G4160; G4824) where the Latin idiom is consilium dederunt, meaning to give counsel or consultation. What such things as this suggest is that Mark’s audience, though understanding Greek, were Latin. Therefore, although Latin readers could be found throughout the Empire, the most obvious audience would be in Italy, and this suggests that Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria were correct in saying that Mark wrote down Peter’s Gospel at the request of Latin brethren living in Rome,.



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Posted by on March 22, 2012 in Textual Criticism


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